The Fire Emblem franchise has successfully established itself as a great turn-based tactical RPG series in the West over the last decade. The series has over a dozen titles under its belt and its latest entry, Fire Emblem Fates, adds in 3 more at once. Luckily newcomers to the series won’t need to play past titles to jump into this one, as like most Fire Emblem titles, it lives within its own world and set of characters. Chances are if you’re a Fire Emblem fan you are picking all variations of this game up. If you’re only looking to grab one version of the game, though, hopefully between this review of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and the Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest review we can help you out.
As previously mentioned, Fire Emblem Fates is presented as 3 separate games: Birthright, Conquest and Revelations. The gameplay mechanics and features are the same across all 3 titles, with the difference lying in the story you will experience. In Birthright, you’ll be choosing to ally with your blood family, the Hoshidans, who you were taken away from as a child to fight against the aggressive kingdom of Nohr which raised you.
In both games you’ll play through the same first 5 chapters which act as a tutorial of sorts. Each of these chapters will introduce you to new concepts while still advancing the storyline. Afterwards, nearly 2 hours in, you’ll have to choose a kingdom to fight for and the story splits. Birthright is essentially the story of the “good guys”. Your main character refuses to kill needlessly, seeks justice and wants to vanquish evil to bring peace to the world.
The story felt very linear and uninspired, taking you on a near linear path from your kingdom to the enemy kingdom with hardly any substantial plot twists in between. The main character feels very flat throughout the story, having no real inner conflict in them or even a drop of evil. I understand that you are playing on the side of good, but at times it just felt far too sappy for my taste. By the end of it all, however, I did grow attached to several supporting characters, cared about my main character on the battlefield more than others, and the story kept me intrigued enough that I kept going to see how it would end. The ending did leave some unanswered questions which hopefully are revealed in Revelations. As a standalone title though it was a bit unsatisfying.
Now onto the gameplay, which to me was as enjoyable if not more so than the story. The bulk of the gameplay takes place through battles which are initiated by selecting the next chapter in the story, selecting a challenge, an invasion, or scouting for enemies. At the start of each battle, you get to pick a certain amount of units from your army which then get automatically placed on the field. You then take turns with the opponent to move your units and have them attack, heal, use an item, etc. There are dozens of classes available to give you enough diversity in your army to build different strategies and you’ll want to be sure to have a diverse unit set. For example, you can use a lot of units that are all flyers so you can move across the map easily, but they will get 1 hit KO’ed against any archer they come across.
There is enough depth and customization to the game that players can develop a play style unique to them. Aside from the class variations for your units, there are also several different weapons for each class. Units can level up their class to level 20 and with a special item can either change their class or upgrade it to a higher tier class. It’s a simple enough system to grasp and fun to experiment with how each class can work best together.
To elaborate more on classes working together, players can move units next to each other to attack or defend together. Players can also move a unit on the same tile as another unit to essentially “merge” the units together. Doing this allows one unit to buff up the stats of whatever unit you combined them with. Early on in the game I didn’t focus as much on this feature but it becomes key to defeating enemies later on in the game. Combining the strength of your units can be the difference between eliminating an enemy in one hit and keeping them alive another turn for them to severely damage you. You can also use the support feature to carry slower troops further by having them merge with a faster moving unit and separating them later on.
Terrain also plays a factor on your strategy as some terrain can slow down certain units, damage, or heal them. Additionally there are some tiles called Dragon Veins which you can activate by using a unit from the royal family. Dragon Veins can have all sorts of effects on the terrain such as creating wind storms to slow down flyers, destroying mountains to make a passage, or healing everyone in a certain range. On top of all this some fields have turrets and orbs which can be operated by certain unit types to unleash special attacks on enemy units on the field. The amount of options available to the player to make strategies is overall very satisfying.
We can’t talk about strategy without mentioning one of Fire Emblem’s most iconic staples: perma-death. When you start the game you can set the difficulty to 3 different levels and then choose 1 of 3 play styles. The play styles are phoenix, which revives your fallen units after each turn; casual, which has your fallen units revive after every battle; and classic, where they never come back. The latter can be pretty frustrating to play on if, say, you overlooked that the level 20 guard over there was holding a tomahawk and not just a regular axe so he can throw it at a character you thought was safe. While it is a more rewarding experience, it’s not for everyone.
Lastly on the topic of strategy, there are character relationships which can affect the outcome of battles. The more you have characters battle together, the more their affection for each other will grow. You can also increase their relationships by interacting with them when resting in your castle. Increasing character relationships will not only give you added bonuses in fights but will also reveal more story behind your characters. It’s a great feature which is executed very well, and it adds a lot more depth to the main storyline, not to mention you’ll feel much more attached to your characters.
In between battles, you’ll be resting in your own personal castle which you can upgrade throughout the game. The more battles you win, the more buildings you can build, place, and upgrade within your castle walls. These include weapon and staff shops, fun buildings like statues, hot springs, accessory shop etc. All of your units will be scattered throughout your town and can be interacted with. With streetpass you can visit other player’s castles and even attack them if you choose. You can also test out your own castle defenses by trying invasion battles where enemies attack your castle and you must fend them off. I personally didn’t play this mode very often as it didn’t have as much appeal to me as the story did, but it offers more gameplay when the campaign is done.
Fire Emblem Fates does support amiibo in a limited capacity. Players can tap any Fire Emblem amiibo to challenge that character in a fight. Should you win that fight, you can then recruit that character into your army.
Lastly there is presentation. The story is mainly presented with static artwork of characters on screen with text to show their dialogue. There are a few cutscenes thrown in at key points in the story as well. For every text screen, there will be a soundbyte delivered by the voice actor such as “No.”, “Prepare yourself!”, “I’m sorry” which at first was a bit off putting but it became quite charming over time. I couldn’t help but laugh when a character would have this long response to my main character and the sound byte played in response was a nonchalant “no” accompanied by a lengthy text response. When issuing commands to your troops you’ll be looking at a top down low bit res map and when combat is initiated the view will change to 3D models fighting it out. The developers were clearly limited in hardware with the 3DS and they achieved a strong presentation style given that limitation.
The music in this game is absolutely excellent. The game’s main theme sung over and over by Azura throughout the game eventually embedded itself into my mind and now I can’t get it out of my head. The climactic battle at the end takes this theme and remixes in an epic way that will be sure to give players goosebumps. Immediately after completing the game I found myself searching for the soundtrack to listen to the tracks over and over. In fact I’m still listening to those tracks while writing this review, it’s just that good.
Overall Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is a great game. The main campaign took me just under 20 hours to complete and that was rushing it without taking the time to dabble in the challenges, fully upgrade my castle, and develop character relationships further. Add on the endless amount of battles you can have with your friends and you can get a lot of value from this game. The gameplay, presentation and soundtrack are excellent for the 3DS. While I wish the story had more twists and that the main character had more depth, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is fantastic package with a lot to offer.