By: Dylan Hardy
Having played all of the Fire Emblem games to date I was ecstatic to hear that the latest installment, Fire Emblem Fates, would be split into three branching storylines. Fates takes place in a country where two conflicting kingdoms, Nohr and Hoshido, are at war. Now cue the main character. Throughout the first five chapters you learn that you are Corrin, a Nohrian Prince, raised in isolation from the outside world. After a series of events that sees you investigate an abandoned fort on the Hoshido border, you are kidnapped and brought to the Hoshido capital, where the Queen herself tells you that you are one of her children, but were stolen by Nohr at a very young age. Que chapter six, the chapter where you choose between the family that raised you or the family you were born into. To summarize the intro into the game quickly, you can ask yourself the old famous proverb – Is blood thicker than water? For this review, I will be focusing on Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, the story line in which Corrin sides with his adopted family, Nohr.
To put it simply, Conquest is hard. There isn’t any level grinding, the chapters are much harder and with more reinforcements than Birthright, its counterpart. The goal of Conquest is to challenge seasoned veterans of Fire Emblem, and I believe that this is one of the most difficult Fire Emblem titles to date. I played through on Classic Hard mode, which means that the units I sent out in battle were in constant danger of permanently dying, as well as the overall difficulty of the game being rougher. Like all other Fire Emblem games, Conquest is a turn-based strategy game where you control a certain number of units on the battlefield where you must complete particular tasks each chapter to progress. Conquest specifically has a larger variety of goals to complete chapters, including escaping in a particular number of turns, to finding and defeating the boss in a chapter full of disguised units. Despite all of the challenges of Conquest, I believe it’s hardest task is it’s more than an average story. If story is what you’re looking for, the Fire Emblem series is usually hit or miss, what shines for this Fire Emblem is the combat and the new My Castle feature.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest’s game play is as streamlined as ever. As the tactician of the army I found myself constantly viewing the battlefield, comparing stats and weapons to make sure my characters wouldn’t die to combat if placed in the line of battle. At it’s basics, the Fire Emblem series combat starts off with a rock-paper-scissors game where swords beat axes, axes beat lances and lances beat swords. On top of the three weapons mentioned above, tomes, bows and staves also made a return to Conquest, all sporting the quirks of the games in the past. The new additions spiced up the combat greatly with shurikens and daggers, throwing weapons that de-buff the enemy’s stats on hit. The game also features a redesign support system – characters can pair up together for defensive benefits or stand alongside each other to help each unleash powerful team attacks. I constantly found myself trying new pair ups to find what worked just right for my army, and not without consequence. Throughout the entire twenty-eight chapters of Conquest I only lost one unit, my Butler, Jakob. The entire mechanic of permadeath is powerful, sometimes making players restart an entire chapter because one of your best units got overrun. On top of this characters above level ten can promote to a stronger version of their class. For example, Elise starts as a troubadour – once she reaches level ten she can be promoted with a Master Seal to become a Strategist or a Maid. Fates does promotion a little differently this time with the removal of Second Seals. Once a character is promoted, there is only one way to increase level up once capped, a certain Seal that is only available after leveling up a particular building in the My Castle mode. Overall the game play in Conquest is tough and split second decision making comes often. I found myself making hard decisions all the time – not just on the battlefield.
At the end of every chapter you are brought back to your castle, a feature new to Fire Emblem Fates. In this fun little break from plot you can build various buildings and harvest materials that can be used for crafting! I found myself putting countless hours into this mode, trying to obtain all of the accessories and weapons, tomes and staves that I could on the limited money and time that Conquest gave me. I constantly found myself low on funds because of the need to buy Master seals for promotion of my units. You can also visit other people’s castles via the internet! A new mechanic is that upon beating the opponent’s castle, you can inherit a skill a unit has on the opposing team if they do not already know it. In Conquest I found myself using this a couple of times to get higher level skills in order to make some of the hardest chapters – Chapter eleven, I’m looking at you – a little bit easier. I found myself wanting more in Conquest’s My Castle, but I feel as though the entire design of Conquest was to make it bare bones as a means to make the story mode harder. My Castle suffers because of this due to the player not being able to grind side quests to strengthen the bond between units or grind for Dragon Vein Points to upgrade buildings.
Now onto something I love about the Fire Emblem series, the support mechanic. Support has been around for many installments of the Fire Emblem series, allowing for units that battle together on the battlefield to have conversations and get closer after battle. In My Castle mode you can strengthen your bonds between allies if you had partnered up or supported each other in the chapter previous. Now the stronger the bond between units, the better the benefits on the battlefield. What about not on the battlefield you say? Well, if you get the support high enough, characters can reach an S rank and get married! First comes love, then comes marriage – you know the deal. Conquest brings back the farfetched children mechanic that we all loved in Awakening. I found with the limited time I had with the My Castle mode was spent grinding out supports for units I thought would be great couples – let’s be real, I was only doing it for the new paralogue missions that become available after the S rank is reached. Each child has its own unique chapter where they fall into trouble and have to be saved by their parents. The best thing I found about these missions was how likable the children were in this game. Of the children I obtained, I can’t think of one I didn’t really enjoy. Just like every other unit, Corrin can also marry a lucky guy or gal in Conquest – it even offers the potential for a gay marriage. The best thing about this is that you are able to bond with them in your own house, allowing the players to see a more intimate side of the relationship, compared to the rest of your army. Support conversations will never leave Fire Emblem; I’m just hoping they continue forward with this style for future games.
The design of Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is absolutely gorgeous. It includes beautiful sceneries and even better music. I found myself just keeping my 3DS open just to let the music play in the background while I did things in my room. The design of each and every character is enjoyable and unique to Fates, sporting some wacky personalities. Overall I found the general character design of units in Conquest to be, well, Sadistic. A majority of the Nohrians I recruited loved to kill and slay and cause trouble for satisfaction and pleasure. It was a very surprising change of tone for the Fire Emblem series and I enjoyed it. The conversations were always colorful, albeit at times morbid. In one support conversation a character talks about cleaning an axe so she can “carry out a job” while another talks about how the unit gets pleasure from defeating units on the battlefield. Conquest is definitely aimed towards a more mature audience, at least that’s the feel I got from it.
Overall, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest was a refreshing welcome back to strategy games. It succeeded in what I wanted it to be as the successor to Awakening. Despite it’s middle-of-the-road story, the overall design of Conquest, unchanged combat and the addition of the My Castle mode made it shine as a needed title for your 3DS collection. If you guys have ever considered getting into a Fire Emblem game in the past, Fates is one if not the greatest gateway to one of my favorite series of all time!