Nohr, a dark eerie kingdom that just doesn't seem to have enough lights and where everyone just seems to enjoy dark clothes. Welcome to Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest where you, the avatar, decide to help your adopted family in the said kingdom conquer the bright and cheery kingdom of Hoshido. It's a different take on the Fire Emblem games wherein you will be invading and capturing a neighboring land rather than the usual "defend homeland from evil doers" flair. At the time of this review, I've played only a few chapters of Birthright so I won't really compare the two; Rather, I'll be reviewing this as a standalone game. So let's get to it!
Fire Emblem is a series that plays like chess. An epic fantasy version of chess at least. You control your units across the map in turns with the enemy and try to accomplish your objectives. Some maps will have you defeating all enemies that appear while others require you to "capture" a certain spot which is usually where the boss is standing. Strategy is important here as certain units can be good or bad against the enemy unit. An archer will deal bonus damage to a sky knight or wyvern rider while a dark mage or diviner will deal pretty good damage to a knight compared to a ninja. Honestly, the same old Fire Emblem gameplay remains the same and that's a fantastic thing. There are added things like "My Castle" where you get to speak to your allies and buy weapons after a mission and the relationship progression element from Awakening returns. You can build up relationships between characters by having them support each other a lot during battles and, if they are of opposite gender, you can have them confess to one another. All good stuff.
However, Conquest can get really tough at times and it made me frustrated more often than I'd like. I started the game on Hard Classic and managed to do pretty well until around chapter 11 where missions started getting rather difficult. I refused to drop the difficulty from Classic to Casual because the idea of "permadeath" encouraged me to do well and because I feel that's how Fire Emblem was meant to be played. It was a few chapters after that I decided "to hell with it, I'm dropping this to Normal" because I really couldn't take it anymore. I could withstand restarting a mission about five times but nine? ten? I don't know if I'm just bad at strategy games or if this game is particularly insane in difficulty. What was supposed to be long gaming sessions with this game because of it's addictive gameplay and story turned into quick fire bursts because I couldn't get pass chapter X after the nth time and I was about to throw my 3DS XL into the fricking wall.
Another aspect of the game that adds up the difficulty is the lack of side quests or side battles. Conquest plays like the old Fire Emblem games wherein you only get to level up your characters during the main missions. It doesn't feature free roam around the world map like Awakening so there's no chance of battling stray enemies. The only other chance you get to get to level your characters and get more gold is by playing the paralogues that appear when you get an S rank relationship between two characters. These are the maps that star the offspring of those two characters and the chance to recruit him/her. Aside from that, you got nothing to help you level up or gain more gold.
Difficulty aside, Conquest does a great job of drawing you in with it's cast. For a kingdom that embraces the dark, it's got quite a set of quirky and bright characters. Elise being the ever so cheerful sister, Camilla being the protective one, Xander being the usual older and wiser brother, Leo being the badass one. Then you've got others like Odin who has funny combat quotes and support conversations. You are introduced to Nohr as a dark kingdom that definitely has problems but the characters make you think otherwise. They make you feel like Nohr isn't as bad as people make it out to be and they are ever so supportive of the avatar in the decisions he makes. Many times you will see the avatar struggling with what needs to be done and it's comforting to see how the characters pick you up each time you're down.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is a beautiful game that takes a different approach and has a great set of characters. The difficulty level may entice Fire Emblem veterans however newcomers to the series and genre may be overwhelmed and would opt for Birthright instead.