Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright & Conquest (3DS)

Fire Emblem Awakening was ultimately about parental fears of failing your children and the world you were handing off to them, and Fates is adding to that dialogue by being about children and their relationship to their parents. The central conflict of the game is asking the main character, Corrin, to choose how they define their family, be it their blood related siblings or the people who raised them. This is responsible for Fates's biggest problem writing-wise, in that the entire world revolves around the self insert main character who, despite being given a Sophie’s choice, is just not that interesting to follow or ever questioned for being extremely naïve.

If Corrin decides to choose their blood related family, you enter Fire Emblem Birthright. Birthright adds on to Awakening by basically just being Awakening. As a game, it's clearly targeted at the people who did not really connect to the series before Awakening came out, as it is specifically trying to be alienating to people familiar with that game with its Eastern themed setting and classes. However, weirdness with the classes and weapons can only go so far, as, despite being better balanced than Awakening, it is a clear case of diminishing returns. Part of it is feeling like the first route of a visual novel and not a complete game, despite having a complete game's worth of content, while another part is the kids. While they are still better-written on average than their parents, they are  barely connected to the story. Awakening ultimately revolved around the child units by the end. Mostly it's just crossing familiar territory. Birthright is what a lot of people accuse Nintendo sequels of being.

Birthright's actual story is surprisingly straightforward, as you begin the game with a goal to go murder the people who raised you and end when you do exactly that. Not a lot happens as you assemble your army, and the story only really begins when you enter Nohr's castle at the very end of the game. The Hoshidan siblings do not have nearly as many psychological issues as there Nohrian counterpart, due to being raised by a loving stepmom. All of their issues on the Birthright path are more standard young adult issues, from Hinoka's regret about never making amends with her stepmom, to Takumi dealing with feeling overshadowed by his older siblings. The Nohrian siblings on the Birthright path have to deal with their entire family falling apart, without the emotional support people need to cope with it. They, therefore, place the blame on Corrin, leading to the fights against them being the best part of the game. Birthright is also helped by Corrin just acting as a bland Fire Emblem Lord on this path.

Unlike Conquest, where Corrin chooses to return to their clearly evil step dad to protect his adopted family, Garon is the authority figure in the Norhian siblings' lives, and it's important to understand that he is both the only authority figure they have ever known and still their father. In the Norhian siblings supports, it is revealed that they all had different mothers and never had support or love from their parental figures, so they don’t know what that is actually like. This, combined with them being in positions of royalty with a lot of hereditary burdens on their shoulders, makes it so all of their actions in both routes are completely justifiable. At the end of the game, they realize that they had their emotional support between themselves all along, and they use it to gather the courage to stand against their father, who is revealed to be a literal monster. Even after seeing the horrible truth they are still hesitant to take up arms against him, as they thought that if they did everything he asked he would act nice again. In the end, it’s Xander who is the first to accept the truth and convinces the other Norhian siblings to do the same. Essentially, this game just tackled the subject of child abuse (albeit in a very Shonen Jump manner). The problems come from Corrin, were there is no real rhyme or reason to anything he does as the game tries to present them as morally conflicted anti hero. Their supposed goals of protecting their adopted siblings just really aren’t defined in what they do over the course of the game. Add in a few extremely dumb plot points, and cheap attempts at drama, and you have a story that reads as pretty dumb.

But you know what? I think I actually like it more now in retrospect. It's basically a Jump manga trying to tackle something serious, with all the good and bad that that entails. (As an aside, the Conquest characters are better on average than their Hoshidan counterparts, with a specific mention to the returning Awakening children. While the reason the game explains for them being there is fairly contrived, they show growth from where we left them at the end of Awakening and it was nice to see them grow up and become parents of their own.)

Gameplay-wise Conquest is a sadistic monster, even on normal difficulty. A lot of Fire Emblem's old baggage that was addressed by making the games easier is back, as characters can be screwed out of usability by bad level ups, and one mis-click can cost you forty five minutes of time. You don’t need to be a strategy master to see it to the end, but know that the developers lived up to their promise of going it old school. This gives Conquest an additional problem of not really giving you the time to breathe for  the new social features. Its no nonsense approach leaves you little time for romancing your army or building supports.

Graphically, Fire Emblem Fates is absolutely gorgeous and in the running for best looking game on the 3DS. The backgrounds  are full of detail and show great use of lighting and color on Intelligent Systems part. Yusuke Kozaki returns as art designer and continues to bring his distinctive style to all of the characters. Facial expressions on the portraits are expressive and the heavy armor design is much better than it was in Awakening. I am less sold with how the characters are modeled by the in-game engine as something about their character builder just does not jive with Kozakis style. Even so battle animations are flashy and impacts have the appropriate amount of weight to them. Add to that a high level of polish and small details and you have a game that's pleasing to look at while also feeling alive. Musically, the game leans a little to much on big generic orchestral sounds which nearly ruin a few key moments. However, there are still plenty stand out tracks and excellent use of musical cues and motifs.

Fates is definitely the excessive, over-bloated follow-up to usually come after unexpected success, but even so the games manage to be good despite everything working against them. I question Conquest's value to someone who actually grew up in that kind of household, but I am happy that a video game at least tried something like it. They can be dumb and melodramatic in the JRPG kind of way, but I am happy with Fire Emblem's new direction of moving away from fantasy politics to fantasy family relationships, which is much more interesting to me personally.


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