Thursday, April 21, 2016

[REVIEW] Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest (3DS)

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
Played on: 3DS
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: Intelligent Systems / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Following the success of Fire Emblem: Awakening in finally making Nintendo's storied strategy series popular in a large scale, it was inevitable that we'd get more Fire Emblem action on 3DS. This came true in the form of Fire Emblem Fates, an exciting follow-up that keeps a lot of what made Awakening great and brings its own new ideas to the fold.

To further help capturing a more 'casual' audience while keeping hardcore fans happy, FE Fates was initially released as two separate games: Birthright, tailored to be more forgiving and simple, and Conquest, which features harder and more intricate objectives. I chose the latter, as the unforgiving aspect is what made me connect with the series in the first place.

While this Pokémon-like release could be seen as a cash-grab, it does make sense in that both games feature completely different campaigns, each with its own recruitable characters. No matter which one you choose, you can get the other as downloadable content for a fraction of the price, which is a nice touch. There's also a third game, called Revelations, which was released exclusively as DLC and works as a mixture of Birthright and Conquest. Bottom line: there's plenty here to sink your time in, provided you don't mind paying a bit extra.

Even if you want to get only one of the games, you won't be wanting for gameplay time: I spent over sixty hours to get to the end of Conquest. The gameplay is classic SRPG, consisting of several separate battles in different maps. As you progress through the game, you unlock more and more characters to add to your army, and it's loads of fun to fine-tune each of them with different classes, weapons and stat-boosting items.

As usual, the game features permadeath, meaning that dead characters stay dead. This can be turned off, but in my opinion doing so undermines the emotional connection and the battle tension that make the series so great. There are also several difficulty options, which can be toned down (but not up) at any time during the campaign, meaning the game definitely finds a nice middle ground when it comes to accessibility.

A returning feature from Awakening is the ability to make children. By making characters fight alongside each other, you can boost their relationship, which can eventually lead to marriage. Doing so will generate children, who can then join your army. The fact that each child inherits abilities from both parents is a great way to try and 'engineer' perfect characters, adding to the strategic depth. It's a bit awkward, from a storytelling standpoint, how children can immediately join the fray; in Awakening, this was explained by time travel, but Fates makes such a mess out of its own explanation that it's better to just ignore it.

Speaking of which, this has to be said: the story in the game is the one element that is veritably atrocious. Awakening didn't exactly feature stellar writing either, but here things get taken to another level entirely. Several plot points are so incredibly convoluted as to stop making sense altogether, along with drab dialogue that made me wish the game spent less time trying to establish the tale before each battle.

Luckily, there's one new feature that's great, and it's called My Castle. In it, your army gets to sit back at your own custom castle in between battles, where you get to walk around, build structures, harvest crops, buy items, and partake in several small activities. You also get to fight online against other player's armies, either by visiting their castle or having them visit yours. This is not really online multiplayer, as the armies are computer-controlled, but it's still loads of fun. All in all, this is a great addition to the series that can be exponentially expanded upon in future entries.

Even though it's not as groundbreaking as Awakening before it, Fire Emblem Fates nevertheless carries the series's torch more than admirably. Being in fact three different games, it potentially offers even more playtime than usual for the franchise, while still making you feel quite satisfied if you only want to go through one of the adevntures. Just choose your path and let the fun begin.

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