Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright for Nintendo 3DS
I love that Fire Emblem, one of Nintendo’s historically underrated franchises, has had a resurgence of late. The much better than expected sales of Fire Emblem: Awakening have seen us given not one, not two, but three new Fire Emblem games. I was cynical about the split of Fates into three parts initially; I’m of the opinion that if any company tried to pull the two game Pokemon thing Nintendo have been doing for years they’d be rightly criticised for dodgy business practices. However, after playing Birthright I can see that this comfortably stands alone as its own game as well as leaving me hungry to jump right into Conquest.
All versions of Fire Emblem Fates follow Corrin, a young prince or princess of the dingy, militarily aggressive nation of Nohr. I’m going to refer to Corrin as female for this summary as she was in my game. Corrin has been kept in a Nohrian fortress all of her life, but upon coming of age is sent by the King Garon to investigate a fortress held by the rival nation of Hoshido, near their border. On that mission Corrin is captured by Hoshidan forces and brought to their capital, where she is revealed to be a long lost child of the Hoshidan royal family, kidnapped by Nohr as a child. The Nohrian forces led by Xander, Corrin’s adopted older brother, comes to take her back and the Hoshidans go into battle to defend her, led by her real brother Ryoma. It is here that Fire Emblem Fates splits into its three separate paths. Birthright follows the path of Corrin joining with her birth family, the Hoshidans and taking the war to Nohr to defeat King Garon’s imperial ambitions, fighting her adopted family along the way.
Birthright only tells one third of an entire story, so doesn’t necessarily feel particularly satisfying in its own right, particularly compared to Awakening. The supporting cast contains a few of the interesting eccentrics which Awakening did so well, but there really aren’t anyone has memorable as characters like Tharja, Donnel or Kellem. The characterisation in these games is at its best when it’s big, unsubtle and silly, with a few too many characters in Birthright attempting to be a bit more nuanced which doesn’t really work as the writing simply isn’t strong enough to support it. Easily the most interesting element is the betrayal felt by her Nohrian family that Corrin has chosen Hoshido. Birthright definitely has some cool moments, particularly towards the end, but all told this third of the Fire Emblem Fates felt very safe and conservative. That said, from all I’ve heard this is intentional as Conquest and Revelations move in more interesting directions and that Birthright in some ways lays some groundwork for the other games. I hope this is true because on its own merits there isn’t a huge amount of interest here.
Birthright is structured in a very similar way to Awakening, with Conquest apparently being more similar to the older Fire Emblem games. The core mechanics are essentially unchanged, with the beefed up support system from Awakening making a grand return. Building relationships between the characters remains one of the greatest joys of the game, with the return of children of characters being recruitable. The plot reasoning for this is iffy, but it’s undeniably satisfying populating your army with your offspring. I love turn based strategy games and Fire Emblem is among the very best. The core strategic weapon triangle combat is the same, although things are complicated slightly the addition of shurikens for the new Ninja class. Birthright has fairly simple mission objectives, with almost all being about killing the enemy forces, which is fine as there are some neat level designs. The core mechanics of Fire Emblem are so damn satisfying that there don’t need to be many changes. A neat addition are ‘Dragon Veins’, which Corrin and members of the Hosihdan royal family can activate in a map to alter the terrain, such as releasing toxic gas which weakens enemy stats, or creating a bridge to allow you to flank the enemy. It’s a really cool addition which adds a nice extra tactical layer on top. There is an ability to create your own castle between missions, which feels a bit undercooked and superfluous. There’s potential there that it would be nice to see expanded in future games, but it didn’t interest me here
There are a lot of quality of life changes, like adjustable difficulty modes and the ability to turn off the infamous permadeath. People have been describing this as the easy one, which makes me want to weep as I found it quite hard. That said, I did play it on the Classic permadeath mode, as it just wouldn’t feel like Fire Emblem without it and I refused to let anyone die. I like that I was able to adjust not only my own level of challenge but also my own style of challenge. Purists will bitch and moan but I don’t care, play however you like. Returning from Awakening is the ability to grind and level up outside the core missions. All of these changes make this the most accessible Fire Emblem yet, which is a good thing. Nothing is sacrificed or ruined from the old games and now more people can get into it; it’s a win-win situation.
Birthright is visually similar to Awakening, with impressive looking battles and a clear and uncluttered UI for the combat. The Hoshido characters are more influenced by Japanese culture than the more Western Medieval fantasy styles of the previous games. This means there are a lot of cool new looking classes with some really neat animations. The voice acting is generally decent, although I would have liked to see it used more extensively. I suspect that this may have been a pretty massive burden on the memory for a little 3DS cart, so I get why it’s not there, but it still felt like a bit of a shame. The music is good, although not quite as good as in some of the previous games. I like the amount of customisation available, from different angles to the battles and a range of difficulty options.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is a good game which nonetheless left me a bit wanting. It didn’t grab me nearly as much as Awakening, particularly in terms of the characters and range of classes. I have heard many call this the weakest of the three Fates games, which I hope is the case as I leap headfirst into Conquest.