“You must choose Becca, us or them.” Side with the family you’ve known all your life? Or fight alongside the family you’ve just found for the first time? Will you go the path of seeming righteousness? Or will you try to redeem a nation mired in corruption for the sake of those you love?

After months of waiting, and months more of constant gameplay I finally did it. I beat it. From beginning to end, I brute-forced my way through the game. It was brutal, it was merciless, it had waifus, it was Fire Emblem. (Another game I beat a while ago, another review I figured better late than never. Shrug, I don’t even care.)

Perfectly Balanced FE

If you’ve been a fan of Fire Emblem for any amount of time, you’ll know that the game has massively evolved since its debut on SNES (or GBA in the US). Systems change, stats change, classes change, mechanics change, and this is part of any evolving franchise. What’s unique about this game is that unlike those games, there are massive changes to how the game works on a fundamental level, but it still manages to stay true to what Fire Emblem represents which is smart, tactical, but not overly complicated gameplay that depends on your ability to do basic arithmetic.

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Here’s an example of something that was changed but ultimately enhanced, weapons no longer have a limited number of uses. To Fire Emblem veterans, this sounds like heresy. Part of the game is knowing when to use your weaker weapons to eliminate foes, and saving up your more powerful weapons to use in more dangerous encounters. What Fates does, is it adds various weaknesses and drawbacks to each weapons class in order to limit your use of them. Bronze weapons have a high hit rate, but can’t critical or activate offense skills. Steel weapons are stronger, but lower the effective speed, which lower the possibility for a second attack. Silver weapons are strong, but also cause the stats of the wielder to drop temporarily. This seemingly small, but significant change to the weapons system actually completely rebalances the entire tactical play for the game. Now Killer bows, silver lances, and Nosferatu all have a purpose for normal tactical play.

I could go through all of the different mechanics that have been changed or hijacked from previous games. The Pair-up system, the new weapons triangle, the differences between Nohrian and Hoshidan weapons, the different Nohrian and Hoshidan classes, the skill system. To boil it down however, in my personal opinion, I believe this is the perfect incarnation of the Fire Emblem system as a whole. The different options that you have in order to maximize your tactical potential are incredible.

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Fantastic Level Design

In order to understand what makes Conquest so great, you have to understand the history of the Fire Emblem games. Up until Awakening, there were a variety of mission objectives for each level.

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Survival maps, seize maps, boss maps, rout enemy maps, fog of war maps, there were a variety of different levels. Fire Emblem Awakening eliminated most of those more unique types of levels in favor of a streamlined more accessible set of levels. Conquest not only brings those unique levels back, but many of them have unique mechanics that set them apart from any other Fire Emblem game ever released. One level has changing wind currents that blow your characters across small walkways leaving them vulnerable to other enemies. Another level has various pots spread across the level that explode to release buffs and debuffs on nearby characters, but also block your path leading to tactical decisions on whether or not to open certain pathways.

On top of that, new level tiles called “Dragon Veins” add a whole other dimension to the various levels. Most of these deform the terrain in some way, dry up the water,

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Two levels stood out to me the most for the quality of their design. Chapter 10 and Chapter 20 were both extremely difficult, but also the most fun I had in a Fire Emblem game ever. Chapter 10 is a seige map where you must survive what seems like a never ending onslought of enemies for a specific number of turns. Figuring out on which turns certain events and waves of enemies triggered, which enemies to attack with seige weapons, when to move which units to which areas in preparation, when to overextend and when to withdraw, etc. That level alone probably took me twenty tries to get right on Hard Classic, but when I finally did it was so very rewarding. Chapter 20 is the level with wind that blows characters across empty gorges into enemy range. After failing the level several times, I noticed that the wind patterns repeat after about 6 turns. Using those patterns, you can plan your troops ahead to account for the wind patterns and blow them across platforms to get a drop on your enemy. Levels like these require a tremendous amount of mental concentration to think not one, but two or three turns ahead.

A Return to Form

Conquest isn’t just as hard as old Fire Emblem games, it feels like the old Fire Emblem games. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but unlike Awakening there aren’t an unlimited number of levels. You move through the story linearly, experience points are limited (except for a few paralogue chapters where you recruit extra characters), and there’s not really a world map to navigate. The flow of the story, the restriction on levels, all of this makes the game feel very focused and driven. This makes sense within the narrative since you’re at war and you’re seeking to end the war as quickly as possible. You’re the invading force and the goal is to smash through the enemy’s defenses and end the conflict quickly. The whole game seems focused and condensed to only the most necessary elements.

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A Fantasy Story that’s not cliche

For one, this game did a lot to subvert traditional fantasy/Fire Emblem stories. You’re fighting for the bad guys, and that means sometimes you have to allow terrible things to happen in order to accomplish something for the greater good. The exploration of the horrors of war, tragic deaths, and the moralistic gray of the real world was cool to see play out.

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This game also manages feels like a whole game in and of itself. If neither Birthright nor Revelation were ever released, this game could standalone and feel like its own entry in the series. Just like FE6 or Path of Radiance there are a number of unanswered questions about how certain realities of this world came to be, but the narrative itself doesn’t so highlight those questions that it feels incomplete without answering them. I still want to see the other parts of the story, how it could have played out, but if this game was the only one released then it would be enough for me.

Support Relationships

One of the things that I loved the most about FE Awakening was how many support relationships you could have for each character. This mechanic was important, partially because of the then new pair-up system, which would increase your stats depending on who you were paired with and how strong that relationship was. In addition to this, the conversations that you had in Awakening were funny or touching, but almost ALWAYS interesting and unique. Some would touch on the same character trait in each character, but would offer a different spin on it. Fates tries to do the same thing, but with nearly 3 times the number of characters. This means that while there are still good conversations, the localization and writing teams had much more material to refine and a lot of them just fall through the cracks. Many of them just aren’t that interesting, and marriages just jump from “eh, you’re pretty cool” to “you are the love of my life and I would jump in front of a bus for you”. There were a few that I thought were particularly good, Kaze and Beruka felt natural and interesting. Nyx and Leo worked pretty well too. Silas and Corrin (F) also felt natural. But others like Selena and Xander or Camilla and Niles, just felt forced. I wasn’t invested in their conversations. I actually had Xander marry Effie instead, just because I didn’t like the Selena x Xander pairing that much. I used to look forwards to these small conversations, but now it just feels so hit or miss. Maybe they should have cut down the number of conversations per game, just for Conquest and Birthright, so they had a more normal amount for Revelation. This is the one place where I think the game suffered for being split in three.

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Build your Base

This feature sounded cool in theory, but it just wasn’t that useful and it limited important options for weapon and staff availability in the early game. It was hard to take the time to plan out and set up a layout that created effective defenses, and it seemed to be relatively pointless to do so. I’m sure some people really like this opportunity for increased customizability, but it just wasn’t for me.

Children

FE Awakening had a story that completely revolved around time travel, so the inclusion of full-grown children from the future made sense in the narrative. In this game, Intelligent Systems really just shoe-horned it into the game in order to attract the same audience as the last game. When you have your ‘first child’, they actually give you a note that says something to the effect of “and then because war is no place for a child and even though it should take nine months for your character to give birth, immediately after giving birth both parents decided it was better to abandon their child in an alternate dimension where they could miss their entire childhood and every single parent in the army did the same thing”. ……. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That is so forced and ridiculous I had trouble writing it. The one nice thing about children is that they can supplement your army with free experience points (which are so needed in this game) and when recruited in later portions of the game will appear with an item that brings them up to the equivalent level depending on which chapter you’re on. I ended up using Nina and Sophia for my endgame, because they were actually pretty good units.

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Not for Everyone

Conquest is a hard game. I played on Hard Classic, not Lunatic and it kicked my butt. Howlongtobeat.com says it should take about 35 hours to complete the story, my save game says I took 50 hours and my 3DS playtime says it took me 90 hours. The level design is fair, but it is BRUTAL and not having the right characters leveled, not using the right strategy, is like banging your head against a wall. There’s a limited number of available levels, so you can’t farm for experience like in Awakening or Birthright. This also means that not all characters are viable, and you can’t afford to experiment to terribly much, since every experience point is valuable. Most of the time you should be able to figure out which characters are better than others, but not always. And even when you don’t pick the perfect units, you should be able to stomach through regardless. Most people prefer Owain to Nyx, but I flipflopped and while she was one of my weaker units, she was still pretty strong and useful in certain situations. Sometimes you get RNG screwed, my Xander was not very good, but I would pair him up with Effie and he had his uses. The game will be difficult and if Awakening was your first Fire Emblem, you should play Birthright plain and simple. I’m a good ways through it (Birthright) and it feels pretty similar to that. If you’re looking for something like that you will not like this. It wasn’t made for you, plain and simple.

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The Naive Hero

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the story in Conquest. It’s not my favorite FE game, but it’s pretty good. The way your character has to walk the line between being the merciless killer that their father wants, while keeping your compassion a secret and not getting killed by him is very intriguing and layered. At the end of the narrative, I felt as though I had been taught something about the way the world works, that not everything is black and white. Sometimes great tragedy must be perpetuated for the greater good. That said, it’s frustrating to see how naïve Corrin is for the entire first half of the game.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, Around Ch 12, Garon orders you to slaughter an entire village just for kicks, and it’s not until after you try to talk to him that you realize something needs to be done to stop him. Keep in mind this is AFTER a man under his command tried to have you murdered, a sword he gave you exploded and nearly killed you, he ordered you to wipe out another village, has sent mindless monsters into a friendly neighboring nature to destroy their villages and citizens. He’s obviously a cruel, hardened, evil man and it takes way too long to create a solution to his cruelty. The rest was fine, but this makes Corrin seem like such a dumbass, it’s hard to have any sympathy for her/him.

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The Resets

You wanna know how many times I saw the above image? Like thirty gazillion times. L + R + Start is my savior.

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Chapter 10 and Chapter 20 may be the hardest levels of Fire Emblem I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. What’s ironic is that these are also my favorite levels. Unfortunately, as much as I loved these levels, I would argue that the gauntlet of misery that they put me through at a certain point became a barrier to my ability to have fun playing the game. Games should be fun and when they aren’t then you’re doing something wrong. Ultimately, I had to turn the game down to Casual mode and I had a lot more fun. I did beat both 10 and 20 on classic, but they were so draining that I was turned off to the idea of doing that for any other level (which I probably would have had to do with the endgame because it was also BRUTAL). I became more interested in finishing the game rather than enjoying the experience of playing the game itself. The fact that I had been so looking forwards to beating the game and enjoying it, only to have that experience unnecessarily colored by these few levels that kicked my ass is a shame. It’s still probably my favorite Fire Emblem, but I wanted to beat it on Classic and I was so drained that I just couldn’t’ justify it.

World Map

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This is a minor quibble, but in most Fire Emblem games you had a good sense of the geography of continent and country. Countries have clear borders, cities and landmarks are clearly marked, and you can chart your progress as you move across the world. Awakening and Sacred Stones, games with a navigable world map were ones that I became intimately familiar with. I know where each battle took place in relation to the others. The Fates map, just doesn’t have a lot of notable markers. It’s rendered more realistically, rather than like a normal map would be. There are no connections between levels to show where you’ve been and where you’re going. It just shows where the next level takes place and good luck if you remember where you came from. No map borders, no city markers, I was completely confounded. I don’t like it, I reduces my immersion, and I don’t know why they changed it.

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I LOVE this game. It’s fair, it’s new, it’s creative, it’s balanced, it’s smart, it’s interesting, it’s moving and it’s difficult. It represents the essence of what I love most about the Fire Emblem, and it does so in nearly perfect fashion. The game’s not perfect, there are a few small changes I would have made, but as a whole, as a product, it surpasses any past Fire Emblem experience to date. Personally, I would play on Hard Classic until you can stand it no longer and then switch to Hard Casual. The game was balanced with Hard mode in mind, so playing on Lunatic is going to be unnecessarily brutal and ridiculous. Don’t waste your experience points trying to strengthen weaker units unless they’re replacing another character in your squad. And for goodness sake USE EFFIE!!! Personal favorite characters: Effie, Corrin, Mozu, Niles, Leo, Nina, Beruka. I hope you can enjoy the game as much as I did.