While the way that Fire Emblem Fates shipped branching versions of its content was a little confusing at first, the overall game (having had a chance to play both halves of it) is excellent regardless of which path you choose. That being said, Conquest was my favorite of the two, and it provided me with hours of tactical entertainment and serves as one of the best 3DS games I have played in a long time.
It is worth noting that along with sports games, the fantasy RPG/strategy genre might be my favorite. Ever since my time playing games like Warsong and Shining Force on the Sega Genesis, I have found these titles incredibly easy to get sucked into (even if the degree of difficulty on them is often anything but easy). Over the last couple of releases, the developers have made the smart choice to give optional difficulty settings so that players can customize their own experiences. I know some gamers cried foul at this, feeling as though it diminishes from the true sense of accomplishment that the Fire Emblem series can impart.
While I certainly understand that perspective (and myself play with the difficulty settings jacked up all of the way for this very reason), I think it is a smart decision to make this enjoyable title available to anyone who wishes to try and experience it. For years I heard others commenting about how the almost legendary difficulty of earlier Fire Emblem games scared them away from actually trying them, and that is a shame because this series has generally gotten stronger and stronger over the years and has culminated in this most recent release, which does just about everything right.
Things start off in almost painfully bland fashion for anyone who has grown up an RPG fan. Tell me if you have heard this one before. Your primary character doesn't seem to remember anything about their childhood and... however, things start to veer in a slightly different way rather quickly. While the game is busy teaching you the basics of tactical combat, it is also building up a story that takes two very distinct paths several chapters in. Some have complained about this split by the franchise, and I can certainly see it as like the Pokemon games, there is a lot of similarity and one engine running the show here. Nintendo no doubt turned a pretty penny for this strategy, because I am one of those huge fans of the series who bought Conquest, Birthright and the additional DLC package of Revelation. I am invested.
The thing is, it was easy to get invested. Many of the characters are trope-like, sure - but most of them were also interesting and in some cases outright endearing as well. Each version of the game spots lots of different levels and scenarios, though if I am going to pick a favorite between the two core versions, my nod goes to Conquest which offers more varied objectives and offered a more interesting challenge to me as someone who has spent a lot of years playing these types of games. It took me longer than I wanted in getting this review around, but I wanted to play through both of the major campaigns and give them time to sit with me (PY plans to review the Birthright in the near future).
One takeaway that I appreciated from this game was that the narrative was quite dark. The Fire Emblem games have dealt with loss and other serious matters throughout, but for such a brutally difficult series that is focused on war, it has traditionally come away feeling lighter in tone than this latest offering. You are a spectator in the story, with the major turning point which of the few factions you will side with early-ish on. Otherwise you are a spectator along for an often emotionally challenging ride. There are characters that you become invested in who simply do not make it out alive, and I won't be spoiling any of it here, but suffice to say there were events in the story that actually made my heart sag just a little as the grim realities of war were felt in a way not generally touched on in a Nintendo published title. That being said, I think Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is better for daring to do so. The plot may not be anything earth shattering in and of itself, but there are enough memorable characters to make up for it.
For a presentation standpoint, the game really delivers a spectacular orchestral soundtrack with rich, vibrant cutscenes that help to deliver some of the game's best narrative moments. Of course the actual stages are a mixed bag with so many smaller, pixelated characters, but at least the environments are varied and there are lots of different enemies to fight. Just as there is a caveat with the overall visuals, the voice cast is not all that great and even then, in-game they more utter sounds than really talk along with their lines most of the time, diminishing the experience a little.
Of course none of this would matter if the combat and systems did not hold up their end of the bargain, but they absolutely deliver. Everything from the turn-based combat that includes optional missions along the way (talking to villagers in their homes for bonuses or reaching a neutral NPC character and talking to her before she is killed by the enemy so she can join your party) to the different ways to leverage your team members (who should stand by whom for offensive support or if you want to partner up two characters in the same space for a defense bonus).
Off of the battlefield you can advance character relationships (which improve their performance during battle), which can lead to marriages and offspring add a nice dating simulation flavor to the proceedings. Partway through the game you get a castle that you can build up with different shops and optional objectives and battles that can lead to better gains by your team. Improving your weapons, talking to your team and laying out your castle all provide rewarding tasks outside of combat that help to show how far the Fire Emblem series has come over the years.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is an awesome game that I was happy to spend lots of hours with. I will say that when comparing it to Birthright, it is harder and also more varied. The two games are essentially the same in structure due to the engine and interwoven storyline, but Conquest does a better job of elevating the material in my experience. Both are excellent games and fans of fantasy RPGs and strategy should fine lots to enjoy here.
Article by Nick