|Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
|Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
|February 19, 2016
|T for Teen – Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
I’m a Fire Emblem vet, so when I was given the opportunity to write about the other path in Fire Emblem Fates‘ list of fates for the game’s lead character Corrin, I happily obliged. I was intrigued by the promise of three paths, which might seem akin to Pokémon to some. On the contrary, I consider it to be more along the lines of the Legend of Zelda Oracle diptych, in that the core mechanics and story elements are the same, but the games themselves differ in some areas and complement each other in ways more significant than just, say, different types of Pokémon. (For the record, you should definitely read Review Manager Josh Speer’s look at Birthright as well, as I will mainly be hitting on points where Conquest differs in this review.) Naturally, being a fan of the unforgiving difficulty and permadeath found in previous installments of the series, I was willing to take on the challenge of, well, more challenge.
Indeed, it delivers. I will get this out of the way – Conquest delivers on its promise of being hard. Hell, even for a Fire Emblem game, it occasionally gets downright nasty. And yet, though you might regret your decision to pick the Nohr path after your careful grinding, or lack thereof, gets you bloody nowhere, it really emphasizes something that, in my view, was sorely missing from Awakening: good tactics. If you’re looking for a fun and easy ride, the Conquest path is not the way to go, and the story is occasionally a little lacking, but the level design, presentation and polish in Conquest are unparalleled, making it reach the upper echelon of the series’ best installments.
The first five chapters between all three Fates pathways are all the same, with each of the same major plot points being hit: Corrin (your unit) gets taken into the Nohr clan, King Garon acts like a complete jerk, the Hoshido tribe finds Corrin, Corrin finds out he has the special Dragon Vein ability, tragedy makes Corrin choose his/her fate, and so on until, at least in Conquest, you decide to pick your adopted Nohr family. Call it Fire Emblem: Stockholm Syndrome, if you will, but I presume it fits. After that, though, Conquest does not ease you in. At all. I mean, sure, your adopted family stays with you all the way, but this game makes it absolutely crucial that you have prepared adequately, even with some of the luxuries found in the other Fates pathways. To be fair, Conquest is hard not just for the sake of being hard, but because it actually has good level design and a vast array of units to level up which keep it that way.
Like the other Fates pathways, Conquest’s graphics shine somewhat more brightly than Awakening‘s. Character models have improved significantly, and lots of amazing visual details abound in the cutscenes. The music, sound effects, character designs and animations all make use of the 3DS hardware well. While some of the orchestral pieces in Fates Conquest do not quite measure up to Awakening’s truly epic soundtrack, I certainly did get pumped up during some of the battle themes.
Although the story itself is lacking, Conquest makes up for it by having incredibly rich character development, and in a game where permadeath is a prominent feature, that is a very good thing. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that some of your units are Corrin’s adoptive siblings, the family ties seem all the more real. Sure, some characters, especially the likes of your little sister Elise and her bodyguard Arthur, provide a lot of comic relief, but Conquest does wade through a story path as dark as the one you choose. I love Elise in particular, whose sheer innocence belies the fact that she’s a royal who takes part in a fairly significant conflict. It would be great if the interesting dichotomy between war and comedy was matched with a story that wasn’t mediocre, but alas, it is, mostly because of Corrin’s particularly strange characterization. This might be an intentional choice, especially given by the fact that the Conquest path might as well be intended to serve as the “wrong side” so to speak, and would thus serve as a more psychologically dreadful experience. Even so, it does get very grating hearing Corrin apologize every 5 minutes, but by game’s end, I felt pretty satisfied with the outcome the story had and the decisions that Corrin ended up making. Yet, I was more than eager to see what Birthright and Revelation had to say. For what it’s worth Azura, a Hoshidan royal mentioned in Josh’s review of Birthright, also makes an appearance as a playable unit in Conquest and also holds the key to the ultimate outcome in this pathway.
Now, we get to the best component: the gameplay. Hoo boy. While the core mechanics of Fire Emblem remain intact in Conquest, there is plenty of new content for everyone, from novices to vets. Awakening was also heavy on the customization, but the mere prospect of taking one of three paths in Fates gives a hint as to how much more Fates as a whole has, especially the nifty My Castle mode. With that said, Conquest’s differences utilize the capabilities of this Fire Emblem iteration to the fullest. For instance, you don’t have many opportunities to grind as well as you can in Birthright, which makes the My Castle mode particularly useful in Conquest – but your money is tight on the Nohr side.
I enjoyed Awakening very much, but Fates, and Conquest in particular, improves upon it in numerous ways. For some aspects, Intelligent Systems seems to have taken the “if it ain’t broke” approach. The UI is still as clear cut as Awakening’s, with everything from stats to enemy units laid out clearly, and even little details like your units’ facial expressions determining the potential outcome of a fight end up working well. In addition, the support system in Awakening gets expanded upon tremendously, with paired units getting stat boosts and more. Not to mention, the unit selection in Conquest actually gets pretty good. I mean, sure, you have Mozu, who in my opinion is absolutely useless early on, but other than her there’s something for every kind of player here. Along with the usual classes like Cavaliers, Dark Mages, Thieves, Bow Knights, et cetera, there are plenty of other classes to choose from. As an example, my favorite unit in Conquest is your Nohrian sister Camilla, who is part of the new Malig Knight class. These are similar to the Dark Fliers in Awakening, but with axes instead of lances. I use Trample as her major skill, which makes your opponent take 5 more damage in HP if they are not mounted. It’s skills like these that make Conquest particularly great, too.
Yet, Conquest differs to some extent from the other Fates pathways in another area: Intelligent Systems has really upped their game from Awakening with the map and level design. I thought Awakening had many moments that felt rather uninspired, as good as it was – while the first several chapters of that were so hard yet fun that I had to put my 3DS down and take a nap, it got to the point where I could actually play it in my sleep if I needed to because of the abundance of open fields and limited objectives. Conquest, though, is the exact opposite. Sticking together is the key here, but not to the point where you get so overpowered that enemies literally crawl to you. Although Birthright has its fair share of hard stages and what not, this is war, and it gets as unpredictable as ever in Conquest. Especially when played on Hard and Classic (i.e., with permadeath on) as I did, it’s a challenge, and the AI lets you know it. The lack of grinding makes even the most supposedly simple objectives, like one particularly intense moment where you have to move out and keep all of your units alive, downright terrifying. Yet, the threat of just one bad move costing you makes your victory all the more sweet, and that’s what I’ve always imagined Fire Emblem to be about.
To close, aside from some problems with the story and a few other miscellaneous nitpicks, I am very glad I chose the Conquest path in Fire Emblem Fates. The promise of increased difficulty after an installment that was a return to form for the series in pretty much every department but that was enough to turn me to the dark side. It certainly helps that most of this side of the story is quite compelling in its own right. Being on the end that seems bound to lose makes this path a very harrowing one, for sure, and the level design and varied unit selection both reflect that. I didn’t really go the completionist route, but even then I spent a little over 40 hours with Conquest and enjoyed just about every single one. In short, it’s pretty much everything a Fire Emblem game should be. If you thought Awakening on Normal was too easy, as I did, Conquest on Normal will make you happy for sure. Yet even if you didn’t and just want more challenge, with some of the best and most intense level designs I’ve ever seen in a tactical RPG and humor as dark as the path your avatar takes, it gets the job done. And if you don’t like it, you can always try Birthright or Revelation without having to get another cartridge.
Review copy acquired by author