Birthright? Conquest? What now?
Aside from sharing a brief introduction (which you can skip on subsequent playthroughs) and the same cast of characters (which appear in totally different contexts), both Birthright and Conquest are unique, full adventures – expect to spend at least 30 hours in each. You can download the other campaign as paid DLC, and you can grab a third one, Revelation, starting on March 10. Or just get all three of them in one cartridge with the Special Edition.
After fighting alongside one another for so long, they naturally fell in love. Their relationship budded from Rank C to Rank S in a series of cutscenes, and then their child even joined my forces. Fire Emblem: Awakening also let you recruit teenaged offspring, but that was a story about time travelers trying to avert the apocalypse, Terminator-style. Fates’ narrative excuse for gathering an adolescent army feels contrived, and I wish it would spend that time fleshing out its pre-existing secondary characters instead. As it stands, several of your soldiers just can’t build up rapport with each other for no apparent reason. Maybe they smell funny?
Speaking of getting to know one another, the world of Hoshido and Nohr never feels quite as welcoming as I’d hoped. There is a war on, but scrolling through a dry menu full of missions is spartan compared to exploring the big, branching map of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Instead, you’ll spend most of your time between fights building a fort in your own little pocket dimension. Opening up this ‘Deeprealm’ as a customizable, interdimensional headquarters feels almost as contrived, though at least it provides a bunch of new ways to play with your toy soldiers (and something to show off via StreetPass and WiFi).
Take a soak with your childhood friend in the bath house. Go to the armory and buy discounted swords from the samurai behind the counter. Give your long-suffering butler ingredients to make stat-boosting meals in the mess hall, and listen to how everyone enjoys his cooking. All these interactions cycle based on the real-world time of day, meaning you’ll usually have something new to see when you pop open your 3DS – even if you don’t have time for a battle. All these little slices of life combine to make one of the sweetest interactive friendship pies outside of the Persona series. It’s just a shame that you’ll need to be at least a minorly accomplished tactician to taste it.
If you enjoy strategy games at all, you should be fine on the lowest difficulty mode. You could probably even get through on the secondary Classic setting, which permanently retires soldiers who fall in battle. Admittedly, playing a game that starts at Normal and goes up to Insane does have a certain hardcore appeal. But as the relationship elements of Fire Emblem become increasingly significant, it feels like an oversight to require players who are more interested in playing Matchmaker-in-Chief than Fantasy General to suffer through tough battles. Omitting an Easy mode makes Fates seem a bit out of touch with a major source of its appeal.
Fortunately, sliding little dudes around on a grid and watching them beat the hell out of each other is still a great time. Whether or not you’re not interested in playing through both sides of the war, either version of Fire Emblem Fates will give you intricate new battles to try, interesting characters to befriend, and a satisfying story to witness. And they’re even more compelling when taken together. What would it be like if you had chosen differently, if tragic foes stood by your side and cherished friends laid at your feet? You don’t need to wonder. You just need to pay up.