The Dragon Within – Fire Emblem Fates: The Birthright Review
Japan had it first, then NA got it and then last month, those of us in Europe were finally able to get our hands on it, I am of course talking about the Fire Emblem Fates games. Mr. Panda already supplied us with his review of all three Fates titles and what a review it was, but now that I’ve had Birthright in my own hands for the last two weeks, I finally feel up to the task of writing about this game, so let’s begin.
Developed by Intelligent Systems & Nintendo SPD and published by Nintendo, Birthright is one of three Fire Emblem Fates titles which, together covers a large and in-depth story, it is also the easiest game of the three, meaning for new comers to the Fire Emblem series, it’s the perfect starting game, so it was the perfect choice for the Fire Emblem noob writing this review, (me.) Fates and its three titles are all Tactical Role-Playing games, just like the rest of the games in the series and given my experience with the last game I played and reviewed that was developed by Intelligent Systems & Nintendo SPD (Code Name S.T.E.A.M,) I honestly wasn’t sure if I would enjoy Birthright, but you know what? I did.
Not only does Birthright have a better story, but it has better mechanics and gameplay too and, so where I couldn’t stand playing Code Name S.T.E.A.M, the time I spent playing Birthright in no way did it felt like a chore. S0till, the story was weird. Everyone kept calling me sister (yes, I made the avatar female for my play-though) and I was just torn between who I should side with. Sure the Hoshidan Royal family are the family the avatar is related to by blood, but I was raised as a member of Nohrian Royal family. I felt truly conflicted as to which one family I should choose, which nation I should side with (Nohr or Hoshido.) In the end I felt tempted to side with neither (the very decision which leads to the events of Revelation,) but because Birthright is the only Fates game in my possession, siding with the Nohrians and choosing neither were options denied to me, so siding with the Hoshidans was the only option. But it doesn’t matter which story you do end up playing (provided you own Conquest and Revelation as well as Birthright,) each game has a good story and this is the story for Birthright & Conquest:
Thousands of years previously, before the war between Hoshido and Nohr, the great war between the First Dragons took place. With the world in near ruin due to the destruction the dragons were causing, one dragon choose to involve humans in the war. This dragon forged Legendary weapons for the humans to wield and not soon after the war between dragons came to be, but the wars between humanity would begin. In present day, we are introduced to an unnamed continent, which sees two of its Kingdoms at war with one another. One kingdom is the kingdom of Nohr, home to the Nohrian Royal family and descendants of the Dusk Dragons. The other kingdom is Hoshido, ruled by the Hoshidan Royal family, who are the descendants of the Dawn Dragons. (There is also a third kingdom called Valla, but considering as how this review is primarily about Birthright and Conquest, Valla’s story, the beginning for Revelation shall be left out, to avoid spoilers).
It goes without setting the events of Fates take place during the time of this war between Hoshido and Nohr, so upon the first scene of gameplay, we find ourselves in a battlefield as the two sides battle it out. But after a quick tutorial, just as things are getting interesting, we find ourselves jumping back, as Corrin’s back story is to be explained to us. So we, the avatar awakens in a castle, our home where we have been forced to live a life of isolation, but raised as a Prince of Norh (or Princess,) and we have plenty of siblings, but now that we have come of age, King Garon (ruler of Nohr and father) desires to see us.
The avatar is then put to a test by King Garon to execute Hoshido prisoners, but when the avatar refuses to, the King is most displeased, but forgiving, provided we carry out a second test and see that one turn out like Garon wanted it too. After a betrayal, a surprise revelation and a quick trip to the Astral Realm with a dragon, the avatar is captured and brought to the Hoshido Royal family, where it turns out they are Corrin’s true family! Happy to have her long lost child return to her, Queen Mikoto wishes to announce the return, but all is not well for chaos ensues and thousands die. Feeling distraught, Corrin takes the form of a dragon and fights back.
It is only when calmed down and returned to human form, thanks to Azura, a Princess of Nohr, raised among the Hoshidan Royal family, that Corrin is able to remember the past, able to remember that Garon killed her real father and took her for himself. Confronted with the truth, Corrin also realises that Garon is behind the attack, signifying an all-out battle between Hoshido and Nohr and just like that, we’re back to where we started! Except this time we are faced with the decision as to who we want to side with. Do we choose to fight with Nohr and take down King Garon from within, or do we choose the family we were taken from in the first place and defend Hoshido from Nohr’s invasion and strive to end the war for good!
But like I said, (story time is over by the way,) I only have Birthright so naturally I sided with Hoshido and went against the siblings that raised me. But for the player who doesn’t want to go through all of that above, skipping all previous scenes, you can of course skip it and go straight to the choice, by clicking Branch of Fate on the home menu. Sadly though as good as all that sounds, although each title is engaging, both Conquest and Birthright only really have a story driven experience towards both beginning and end, with most of the middle being nothing more than dialogue in-between battles and as pleasing as an experience the games are to play, if you’re just playing one title, you’re not seeing every side of the story, meaning you might just have to spend big and get all three versions and play all three to understand the story in its entirety and now that we’re done with the story, let’s talk about the difference between Conquest and Birthright and game difficulty.
Birthright is easier, easier to level up, easier to get into and easier to earn gold. In short Birthright is perfect for newcomers to the series, whereas Conquest is a lot harder and more like Awakening, the last title in the Fire Emblem series. A game where obtaining experience is harder, as well as gold and completing maps is a lot harder too! Still for anyone wanting to go for the easier experience (ie Birthright,) but want to make it harder, you’re in luck! When starting a new game there are three difficulty levels to choose from, Normal which is ideal for beginners. Hard for the more experienced games and of course Lunatic, the perfect mode for anyone who desires a true test of skill! But even then that is not all because one you have picked one of the three possible difficulty level, it’s time to pick a game mode. There’s Phoenix, where should a unit fall in battle, they will soon return. There’s Casual which sees fallen units return once you’ve finished the map you are currently playing. Lastly there is also Classic which means should a unit die in battle, that’s it they’re dead and they are not coming back. Every decision counts! So if you want to make Birthright hard, simply select the Lunatic difficulty setting, with Classic as your preferred game mode, but if you do, you’re a lot braver than I. My units were dropping like flies, but I was playing Casual so it was fine.
So where to next? Why gameplay of course. Although Conquest features maps that offer different and the same end game objectives, such as the simple Defeat the Boss objective we have in Birthright, all games feature the same style of game play. Each map is grid-based and is of varying location (such as an ice-cold mountain region, a sewer or just a castle.) And on each map, you must carefully move your units towards the enemy, should you choose to go on the offensive. But if you prefer to wait them out, then that’s what the defensive is about, as you allow them to come to you, but when two units of opposing factions do meet, it’s time to fight. Each fight then sees both sides take a swing at one another, two if one character is a lot faster and if neither one is strong enough to kill the other, they both remain alive, but with less HP.
Interestingly enough though, if time is not on your side, you can skip the battle animation all together, which is something I did a lot. Don’t get me wrong here, I loved the animation, but for a game that gives you a lot of control, it sure does take it away when your units are fighting. Would have loved more control as to when my characters should use their skills as opposed to when they felt up to it. So with no control on how each battle goes down, all you can do is hope that compared to your enemy, your character wields the superior weapons. Like with previous Fire Emblem games, a weapon’s triangle features in Fates. Swords beat axes, which beats lances, which then beats swords, but now there are also bows and shuriken thrown into the mix that the triangle gets a little confusing at times (but at least the weapons don’t break this time around and you can still upgrade them at your personal armoury).
Something else which can determine the outcome of the battle is which class your units are and just what kind of an opposition you are facing, as each class do have weapon restrictions, so if you send them against an enemy with a weapon theirs is weak against, be ready to feel the sting of forged steel, but each class has different skills and if you learn them all and balance your team just right, all battles can be won! And should you not like the class your characters are, you can of course change them, or promoted them altogether thanks to the Master Seals, which in turn makes them a lot stronger and greatly improves their stats and seeing as I haven’t mentioned it yet about the battles, you you don’t have to send your units into battle alone. You can pair up or selected units or just move two separate units to the same spot, so that when battle commences, your units will actually fight together, but be warned, the enemy does this two.
Besides just having each other’s backs in battle, teaming units up offers a range of bonus, such as boosting stats and potentially building support between those units, which would then provide you with Support Conversations, which are carried out in the Astral Realm (as part of the My Castle aspect of the game.) These conversations will then help you build support between units, making them work better in battle when together and if one is male and the other female, you can of course obtain an S Rank between them and marry them off and receive a child in the process. Still, we’re not quite finished with maps and battles yet, as there are still also Dragon Veins to talk about. Special locations on the map, which only certain characters (those descended from dragons, which mostly means royalty,) can activate, but doing so does a range of things. Things such as opening up healing maps, flooding locations, creating new pathways and more and for those who don’t like to grind story, there are plenty of maps to play.
Granted location can become repetitive, but in-between the Chapter maps, which sees you progress through story mode, there are challenges, bonus maps playable via the Dragon’s Gate, but these bonus maps are dlc maps, which you’ll have to pay for, but provided you choose to buy Pack 1, or Pack 2 outright, the dlc isn’t as costly as it could have been. But besides the dlc maps which offer all kinds of rewards, there’s also Challenge maps, which is essentially a map location you’ve already seen and you’ve got to play it again and kill everyone for gold and experience points, which is crucial to levelling your characters up. Then of course there’s the Paralogue maps, which only come about when couples have got together and produced the child associated with one of the Paralogues.
Now what’s something else entirely that I haven’t touched on? I know the music. So many great orchestrated pieces that perfect befit every scene and moment of the game, but there is one song I have grown to detest, the main theme.
“You are the Ocean’s gray waves. Destined to seek Life beyond the shore.”
After the umpteenth time of hearing that, it just nags at me and I found myself rolling my ears, which is a shame because during the first few time I heard it, I actually liked it, but not as much as I liked the graphics. 2D sprite-work on the maps but 3D for the battles that covered the action perfectly, but then there were the cut-scenes that really should off what this game could be and that’s just on a handheld. The perfect imagery we saw is like that of an anime and something we’d normally expect to see from a home console game. One negative aspect though which is sound related, was the voice and it’s not because they were terrible. They wasn’t, but we didn’t really ear enough of them to truly pass judgement, because even when actually talking to each, the characters lines aren’t all that long and at some points, a bit flat in general and again it’s not because of the voice acting, but the writing. But not everything translates properly, so that can’t be helped.
Still I did like the amiibo compatibility Fates possesses. Got an Ike, Robin, Roy or Marth Smash series amiibo that you hardly get to use? Well you can use them with Fates and should you beat your amiibo’s character in the game, you can actually get them to join your team and take them to battle, just like you can recruit characters from alternate paths (getting Conquest characters for Birthright,) as part of the My Castle function. Not just limited to being able to build your very own kingdom in the Astral Realm, a kingdom you can place an armoury, a hot bath, rod shop and a domain for your dragon to reside in, which you can feed to make stronger, but you can also visit kingdoms made by others too. But if you’re not just content with visiting them, you can go to war, battling over players in their kingdom. A battle which can be spent rushing to the throne at the end of the map and seizing the kingdom straight away, or you can take your time and slay all opposition, whilst demolishing every structure in sight. If I had to pick a favourite thing about the whole game, this would certainly be it because playing Challenge map after Challenge map can get a bit stale after finishing the story, but with this, being able to battle the kingdoms of other players, is always engaging and should you win, you can recruit one of the characters you defeated. Missing a Camilla? An Elise? Or even Xander? Simply battle someone who has one and they can be yours! (That’s how I got mine.) You will however, not be able to marry any of these recruited characters or be able to have any support conversations with them.
And now that I feel I have waffled on for far too long, it is time for my list of Pros & Cons:
• Plenty of replay value and that’s without having to play another Fates title.
• Amiibo support that enables you to play as past beloved characters.
• Spectacular sounds.
• Being able to skip all battle cut-scenes so that should you wish to play but have less time to do so, you can clear maps that little bit faster.
• Stunning cut-scenes. (Wish we could have got more though.)
• Plenty of game modes and difficulty to cater to any level of gamer.
• The humour at times just felt a bit too simple and childish. As if the writer wanted to write a joke but went with a cheap pun instead.
• For a good portion of the game, it feels as if the story gets forgotten and replaced simply with battle after battle.
• There are things that will happen in this game which are totally unexpected, so unless you are paying attention, you could seriously screw yourself over and feel tempted to rage quit.
• Given all that you have to go through to get the final battle with Garon, the final encounter is actually a bit lacking in suspense for a final showdown.
• The inclusion of the Deeprealms feels forced, with very little explanation, but even worse than that is, if such areas existed as part of the Astral Realm, why didn’t Corrin and her army go there themselves, build an even larger army and then return home, where hardly any time has passed? They would have easily proved victorious a lot sooner as opposed to just dumping their kids there to be protected and rise to adulthood within weeks.
So now that the list is over, it is time for the moment of truth. Just how high, or low, does Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright score in my opinion? Well with not another second of delay, it gets 8.8/10.0 useful Dragon Veins. I may not be sold on dedicating myself to the Fire Emblem Franchise just yet, but if the opportunity came to play another title, I wouldn’t say no.
But as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of my own and it is encouraged for you to make your own.