Developer: Intelligent Systems
Review Context: I am a huge fan of the franchise and have played every Fire Emblem game released. After coming off of a huge acclamation from the previous title, Fire Emblem Awakening, I feel like Fire Emblem Fates has a hill to climb to try and take that spot.
Date of Playthrough: May 2016
Who would you fight for when the chips are down? Those whom you have loved as family since childhood, or the family you were whisked away from as an infant who had never stopped hoping you would return? Fire Emblem Fates forces you to make that choice by choosing one of three paths and having an entirely different game long experience for each. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright forces you to take the side of your blood family as you fight with the Japanese inspired Hoshido against the European inspired Nohr. While trying to find commonplace within the same type of plot the Fire Emblem series is known for, Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates in general attempts to change up the formula more than the previous title. Fire Emblem Awakening was known for innovating the series into a pop culture status regarding Nintendo franchises, but it also took many risks that paid off. With Birthright attempting to change around more, does it pass the point of no return and deviate too far from the series staple gameplay creating an alien experience? And the even bigger question is, do these changes even work?
Birthright is essentially the first game to be played in this trilogy of games for how much easier it is in comparison to the others. That being said, this game will beat you down if you are not relentless enough. Probably the hardest trio of games to beat for the series by far with its tweaks and changes to the formula they have stuck to for so long. Playing the game on Normal, there were hiccups I had on my first playthrough. First off though, before the gameplay, let’s dive into the story. The game starts off with a prologue to both games before the inevitable decision of choosing one of the paths. You learn about both families and how twisted King Garon is on his way to dominion of the world. Birthright has you side with your blood family in Hoshido on your way to fight your adoptive family in Nohr. This path is quite similar to a tragedy, as you face off against the family you are closer and more in tune with even in the beginning of the prologue chapters. Some chapters really revel in the emotions brought forth from facing your past siblings, and you can understand every character you side with and face against. You have your older siblings of Ryouma and Xander, who must uphold the family values as they are both heirs to the throne. Your sisters Sakura and Elise, who are both loving and want the families to stay together. Hinoka and Camilla, who are stout and strong women who have their own struggles with how your past has played out. Leon, who always believed in you only to be shunned when you followed your blood family. All of these emotions and goals are beautifully layered throughout the story, and even then, there are far more characters fleshed out in their resolve, such as your maids and your allies and your enemies. The amount of time dedicated to fleshing out the characters is some of the best in the series.
Then there is a problem with how the story handles some elements, as well as the introduction of other elements creating both an awkward experience. Never before has Fire Emblem game ever killed off a cast member because of a requirement that is needed in the initial playthrough. They will cheap shot you with a death that depending on whether or not you have an A rank support with this unit they will perish. It comes out of nowhere and it is a bit uncalled for. Other Fire Emblem games have had character deaths embedded in the story but have always given you the chance to save them without the need to satisfy a requirement. Birthright is the first time I have ever felt upset because it felt like a characters death was outside of my control since it was never brought up previously. The camp of this game is where it slowly begins to show you how the fan service enters into the game. The camp does have a hot spring which is optional, but it causes these bland talks that were never really needed and add nothing to the characters or story. When you marry someone, you have them move into your private quarters and you often can bond with them. This has them show up on the bottom screen staring at you and sometimes interacting in weird ways. Sometimes you need to blow on them to cool them down or rub their head, which does add more interactivity than other Fire Emblem games when you marry units together. The problem is that it comes off as awkward and pandering to progress your bond with your chosen partner, when we could have more discussion pieces made to progress their character more. I may not be the audience for it, but it feels like a strange addition to the franchise that almost came out of nowhere.
The map designs and enemy placement themselves at times weren’t on par with other parts of the story. Often this feeling came about only in the Paralogue chapters, as most followed the same routine and were quite boring to play through in regards to how dynamic the story chapters were. Some gimmicks of maps in particular can make your life more difficult on a given stage, such as Dragon Veins. The incorporation of these map changing points have certainly added a new element of depth to your surroundings and the enemy as well. These veins can do anything from give life to friendly units in an area all the way, to changing the topography of the map to suit your needs, such as elevation or creating grass to give mounted units more maneuverability in desert stages. This advantage not only helps you though, but also will assist in widening the enemies’ way of moving and can lead to some unexpected and potentially lethal scenarios. If you add in that you are fighting against the royal family, who can also use said veins, then you can be in for some hefty defensive gameplay. This aspect changes up the game drastically in a good way as it creates extra dimensions to how to handle different stages.
Then you have the removal of weapon durability, which has been a staple for the games since the beginning; losing the dynamic of weapon/money management. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were trying to make this an easier Fire Emblem than the other three to ease in the newer crowd, but the game is still complex for a new gamer to the franchise despite that small change. You can even hold onto more money, as you only need to buy a set amount of items and switch them out with other units, which will leave you with more money than you know what to do with. While it may seem minor to some, this small change shows a change in focus and possibly not one for the better. Then if you compare it to the increase and decrease effects introduced into the Fate games, it adds yet another dynamic to complicated battle strategies. Ninjas and other classes carry abilities and weapons that lower the opposition’s strength. Defense or other attribute and silver weapons now, after use, decrease your own unit’s attributes. These can be brought back over time, but it certainly makes you think about using certain items and attacking certain enemies even if they do no damage. This is a change that doesn’t remove a level of complexity to the strategy, but rather helps in enhancing it further. As a fan of the franchise I dislike to see staple mechanics go, but due to little changes like this and harder enemy placement on maps certainly does weigh out this particular negative.
The design aspects have in some areas regressed and others flourished. Ever since Awakening the monsters of the franchise have easily dwindled in creativity from the time of their original integration in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. This shows on the chained up and bland Faceless. Often coming in droves, these creatures lack a thought process behind them enough to warrant such a void of creativity. The Stoneborn however are interesting solely in their facial features, as it seems quite reminiscent of the Mouth of Truth from Italy. Interesting design choice, but nothing intriguing done with its body or attack to really make it pop with relevance. Several characters are being reused from Awakening. While they are re-imagining them differently with almost different classes to boot, I still associate their designs with the previous models. Now with all that negativity towards how uncreative some designs are, Hoshido and Nohr have been beautifully brought to life for some of the most memorable cultures in the franchise. The characters, who are not copy and pasted from the previous game, reflect this cultural diversity having their clothes and even demeanor in conversation at times reflect their upbringings. The ninjas are often steadfast and loyal with very little shift in emotions for their portraits when talking unless it is to show anger or at times sorrow. The cinematics are as flawless as they were in Awakening, and the little touches to show the personality of the characters, such as Camilla walking towards you leisurely on a battlefield to offer a hug are some of the little moments that showcase so much characterization in the tiny details and I love that. The one aspect that is truly sensational for this series are the battle transitions that actually seamlessly go from map overview right into the thick of it, breathing life into the flat surfaces you always see. This is the first time this has happened, as usually it is just a cut away into the fight, this adds that extra bit of immersion and visual splendor that makes a game stand out in its franchise and should be a continued addition to the franchise from this point on.
There are so many things to consider in this game, from the story to the new additions and removals in the gameplay. The story itself is surprisingly good, holding back nothing. Even though it falls along some of the same beats as past Fire Emblem games, it has a strong gimmick of family ties that never overplays itself. The new additions to the gameplay are often mixed as to why their inclusion; the weird “bond” sequences with your significant other in the game may seem awkward and out of place, yet the Dragon Veins add another interesting layer to the already complex formula that is Fire Emblem combat. Taking out some things does seem to hinder the overall experience; removing the map aspect that was introduced in The Sacred Stones was a bit awkward but still manageable despite the blander UI. Though if you consider the lack of weapon durability and the still steady stream of gold, I don’t understand what they were trying to accomplish, as it wasn’t implemented well leaving you a lot of areas to exploit for weapon management not found in previous titles. The animation, while lacking in creativity in some aspects, is still top notch and despite not going into it the music as well, holds its own against its previous titles, especially with it setting the stage and tone exceptionally well for such pivotal chapters like Xander. Birthright, in its own right, is a great game, yet its attempts at innovating the franchise may not have always landed. It still becomes a standout addition to an already Nintendo staple franchise.
Similar Games Liked:
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
Similar Games Disliked:
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)