Fire Emblem Fates is a game developed by Intelligent Systems, the latest in a series with a long standing history of being some of the best tactical role playing games on the market. In this generation of the series, two games were released that were part of the same story, depicting two different sides of one important choice.
The choice that’s made will change not only how the game is played and its intensity, but the entire aesthetic feel of the game. While I personally feel this was a nice idea in practice and has a bit of precedence with a similar game in the series (Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones) I don’t feel like this game lived up to its own history, or its fans.
This game follows Corrin (the player’s avatar) as a prince or princess to the kingdom of Nohr, a militaristic country that is known for its lack of personal resources and harsh environments. This character is asked by their father to check on one of the rivaling countries towers to see just how operational their defenses are. While you’re there a conflict starts that eventually throws both countries into conflict, while you personally are captured by the enemy (Editor’s Note: Our review is covering only Birthright version).
After being captured by the enemy you’re brought to the royal family of your rivals, only to discover that you were originally kidnapped by the Nohrian king and that you are actually their long lost family member. You are eventually forced to decide between which family you will choose to side with, either the Medieval Germanic Nohrian Family that had raised you from the time you were young, or the Eastern Hoshido Family that had been looking for you for most of your life.
I personally chose to support Hoshido for this review, due to the fact that I wanted to savor my time with Nohr which is generally considered the harder of the two versions. This is due to the fact that the Nohr has many aspects cut out of it, such as the ability to grind in between levels, as well as a much lower level of money. This is to force the user to make hard choices on which characters to focus on and how they want to develop their army. Hoshido, on the other hand, allows you to level your characters between chapters and generally gives you easier mission objectives.
This might have been a mistake on my part due to the fact that I felt so much of what made me love this series was missing from this game. I loved the challenge that I got from constantly having to rethink my strategy going into a level, or the challenge from missing an almost sure hit and knowing that everything that I had planned was screwed because my entire strategy was ruined. Most of the staples of the game seemed to be lost in some way shape or form.
There was no desert level where hidden items are laying about, or high risk enemies that can be converted into allies by having the right character talk to them (outside of one). Even the weapon triangle and weapon management has been completely changed. Now instead of weapons having a certain number of uses, they’re permanent but come with certain weaknesses. While in some regards this does offer its own challenges, it lowered the risk of over using certain characters and generally running out of money and weapons. It also allows for certain enemies to constantly be used as XP fuel.
Other gameplay mechanics bothered me as well. Many of the old aspects of the game that I came to rely on didn’t really have much significance in the overall structure of the game. One thing in particular is the use of non-standard game overs. In the fifth chapter you are tasked with fighting an enemy that could be considered much stronger than yourself, while at the same time, one of your biological brothers is fighting an enemy that’s fairly one sided. In order to save him, you have to mow through the enemies and end the battle before your brother dies.
I believed this was the case as much of the time in previous games royal members must be protected at all times or you will receive a game over. So I threw myself at the enemy as fast as I could in order to save him. He died seven times, and each time I reset the game in order to save him, thinking that if I didn’t he would either be gone for good, or that I would have a game over. On the hard setting this was nearly impossible for my current set up. Frustrated I went online to see if it even was possible and I had discovered that it didn’t matter if you saved him or not, he would come back later as a playable character. I couldn’t believe this gross departure from determined history, but that wasn’t the end of my frustration.
In previous games, any unique enemy that wasn’t a boss could be convinced in some way to become your ally. Sometimes you needed to talk to them with a certain character, or had them survive a chapter, but 9 times out of ten they’d become your ally. This wasn’t the case for most of the named enemies in this game. I honestly felt like a chump the first time I saw one of the enemy’s retainers, I thought there would have to be some way shape or form to win them over, but there was nothing. You were supposed to fight against them and win. What I had learned through killing an enemy in a previous game was just them getting away to fight again. These core gameplay choices frustrated me because it spat in the face of all the games that came before it.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the game.
I felt the sound direction was slowly but surely moving in the right direction. The musical performance by Rena Strober was strong and has been stuck in my head for a while. The voice acting was also fantastic in most of the cutscenes. However, I will say that many of the decisions to place soundbites over text did seem off.
A character is frequently speaking through text and we hear their voice and it lacks the tone and context of what’s being said. Often the things that are being spoken have nothing to do with what is written at all. For example, in this game two of the characters purposefully wound each other in a traditional form of showing loyalty. This a serious act and displays tremendous respect for one another, however, the vocal cues for this scene are cheerful and this completely clashes with the serious tone of the conversation.
I did enjoy the cinematics of the game. It made me enthusiastic about what the 3DS could perform. The cutscenes were far above what could be done on awakening, and happened more often as well. To add on full scale conflicts onto this fact is phenomenal and really helps to showcase the differences between the two countries.
One of the best additions that this game brought to the table was the use of 3D face tracking to create a character interaction that actually looked alive rather than the static images that the series has been known for. When they announced that the player could interact with the characters I was pretty happy because through contact you would grow attached to the characters more.
It seemed like a great addition, but sadly in the version that I had played this aspect of the game had been completely cut from the final release. While aspects of this are still within the game, the actual interaction with the character where you could see the full reaction, characteristics, and quality of the animation style that Intelligent Systems put forth, is gone.
This wasn’t the only thing that was taken out or changed though. Many of the conversations between characters that improve their bonds were also changed along with a considerable amount of dialogue that actually made their characterizations worse. I’ve seen ninjas only speaking in ellipses and dragons speaking in memes (Editor’s Note: You can find lots of examples here).
There are references to the Simpsons, The Karate Kid, and several other things that really don’t fit within the game. This wouldn’t have been bad if the translation team actually took the time to proof read their script before putting dialogue into the final game. I couldn’t help noticing the many grammatical errors within this game and it just made everything seem rushed.
It wasn’t just the grammatical errors that made the game feel rushed. After Fire Emblem: Awakening, children of characters that fell in love in the game became an active part within the game. In Awakening this made sense due to the fact that the game involved time travel, however there is no time travel in the Fates games. In order to include children into this game, the developer chose to place the children into pocket dimensions that appear to be much faster than the games time.
This was explained in one small scene, and then never really used again. To me this was another example of just how rushed this game actually is. When your only explanation for how children are grown up and fighting with you is that you had to throw your children into a hyperbolic time chamber, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board and see if children actually fit into this universe.
The worst thing this game does however is pretend to be a complete game. While the story is able to be closed with the ending of the game, too many mysteries are left unanswered to truly say you fully understand what’s going on. To get a grip on these mysteries and find the truth behind the base games you have to be willing to play all three sides.
This requires that you pay 20 dollars more for the second game, and 20 dollars on top of that to get the third game that was only released to those willing to purchase the special edition of the game (Editor’s Note: or separately as standalone DLC). That’s double the amount of money for what could have been put on one cartridge.
When you add downloadable content that has character classes within (one of which is a fan favorite) and Amiibos (that have unique characters and classes) on top of this you are left paying around 150 dollars for the full experience. To ask this much of fans is an insult to the trust and dedication that has been built by the fans of the series.
To say this game has significant issues is an understatement, and the blame can’t be placed on one team. These issues range from simple gameplay mechanic choices that go against much of the internal logic the game was founded on, story issues that seem to have no place existing in the game in the first place, localization issues butchering the grammar and flow of many important points, and a business practice that uses and abuses its customers. While this isn’t the worst Fire Emblem game I’ve played, I can’t in good faith suggest people buy this game as it is.
Fire Emblem Fates was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 6.5
- Animation is one of the best on the 3ds
- Voice acting is great during cutscenes
- Unique Direction with style is a great change of pace
- Grammar errors distract from the overall enjoyment of the game
- Incomplete story archs requiring the purchase of other games to be complete
- Series mainstays and personal history ignored
- Localization changes ruin the tone and flow of many important events