I feel bad for my Nintendo 3DS. The system is pretty neat, but it’s been locked away in a drawer for several months, mostly because there’s not been anything that’s grabbed my interest. A new Fire Emblem game? You have my interest. 3 Campaigns? Now you have my attention.
This is a bit of a weird release setup, as really, there are three releases for Fire Emblem this month, and all of them use the same system, and all are about the same conflict. But they tell the story in different ways. Your character Corrin will side with one of the warring factions, depending on which game you play. You side with either Nohr of Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, the faction that raised your character from youth, or Hoshido, the faction of your blood lineage, and the faction in Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright.
Unless you don’t side with a faction. That can happen if you bought the US Special Edition, which features both Birthright, Conquest, and a third campaign, Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation. This campaign is only currently available if you bought the Special Edition, which is sold out just about everywhere, but will also be available as a $20 DLC if you bought either of the other campaigns.
The most important thing you must consider before you decide which faction you’re going to play and therefore what game you’re going to buy? How comfortable you are playing Fire Emblem games. Birthright is a more forgiving experience, while Conquest is a LOT harder. Conquest likes to throw extra victory conditions in, other than just “Defeat All enemies”. I’ve seen reports of late game missions where the armies are relatively the same, but between the environmental hazards and the way the fight can go, you can finish the Birthright one in less then an hour, while Conquest took upwards of 10 hours and many many retries to do, even on an easier difficulty level.
Oh, and one other thing. Birthright is more standard to Fire Emblem, in that you can grind battles and level up your characters by redoing battles, to make the storyline battles easier. Conquest? Yeah right. So choosing who to make every last blow is important, because it’s natural to have your strongest characters do the heavy lifting. But if you do that, your weaker characters (that grow faster) will never catch up.
And that’s before we get to the other most important thing. Fire Emblem has a permadeath option standard, which will keep you on your toes, even in battles you should comfortably win, because one bad roll, one mistake in placement, and one critical when you weren’t expecting it? That character who you spent hours and hours levelling is gone. All their relationships are gone. War is Hell. Thankfully, you can turn it off, and actually, I recommend that you do, until you get used to the campaigns and maybe play through them a couple times.
The gameplay is pretty much standard Fire Emblem, characters move and attack in a turn based manner. There is a strategic layer to the game, as teaming up characters can help them work together better (as well as building friendships as well as relationships), and sometimes you may want to hold off on an offensive move to seize a better defensive position (Conquest makes being in control of key terrain features almost mandatory).
If I had to choose an order to play the games in, it would go: Birthright (easier campaign, more like the “Good Guys” of the setting), Conquest (Much more difficult campaign, while not evil, they are certainly power hungry,) and Revelation (the story behind the conflict itself, and possibly resolving it so both factions “win”).
I have to caution that for those people who like a game like some folks like their steak.. and that’s by itself and with nothing else to “spoil the meal”.. this game will drive you batty. I’m talking TWELVE additional pieces of DLC (mostly new non-storyline maps and side-stories, as well as things to make levelling/money easier). That’s just what’s announced (and some of it is free, but majority is not). And that’s not counting the ability to buy the other campaigns (if you own Birthright, you can buy both Conquest and Revelation for $19.99 each, and if you own Conquest, you can buy both Birthright and Revelation). A lot of folks will consider this Nintendo making you buy the same game three times. It’s understandable. Hoewver, things like this, the “My Castle” feature, and online play will greatly extend the amount of time you spend playing.
The other bit of controversy (which I feel compelled to mention) is that yes, things have been changed in the United States localization on. Things like petting your characters, or something that would be considered drugging for “Gay Conversion”. My personal opinion is that it doesn’t take away from the core gameplay, which is hopefully the reason we’re all here.
These minor flaws aside, Nintendo have a bonafide system selling game on their hands (and you can actually buy a Fire Emblem Fates special edition 3DS in either flavor). Just make sure that you approach the games in an order you’re comfortable with (if you’ve never played a Fire Emblem game before, jumping into Conquest may be inadvisable, as you will hit a difficulty wall that will affect your enjoyment).
Let’s wrap this up. I have a kingdom to save/take over…
The Good: Nintendo has taken the award winning Fire Emblem series, and found a way to tell three stories, from three viewpoints, about the same conflict, and make each of them a good story. The gameplay is very good, and it keeps what works about Fire Emblem and updates what didn’t work. You will get a lot of game play out of just one campaign, but you can get the other campaigns and be playing this for hundreds of hours, probably.
The Bad: Conquest is quite possibly the most difficult Fire Emblem ever, and probably inadvisable for first time players. Releasing three separate games (even if you can buy the other two for roughly 50% off when you buy one) and a ton of paid content make this seem like a cash grab from Nintendo. If you have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to buying DLC, save yourself the trouble and don’t take that first hit.
Should You Buy it? I would start with Birthright, then if you want to see the other sides of the story, pick up Conquest and Revelation. Fire Emblem: Fates is a worthy addition to anyone’s library, and is a reason to pull your 3DS out of mothballs.
David "SirFozzie" Yellope is the operator of the "An 8 bit mind in an 8 Gigabyte World". (an8bitmind.com) While not QUITE yet at the stage of waving his cane and telling the kids to "get off his lawn", he does admit he owns three canes.