Game Name: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright
Platform: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS
Developers: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Price: £39.99 or $39.99, £17.99 or $19.99 if you own one of the other Fates games
I’ve never been huge on the whole strategy genre. I simply don’t get much fun out of trying a hundred different strategies to get past a single level. Micromanaging every single aspect of an army is infinitely more stressful than making split-second decisions in an intense action game such as Enter the Gungeon. Despite this, it’s virtually impossible to avoid one of Nintendo’s flagship series: Fire Emblem. The turn-based, tactical role-playing game has been around almost as long as the likes of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda. Although it’s always been more popular in Japan, the series has not-too-long-ago become popular in the west and Europe as well. Recently, the series has pushed to try and accommodate newcomers to the series, so what better time for me to jump in and try out the series’ latest game, or rather ‘games’: Fates?
First, let me clear up a lot of the confusion surrounding Fire Emblem Fates because it’s not really well-explained by Nintendo. There are three games with the name of Fates: Birthright, Conquest and Revelations. You can buy one of them for £39.99 and get the other two at a discounted price of £17.99. Each one has the same gameplay, but follows a different story. After 5 introductory chapters, you’ll be given a choice in Chapter 6 to side with either Hoshido, Nohr or no-one which affects which game you play. I own all three of them and I’m planning to review all three as well. Today, I’ll be reviewing Birthright. It’s considered the easiest and most beginner-friendly of the three games and follows the player after they’ve chosen to side with Hoshido. Please keep in mind that I’m not big on strategy games and I’ve never played a game in the Fire Emblem series before so I may not be all that knowledgeable. I’m going to approach the games as someone completely new to the series so if you’re looking for a veteran’s opinion, you’d probably be better off checking out another review.
At first glance Fire Emblem Fates’ gameplay is as simple as can be. You select your units and control them one by one, moving them to attack enemies, defend any other units on the battlefield and more. The gameplay relies heavily on using teamwork between your units to overpower the enemy. If you attack an enemy unit with another friendly unit adjacent then you’ll team up with them to deal extra damage. You can also pair units up as a more defensive manoeuvre. They won’t attack in tandem, but the supporting unit will increase the attacking units defensive capabilities and possibly even completely block enemy attacks. It’s a neat method of making you feel like you’re actually controlling an army rather than a collection of isolated units, pairing up your healers with your damage dealers so they’re safe and making the most of unit positions to outmanoeuvre the opposing army. Another feature that makes battles more interesting are dragon veins. These take the form of luminescent spots on the map, and can be activated by any unit with royal blood/a main character no matter what side they’re on, and have varying effects. Activating one might cause enemies in a certain area to be struck by lightning and damaged, activating another one could cause swampy water to flood an area and slow units, activating another one could simply open up a new path for your units to take. The capabilities are limitless and they keep the gameplay from getting old and boring.
This also ties into a mechanic that I believe is relatively new to the series: the Support system. Every time your units team up, their relationship will improve, and once it reaches a certain point, they can have a support conversation. These are small bites of character development with the characters talking and interacting with each other before improving their support rank. There are four ranks, C, B, A and S, but each unit can only reach Rank S with one other character as they’ll marry and have children(more on that later). Almost any unit can do this, including your own character. While I think the support system is a great idea and it reminded me of Persona’s social links, I think the developers were going for quantity more than quality. It’s great that any unit can interact with any other unit(with a few exceptions) but I’d prefer fewer, more meaningful support conversations. Very few of the interactions are memorable or feel important in the slightest. Pretty much every collection of support conversations goes like this: C: I have a problem with you. B: I still have a problem with you. A: I no longer have a problem with you. S: LET’S HAVE BABIES TOGETHER.
The best part of the support system however is the reward for getting two units to S Rank. Once they get to this rank, they will marry and have one or more children. This gives you access to a side mission of sorts called a paralogue. These missions involve the children your units have produced in some way and if you manage to beat them, you can recruit their children to your army. That’s just awesome! Unfortunately, a lot of these paralogues seem downright unfair in difficulty. They’re obviously meant for endgame as the enemies are a ridiculously high level. Several times I attempted a paralogue only to realise I stood no chance because even my strongest units dealt about 5 damage to 40 health enemies. Your units being underlevelled is a consistent problem with the game, but fortunately, it isn’t as much of an issue in the story chapters.
Speaking of the story, how is it? Well, personally, I’d say it’s one of the worst aspects of the game. It certainly had a lot of potential. Your character was born as a Hoshidian, but kidnapped as a baby and raised in Nohr. This seems like it could make for some great conflict between a family of blood and a family you grew up with and force you to make some hard choices… but nope! Hoshido are the de facto good guys and Nohrian are the de facto bad guys. Nothing the bad guys/Nohrians do seems to have a motive behind it and the Hosidians are so ‘goody two-shoes’ that they can be downright sickening. There’s literally no reason for you to choose Nohr other than Camilla’s boobs which just goes to show how poor the story is. The Hoshidian story isn’t too bad, it’s more typical than anything, but you have to wonder: what was the writer thinking?
Finally, I’d like to talk about my favourite part of the game: building your own castle! After every battle, you’ll go back to your home base, a giant castle where you can chill and prepare for the next one. Your castle is highly customizable. First, you can choose from multiple themes which determine the base design of your castle. Then, every time you win a battle, you’ll receive 2 Dragon Vein Points. These allow you to build new structures such as shops, decorations and defences or upgrade existing ones. Finally, you can take part in optional castle defence missions, either against the AI or other players, where you defend your castle’s throne from enemy forces. Throughout the course of the game, I got pretty attached to my little fort, however, like everything, it’s not perfect. A lot of castle features feel downright useless, at least to me. I never bought anything from the weapon shops except seals to upgrade my units, I never once used the prison and I don’t think I even built a lottery shop. It didn’t reduce my love for my badass base but it would still be nice if certain features had more usefulness.
Overall, I actually enjoyed Fire Emblem Birthright more than I expected. Although it has no shortage of problems from the horrible story, to the character imbalance, to the lack of uses for a lot of castle features, it has no shortage of good points either. Some interesting, good-old strategic turn-based gameplay, the compelling castle building feature, the awesome support conversations and paralogues, the phenomenal soundtrack. You series veterans will probably hate me for this, but I didn’t play on Classic as I wasn’t sure how difficult the game would be. However, I definitely think I’ll be trying it out for the next Fates game now I’ve got my footing. Fire Emblem Birthright wasn’t ‘amazing’ in my opinion, but I think I’ll certainly be checking out more Fire Emblem games from now on.
- Strategic turn-based gameplay is easy to learn but hard to master
- Plenty of opportunities for players new to the series to grind
- Building your own castle and then defending it is awesome. I got way too attached to mine.
- The ability to ship and form tight bonds between any of your army members is pretty cool, albeit pretty funny as well
- Dragon veins spice up the gameplay and keep it from getting too boring
- Options to speed up or slow down the gameplay to your liking
- Great soundtrack
- Some of the characters are pretty interesting and I loved spending time with them through the Support system
- Cutscenes look absolutely beautiful for 3DS
- Paralogues and the ability to recruit your children to your army are pretty cool
- Castle mechanics and other stuff outside of the main gameplay isn’t explained well enough
- The story is meh at best, plain bad at worst.
- Support conversations are more quantity than quality
- Why the hell would you pick Nohr… apart from Camilla’s boobs.
- Quite a few of the characters are just boring and are more like living cliches than actual people
- I never once bought anything from the shops with the exception of seals to ‘evolve’ my units
- Now I think about it, I didn’t feel the need to use over half the features available in my castle
- There’s a lot of character imbalance. Some characters are so good I could win pretty much just using them while other characters are so weak they get owned by a single enemy unit.
- Ryoma and Takumi are ridiculously OP. Don’t use them if you want a challenge.
- Hana is the epitome of uselessness
- Veterans may find it too easy, even on higher difficulties
- Levelling up certain units is a pain and I often abandoned any strategies I had to give some experience to my weaker units
- If you want to change the gameplay to classic or another difficulty mode for a new game, you have to replay the entirety of the introduction again
Buy the game on the Nintendo Store here: https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-3DS/Fire-Emblem-Fates-1026071.html