Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Played on: Nintendo 3DS XL
Fire Emblem may not be as recognizable as Final Fantasy or Pokemon. But it is one of the most prolific franchises in gaming. Fire Emblem Fates combines the series’ trademark chess-like battles with building up relationships between your soldiers. The tale of family, love, and war remains captivating throughout each tactical battle.
The immediate biggest difference between Fire Emblem Fates and 2013’s Fire Emblem Awakening is the split story and dual release. Early on your avatar is forced to choose between two warring factions. It’s a critical decision that determines whom your allies and enemies will be for the rest of the game. It’s also decided for you depending on which version you buy.
For a series first, Fire Emblem Fates pulled a Pokémon and released two versions – Birthright and Conquest. Birthright follows the more Japanese-influenced Hoshido kingdom of samurai and monks. Conquest focuses on the medieval European styles of Nohr with knights and cavaliers.
The story changes dramatically based on your choice. Hoshido are the more obvious good guys, fighting against the nearby conquering army. In Nohr you’re forced to change your kingdom’s evil ways with the help of your loyal family.
Your biggest influence relies on the interplay between your soldiers. Your roster can swell to several dozen allies. My favorites in Conquest included Niles, a damaged, brooding outlaw, and Selena, a snarky merc with a neat heritage. Your characters interact with each other in between missions at your castle. The castle is a new feature for Fates. You can build your own facilities and arrange them, and defend your castle from frequent attacks.
Fire Emblem’s grid battles have remained the same since the 90s. Each battle reveals a tactical map, letting you choose which soldiers to field. Every character class is skilled with certain weapons. Knowing weapon strengths and weaknesses – Axes are stronger than Lances for example, is critical to fielding the right army and planning your attacks.
Placing your troops next to each other lets them attack together in a single turn. Enemies benefit from this as well. Movement and placement is the most important part of every battle.
The more your troops work side-by-side the stronger their bond becomes. This bond increases their stats when battling together. A strong bond can lead to friendship and even marriage off the field.
Between battles Fire Emblem becomes an adorable war-time dating simulator. Like Awakening, marriage can lead to a new generation of soldiers. These quickly-aged young adults can then join your army with the unique skills of their parents. Playing matchmaker is an enjoyable side track to the main action. I loved how relationships were reflected in the stronger bonds on the battlefield.
Fire Emblem Fates is rated T for Teen by the ESRB for Animated Violence, Fantasy Violence, and Suggestive Themes. The Western localization has been toned down and changed from the original Japanese – a point of contention for many fans. The Suggestive Themes mostly refer to female characters in typical sexy anime outfits and flirty remarks. While individual fights show characters striking each other, there’s no blood or gore.
The split story and dual game release feels a little too gimmicky. Though you can purchase the second one at a discount (with a third on the way). The tactical gameplay remains satisfying and fun thanks to the increased emphasis on relationships and battle pairings. Matching your diverse soldiers together is surprisingly captivating. Not to mention the agony of choosing whom to marry yourself! Fire Emblem Fates is a worthy sequel to Awakening and a must play for tactical strategy fans.