Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Review (Nintendo 3DS)

Fire Emblem has been around for a while overseas, but it never really seemed to catch on until Awakening came out for the 3DS in 2013.  Luckily it did well enough sales-wise, crushing expectations and fast becoming a beloved game for fans of the series new and old.  This is a good thing; if it had performed poorly we likely wouldn’t have Fates now.

Fates features three separate paths: Birthright, where you side with your birth family, Conquest, where you side with the family that stole you away as a child, and Revelation, where you don’t choose a side.  I hope to review all three, but since I’ve only completed Birthright as of writing this, we’ll have to go with that.

As with Awakening, you can choose the mode you want to play.  I went with classic, where folks that die in battle stay dead, but you can also choose modes where they come back after the battle or come back later in the battle.  Right off the bat here I’ll tell  you that classic is not for the faint of heart.  It’s what I chose and I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I turned the game off mid-battle because one of my units died.

It’s freaking hard.

The characters are almost all lovable and by the end of the game each had won me over.  This is partially because, like Awakening, there’s a mechanic where you can shove two people together and they’ll have a baby that you can, thanks to the time-warping properties of the pockets of space their parents stick them in, make them grow up incredibly fast.  It’s not as solid as the time travel rational from the previous game, but it’s still quite enjoyable.

By shoving two people together you learn a lot about them and grow to love their relationships both on and off the battlefield; not only can folks who like each other have offspring, but the more people like each other the more likely they are to be effective partners in fights by blocking incoming attacks and the like.

Fun fact: the cutest couple of them all in Birthright is Kaden and Sakura.

The fights themselves are tough, but generally fair.  It can get frustrating when there are ally units you can’t control since they tend to get themselves killed far more quickly than they should, which makes rescuing the children needlessly aggravating at times.  Still, in the main quest the times when there’s an ally on the field are few and far between, so you only really run into it to that degree when doing the extra things.

On the whole the battles took a decent amount of thought to get through, especially with the goal of not losing a single unit through the game.  You have to pair the right people up, move people the right way, and plan out the offensive (or defensive) properly.  You know immediately when you’ve screwed up and it’s the worst feeling, but at least when you restart the game from your last save you’ll have learned what should or should not be done to get through things.  It’s tough, don’t get me wrong, but it’s by no means impossible and the feeling of getting through a difficult stage is a great one.

With a level cap of twenty for most units and a further twenty levels once their class is upgraded there is plenty of room for growth.  And depending on which master class is chosen their role on the battlefield can change dramatically.  Add items that permanently increase specific stats and weapon proficiencies, and the opportunities are aplenty.

The story is decent; it had me engaged enough and takes some pretty sad turns, particularly at the end, but it didn’t draw me in completely.  I never knew exactly what was coming or who was behind some of the events, and that made it that much more enjoyable; every character, be it on my side or the enemy side, has their own personality and hopes and dreams, and they each ended up growing on me in the end.  The only one who didn’t was King Garon, he was just a dick through until the end.

I do know, though, that at this point I don’t have the whole story.  Each path reveals something new and I’ve been told that Revelation clears up a lot of things both of the main paths leave unexplained, so there’s plenty I’m in the dark on.  I both love and hate this design; it’s a good game by its own right, but it’s almost guaranteed that folks who play one version will buy the others to get the rest.

The sound design is spot on, with melodies setting the mood for battles and sad moments and heartfelt moments perfectly.  As if some of the deaths weren’t sad enough, the music brings it to a whole new level of feels.  The flagship track, though, is definitely Lost in Thoughts All Alone; it’s such a beautiful melody.

Despite my rage quitting as frequently as I did because of classic difficulty and not wanting to lose any of my people, it was by far one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played so far this year.  By the time I finished I wanted to jump right into the other story paths, and that’s always a good sign.

The Good:
Amazing soundtrack
Well designed characters and interactions
Difficult but fair levels

The Bad:
Only a third of the whole story

Final Score: 9/10

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