Excitement can often be a game’s downfall. While companies naturally want to generate excitement for sales, too much of it can dramatically alter expectations. Good games have been despised for not being masterpieces, and unsatisfied fans can ultimately few betrayed if a game doesn’t meet their expectations. I remember my zest and enthusiasm for Fire Emblem Fates; I counted down the days leading to launch, consuming every morsel of footage that I found. The strength of that emotion was only matched by my disappointment after playing the game.
Although Fire Emblem was on the verge of annihilation, Awakening‘s record smashing sales let it see another day. The many new fans were clamoring for more, but at the same time, a divide was forming. Some long time fans had felt alienated from Awakening, believing that the game had too little of the spirit of Fire Emblem. Intelligent Systems was in a difficult situation; a new game could easily disappoint a portion of the fanbase. So, when creating Fire Emblem Fates, the company took advantage of its unique story to allow players to choose the experience they wanted.
Fates is unique since it is technically three games instead of one. When purchasing it, one can choose between Birthright, a game with easier, simplistic maps like Awakening, or Conquest, a challenging game with a variety of map objectives. In each game, Corrin, the game’s Avatar unit, sides with different nations. After buying one version for $40, the other version could be purchased as DLC for $20. However, there was also a third route, Revelation, in which Corrin sides with neither nation. Though this is the “true” path, it can not be purchased by itself. While this idea initially seemed like a clever way to please all of the fans, it ultimately was a major encumbrance to the story of a game meant to be driven by it.
Long ago, the First Dragons fought for control of the world. To stop the fighting, some of the dragons called on humans for help, forging the divine weapons to aid them. As the dragons declined, their human descendants formed the nations of Hoshido, Nohr, and Valla. Anankos, the ancestor of Valla’s royalty, maintained his dragon body for centuries even as he declined, which eventually caused him to attack Valla. After his madness was quelled, he separated his soul, leaving part of it in the dragon and creating a human form with the other. The human Anankos soon met Mikoto, and they had a child named Corrin together. However, Anankos’ dragon counterpart only grew spiteful of humans in this time, eventually attacking Valla. With the nation in ruin, Mikoto and Corrin are sent to Hoshido, where King Sumeragi accepts Mikoto as a consort.
Mikoto soon becomes Queen of Hoshido, using her abilities to create a magical barrier around the nation protecting it from Nohrian invasion. During negotiations with King Garon of Nohr, Sumeragi is killed, and Corrin is kidnapped. In response, the Hoshidans kidnap Azura, the daughter of Arete. Arete was Mikoto’s sister, and Queen of Valla before its destruction. As a result, Azura has inherited the power to quell madness with song.
Many years later, Corrin is sent on a mission to help prepare Nohr to invade Hoshido. While there, Hans, one of Garon’s commanders, seemingly kills Corrin’s retainer Gunter and prepares to attack Corrin. However, the sword gifted from Garon to Corrin, the Ganglari, pulls the prince(ss) into the Bottomless Chasm. Corrin is saved by the dragon Lilith, though they are soon taken by the Hoshidans as a captive. Corrin is recognized as Mikoto’s child, who has them sit on the throne to regain their memories.
As Mikoto prepares to present Corrin to the nation, a mysterious figure steals the Ganglari, causing an explosion that kills many in the congregation, including the queen. In response, Corrin turns into a dragon, defeating the invader. As they go insane, Azura sings to heal Corrin, allowing them to control their power. The sacred Yato reveals itself, choosing Corrin as a wielder. However, before Corrin and the Hoshidan royals can rest, they hear of a Nohrian invasion. Mikoto’s death dispersed the magical barrier, causing the Hoshidan and Nohrian armies to come face to face. Caught between the siblings they grew up with and those they are (apparently) related to by blood, Corrin is forced to make a decision: do they side with Hoshido or Nohr?
In Birthright, Corrin sides with Hoshido. In this route, Corrin and the Hoshidan siblings negotiate peace with a few nations before invading Nohr. Crown Prince Ryoma is missing for much of the story, but is soon discovered to be orchestrating a rebellion against Nohr in Cheve. Once the parties meet, the group heads to the Nohrian capital of Windmire to kill Garon.
In Conquest, Corrin sides with Nohr. Initially branded as a traitor by Garon, Corrin is sent on numerous missions to regain his trust. Soon, Azura takes Corrin to see the ruined Valla (Which has been magically sealed inside the Bottomless Canyon), explaining to them that the current Garon is simply a puppet possessed by Anankos, and sitting on the Hoshidan throne will free him. However, a curse prevents the two from telling the Nohrian royals, so they ostensibly support an invasion of Hoshido. After conquering it, Garon sits on the throne, becoming a monster that the group has to defeat. Right after, a possessed Takumi attacks, serving as the final challenge of the game.
Finally, in Revelations, Corrin sides with neither nation. Azura shows them Valla, explaining that Anankos has been manipulating Hoshido and Nohr to instigate war. The two set out to unify the two nations, eventually gaining enough trust to bring everyone to Valla. The siblings of both nations set out to defeat Anankos, bringing peace to the world once and for all.
The major problems with Fates‘ plot come from the way that the game was sold. Since each route is sold as a “full game”, I believe that each has to provide a complete understanding of the game. The problem is that Revelation is the “true” path. Despite being the foundation of Fates‘ conflict, Valla is nothing more than a contrivance in Birthright and Conquest; in the former, it is hinted at, while in the latter, it is briefly teased. In addition, having a “true” path makes the decision between Hoshido and Nohr trivial, since both feel like the “incorrect” choice. Restructuring the plot of Birthright and Conquest to include Valla would make Fates much better, as each route would address the conflict in some way. It could even allow for different endings of the war. Perhaps Anankos would win if Corrin didn’t unite Hoshido and Nohr? The worst part is that Revelation can only be played as DLC for Birthright or Conquest. If Revelations was available separately, one could argue that the lack of information in Birthright and Conquest was simply part of the plot, but selling the true route as DLC feels like extortion.
The parceling problems don’t end there, however. On top of the $80 for all three routes, Fates has map DLC. Most provide extra classes, skills, or units, but the problems come with the Hidden Truths DLC. This explains the backstory of Anankos, as well as why three of Awakening‘s child units are present in Fates. While it’s only about $4.50, it’s the principle that is insulting. Even after paying double the price of a usual 3DS game, there are still critical story details missing. The story of Anankos is hardly touched on in the main game, making this DLC practically mandatory for an understanding of the plot. The rest of the DLC is fine, though after paying for all three routes, it’s not worth it.
Hidden Truths is helpful, since Fates needs all the world building it can get. Valla isn’t the only nation to get little to no exposure. In addition to Hoshido and Nohr, there are numerous small nations on the continent, such as Mokushu and Notre Sagesse. These are typically neutral, but they are only used as locations in which Hoshidan and Nohrian forces accidentally meet. They all feel like plot devices. Nothing explains why they are free of Hoshidan or Nohrian control, or provides backstory of any kind. The continent of Fates isn’t even named! Hoshido and Nohr don’t have much backstory either. Besides their founding and royal lineage, there is little history provided. The world building in Fates is laughably exiguous, and when combined with the sundered story, it creates an utterly forgettable tale.
Fire Emblem‘s staple moral ambiguity is missing, too. Hoshido is obviously in the right, and Nohr is in the wrong. The chapters preluding Corrin’s decision do nothing to dispel this notion. Nohr is portrayed as the aggressive invader, while Hoshido is the helpless victim. There are a few snippets of dialogue throughout the game that are meant to add moral ambiguity, but they are ultimately inconsistent with the rest of the game.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the story capitalized on polarity. The marketing made it seem as if Conquest would see Corrin reforming the nation, yet in reality, it boils down to Corrin trying to save Garon, but ultimately killing him. Corrin has the notion that Garon is truly good, but nothing supports this except for Xander’s occasional remark. Garon gave Corrin a cursed sword, killed Sumeragi, and isolated Corrin for years in a tower. If Garon was once good, Xander wouldn’t have been old enough to remember. Nohr’s antagonistic nature had the potential to provide a stellar story of change, but it felt like one of complacency.
It should be evident from the last paragraph that Corrin is a hindrance to the plot. Throughout Conquest, Corrin feels bad about their orders, but ultimately fails to do anything until the end of the game. It would be apt to title the first half of the route as “Why didn’t I pick Birthright?”. Fortunately, Conquest‘s Corrin is the worst of the three routes. Birthright Corrin is quickly accepted by everyone, even Takumi, who was very sensitive about Mikoto’s death. I wish there was a bit more opposition to Corrin in Birthright, but it’s certainly better than Conquest‘s Corrin. Revelation‘s Corrin gains trust far too quickly as well.
However, being an Avatar, Corrin suffers from having no development. They are a perfect example of why Avatars should never be lords. Because they only face superficial challenges, Corrin ends up uninteresting, despite being the center of attention throughout. Their attitude in Conquest is loathsome, not pitiable. The way everyone quickly sides with them in Birthright and Revelation doesn’t make sense, as Corrin could easily be a spy. Because the player is meant to project themselves on Corrin, they can never have character development. This is wholly incompatible with the title of lord.
Fire Emblem games have had poor plots in the past, but have still been considered great. However, those games were generally more gameplay driven and had stellar casts. Neither of these apply to Fates. The game is meant to be story driven in Birthright and Revelation, while Conquest seems to be gameplay focused. As will be discussed later, the gameplay of Conquest is quite great, so it salvages the experience of the path. However, Birthright and Revelation are designed to have simpler gameplay, so the poor story is much more noticeable there.
The second point is a much bigger problem. Awakening and The Blazing Blade didn’t have great stories, but the characters made up for it. Due to the plot of Fates, poor character development was inevitable. First of all, the cast is double the size of most Fire Emblem games. This is so Birthright and Conquest both have normal sized casts. As a result, there are many characters that felt like one dimensional tropes, not fully fledged people.
Lords notoriously have far more dialogue than most of the cast in Fire Emblem. Since there are four Hoshidan siblings and four Nohrian siblings, the dialogue non-royals have in the main story is essentially quartered. This is even worse in Revelation, where there are ten lords. Many characters say a sentence or two when they join, then never appear again in the story.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the supports were decent. However, due to the inclusion of child units and romance, Intelligent Systems decided to create supports between most characters of opposite gender. While this worked in a game like Awakening, where the first generation units are in a closely knit group, the variety of backgrounds of Fates characters makes this illogical. Interesting character traits are already spread too thin by 60+ character roster, so an abundance of supports without chemistry only furthers this spread. This is especially a problem in Conquest, in which the player can not grind for support points. Sure, one could go on a wiki, cherrypick a few lines from hundreds, and use it to justify a character, but is that truly development? To top it all off, the characters who can’t support with each of the opposite gender can only support with Corrin. Characters such as Scarlet and Flora could definitely have had supports with Ryoma and Felicia, respectively. It’s baffling that supports were either all or none; it ruined many characters that otherwise might have been passable.
There’s a reason that this decision is so incendiary: it was quite clearly due to child units, which have no place in the game. The all or none nature of supports clearly indicates this; there is no other reason for such a cutoff. While Awakening and Genealogy of the Holy War both had child units, they were implemented for story purposes. Children in Fates, on the other hand, seem to be forced in to please the fans of the system. The children are sent to the Deeprealms to escape the war, where time is accelerated. Then, in their respective paralogue, a child ends up in some sort of conflict, eventually causing them to join Corrin’s army. However, these Deeprealms are hardly, if ever, mentioned outside of these paralogues. The children of Fates are undeniably superficial, ruining the development of their parents along the way.
The story of Fire Emblem Fates can be summed up in two words: lost potential. A story about true family and the justifications of war would have been fresh, especially if things weren’t always positive. However, the end result was convoluted, contradictory, and contrived. The existence of a “true” path ruins any sort of meaningful decision, and the character making the decision is insufferable at times. The poor world building and character building could have been averted with a reworked story, but will go down as Fire Emblem‘s shallowest offering.
Fire Emblem Three Houses is also a game about choice. Byleth will have to choice which house to teach, ultimately deciding who they side with in the war. Naturally, when I saw this, I was apprehensive. What if it is as poor as Fates? Luckily, it seems that the game learned from its predecessor’s mistakes. Most notably, all three paths can be taken without buying DLC. Even though Intelligent Systems considers each route a complete game, I won’t mind if there are details exclusive to each path. There doesn’t seem to be a “canon” house, so the decision will be far more impactful than in Fates. Each house has a smaller selection of units, so this should allow for ample development of each. Child units will not return, showing that Intelligent Systems isn’t afraid to omit an out of place idea. I’ll admit, much of my excitement for Three Houses comes from the fact that it seems to fix many of Fates‘ storytelling mistakes.
Once you get past the many flaws of Fates‘ plot, you find gameplay that is strong, for the most part (Yay, positivity!). Each of the three routes offers a different type of Fire Emblem. Birthright offers an experience similar to Awakening. Most maps task the player with either routing the enemy or defeating a boss. Grinding is allowed, though most characters are viable without it. The maps themselves weren’t very complex on account of them all being attack-oriented, though there was more variety than in Awakening. Overall, the word “Vanilla” comes to mind when talking about Birthright‘s gameplay. It’s nothing remarkable, but can be fun to relax with.
Conquest‘s gameplay is akin to older games. Even though it had the weakest story of the three paths (though all were awful, as established), the gameplay made it the highlight of Fates. Maps have a variety of objectives, from defense to escape. Most of these were fair, though a few were a bit frustrating. While some maps felt a bit gimmicky, there was generally good reason behind it. Grinding isn’t available, so funds and EXP have to be careful distributed. Conquest was challenging yet fair, leading to the most satisfying path gameplay wise.
Few examples fit the word “antithesis” better than Conquest and Revelation. Meant to be a middle ground between Birthright and Conquest, Revelation‘s gameplay felt gimmick filled and dull. Almost every map had a gimmick of some sort. Most felt out of place, implemented solely so the developers could say “Hey, it’s not a normal rout map! It’s a special rout map”. I often motivated myself to clear a map by remembering that I wouldn’t have to deal with the gimmick in the future. The maps of Revelation should have been Birthright style attack maps with Conquest‘s extra objectives. This would let players choose their difficulty. Grinding is allowed in Revelation, and one will need it if they want to use their favorite units. Most units join at staggeringly low levels, making them practically impossible to use on a no-grind run. The main draw of Revelation is that all the characters are usable, so forcing players to grind just to make them viable is ridiculous.
I’m curious whether each route of Three Houses will have notable differences in map designs. Perhaps the Black Eagles’ missions during the war will consist of defending the Empire, while the Blue Lions’ missions will consist of attacking it. Maybe the Golden Deer will simply try to keep trade afloat, creating many unique map objectives. None of this has been advertised, so I doubt it will be the case, but some differences on each path would greatly bolster replay ability.
The major flaw with Awakening is how little balance exists in the gameplay. Many of its systems have been reworked in Fates, allowing for a game that is much more balanced.
Reclassing now retains the character’s level, and to level up beyond 20, a special type of seal needs to be used. Units have less reclass options by default, but married units unlock new classes for their partners, creating newfound strategy in the system. Skills return in the same form as Awakening‘s, but the modified reclass system generally makes them harder to learn. While one can certainly make all their units broken, it’s much more time consuming than in Awakening.
While fixing the reclass system was an important step, the greatest change that Fates made was to the Pair Up System. There are two “stances” available: guard and attack. Guard stance is activated by pairing up units in the same way as one could in Awakening. The units occupy one tile, and only the lead one can be attacked. The lead unit receives stat boosts dependent on the support unit’s class and the support rank between the pair. When the lead unit attacks or is attacked, the guard gauge fills, and once completely filled, the support unit will block a hit. Attack stance, on the other hand, occurs when two units are adjacent. If one attacks (and isn’t in guard stance), the adjacent unit will attack as well, dealing half damage.
It’s amazing how a few changes singlehandedly made the Pair Up system strategic. The system is entirely strategic since nothing is chance based. The player knows exactly when an ally will attack or block, and can plan around it. The only thing that is still based on supports is the level of boost provided. As a result, the system can be utilized throughout the game, and never feels too advantageous. Enemies can now use the system as well, making it far more fair. Three Houses‘ adjutant system seems to be luck based, which is a shame. However, it’s not as flexible as Pair Up, which should add some balance.
Even though I despise the plot of Fates, I adore the music. The way the eastern style of Hoshido clashes with the European style of Nohr creates some of the best tracks in the series. The tonal shift from the “Calm” to the “Battle” version of a theme is much more apparent, with the enlarged instrumentation allowing for better expression. I hope that each route of Three Houses has unique music, but I’m not expecting it to be the case; all seem to be European, so the instrumentation’s potential is not a strong.
Fire Emblem Fates is a tale of overextension. The core gameplay is strong for the most part, and the story was based on a wonderful concept. However, the way the game was sold created a plot devoid of backstory, and the attempt to bring back child units ruined the cast. The revisions to Awakening‘s gameplay created a surprisingly balanced experience, even if some of the paths were of lower quality. However, the damage had still been done. The fans were only further divided, despite the high sales. Perhaps a remake could bring them back together?
This post was written by obliviouslifeform