After I finished Fire Emblem Awakening I wanted more. I’ve had Birthright since it released last year in the US and I had already started it, but like Awakening I dropped it around the 8th or 9th chapter. So I started over from scratch and this time I fought my way through to the end, and I’ve come away from the experience with a mixed bag of emotions, in a good way.
It’s probably best to get this out of the way now, Fire Emblem Fates is not just one game as the extra subtitle, Birthright, suggests. It is one of three stories in the Fates saga. It tells the story of an Avatar that chose his Hoshidan family over his Nohrian family. Fates - Conquest is the alternate version of this tale where the Avatar chose his Nohrian family over his Hoshidan family. And the third and final story path, Revelations, is neither of the two. The game was split up Pokemon style, you either buy Conquest or you buy Birthright as they’re sold separately. Revelations and either Conquest or Birthright can then be purchased as DLC, with the diverging storylines being selectable at the Branch of Fate, a moment in the game where you must decide where your allegiances lie. Luckily, you don’t have to start the game over entirely to do this, you can, but you don’t have to as you can skip to the Branch of Fate from the main menu. The kicker is that while you could technically buy one of the two base games, buy Revelations, and then just play that, it is not recommended as both Birthright and Conquest contain enough differences in their stories, including valuable insight into the characters on both sides of the war, that Revelations is best played after you’ve played the other routes. As of this review, I have only played Birthright so I can’t really comment on either Conquest or Revelations.
Now, down to business. The story of Birthright, as mentioned above, tells the Hoshidan side of the story. At the Branch of Fate, you as the Avatar decide to stay with them and fight against your Nohrian family, the ones who raised you. The story that unfolds from there, quite honestly, surprised me with just how tragic it was. It was good, quite good, but tragic. Birthright is depicted as the path of light with its characters decked out in bright colors, all meant to contrast with Nohr’s motif of being the path of darkness with characters dressed in dark colors such as black and purple. You would think that Birthright would be a happier tale, but I nearly cried by the end of it because my heart had been broken more than once. It’s good when a game can make you care for its characters, even if they don’t seem like much at first. I’ll admit, most of the characters initially came off as kind of boring to me at first and the story itself really wasn’t grabbing me for the first 8 or 9 chapters. But after I got past that part and really dived into the support conversations I started to like them more and the overall story just got better(partly because of the tragedy.).
Probably my biggest criticism in regards to the story, other than the slow start, is that I felt the tragic/emotional scenes were not conveyed as well as they could have been, blame that lies almost entirely on the fact that the in-game cutscenes are, well, not great. They weren’t great in Awakening either, but at least Awakening didn’t always leave these sorts of scenes to be conveyed by barely moving, low-rez models with jerky animations. To be fair, they played in the background with visual novel style character portraits and text boxes overlaid onto it, which without voice acting and the same portraits as used in other scenes, felt like a budget production. The fact that it still managed to get me to feel something and to almost cry once or twice is at least a good consolation because it means the writers did their jobs.
I do feel the need, however, to also call into question the developers decision to split up the story. Rather than make one large story, they made three equally large stories with two of them being somewhat similar because they’re meant to be sort like mirror images of one another. Even the Avatar is reflected as the opposite gender with the male Avatar being on the Birthright cover and the female Avatar featured on the Conquest cover. All that development time and resources split up into three stories. Since I haven’t played the other two I wonder if it was worth it in the end. I have a friend whose played all three and he is of the opinion that Revelations is the better of the three, which makes sense because it’s the third path that the other two feed into, but that also means that you have to play the other two for the best experience and, to a lesser extent, that could also mean that Birthright and Conquest kind of got shafted when it came to story. Time will tell I guess because I do intend to play the other two.
Now, I’ve talked plenty about the narrative of the game, it was great, satisfying, and not quite what I had expected, but now it is time to talk about the gameplay. In my review of Awakening, I mentioned that I just steamrolled through the game because it easily broken and there was only one difficulty spike on normal difficulty. Fates as a whole from what I understand, rectifies all of that. Normal difficulty may be the easiest, but make no mistake, you can no longer barrel through the story without a care. Enemies will now tag-team you, the difficulty spikes more than once, and experience gains decrease significantly as your level gets higher and higher. No more level-grinding off of low level enemies, you now have to face your equals for great rewards. I still didn’t rely on the weapon triangle though, but it’s my understanding that it means more on the higher difficulties. I’m happy to report that I had a lot of fun with the game and I must say that I did a lot more strategizing and fought more conservatively in the latter portions of the game than I ever did in Awakening. Ryoma, Kaze, and Takumi were my three heavy hitters and essential to all my victories. My Avatar, Corrin, didn’t come in too far behind, but he had a tendency to never one-hit KO anything, so I usually moved him up with a guard or just kept him in the rear as support.
Perhaps the best battle, to me, was the final battle. In Awakening, the final battle was so easy that I only lost a single unit by the time I finished it. In Birthright though? To put it bluntly, Corrin and Ryoma were the only two left when the boss was defeated, and that was with a horde of enemies coming up behind them. If I hadn’t landed the final blow when I did, it would have been game over. I actually had to purposefully sacrifice units in order to ensure my victory, luring enemies to the bottom of the map and blocking off vectors of attack with other units so that my main two could fight the boss. It killed me to do that, but luckily permadeath wasn’t on, though I imagine it would have made for a better story all things considered. I’ve always been a little strange like that, wanting characters to die for the story.
Now lets talk about the graphics. As I mentioned earlier, the in-game graphics are blocky and low-rez in some areas, but that isn’t everywhere and it isn’t always noticeable. For a 3DS game, it looks great actually. The graphics were even improved over Awakening which kind of shocked me. So don’t take my criticisms of the in-game cutscenes too seriously, I’ve just been very spoiled when it comes to stuff like that because I love games like Heavy Rain and The Witcher, both of which were made on far more powerful hardware. Fire Emblem tries to tell just as compelling a story with less, it’s like looking back at the PS2 days of gaming when stuff like this was in its infancy. I was happy, however, that one of my favorite aspects of the Awakening was expanded for this entry: The beautiful CG scenes. While there seem to be less of them in Birthright(and I imagine that extends to the entirety of Fates.), those beautiful models appear in your private quarters when you call someone to strengthen your relationship with them or your spouse greets you. I can’t tell if the 3DS is actually rendering that or if it is a pre-rendered scene, but considering you can interact with the characters at times I might go with the former. Then again, pretty much nothing else is in the scene except for that one character model so it might be possible. Either way it’s still gorgeous and I seriously hope that Fire Emblem Switch takes the graphics of the pre-rendered cutscenes and runs with it as normal graphics.
And of course there’s no way that I couldn’t mention the soundtrack. If there’s one thing that appears to be consistent it’s that the soundtrack to a Fire Emblem game will always be phenomenal. Sure, Birthright had a few more throwaway tracks than Awakening, but again, it’s split into three segments for there was obviously going to be more of those. But the tracks it does get right, like the above “Lost in Thoughts All Alone” more than make up for it. And the end credits? The background music while you read the “Where are they now...” sections is just perfect because it helps to sell that bittersweet ending coupled with the “but those that remain lived in a world of peace” angle.
All in all, Fire Emblem Fates - Birthright is an excellent title that like its predecessor, Awakening, should not be missed. However, it is merely one piece of a larger puzzle and I fully intend to continue the journey and work my way through Conquest and Revelations when my wallet allows. I just hope they don’t do this split story again, at least not as separate titles. It was a neat experiment, but it’s way too much of a financial sink.
Like Awakening, multiple characters can end up getting married over the course of the game. The only major(and very welcome) change to the system is that you can reject the S-rank support which governs the marriage. In Awakening it would just happen without your consent meaning you either let it happen or you purposefully staged it. With Fates in general you cane experiment and see who fits best with whom and only allow a couple you deem right to proceed. I didn’t pair everyone off this time, oddly enough. Ryoma married Orochi, Takumi with Oboro, Sakura with Subaki, Hinoka with Hinata, Corrin with Kagero, Kaze with Felicia, Silas with Hana, and Azura with Jakob.
Quite a few characters remained unmarried because I honestly didn’t use them. I will say that I had a hard time deciding who my Avatar would marry. At first I was looking at Orochi and Setsuna, Azura was knocked out of the running because of something I learned and that didn’t sit with me even though it was vague, and Kagero entered the contest later. Ultimately Kagero won because Orochi seemed liked a better fit for Ryoma and Setsuna was... kind of boring honestly. It really wasn’t as one-sided a decision as it was in Awakening where I knew from the start I wanted Tiki(Side note: I am not happy that her face was changed in Fire Emblem Heroes. The Tiki of Awakening looks mature and motherly compared to her child self that appeared in earlier games. The version of her in Heroes looks like a cross between child and adult Tiki, with her more childish looking face on her mature adult body. She’s called Adult Tiki in the game, but in my head it’s teenage Tiki because I refuse to accept her as the same character from Awakening.).
I’m thinking that for my inevitable playthrough of Conquest I’m going to play through with a female Avatar the first time around, just to keep consistent with the cover art. Not to mention I don’t self-insert with these Avatars, preferring to instead look at them as developed characters with actual names(The Avatar of Awakening was called Robin and Fates Avatar is Corrin(Kamui in the Japanese version.).), so it’s easier for me to just switch the gender.