By Josh Speer / March 1st, 2016
Perhaps the most interesting new gameplay mechanic in Fates is that of Dragon Veins. Since Hoshidan and Nohrian royalty are descended from ancient dragons, they can tap into their draconic lineage to dramatically affect the battlefield. I was honestly quite worried this would be a gimmicky throwaway, but it turned into a very compelling mechanic. Perhaps that was because Dragon Veins manifest themselves in so many disparate forms, such as building bridges, draining moats, creating healing tiles, summoning fireballs and many, many more. What also made them memorable is that they can be accessed by ANY royal. I went in thinking only Corrin would be able to tap into them, but the enemy royalty also makes dangerous use of them, especially when you fight against Camilla. Being conscious of where Dragon Vein activation nodes are on the field is vital to your success, as much as keeping the Weapons Triangle in mind. A couple of maps that are great examples of this are Burning Falls, a level bisected by waterfalls of molten lava, and Dragonfall Keep, a building composed of the bones of a deceased dragon that is filled with stomach acid. Honestly, I feel the stage designs in Fates are some of the most creative ever in the series.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Fates is how it has further streamlined the game. Most of this is through the My Castle feature. Before, you would have to travel from town to town to find item vendors. Now, you have your own castle town that can be accessed between battles. Here you can build and upgrade stores such as item vendors, armorers, arenas and more. You can also make offerings to your Astral Dragon (which looks like a cross between a fish, squirrel and snake) to strengthen it to help defend you during Invasion challenges. During these, you protect your castle from enemy units, who can destroy your buildings and generally mess up your day. You can and should build various defensive features such as mechnaized puppets to help fend off the onslaught of foes. My Castle is also where you can further bond with your designated waifu (or husbando, depending on your preference) in your little abode. This was probably the most random throwaway feature, as it only involves animated discussions with them followed by an improvement of your support level. I much prefer the support conversations between battles, as they do a better job of showing off the personalities of the various characters. Further minor improvements are the map screen, which does a great job of showing off how vast the world is, and the increased storage of items, which now lets you hold up to 500 items.
It wouldn’t be a true follow up to Awakening without DLC missions and Paralogues. Yes, child units are back, but with a different explanation. They haven’t come from the future, but reside in Astral Realms, pocket dimensions where time progresses differently. As for the DLC, after Chapter 6 you can access the Dragon’s Gate, which lets you purchase and play DLC maps. The first one is free, and has you meeting up with Chrom and company for a fun mission, and getting rewarded with some unique classes in return. If you buy DLC for Birthright, it’s tied to that system. Meaning that if you want to try the DLC in Conquest, you have access to it so long as you are playing it on the same system. As far as I can tell, that means you won’t have to buy all the DLC multiple times, which is a godsend considering how much that would add to the overall price of the game, which is already split into 3 versions – Birthright, Conquest and the upcoming Revelations.
Birthright is a very pretty game, most especially in the frequent cutscenes, but also during battle. Also, and this is worth a mention, characters finally have feet! The character portraits are expressive, and the design of enemies is eye catching, showing off more detail than Awakening. My favorite new enemy are the Stoneborn, giant monolithic rock monsters with golden coins for heads which spit rocks at foes. I thought that the art direction in Birthright did a good job of visually distinguishing between the Japanese themed Hoshido and European themed Nohr. As for the sound, that’s a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s true the musical score, most especially the main song, is emotional, beautiful and compelling, with soothing notes of Japanese music, the voice acting and sound effects vary. Some characters have great VA, but others were cast poorly, such as Camilla. Overall I was pleased, but it makes me wonder why there was no dual audio, since I can only imagine some of the Japanese voice actors did more justice to their roles. I should mention that the writing for the game is also top notch, just as I’ve come to expect.
While the majority of my time spent with Birthright was positive, I did have some minor complaints. One was that, although the plot was very focused, emotional and heartfelt, it left many unresolved mysteries at the end. Many of these are centered around Azura, the extreme behavior of King Garon, and the identity of the mysterious “invisible” invaders. I remember how it was touted that each version of Fates was a complete story, and while that is true, I felt something was lacking. There was a moment in Awakening where Basilio makes his triumphant return, and the tables are turned on Validar. That sort of moment didn’t occur in Fates, and combined with how the experience was split between two games, I left feeling somewhat disappointed by the plot. Another point of contention is how confusing item identification was. While it’s true that they have modified the Weapons Triangle, I was unclear about where some weapons fit into it. For example, there are now Clubs, which are essentially Axes, much like Daggers and Shuriken. I thought I was screwed when my Maid Felicia ran out of daggers and healing items and didn’t realize until much later that she could also use Festal healing items and shuriken. While this is hardly game breaking, I feel it stands out as something that could have been clarified significantly. It also seemed odd that some units had ridiculously high level caps, meaning I could never use a Master Seal, and had to resort to crazy new items like Heart Seals. None of these ruined my experience, but they did keep the game from getting a perfect score.
Ultimately, I was very pleased with my time in Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. It provided a rousing, emotional 45 hour adventure full of combat, heartache and memorable characters. It mostly improved upon all the features found in Awakening, as well as introducing a few cool new mechanics of its own. Its only real missteps were the confusion regarding new items, and the unresolved plot points found at the end. Ultimately I feel this game was more than worth the $39.99 price tag, even though part of me wishes they just released one experience with multiple paths instead. I wouldn’t say that Fire Emblem Fates was better than Awakening, but it was just as good. I heartily recommend it to any fan of the series that enjoyed Awakening.
Review Copy Purchased by Author
NOTE: This review is of the version of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright released in North America. It is not a comparison of that with the version released in Japan. There are many reasons for that, but primary amongst them is that this review aims to honestly give my opinions based on my honest impressions after spending time with the game. I am not engaging in the mire of controversy and heated debate that has surround Fates since before it made its way West. If you want my opinions regarding that, click here. And please keep any comments civil and focused on the review itself.
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