Fire Emblem Fates Review (Spoiler-Free)
Fire Emblem Fates is a unique entry in the Fire Emblem series, as it is available in three versions. Each version is basically a standalone game with a unique plot and different allied units, and offers a different perspective on the plot and characters.
To get the most out of it, you’ll want to play all three versions. That’s exactly what I did! Here are my thoughts on the Fire Emblem Fates games in this spoiler-free review.
The premise of the plot is that two kingdoms, Nohr, and Hoshido, are at war. Nohr is on the verge of invading Hoshido. Hoshido prepares to defend itself from the impending attack. Caught in the middle of this conflict is the avatar, whom the player can name and customize when starting a new game.
Fire Emblem Fates is known as “Fire Emblem if…” in Japan, and I assume that’s because each version of Fates is essentially a different “what if…?” scenario. Each game follows the player created avatar after they make a critical decision at Chapter 6. The story up through Chapter 6 is the same across all three versions, but afterward the plot and allies differ greatly depending on the avatar’s choice.
Well, I guess player has probably already made their choice by that point, because each path the player can choose is one of the three versions of Fates, each of which is sold separately. Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright are both available as physical copies, while Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation is only available as DLC. Conquest and Birthright are US$39.99 MSRP, however you can purchase the other version at the discounted price of US$19.99 as DLC on the eShop once you own one version. Revelation is US$19.99. So if you’re a newcomer to Fire Emblem and you’re not planning on spending US$59.99 to buy two versions right away, your path is picked for you just based on the initial version you buy.
Since Fire Emblem Fates is composed of three different games, I’ll be doing a “mini-review” of each of the versions, in the order I played them. Overall thoughts on the Fire Emblem Fates experience and gameplay as a whole will be at the end.
Each of my playthroughs was done in Classic Mode on Normal difficulty. Similarly to Fire Emblem: Awakening, each version of Fates allows you play in Casual, Classic, or the new Phoenix mode. In Casual mode, fallen units are not gone forever, and return upon completion of the level. Classic mode stays true to Fire Emblem’s roots, and units who fall in battle are gone forever in that playthrough. Phoenix is a new mode wherein units that fall in battle are returned at full HP at the start of your next turn.
These game modes exist separately from the difficulty level. The player can choose between Normal, Hard, and Lunatic difficulties when starting a New Game. For the first time in a Fire Emblem title released outside of Japan, the difficulty level can be lowered during a playthrough between chapters. This seems pretty nice actually. I couldn’t use this feature since I was already playing on the easiest difficulty, but I can see it being useful for someone who maybe started Conquest on Hard or Lunatic mode and began to regret their choice a few chapters in.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest centers on the kingdom of Nohr. The focal point here is Nohr’s conquest of Hoshido.
Of the three Fates games, Conquest is undoubtedly the most difficult by a wide margin, especially compared to Birthright. There are a few reasons for this. Conquest doesn’t allow you to grind for experience, levels, or items. The only battles you will face are the main story Chapters, Paralogue missions unlocked when two units form an S rank support, and a small fixed number of Invasion missions that become available periodically throughout the game. Because of these factors, experience, gold, and items are limited. Aside from this, it felt to me like the odds were against the player in many of the chapters. Enemies were powerful, plentiful, and smart, so careful use of map and terrain features was absolutely essential in order to secure victory.
In fact, I’d say that of the Fire Emblem games I’ve played, Conquest was probably the most difficult of all of them when playing Classic mode on Normal difficulty. The only other Fire Emblem that I can remember being anywhere near as difficult as Conquest is probably Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. I remember struggling really hard to keep my units alive toward the end of that game.
The characters the avatar fights alongside in Conquest are probably my favorite cast of the 3 Fates games. There’s a caveat there in that many of these characters are also present in Revelation, but we’ll get there later. The Nohrian royal family in particular I preferred over the opposing Hoshidan royal family of Birthright. This is entirely personal preference of course. Overall, I think the aesthetic of Nohr and their black armor was just really cool. Conquest’s story is also more grim than either of the other two games. I don’t want to spoil anything though, so I won’t say more than that.
Another thing I liked about Conquest is that it primarily features the traditional Fire Emblem classes that I’m used to. Nohr’s soldiers are Fighters, Knights, Mercenaries, Cavaliers, and other typical Fire Emblem classes. This is in contrast to Birthright, but I’ll cover that shortly.
One of Conquest’s biggest shortcomings was the final boss in the final chapter. Strategically, the map and boss were excellent, and forced you to consider moves and plan your strategy carefully. But in the context of the story, the boss felt very underwhelming. After I played Birthright and Revelation, this was only furthered solidified as both of those had better final bosses.
Birthright is the easiest version of Fire Emblem Fates, but this isn’t a bad thing. Unlike Conquest, the odds don’t seem strongly against you during the Chapters. The lower difficulty makes it very approachable for newer or more casual players. Anyone looking for a less intense experience will also enjoy the experience. For me, playing Birthright after playing Conquest was a nice, relaxing change!
Birthright’s story follows the Hoshidans as they fight against invaders from Nohr trying to take their country. It feels like you’re playing as the good guys here. This is basically the opposite of how Conquest feels. Birthright isn’t all fun and games though, there are heart-wrenching moments from time to time too.
Hoshido draws a lot of inspiration from Japan. The units you recruit are special Hoshidan classes, like Samurai, Diviner, Ninja, and more. It took me a while to get used to these. Samurai are equivalent to Myrmidon in past games, Diviners are Mages, and Ninjas are Thieves. Eventually I got used to the Hoshidan classes.
Not all of them are simply renames of previous games’ classes. Kinshi Knights, a promoted option for Sky Knights and Archers, are unique in that they are mounted flying units that can wield bows and lances. They’re the first type of unit in Fire Emblem that can fly and use bows.
Birthright also allows grinding if you want to. By playing the “Challenge” missions available between main story Chapters and Paralogue missions, you can gain extra experience and levels for your units. These are essentially unlimited, since if you run out of available Challenge missions you can use the “Scout” option to spawn a new one for a small amount of gold. The cost is so low that it would take a long time to spend all your gold Scouting.
I didn’t grind too much in Birthright, but I did occasionally like to use Challenges to build up a Support between units. I was able to get many more S rank supports in Birthright than I was in Conquest. Birthright really lets you focus on your characters’ Supports if you want to, which was nice.
Revelation had the best story of the three, in my opinion. At the end, I finally had closure of all the loose ends left in Conquest and Birthright. In addition, Revelation has a nice, feel good type of ending that a lot of JRPGs have, and it’s quite satisfying.
Revelation also lets you to have units from both Conquest and Birthright in your army, allowing you to build up supports between Hoshidan and Nohrian units. After playing both Conquest and Birthright prior to it, this was really cool to see! You can basically pick your favorite units from both Conquest and Birthright and form a Fire Emblem Fates dream team, which was pretty awesome.
As for the gameplay, Revelation is more difficult than Birthright. Its maps have more gimmicks than Birthright’s, and utilizing these whenever possible is advised in order to make it through with your units unscathed. Conquest is still far more difficult than Revelation though. Like Birthright, Revelation allows you to grind using Challenge missions if you so choose. This can keep the difficulty down, and I did a little grinding myself.
Story-wise, playing only one of Fates versions would be pretty unsatisfying. If the only game you play is Conquest or Birthright, you’ll be left with some hanging threads, and you won’t understand certain aspects of the plot because you need to play the opposite version to fully understand certain character motivations and backstories. And even though it has the most complete story on its own, no one is going to play only Revelation because you need to own at least 1 of the other games in order to play it! Plus, I imagine starting with Revelation wouldn’t the same if you didn’t know the characters well from playing Conquest and/or Birthright beforehand. There’s even an in-game warning to this effect when starting a Revelation playthrough.
That said, the story is good, if largely predictable. It does still throw some curveballs on occasion. The full story you get from playing all three versions feels very complete and fleshed out. The big picture is definitely worth seeing for yourself. There are certain bits toward the end of Revelation that seem like they might have plot holes, but it’s enjoyable in any case.
Maps & Re-use
Compared to Awakening, I feel like Fates has more varied victory conditions. Awakening seemed to be Rout Enemy the majority of the time. The Fates games have their fair share of Rout Enemy maps, but also make use of Seize, and even maps where you have to have all your units Escape to win. Changing the victory condition to something other than Rout Enemy keeps things feeling fresh, and I definitely appreciated this in Fates compared to my memories of Awakening. Sometimes even when the victory condition is Defeat Boss, there are still unique aspects to certain missions!
The Fates games do re-use certain maps though. Story-wise, I have to admit it does make sense to do so. Between all 3 versions, the plot does have you visit some of the same locales, so it makes sense those areas would have the same layout between versions. I believe the enemy layouts and victory conditions differ between versions even for the same location. But, after playing through all 3 versions, some of the re-used maps did end up feeling a little stale by the end. During the majority of Revelation, I was seeing re-used maps from Conquest and Birthright more often than unique maps.
Another case or reuse, or perhaps repurposing in this case, occurs with some of Fates’ characters. Those who have played Awakening may recognize some familiar faces among some of Fates’ characters. For whatever reason, some characters in Fates are just re-skins of characters from Awakening. Take Awakening’s Tharja for example. In Fates, Rhajat is basically the same character, right down to her affinity for dark magic and curses. Some of these apparently are explained via Support conversations, but others are just unexplained recycling. It’s not really a problem, but it does feel a bit cheap to have some of the same characters brought in from Awakening with slightly updated designs and changed names.
S Supports and Children
Child characters are present in these games, and work similarly to Awakening. Characters may have only one S rank Support. When they reach S rank, they become romantically involved and have a child who you can recruit to join your army by playing the newly unlocked Paralogue mission. I enjoy the existence of child characters, as they’re a nice reward for reaching S rank with two units. However, these children are mostly young adults when they join, and the story explanation for how this is possible is very weak in Fates. The story explanation for them definitely was more solid in Awakening. But if you can get past that, they again make for a nice gameplay mechanic.
Weapons triangle & Pair Ups
The weapons triangle has been adjusted in Fates. The relationship between Swords, Axes, and Lances remains the same, but a second class of weapons has been added to each grouping. Now, Swords and Tomes have an advantage against Axes and Bows. Axes and Bows have an advantage against Lances and Hidden Weapons (knives, shurikens). This new weapons triangle makes things feel different enough for a series veteran that it does keep you on your toes.
The Pair Up mechanic from Awakening returns here, allowing two units to be Paired Up and stacked on a single tile, with the front unit fighting in combat and the Paired Up unit providing stat bonuses to them. This system has had a few tweaks, most notably the “Dual Guard” mechanic. This allows the backup unit can block all incoming damage during battle if the pair’s shield meter is full. Each time a unit enters combat, their meter charges up a bit if they’re Paired Up with another unit. Once it’s full, the next time an enemy attacks them their partner will Guard them against all damage. This was very cool and added another level of strategy, as you could attack enemies with high crit weapons without worrying about a critical hit taking you out.
This Guard system also applies to enemies, which is really cool to see!
In place of Awakening’s Barracks feature, Fates introduces “My Castle.” This was an interesting feature, although I didn’t explore any of the StreetPass or Internet features I think it had. Between missions, you have access to a castle that you can name and walk around in. The other units in your army appear here as well, and will occasionally have random events available where they give you an item or receive a temporary skill boost if you talk to them. You’re able to build and upgrade buildings on your castle grounds as well, placing buildings that allow you to buy weapons, or buy staves, or combine weapons together to increase their strength. You can even zoom in to see your units and buildings up closer, and pivot the camera around the avatar.
I feel like the single-player My Castle feature has a lot of room for potential expansion. It’ll be interesting to see if they expand upon it in future Fire Emblem games.
Awakening’s World Map was way better than Fates’ in my opinion. Fates’ World Map didn’t allow you to scroll around it freely. Instead, you pick the mission to do next from a menu, scrolling to the location on the map where the mission takes place. Because of this, I had a much shallower understanding of the geography in this world. If Fire Emblem is going to allow me to tackle Paralogue or Challenge missions at my leisure between Chapters, they might as well let me walk around a world map, like in Awakening, and in The Sacred Stones.
If you’ve never played a Fire Emblem game before but want to get into the series and own a 3DS, I’d probably recommend Awakening over Fates. On the off chance that the series doesn’t work for you, at least you get a complete single game experience out of Awakening, and you also don’t the lingering “what if I don’t like this because I picked the wrong version?” question you might have if you started with Fates’ Conquest or Birthright.
Overall though, all three versions of Fire Emblem Fates are solid entries in the Fire Emblem franchise, and I definitely recommend them. They bring RPG and strategy together just as the rest of the series does, and they do so while telling a compelling story in a fantasy world wracked by war, filled with a cast of characters with interesting personalities. And that’s what Fire Emblem is all about.