(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 4 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 3.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 4 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Highly Recommended
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
- Street Date:
- February 19th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Sophia Edwards
- Review Date:1
- March 4th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
Digital 3DS version reviewed. The digital version can be purchased here.
After the huge success of 'Fire Emblem: Awakening', Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have gone all out on making 'Fire Emblem: Fates' a sequel divided into three distinct campaigns: 'Birthright', 'Conquest', and 'Revelation'.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest' is a mechanically great game. It's both a huge improvement over 'Awakening' before it and a nice return to form for the series itself. It works as both one of the most difficult and one of the most approachable franchise entries yet, but I can't help but feel that certain aspects have been a bit hamstrung by Nintendo's decision to split the game into three somewhat separate games. The reasoning behind it is sound- 'Birthright' doubles down on aspects that saw 'Awakening' become the success it was, while 'Conquest' aims to satisfy longtime fans who felt that the series was heading in a different direction from what they'd become accustomed to, I just wish certain aspects had been handled a bit better than they are.
The basic story starts the same no matter which entry you play. As a prince or princess of Nohr, you very quickly begin to learn that the family you've grown up with aren't actually your blood relatives, having been kidnapped during infancy from your real home nation of Hoshido. Six chapters in, a branching point is reached, giving players the option to side with Hoshido, Nohr, and when 'Revelation' (DLC) is released, picking no side at all. It's a nice hook, though the decision felt, to me at least, entirely like one made because of the version of the game I owned, and less because I felt conflicted about the actual decision. The entire prologue spends its time hammering in how bad Nohr is, so when it gets down to it, the game basically asks "do you want to be good or evil?" without a drop more nuance than that. It's not a huge caveat, but it definitely bugged me for the first stretch of the game. It got worse when even the other characters basically kept asking me why on earth I chose to side with Nohr. It's a story that makes some admirable attempts at depth, but relies far too heavily on melodrama for its own good.
Thankfully, where the plot falters heavily, the gameplay is largely excellent. The basic grid-based SRPG mechanics remain largely unaltered, so the game makes a series of smart decisions regarding how players go about engaging with each mission that changes the dynamic of everything quite nicely. 'Conquest' doesn't allow players to grind for experience or money, and instead focuses on making each chapter more strategically sound. In commanding the small army at your disposal, the game wants players to think instead of brute force their way through each situation. Even if permadeath is switched off, losing an ally in combat means they won't get any more experience during a mission, and that can really sting. There's also a new Dragon Vein system, allowing players to change battle maps in significant ways, but the idea doesn't seem quite as fleshed out as it could be. For example, in an early level, using Dragon Vein will drop acid on enemies and reduce their health, but the difficulty involved in getting to the location where the effect can be triggered greatly outweighs the benefits it provides. The game often under explains what a Dragon Vein will do, leaving me to wonder whether or not it was actually worth bothering with. Keeping units next to each other is vital as well, as the support bonuses adjacent units provide each other are incredibly precious, and also foster relationships between troops.
It's this relationship system that forms a large part of the game's appeal. Where the plot falters, the characters shine, and by making units cooperate and chat between missions, players learn about them in ways that make them feel far more significant than the average unit in strategy games. Additionally, the more characters like each other, the better the support they'll provide in combat will be. Characters can even get married and have kids who can join your ranks, it's a great idea from 'Awakening' that the plot bends over backwards to try and justify, but I'm still incredibly glad it's there. Additionally, there's also a new mechanic that sees players building their own castles between missions, setting up shops and facilities that convey bonuses and new features. While it feels a tad underdeveloped compared to other games in the genre ('Disgaea 5' tackled the idea of a home base in a way that was far more satisying), I really do appreciate the game giving players a lot more to do outside of combat than the series ever really has before.
It's just a shame that the separate release structure of the game nosing about the back of my mind, because ultimately, buying all three campaigns will set buyers back $80, and DLC is prominent. I personally feel 'Conquest' handled the idea of no grinding very well, but then the game allows players to buy DLC that lets players grind. If the opportunity to grind was still there, but the map design and general mechanics were kept the same so that more experienced players wouldn't need to grind, rather than having the feature locked behind a paywall, I'd feel far better about it all. I do personally feel there's enough value to justify buying at least two of the three campaigns here, but I just wish the business end was less stratified.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
This is one of the best looking games on the 3DS, no doubt. Production values are sky high here, and between lovely sprite work and great looking 3D models and animations in combat, it's not hard to tell that this was a labor of love for Intelligent Systems. Facial details on some character models can look rather bad (particularly on the custom protagonist, with no options that look much like the 2D character portrait at all), but outside of that, it's a lovely looking game.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
There's a sizeable amount of English voice acting here, with the majority of the cast turning out solid performances, though the few weak actors here are noticeably very poor, and the lack of Japanese options can sting a bit. The soundtrack contains a couple of really excellent pieces, but the majority of the music here is rather indistinct, and ends up fading into the background more than anything else.
Within 'Conquest' alone, there's enough incentive to make it worth replaying at least once to see all of the support conversations and try the game on different difficulty levels. Even so, the bulk of one's time with 'Fates' is likely going to be spent trying the other campaigns, all of which are lengthy and packed with content.
While 'Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest' can stumble in a few places, namely the melodramatic plot and a few structural annoyances, this is ultimately a great SRPG that should please series fans. Some of the newer mechanics don't work quite as well as they should, but the tweaks to the core gameplay go a long way to making this a challenging, and immensely satisfying game.
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