Two sides to every story
Following 2013’s superb Fire Emblem: Awakening, Nintendo’s acclaimed tactical role-playing game franchise is back with Fire Emblem Fates on Nintendo 3DS. In a series first, this time you’ll have to choose your path—Birthright or Conquest—each telling a different perspective on a war between two powerful nations.
Nintendo is no stranger to releasing games in pairs, having long done this with their Pokémon series, but the differences in Fire Emblem Fates run much deeper than merely having a few exclusive characters in each box. Both versions of the game have their own unique story, different playable characters, distinct character classes, exclusive weapons and items, original maps, varying mission objectives, and differ in their overall challenge level.
Each version will give you over 30 hours of gameplay, so you’ll want to consider your options wisely when deciding which one to start with. The great news is that Birthright and Conquest are both excellent games, so you really can’t go wrong, and you might even be tempted to play through both streams like I did.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS – Birthright edition / Conquest edition
Release Date: February 19, 2016
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Genre: Tactical role-playing game
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T (Teen, 13+)
A corrupted king goes to war
No matter which version of Fire Emblem: Fates you choose, the story up until Chapter 6 will be the same. You begin the game by customizing your main hero character, including gender, body type, facial features, hair style, hair colour, and so on. As you soon discover, your character is a young Princess or Prince from Nohr, a powerful, feared nation with a long history of tyranny and oppression. The depraved ruler of Nohr, King Garon, intent on starting a war with the kingdom of Hoshido, a long-time rival, sends you out on a scouting mission that is secretly a ruse intended to escalate hostilities between the nations.
Just as Garon planned, the sabotaged mission doesn’t go your way, and you wind up in the hands of your Hoshido enemies. After being taken back to the Hoshido castle you uncover a startling truth hidden from you since birth—you are a Hoshidan noble, stolen by the Nohrs as a child, and raised as their own. With both kingdoms on the precipice of war, you must confront the difficult choice: join sides with the birth family you just met and barely know, or maintain allegiance to the corrupt King who raised you, and attempt to bring about change from within.
Birthright or Conquest: Which path to choose?
Let me begin this section by reiterating that no matter which path you choose—Birthright or Conquest—you’re in for an epic Fire Emblem adventure. Both games offer a full game experience, with original stories, and hours of role-playing game goodness.
With that said, there are significant differences between the two games, so you’ll want to know how they compare before making your decision of where to start. The most obvious point of differentiation is the unique architecture each civilization possesses, as well as the stark contrast in their citizens’ appearance and temperament. Nohrian land is very dark and brooding, with imposing Western-inspired buildings and purple-tinged sky. Nobility in Nohr all tend to wear dark, ominous outfits, appear more willing to go to war (to please the King), and common unit classes include Paladin, Knight, Dark Mage, and Sorcerer. By contrast, Hoshido territory is bright, colourful, and contains traditional Eastern-inspired buildings, including beautifully detailed castles. Hoshidan nobility are a peace-loving bunch, prefer to wearing vibrant, ornate attire, and prefer character classes like Samurai, Ninja, Monk, and Shrine Maiden.
From a story viewpoint, by choosing the Birthright (Hoshido) track your journey will take a more traditional good vs. evil route. In this case, you’ve decided to join sides with your birth family, and fight against the corrupted king of Nohr, and by extension, your Nohrian brothers and sisters whom you’ve spent your whole life growing up with. Take on the Conquest (Nohr) path and you’ll continue to fight alongside your Nohrian family, putting you in direct opposition with your true birth family. This route, which has you strive to quash the madness that has taken over your nation, offers a more twisty and uncertain story where the line between good and evil often gets blurred.
Birthright or Conquest: Gameplay differences
Digging a little deeper into the two versions, there are some basic gameplay differences you’ll also want to consider. In the Birthright version you’ll have access to more resources, and have more opportunities between chapters to play side missions to level up your characters, acquire money, and recruit new characters. I found enemies to be less aggressive as well, and mission objectives are more straightforward. If you’re a beginner to the Fire Emblem series, Birthright is more lenient and forgiving of the two.
Conquest is better suited for veteran players of the series, or those looking for a greater challenge. This path features scarce resources, more and aggressive enemies, and more nuanced mission objectives (e.g. routing the enemy, holding strongholds for X number of turns, defeating enemies that become invulnerable every other turn.) As an old-school fan of the Fire Emblem series, and tactical RPGs in general, I initially chose Conquest for its deep, satisfying challenge, and then afterwards jumped into Birthright. No matter which version you choose, there are ways to tweak the difficulty to your liking, which I’ll explain further below.
Phoenix, Casual, and Classic modes
Casual mode, a well-received new mode introduced in Fire Emblem: Awakening, returns in Fire Emblem Fates. Activating this mode will enable characters that die in combat to come back immediately following the battle’s conclusion. For newcomers, or those who want a lighter challenge, Casual mode will allow you to play the game (mostly) stress-free. No matter how many of you allies fall in battle, you’re sure to have them all healthy and alive for the next chapter. Additionally, this time Nintendo went one step further with the all-new Phoenix mode, which lets your lost allies return to combat immediately following the next turn. Using Phoenix mode, you won’t even have to wait for the following chapter to restore your units—they’ll be resurrected on your very next turn. For players looking to enjoy the story, and lessen the combat difficulty, both Casual mode and Phoenix mode are excellent choices.
Hardcore Fire Emblem fans still have the option of Classic mode, offering a steep challenge with tough consequences. Should any of your characters suffer a fatal attack in battle, they will be lost forever. That makes every move vital, so you really need to think through your strategies and anticipate your enemies’ moves. This is the mode I played during my Conquest run, and while I loved the challenge and tense moments, I did decide on a few occasions to redo entire battles after losing a favourite character. If you’re okay with resetting battles to play them again, or can tolerate losing characters permanently, then you’ll appreciate the challenge Classic mode provides. If you want to further tweak the game’s overall challenge, both versions also include three difficulty modes, namely Normal, Hard and Lunatic.
Superb gameplay just got better
Gameplay has always been one of the Fire Emblem series’ strong suits, and it gets even better in Fire Emblem Fates. For starters, you can now pair up your units and position them prior to battle, letting you implement your strategy immediately without wasting a few initial turns setting up your troops. The familiar Fire Emblem weapon triangle battle system returns, and this time it’s been improved with colour-coding to show you the weapon classification. The weapon triangle works like a game of rock, paper, scissors, with swords (red) having the advantage against axes (green), which in turn have the edge on spears (blue), and so on. Several new character classes have also been introduced, each with their own strengths and weakness, appearance, and signature animations.
Battles once again take place on maps divided into a chess board-like grid. You’ll need to use sound strategy at all times, maximizing your weapon and terrain advantages, while simultaneously protecting your weak spots. Each character will have varying stats (hit points, defense, mobility, etc.), depending on their class and level, and it’s worth your time to survey the entire battlefield, including your units and your enemy’s, to determine how best to act. Keeping your army close together is usually a winning strategy, since adjacent allies can support each other in battle, and you can also pair up two units to combine their strength.
To help turn a battle in your favour, a new gameplay element introduced in Fire Emblem Fates called Dragon Vein will allow specific characters to interact with special symbols on the map that unleash immense powers. Examples are freezing rivers to impair enemy mobility, flooding the map with damaging acid rain, or destroying hills to reduce terrain damage and increase mobility. Experimenting with Dragon Vein powers is a lot of fun, and I especially enjoyed how quickly they can change a dire situation into an advantageous one.
The most robust new feature in Fire Emblem Fates is a home base hub area called My Castle, and it adds significantly to the overall game experience. In between chapters you’ll visit, and be able to fully customize, your own personal castle space. Each version of the game has three different styles to choose from that changes the appearance and layout of your castle. By spending Dragon Vein points (or “DVP”) acquired as you play, you’ll be able to add new facilities to your castle, including an armory (weapons), vendor (items and staves), prison (capture enemies), arena (gamble on combatants), and many more. There’s quite a lot to see and do in your castle, and I especially enjoyed how you can build relationships with other characters through conversations, and visit various shops to ensure my army is fully equipped and ready for the subsequent battle.
My Castle also has a strong multiplayer component to it. Other players you StreetPass with your Nintendo 3DS will appear in your castle’s Traveler’s Plaza, and from there you can challenge them to a battle, or purchase items from the visiting units. Each castle also specializes in a handful of important resources, lumped into Food (meat, wheat, fish, etc.) and Ores (crystal, topaz, pearl, etc.) categories, and these items are used to purchase specific, rare items. Since your own castle will not produce all the resources you need, you can visit other players’ castles to obtain them. While you’re there, you can also visit their shops and purchase items your own castle may not even sell. Challenging other players to battle, or visiting their customized castles, can be done through local wireless connection, or connecting online via the internet.
Finally, if you have any of the Fire Emblem series amiibo (Marth, Ike, Robin or Lucina — each sold separately), you can tap them to your New Nintendo 3DS console, or Nintendo 3DS with the NFC Reader/Writer accessory to obtain bonus items, or battle against them for the chance to have them join your party.
Both paths of Fire Emblem Fates—Birthright and Conquest—offer incredible journeys that fans of the series and tactical RPG lovers should not miss. The gameplay is better than ever with enhancements across the board including a robust My Castle area, new character classes, and the ability to pair up units before battle. Graphically, the games are beautiful, featuring detailed battlefields and gorgeous hand drawn animations. Having the chance to view a major conflict between two nations from both perspectives is novel and interesting, so you might just find yourself playing through both versions of Fire Emblem Fates.
+ Amazing depth of gameplay
+ Engaging split-path story
+ Beautiful graphics and animation
+ Multiple difficulty levels for all types of players
+ My Castle area is a great addition
– Potential difficulty curve for players new to the series
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating 4.6/5 (92%)