Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (FEFB) is the first section of the apparently massive SRPG that is the Fire Emblem Fates whole, the other two parts of which are Conquest and Revelations. FEFB is similar to the previous game in the series, Awakening, in a lot of ways, for better and worse. In fact, it’s safe to call this game Awakening v2 simply because it is meant to function in the same way, as an introduction to the series for newcomers.
The first six chapters of FEFB are the same as in the other two. After creating a character, the player is introduced to the kingdom of Nohr, a European style nation that is led by a power hungry king whose only goal is to conquer the world. Over the course of the first six chapters, which function as tutorials for the various strategic elements of the game, you get to know the Nohrian siblings, and also learn that the avatar is in fact the child of the queen of Hoshido, the nation that Nohr is at war with. After fighting on both sides for a few chapters and getting to know some of the characters, the avatar is presented with a choice on the battlefield. Confronted by Xander, the Nohrian prince, and Ryoma, the Hoshidan prince, they must decide who to fight with. Do they side with Nohr, who has been revealed to have less than noble intentions, and try to stop the evil king Garon from the inside? Do they side with Hoshido, who wishes to defeat Nohr and stop all the darkness they’ve spread? Or do they choose to side with neither and instead seek out another solution to ending the war?
In FEFB, you choose to side with the Japan inspired Hoshido. This is, apparently, the easiest of the three games. After all, all of the extra features from Awakening are present (meaning you can grind in extra battles to your heart’s content, whereas in Conquest, you must push on with story chapters, leading to an all-around tougher experience). Mission objectives rarely get more complicated than defeating all enemies on the map or defeating the boss.
For those who are unaware what the series is all about, it is essentially one gigantic game of chess with RPG elements. Different characters have different classes and different proficiencies with weapons. For instance, Felicia, one of the first units you get, is a Maid, who wields knives that can be thrown from a distance or used up close, and can also use staffs to heal companions. The downside is she is quite weak to physical attacks. Meanwhile, Saizo is a ninja, who specializes in attacking and taking physical damage. You move characters around on a grid when it’s your turn and where they can attack the enemy from is determined by the weapons they use. When it’s the enemy’s turn, they move their units to attack yours. Ideally, none of your units will run out of HP and you will wipe the map clean of the enemies. This series traditionally features permadeath, but this game has two new modes for that. In addition to classic permadeath, there’s casual, where units reappear after the battle is over, and phoenix, where they revive at the end of a turn. There are also three difficulty modes: normal, hard, and lunatic, so the game is pretty much as tough as you want it to be.
This game is undoubtedly best for people who are new to the series or really enjoyed all the extra features in Awakening that take some of the pressure off the player. That doesn’t mean that the game is a pushover, though. It has a nice difficulty curve that allows the player to get comfortable with the mechanics before ramping up the challenge in later stages. That being said, I think it still would have been neat to have some variety in objectives. It would make more sense to have varied objectives later on, once the player is familiar with how the game works, but still, the core strategic gameplay is a lot of fun even when all you’re doing is wiping out an enemy force.
So while the core of the game is undoubtedly the turn and grid based battles, there’s a lot to consider outside the battlefield. For instance, if you place two units next to each other, or pair them up, they will support each other. The more characters support each other, the higher support rank they get. If a male and female (or female and female in one instance in this version) get high enough support, they can marry and have a kid. Through silly plot related shenanigans, kids grow up quick and can be recruited. The kids in this game take some time to grow, but end up being more powerful than their parents with the right pair ups.
Support conversations actually do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting you invested in the story. That’s mostly because the main plot is incredibly dull. It almost always boils down to “we need to get here, but something is in the way” and, despite a few powerful moments later on, lacks a lot of the punch that a story about warring siblings could have had. But through support conversations, you’ll learn more about characters and the way they act. Much like the previous game, the conversations are a treat. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re cute, sometimes they’re touching, sometimes they’re dramatic, but they are always interesting and well written, and they go a long way toward making you care about what’s going on. It also develops the cast well, which is a good thing because the avatar has a bit of Mary Sue syndrome. Additionally, a lot of the fan service feels less creepy this time around since there’s not character who looks like she’s ten but is actually a thousand year old woman who may or may not have been involved in the sex trade. I will say it’s a little odd that you can marry your royal siblings, but hey, it’s the past and that stuff happened.
The story gets frustrating at one particular point though. There’s a spot about halfway through the game where, unless certain conditions are met, a character is taken away from the player forever. This is not in any way foreshadowed and really frustrated me because I’d been working on building that character up. I don’t know why the writers included this moment, because it comes out of left field and does nothing but aggravate the player.
There are a lot of new features added into Fates that prolong time spent outside battle. For one, you can create your own castle, placing different objects wherever you see fit. This ties in to the streetpass feature, which allows you to fight against other players with their castles. This feature is fun, if a bit gimmicky, but it does lend itself to some cool side activities, such as an arena that allows you to bet resources in hopes of getting more. You can also hang out with characters in your private quarters and while that sounds like a euphemism, it really is just that. They come in, say some line, and leave and your friendship with them will grow. Eventually, when you get a spouse, you can also bond with them, although this doesn’t have much of an impact on the game beyond fan service. You can even feed a pet Astral Dragon that can be used in streetpass battles, which is weirdly addicting despite how bare bones it is.
This is, essentially, a game made for people who are new to the series or want more of what made Awakening work and little else. It features the same wealth of customization options (upgrading classes, marriage, wide variety of weapons to choose from) and tactical depth (lots of different unit types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses). It adds some cool new features in the form of the customizable castle, even if said features can feel a bit gimmicky at times. Despite the dull and sometimes frustrating story, this is another fun turn based SRPG that is also a good entryway into the series for newcomers. It could have used some more variety in the later chapters, but the core gameplay is still enjoyable and fun enough to make up for it.
Keep an eye out for my review of Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations, coming soon!
+ Refined strategic gameplay that continues to delight with its wealth of character customization options and elements to take into consideration
+ Wide variety of difficulty options that make the game as challenging as you want to be
+ Good difficulty curve that ramps up nicely over time
+ Enjoyable support conversations flesh out the likable cast
+ Extra features provided by the customizable castle are fun
- Despite some powerful moments later on, the story is mostly dull and has one very frustrating part that takes a character away forever
- More mission variety later on would have been welcome