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To celebrate the launch of Fire Emblem Fates, Nintendo recently held a hugely successful preview event in downtown Toronto at the historic St. James Cathedral. The theme was “Choose Your Path” and gave eager fans a chance to play the two versions of the game—Birthright and Conquest—to help them decide on their preferred path. While there, I had the rare opportunity to interview Chiko Bird from Nintendo’s Treehouse to learn what gamers can expect from these hugely anticipated games.

Paul Hunter: Fire Emblem Fates features diverging paths with multiple different storylines. In your words, what is the basic concept behind the games, and what are some of the key differences between the versions?

Chiko Bird: When you play RPGs you always have these question situations where you have to answer A or B, and you think “is this going to change the storyline?” and it usually doesn’t. No matter which side you choose, the story is always the same. The developers of the game were discussing this and thought “what if it actually changed the story?” and that ignited the conversation. So they decided this time, as a new feature, we’re going to have two different paths.

3DS_FireEmblemFates_scrn_03_Birthright.jpg In Fire Emblem Fates, you’re a character born in one kingdom (Hoshido), but raised in another kingdom (Nohr). You know that people who raised you have a corrupted kingdom, and you know your birth family are the good ones, but you love both of them and want to bring peace to both kingdoms. How do you do it? Which side in this conflict do you take?

At Chapter 6 you have to make that tough decision. So up to Chapter 6, no matter which version you buy, the story is the same. You’re learning about yourself, and why this decision is going to be hard for you, and go through the same tutorials. At Chapter 6, the story changes depending on which side you take, which side you choose to ally with. For example, if you take the Hoshido side, all the siblings you knew from the Nohr side will be against you, viewing you as a traitor. Vice versa, if you take the Nohr side, the story completely changes.

3DS_FireEmblemFates_scrn05_E3.jpgThere is a common thread in the games though: in both versions you try to take down the corrupted Nohr king, and bring peace to both kingdoms. There are always two sides to each story, and in this game you can actually experience them. They are two completely different stories; it’s not like in one version you get a few extra characters or anything like that. It’s completely different stories, completely different maps, and completely different characters you’ll be using, so you’ll have a different experience.

On top of that, there are some basic gameplay differences between the two versions. For example, the Birthright version is more traditional good vs. evil—you take the good side and try to take down the corrupted king. In this version, you will have more opportunity, more resources to yourself, and you’ll be able to have side quests between chapters to level up your characters. No matter which side you choose though, we all know Fire Emblem is a challenging game. It looks simple, but it’s very hard. I’m not going to say which one is easier, but in Birthright you have to option to level up on these side missions, and also get more money, and more units. It gives you a chance to level up and prepare your army before advancing to the next chapter.

Fire_Emblem_Fates_5.jpgIf you decide to go to the Nohr side, the king won’t trust you anymore. He knows that you know you’re from Hoshido, so he doesn’t trust your loyalty and will try to kill you every chance he can get. He’s not going to give you enough resources, he’s not going to give you enough units to go into battle with. So you have limited resources, limited units, limited money, and you don’t get the side quests to level up your characters. That gives you very hard circumstances to go through. Those are the big gameplay differences.

If you’ve never played the Fire Emblem series, or haven’t played for a long time and don’t remember how the game works, it might be good to start with Birthright. It’s more accessible. Another thing we did with the past Fire Emblem game, Awakening, was add Casual mode. Perma-death is very hard for some people, it’s more for old school fans who like intense life or death moments every turn. For some players though, that’s too much, so we brought back Casual mode in Fire Emblem Fates. In this mode, even if somebody dies in a battle, the next chapter they will come back. So you’ll still have the same number of units to choose from. That was newly introduced in Awakening, and people liked it.

This time, we also added Phoenix mode. With this mode, if a character dies in a turn, they will come back the very next turn, you don’t even have to wait until the next chapter. Basically, you won’t lose anybody in any of the chapters. The mode makes it even easier for newcomers, or people who are intimidated by perma-death. Once you’ve learned the game, you can graduate from Phoenix mode to Casual mode, and Casual mode to the Classic mode.

Fire_Emblem_Fates_15.jpgPH: If somebody were to pick up one version, and play all the way to Chapter 6, then decide they would rather play the other path, are there options available to allow this? Or should people pick up both versions?

CB: You should not buy two packages, that’s for sure. You should buy one or the other, based on which story you think will appeal more to you. Let’s say you pick Birthright and play up to Chapter 6, it’ll be the same no matter which package you picked up. When you come to the decision to pick which family to side with, if you decide then you’d rather take the Conquest path, you can purchase and download this path. So you’ll still have the Birthright path, but on top of that you’ll be able to get the Conquest path as additional downloadable content at a discounted price. That’s one thing I want people to understand, I don’t want them to buy two full-priced games, when you can get one and then download the other at a lower price.

Fire_Emblem_Fates_6.jpgPH: So if I’m hearing you right, you could, for example, start with Birthright, decide at Chapter 6 to purchase and play down the Conquest path, then after you complete Conquest, go back and play the Birthright path. Is that correct?

CB: In this scenario, you don’t even have to wait until you complete Conquest. When you buy Birthright you’ll get three save slots, and if you then purchase Conquest, you’ll actually add three more save slots (so six in total). So from Chapter 6, if you want, you can alternate playing both games, finishing a chapter in Birthright, and then finishing a chapter in Conquest. I don’t recommend that way though, as keeping both the stories straight could get confusing. My preference is to play one path all the way through, learn the story, learn what happens, and then play the other side.

FEFates_PressKit_Conquest_05.jpgPH: What about multiplayer, can you get into what’s included?

CB: “My Castle” is a new multiplayer area. Between chapters it’s also a place where you can prepare for the next battle. There were minimum facilities in the previous game to visit between chapters. This time you have your own castle where you can build a weapon shop, item shop, gardens, and different things. If you play the Birthright version, you’re on the Hoshido side. The weapon shop and item shop you have in your castle will be Hoshido. Weapons and items differ between the two sides. The classes are also different.

So if you have a Hoshido style castle, you only have access to Hoshido style weapons and items. The Nohr also have their own unique weapons and items. Take heal for example, the Nohr is the traditional heal a character one space beside you. For the Hoshido side, they have festals that can heal characters one space away. The amount of heal will be a little bit less, but still, it makes a big difference. If you’re on the Nohr side, this gives you a reason to go visit your friends’ Hoshido castles, to go to their shops and purchase items like these to take back to your castle.

Each castle will also have one specialty item, such as sapphires, rubies, and pearl, so you’ll need to visit other people’s castles to get the special items your castle doesn’t produce. One of the shops you build is an Accessory shop, where you can purchase hats and scarves, and things like that. To purchase them, you’ll need specific items in specific numbers, and most of these items will not be available in your castle. So you have to go to other castles to get them.

Visiting castles works with StreetPass, as well as local and online multiplayer. With StreetPass, you download another player’s “ghost data” and can then visit their castle, or even do battle with them using a pre-set army. With Local Play, I can sit next to you and we can do 5v5 battles with our armies, taking turns. This is called Battle mode. There’s also a Local Play mode called Parlay, which is what I previously described where you visit a friend’s castle.

Fire_Emblem_Fates_11.jpgPH: What about amiibo integration?

CB: You can use four different Fire Emblem amiibo—Marth, Ike, Lucina, and Robin—and when you tap them to your Nintendo 3DS, they’ll appear in your My Castle area. The first two times you tap, you can go talk to them and they’ll give you a special present. The third time you tap them, they’ll challenge you to battle to see if you’re good enough. This will open up Hero Battle outside your castle area. Here you will battle against that character, and he or she will be very powerful, so I don’t recommend doing this too early in the game. The battle will pit the army of the amiibo character versus your army. If you win, you’ll be able to bring them into your army, but it takes time!

PH: I heard there is going to be a major DLC release for Fire Emblem Fates called Revelation, could you describe that?

CB: Well as I said, when you come to Chapter 6, that’s where you’ll choose the Hoshido side, or the Nohr side. But there’s actually a third path where you don’t have to pick one side or the other. You love both sides, and can’t choose between them! In this third path, you don’t have to take a side, but that means you’re against both kingdoms, and they’re both going to come after you. At the same time, you have the opportunity to try and convince families from both sides to be on your side. You’ll discover there’s an even bigger evil, and you can learn even more about the story not covered in Birthright or Conquest. My recommendation is play either Birthright or Conquest all the way, and then after if you want to play another path, you can choose the other family, or download Revelation. This DLC will arrive a little later, on March 10, to give you time to play through either Birthright or Conquest before taking this third path.

PH: I’m really looking forward to Fire Emblem Fates, thanks for your time.

I hope you learned a lot with this interview, and watch out for our full review of Fire Emblem Fates coming soon!