Fire Emblem Fates is the next chapter in the Fire Emblem series, following in the footsteps of the critically acclaimed Fire Emblem Awakening. Fates takes a divisive route to tell its story. For the first time in the series, the game’s storytelling is dispersed across two separate titles, similar to a Pokemon game, but at the same time completely different in that both versions are vastly different from one another. Fire Emblem Fates was divided into two versions, Birthright and Conquest, with a third unifying story, Revelations, available at a later date (March 10, 2016) as a downloadable content pack. This review will center around the Birthright version of the title.

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Fire Emblem Fates follows a unifying theme: family or bond? Should you side with your biological family, or with the foster family that raised you as their own? The main character, Corrin, is a royal prince of the feudal kingdom of Hoshido. At a young age, Corrin was kidnapped by the neighboring kingdom of Nohr, where he spent the majority of his childhood with a man he believed was his father and several siblings who came to love him as their own. In Fire Emblem Fates, at the Chapter 6 mark, the player is required to make a decision to choose a kingdom to side with; Birthright players side with Hoshido, and Conquest players side with Nohr. As a side note, the third path, Revelations, has the player align with neither party, instead becoming an enemy to both kingdoms while thwarting a plan to destroy both kingdoms and the world. The story line, which is a noted step downwards in seriousness from the grim affairs that previous Fire Emblem titles told, is still one that can be enjoyed by all with the elements of tragedy and one-liners that defined the series. The writing in Birthright, compared to previous titles, is mediocre at best. The characters in the Hoshido kingdom are generic, and rarely go out of their element to break new molds. They tended to shine much more in their support conversations, adding a lot more flesh to their character.

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Intelligent Systems had quite the job in front of them. Coming off of the success that was Fire Emblem Awakening, was it possible to create a new, definitive experience? In the game play department, the series fixed the majority of the criticisms that Fire Emblem Awakening players balked about. Birthright brings Awakening players the sense of familiarity that they’ve come to recognize: field overworlds that provide for limitless experience and training opportunities. The culmination of the gameplay comes together with the new My Castle feature, where players are allowed to design their own stomping grounds complete with mess halls, armories, auguries, private quarters and socialization points to drive the support system home. My Castle adds an interesting multiplayer facet that allows players to explore other castle layouts and do battle; the winner of that battle gets to steal a copy of a unit for their own armies.

From a strategic standpoint, however, Intelligent Systems toned down the thought process in an effort to make the game more appealing to the casual crowd. Removing the weapon durability system felt like it cheapened the overall impact of strategy and reduced player decision making. Even though the gameplay strategy collapsed somewhat, Intelligent decided to funnel those strategic efforts into customization of the character, by making a rather simplistic concept much more complex. I am of course referring to the seals system. Instead of seals only being used to promote the character to an advanced class, there are now a total of six seal classes: from the standard class-promoting Master Seal, we now see promotional seals like the Offspring Seal, which gives the offspring characters born of supports access to their parental classes and Heart Seals, which allow the unit to change into their alternate class. Furthermore, there are also seals that increase the level cap and other support-based class seals.

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Much of the battle system remains the same with different weapon classes to keep in mind, and some battlefield elements such as the Dragon’s Vein, which allows a royal family member to alter the terrain to their advantage. These terrain differences could be anything from roadblocks to bridges that allow for easier access. Elements from Awakening return, including the Pickup system and choosing characters to fight next to, which would improve support capabilities as well as provide buffs depending on the class of unit the player stands next to. Despite having access to new classes, I tended to align more towards my veteran Fire Emblem class offerings of Swordmasters and Sage-type classes. Given the nature of the objectives in the Birthright story, which consisted mainly of wiping out platoons, this seems to be an entirely valid choice as I had little difficulty with the gameplay even on the Classic mode.

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Visually, Fire Emblem Fates is artfully done. The cutscenes are vibrant and beautiful. Characters like Azura stand out and a particular scene that stood out was the dancing scene, in which Azura invokes her control over water to inflict discomfort on King Garon. Characters also have feet this time around, something Awakening players were quick to deride. The environments and assets used for battlefields looked okay — nothing groundbreaking this time around. In the music department, while the main theme migrated away from the bravado of the traditional Fire Emblem theme, what Fates players now received is a much softer, eloquent version of Azura’s theme, a theme that I happened to immensely enjoy. The music sound track for Fates is solid, and met my expectations for what I was expecting in a Fire Emblem title: dramatic when need be, and softer to focus on moments of tragedy or character development. The voice acting needed some more work though as it lacked a bit of punch for some of the more dramatic moments.

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is a title that improves on the concepts introduced in Awakening and streamlines concepts favored by series veterans. While the game deserves praise for trying something different in this triplicate route story, the story line in Birthright felt cheapened, knowing that a third, true ending lay locked behind a pay wall. As an individual title, Birthright does little to prove itself as the definitive Fire Emblem experience; it needs to be held alongside its counterparts Conquest and Revelations for players to access the full range of the story. Players who genuinely enjoyed Awakening will feel right at home; veterans who seek a greater challenge and a more encompassing story dialogue are encouraged to try Conquest, where the decisions are much more crucial and strategic. While Fire Emblem Fates is a solid title in itself, it’s disappointing that players would need to buy two versions of the game as well as an extended DLC package to fully bask in the experience, because all together, it becomes so much more with the knowledge of both sides in mind.