Posted by K-Off on 14 April 2016 with categories: Game Reviews

Now that Revelations has been out for a month and I’ve had a chance to thoroughly replay all three games and virtually explore all of their gameplay elements, I figured now would be the best time to review the latest editions to the Fire Emblem franchise.

As a pretext, I’ve decided to review all three games at the same time in this spoiler free review, because they’re essentially the same games in terms of their core gameplay aspects. I’ll be breaking them down first with respect to their gameplay, then I’ll split my discussion about their stories into a spoiler-free review.

First, is Gameplay.

Arguably the most important part of a Fire Emblem game and 99% of the reason why people like Fire Emblem, is the gameplay, and here, it’s better than ever.

Streamlining:  During the development of Awakening, Nintendo decided to streamline the traditional gameplay even more to better suit newcomers (though to much controversy) and it’s safe to say that Nintendo has continued that trend with Fates. It’s friendlier to new players than ever before (even despite where they may have gone overboard like the unnecessary inclusion of Phoenix mode, whereby fallen units return to the field only a turn after they fall), and Fates smartly breaks the monotony of previous and more traditional Fire Emblem games by doing several things right:

    • Better character customization, there are many more options for character customization before and during the game than was allowed in Awakening. There are multiple options for hair, eye shape, facial details, and this doesn’t even include all of the different outfits that you can wear via the accessory shop. Which brings me to,
    • My Castle, which compresses the overworld map in previous games into a much appreciated, much streamlined single location that acts as your home base. You can build, upgrade various facilities like accessory shops, armory, rod/staff stores, and interact with your party/listen to support conversations; the list goes on to dozens of many other things–which in previous games would have been scattered all over the world map.
    • Getting rid of weapon durability. This was one of my biggest gripes with Fire Emblem for a while, because it’s very annoying to have to constantly restock your weapons, and of course high level rare weapons can’t even be restocked. I hope this stays for good, this is just a personal preference of mine.

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Battle UI and animations are marked improvements over Awakening

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Weapons:  Next, the most notable change that veteran players will find immediately upon returning are changes to its weapon triangle, since the new addition of throwing knives, shurikens, and the decision to give bows a strength buff have slightly complicated the traditional triangle. Weapons now have color coded weaknesses on top of the traditional “swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords” rule. Now, Green weapons beat Blue, Blues beats Reds, and Reds beats Greens, and so on. This is a marked improvement, the classes are much more balanced because weapons like bows and staves get additional buffs simply by being included into the main weapon triangle. Now my archers can actually be more than just a pegasus killer.

Combat:  On the list of changes to gameplay is combat, and the Pair Up system has gotten an overhaul. In Awakening, we were allowed to pair up 2 units into a single space, and this would give them boosts to both attack and defense. In Fates however, they’ve split the system into two different stances, Attack and Guard, for balancing reasons.

  • The Attack stances allow two units to attack an enemy unit regardless of their support level,
  • The Guard stance is a little more complicated, it essentially relies on support level, and successions of block rolls to determine the chance of a successful block.

These are changes I can’t complain all that much about, it makes the pair up system less powerful and makes it less likely that you can just have one tanky pair plow through a field of enemies, switch, then destroy the boss and end the battle.

Field:  Last but not least on the list of gameplay changes are the introduction of Dragon veins, which add an additional aspect of strategy by allowing you to physically alter the landscape of your battlefield on set, limited areas. For the people who were looking forward (though they shouldn’t have) to dynamic, landscape altering, you’ll be disappointed. It’s really nothing more than a gimmick, and in Revelations especially they get really carried away late-game and have levels just for the sake of showing it off. On the other hand, now that we have it, it’s surely better than not having the ability to alter the landscape at all.

Overall, all of the changes to the gameplay are definitely positive, the developers managed to include things we didn’t know we needed, and that’s always a plus. Whatever was in Awakening’s gameplay, here, it’s simply better balanced, more accessible, and more engaging than ever before, and it’s clearly where they spent all of their effort. 

That’s good, because unfortunately, the game starts fraying apart at nearly every other aspect.

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I can tell there was once a good story in here somewhere.

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Story (spoiler free)

It’s difficult to talk about how badly all three stories fail without revealing spoilers, much less for three games with different stories, but it essentially breaks down into this for all of them:

  • Morality, the idea so heavily marketed by these games before release, is incredibly weak. This idea can’t function at all when you have one side being basically a European-themed country of cartoonish racists, while the other is a glorious, Japan-themed utopia where no one does any wrong. This comes to a point where there is literally no plot motivation for you to join Nohr from a story perspective, and this shatters all level of immersion in the story.
  • Your family, the whole underlining idea behind the game, isn’t important to the main plot in any way, except only about one from Nohr, and two from Hoshido.
  • The villains are cartoon characters. Most, if not all of the villains are just used as plot devices to contrive battles in between major plot points.
  • Final bosses get zero buildup to the final showdown. Compare it merely to Awakening, where you spent the whole game hearing about Grima through folktales, battles with its followers, flashbacks to the future, etc.
  • In Conquest, its villain is established from the beginning, but you don’t interact with him in any other way beyond two-second cutscenes where he’s twirling his mustache, explaining his evil plans to his equally cartoonish underling.
  • In Birthright, you don’t see the final boss for long stretches of chapters until an anticlimactic ending that doesn’t subvert your expectations in anyway, and in Revelations, the characters (and we in turn) literally know nothing about the final villain of the story until it shows up during the last chapter.

The biggest sin I can point out is how most characters who were so heavily advertised (besides your siblings) are completely hollow, they exist to spout exposition and to move the story from one scene to the other. But what about when you take the support conversations into consideration? Anyone who complains about the lack of story in Fates are bound to catch flak from those who insist that the critics were simply too lazy to read the Support Conversations, and they claim that it’s what completes the story.

To that I’ll say, like every other Fire Emblem game before it, Fates has tons and tons of possible support conversations that certainly do fill in certain gaps (as  numerous as they may be) in the main story. Yet regardless of how important you think support conversations are, the ones that we’re given don’t help the story very much. They don’t explain the cartoonish villains, the overly black/white morality, nor give any of your siblings a bigger role in the story. They at best only help fill in the lore of the new world that we’re given in Fates, rather than doing anything like focusing the character motivations. I’ve probably read almost every support conversation there is in the North America version of the game as of this time, and that’s just my opinion, as far as that goes.

Final Thoughts: Overall, where the story failed, I ultimately feel that the gameplay alone made my purchase of Conquest and Revelations worthwhile. While I do acknowledge Birthright as the easier game for newcomers, since the story was just that shallow for all three games, I’d have to recommend the two more difficult games so that you can squeeze out as much enjoyment out of their gameplay as you possibly can. Ultimately, Fates gets an above average 77/100 from me. At the end of the day, the gameplay alone cannot save a game, it needs compelling narrative thrusts alongside great gameplay to push the player into becoming attached to the world that the developers are creating.

~~K-Off~~

Storytelling: 4/10 – Below average, underwhelming.
Gameplay: 10/10 – Polish to an already excellent game mechanic
User Interface: 9/10 – Stat displays are much cleaner, My Castle makes your world simpler.
Production values: 8/10 – Great art, with a memorable soundtrack. The English voices are serviceable.

3 Responses

  1. Avatar swa says:

    Oh well… I was here for the gameplay anyway.
    I am still waiting to get my preorder… on May.
    Damn Nintendo Europe.

  2. Avatar Vonter says:

    It’s a hard match, japanese games have had a hard time making compelling stories. I mean sometimes gameplay does support a bad narrative, in the case of Platinum games. I mean there are also cases of good plots buried on bad gameplay like Nier or the Suda 51 games.

    • Avatar k-off says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s because Shin Kibayashi (the main writer for Fates and its sole credited writer) has almost zero experience writing for this kind of game. Awakening had six writers, but for some reason for Fates they trusted just one guy to scrap together a coherent story with 1)Little to no experience in fantasy games like Fire Emblem and 2)No other writers to offer creative feedback to his work, to tell him that the story he wrote didn’t make any sense at all. Really, they made a terrible mistake there.

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