The burning question after the release of Fire Emblem Fates was certainly which version to buy, Conquest or Birthright. Playing through the game’s first couple chapters it was clear to see the Nohr of the Conquest game were more in line with the “bad guy” mentality, and the Hoshido of Birthright were the “good guys”, but neither side was a paragon of either. You’ll have to play both games to fully understand and experience the entire story of Fire Emblem Fates. At first thought this seems like a gimmick for Nintendo to make more money of its loyal fanbase, but seeing how the game has played out so far from just one side of the tale, I’m aching to even get a glimpse of what would have occured had I chosen the other! And before you click to read any more, yes, the game is great and wholly worth your time!
Fates was pegged as giving you the choice of which side to fight for between two warring nations. While this certainly is the case, it’s a bit more divisive than that. Birthright only has the data loaded for on its cartridge for the Hosido campaign, and alternatively Conquest has the Nohr campaign. So before you buy a version you kind of need to make that decision before you get your wallet. Many outlets have covered the difference between the two versions of the game, so I won’t go into that.
It didn’t take long to remember how to play Fire Emblem: a basic strategy of using one unit’s weapon type against another weaker one is usually good enough to prevail. After the first couple battles though you’ll have to start pairing units up to come out victorious. Maybe, for instance, your archer alone isn’t good enough to take down a heavily armored lancer, but when he’s next to a cavalry fighter with a massive sword suddenly the duo will overcome the odds of battle. That’s what I always felt made Fire Emblem unique, and that core gameplay element is here. On top of that, the more you pair units up and have them fight side by side, the more likely they’ll give better bonuses to one another in combat, and the higher chance they’ll have of successfully attacking or defending for the other. It’s fun!
From a strict story perspective Fates is actually kind of cliche: you have two sides of a war to choose from, both have their positives and negatives, and you have personal ties to both factions as well. While King Garon of the Nohr is obviously an evil jerk, the other Norh royalty are respectable humans with legitimate feelings and connections to the player character. The same goes for the Hoshido folk: they’re nice and you find yourself caring for them before long. Maybe I’m just not far enough in the story (I’m on Chapter 14 now and about 12 hours in), but I felt like the story has been very by the books. Nothing unprecedented has happened, but the story also isn’t poor enough I want to stop playing. It’s middle of the road in most all respects.
Relationship building has been a big part of the series and it’s in full force in Fates. In fact, I would cite the characters and their interactions with one another as one of the most memorable early moments of the game! Characters on my team like the mysterious singer Azura, or the sulky ninja Saiko are foiled by the more jovial antics of the cat-like Kaden or the young but talented Hayato, and the chemistry between all of them is fantastic. These relationships are exemplified during the game’s Support side stories, in which you witness two characters sharing a bonding moment, usually in a comical fashion, which then leads to a better in-battle bonus between the two units. Again, all standard affair for Fire Emblem games, but easily one of the best aspects of the series.
One other HUGE piece the game has going for it that I wasn’t expecting at all is amiibo support. Being a Nintendo game it’s expected it’ll support the company’s own RFID toys, so if you own the Marth, Ike, Robin, or Lucina amiibos you can scan them into the game and interact with each! The first time they visit they’ll leave you a gift. The second time they give you another gift item. The third time you scan them in they’ll challenge you to a small battle, and if you come out victorious they’ll ask to join your army! Holy crap! So far I’ve only added Ike to my roster because Marth and Robin kicked the crap out of me, but I was quite shocked when the hero asked me to tag along (Hell yes!). This is the first time with an amiibo I really felt the toy itself was adding content. With Disney Infinity and Skylanders figures the toys work with the game and that’s it, but with amiibo we were told they would be usable to do cool stuff in multiple games, and this time I felt that. So, if you’re lucky enough to have scored a Fire Emblem amiibo, then you have a sweet addition to your game to look forward too!
Finally, one improvement Fates makes over Awakening is the implementation of the Castle system. Similar to the Barracks sections in Awakening but fleshed out a lot more, the Castle lets you arrange shops, decor, and defenses around your main hub for your army. Everyone you recruit will be in the castle grounds one way or another, either roaming around, chatting with a fellow comrade, running one of the shops, or utilizing one of the facilities you’ve constructed. As you progress through the story and complete more missions you’ll unlock new buildings as well as accrue special building points you can use to upgrade existing structures. Doing so is a nice way to not only show off to fellow Fates players via the Nintendo Network Wi-Fi connection, but to attain valuable materials to purchase or enhance your weapons or items. It’s entirely possible to get caught up in castle management and viewing other people’s kingdoms and not actually play the actual game. Since there are so many rewards and reasons to do so, it’s simply a joy to spend some leisure time here instead of battle.
Like I said, I’m only a small ways into Birthright, but I’m already excited for what’s to come. I just had a daughter named Kan (!) and I’m curious to see what her storyline will be. I have three more amiibo to add to my party, and there are tons of side missions and main storyline events to unfold before I can safely grad this game. If the latter half of the game is anything like the first then I’ll be eager to see just how great this game can be!