"Fire Emblem used to be the Dark Souls of SRPGs, and though I am glad it is charting new waters, I am no longer sure where it stands in the pantheon of gaming."
Fire Emblem Fates breaks new ground on several fronts for the long-running series. It is refreshing to see such a storied and venerable franchise willing to innovate, particularly when the continued future of the series was in doubt only recently. So-called "old school" fans like myself may raise an eyebrow at some of the changes, but that does not mean they are bad.
It is impossible to talk about Fire Emblem Fates without discussing the game's split of the storyline into two versions, called Birthright and Conquest. The game's main character, Corrin, was originally born into the royal family of the peace-loving Hoshido family but later kidnapped and raised as a member of the war-like Nohr royal family, and the story branches based on which family you choose in the game's sixth chapter. The Birthright version will have you join your birth-family to repel the Nohr kingdom's invasion, while the Conquest version will place you at the head of an internal Nohr kingdom rebellion. Not only the story, but the gameplay and composition of your army will all change dramatically based on your choice.
The Conquest version will include greater variety of victory objectives and will also have a limited amount of experience available to your army. The difficulty is supposedly higher on average as well. According to the development team, the Birthright version is designed to appeal more to series newcomers and fans of Fire Emblem Awakening.
In addition, the two different versions will have different characters, although some will be common to both.
The common characters include:
- Gunther: Great Knight
- Felicia: Maid
- Joker: Butler
- Aqua: Songstress
- Suzukaze: Ninja
- Silas: Cavalier
The Conquest characters include:
- Marx: Paladin
- Leon: Dark Knight
- Camilla: Revenant Knight
- Elise: Rod Knight
- Nyx: Black Mage
- Charlotte: Axe Fighter
- Benoit: Armor Knight
- Belka: Wyvern Rider
- Luna: Mercenary
The known Birthright characters include:
- Ryoma: Master Swordsman
- Takumi: Archer
- Hinoka: Pegasus Knight
- Sakura: Shrine Maiden
- Tsukuyomi: Hexer
- Rinka: Ogre Person (tentative title)
- Nishiki: Mythological Fox
- Kazahana: Samurai
- Tsubaki: Pegasus Warrior
- Orochi: Hexer
- Kagerou: Ninja
- Saizou: Ninja
In Japan, each version is a full-priced game and is said to contain the same amount of content as Fire Emblem Awakening. In addition, a third version featuring an entirely different enemy was just released in Japan. In that third version, called Invisible Kingdom, the player must unite the warring armies against an even greater threat
The branching story and multiple versions is only one of many new features. Fire Emblem Fates' gameplay will have several tweaks and updates. Another first for the series is the fully customizable main character. Although the main character has a default look and name (Corrin), players can customize their name, look, and even gender. Other games like Fire Emblem Awakening had a customizable character, but this is the first time the protagonist is fully customizable. The main character also appears to transform into some other-worldly four-legged creature, although not much is known about that feature at this time.
Also new is "My Castle," where players can place structures to build up a custom base for their army that allows them to shop, gather items, and interact with the other characters. You can also complete other side content like feeding a pet dragon and competing in arena matches. The castle also interacts with the online multiplayer by serving as one of the battlefields.
Online matches can be played with friends, random players, or locally. Battles consist of 5 characters on each team drawn from a player's save file from any point in the game. In addition, you can set standard rules or place limitations like no items or no hero promotions. There will be no fog of war, and each player will have 5 minutes to take their turn.
A major change to combat is the inclusion of Dragon Pulses, which are abilities that allows certain characters to alter the battlefield in strategic ways. For instance, a dragon pulse can trigger a land slide or build a bridge. This ability can be used at any time, so timing is key to maximizing strategic effect, but enemy units can also use it, so beware.
Another big change appears in the weapons triangle. Instead of the usual swords > axes > lances > swords, weapon priority will now be swords and magic > axes and bows > lances and concealed weapons > swords and magic. Thus, swords and magic will be strongest against axes and bows, which will be strongest against lances and concealed weapons, which are in turn strongest against swords and magic. It appears that the magic triangle is gone as well, a trend started with Fire Emblem Awakening. However, the developers have added concealed weapons, which are a new weapon type used by maids, butlers, and ninja that will debuff enemy abilities.
In addition, all weapons except for staves will have an unlimited number of uses, which means no more worrying about your weapons stockpile. To balance this out, stronger weapons will carry certain disadvantages. For example, the weaker Bronze Sword will have 0 crit chance but +10 crit evasion. Upgrading to a Steel Sword will grant a better attack at the loss of the crit evasion, -5 evasion overall, and greater difficulty in using a double attack.
Not everything about the game is new, of course. The core SRPG combat appears to be the same, as are the leveling and promotion mechanics. For those unfamiliar with the series, combat plays out in a series of missions where you control an army of heroes on a grid-based map. Each army gets to use all of their units before ending the turn. Characters gain experience and level up by taking actions (although scoring a kill nets the highest XP) and cap out at 20. Between levels 10 and 20, the character can promote to an advanced class, thereby unlocking better stats, new skills, and often greater weapon choice. Normally, character death is permanent, and losing the "lord" character will result in a game over. However, in Fates there will be a new Phoenix mode, an additional difficulty below even Casual mode (also returning) that will revive fallen allies at the end of every turn.
Support conversations, marriages, and even children will make a comeback as well. Characters who reach S-level support with one another can pair up and get married, and in some cases will have a child who joins the army. Many questions remain, like the mechanics of this (time travel again?), or the morality of bringing your child to a war zone, but we do know that the child’s appearance and likely their stats will be influenced by their parents.
A big step forward for Fire Emblem is the inclusion of same-sex pairings. Because the main character can be either gender the male protagonist in Conquest can couple up with a man named Zero, and the female protagonist in Birthright can pair up with a woman named Shara. Both characters can also pair up with the protagonist if they are the opposite sex, so it would appear that they are bisexual.
Finally, there is a whole host of job classes, both old and new. The job classes in the Conquest version, both basic and advanced, are:
- Dark Prince/Princess: Royalty imbued with the power of a dragon.
- Cavalier: Horse-mounted units that fight with swords and spears.
- Knight: Heavy armored foot-soldiers.
- Fighter: Axe-wielding units with high HP and strength, but low defense.
- Mercenary: A balanced fighter.
- Thief: A high-speed unit that uses bows. They also have excellent magic defense.
- Wyvern Rider: Wyvern-mounted units with high strength and defense.
- Dark Mage: Mages that use dark magic.
- Rod Knight: Staff-users that don't have much fighting prowess, but support allies using a staff.
- Garu: A werewolf class that excels ins strength and speed.
- Paladin: A Cavalier with better stats.
- Great Knight: Heavy-armored units that use swords, axes, and spears.
- General: Heavy-armored units with excellent defense.
- Berserker: Axe-wielding units that deal high damage.
- Brave Hero: Heroes that can use swords and axes accordingly.
- Bow Knight: Mounted bow users, but also have access to swords.
- Adventurer: A unique class with long-ranged versatility using bows and staves.
- Wyvern Lord: A Wyvern Rider with better stats that use axes and spears.
- Revenant Knight: Magic Wyvern mounted unit that can use magic and axes.
- Sorcerer: A Dark Mage with better stats.
- Dark Knight: Magic-using soldiers that fight with swords and magic.
- Tactician: A horse mounted mage.
- Butler/Maid: Fight for their masters using staves and hidden weapons.
- Managarmr: A higher class Garu with better stats.
- Dark Blood: Royalty who are one with the heart of the dark night. They fight using swords, Dragon Stones, and magic.
The basic and advanced classes in the Birthright version are:
- Samurai: Fighters that specialize in fighting with sword and speed.
- Kijin: Units that fight with clubs with high strength and defense.
- Spear Warrior: Units that specialize in breaking enemy defenses.
- Hexers: Use spells called "Hexes" to fight enemies.
- Tempest/Shrine Maiden: Units that use the power of prayers to support allies.
- Pegasus Warrior: Pegasus mounted units with high speed and magic defense.
- Archer: Warriors that use bows in battle.
- Ninja: Units that fight from the shadows. They attack enemies using daggers and specialize in debuffing techniques.
- Mythological Fox: Fox-based units with high speed and magic defense.
- Villager: Normal townsfolk that fight using naginata.
- Master Swordsman: Samurai fighters with better stats that excel in speed and evasion.
- Asura: Higher class Kijin that can also use hexes.
- Strategist: Units with the ability to wield katanas, halberds, and clubs.
- Blacksmith: Weapon makers with the ability to use katanas and clubs.
- Spear Master: Spear units with highly balanced stats.
- Basara: An advanced unit that excels with halberds and hexes.
- Onmyoji: Units that use and excel at various spells such as hexes to take out enemies and can heal allies.
- Monk: An advanced class that can heal allies and can also fight enemies using their halberds.
- War Maiden: An advanced Shrine Maiden class that can heal allies, and use bows to attack enemies from a distance.
- Master Pegasus Warrior: Higher-class Pegasus Warrior with better stats.
- Kinshimusha: Units that mount the legendary bird, the golden kite, and fight using a halberd or bow.
- Master Archer: Advanced archers that specialize in accuracy and critical hits.
- High Ninja: A ninja that has better stats and can use swords.
- Ventriloquist: Units that use puppets, and fight using dirks and bows.
- Nine-Tailed Fox: A Mythological Fox unit with more spiritual energy and higher stats.
- The White Blooded: Royalty who are One with the heart of the white night. They fight using swords, Dragon Stones, and magic.
Clearly, Fire Emblem Fates is trying a lot of new ideas for the series. Some I like, and others I'm not so crazy about but will wait to play before I judge. Fire Emblem used to be the Dark Souls of SRPGs, and though I am glad it is charting new waters, I am no longer sure where it stands in the pantheon of gaming.