Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 19th, 2016
Note: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is available as either a $39.99 standalone product or as additional content for Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest at a reduced cost of $19.99. This review is written in the context of Birthright as a standalone game.
After enjoying my time with Fire Emblem: Awakening, I really got on board with the series and was excited for what would come next. However, there was one feature I didn’t expect. With Fire Emblem Fates, the story would actually be split between three games—two full titles and one DLC title. Since then and even as I write this, I thought, “Is splitting the game into three parts worth it? Will each piece justify its existence on their own?” I can say that, for the most part, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright stands on its own as a genuinely good game.
The first six Chapters of the story are shared among all three games, so I’ll give a brief low-spoiler synopsis. You play as Corrin, a member of the Nohr royal family. While on a recon mission, you are captured by Hoshido, and it is revealed that your are actually the blood brother/sister of the Hoshido royal family. As events transpire, you’re prompted to make a choice. Join the family who raised you in Nohr, join your true family in Hoshido, or refuse to join a side. As evident by the title, Birthright’s story has you join your blood relatives to protect Hoshido.
The setup is actually rather interesting, but its structure present some problems. For one, this prelude section can’t be long since it’s shared between games. Having such a short length makes for a world that’s pretty well established, but characters get frontloaded too much. This left a negative effect on characters like Azura. The story’s abruptness with Corrin and Azura’s relationship stunts her growth and made me disinterested in her.
This prelude is also supposed to be general since the story can go three different ways. That said, it doesn’t do a good job of presenting the sides equally. King Garon of Nohr has Emperor Palpatine Syndrome in that none of the Nohr family notice his exuding of pure evil. To me, I’d have to be crazy to side with Nohr for any other reason than curiosity.
It’s not all bad, though. Birthright starts off weak, but improves over time and ends up having a satisfying close. However, there are still blanks left unexplained, ones that I assume will be filled in when I play through Conquest and Revelation.
Luckily, Birthright also has paralogues to supplement the story. I was happy with how well these fleshed out characters along with Support conversations, but the lack of paralogues beyond that is disappointing.
Aside from the ones for your units’ children, there is only one other paralogue. Does it at least have some of the interesting narratives that Awakening’s paralogues had? No, you just have the chance to recruit another party member, the villager Mozu. Again, I feel that this was done because of having to split content between games. That point is really what makes Fates’ story the weakest aspect of the game, even with the great cast of characters.
All negatives aside, Birthright’s presentation throughout the campaign is a big improvement over Awakening. Cutscenes are more dynamic, incorporating battle animations and map sprites into the mix instead of just having characters stand around. Battle scene transitions zoom in seamlessly and make use of the actual map geography, not context-sensitive template backdrops.
Character designs are great on both Hoshidan and Nohrian sides with each matching their Japanese and European influences. The only thing I miss is not having a navigable overworld. Instead, you have a drop list of locations with a fancy world map that has very few landmarks.
It isn’t just the visuals that get a bump, Birthright’s sound design is also on point. Even though there were some duds, I was surprised by how many of the voices I really liked for characters. Voices like Felicia’s unsure tone and Sakura’s soft-spokenness suit their characters really well and made them very memorable.
These voices aren’t all perfect. With a limited pool of voice clips for cutscenes, some uses are questionable. In many cases a loud, affirmative tone is used in a somber dialogue exchange, which is jarring to say the least.
The music of Birthright made much more of an impact on me than I expected. Traditional Japanese-style music is prevalent here, making me expect that Conquest will have culturally appropriate music as well. Older Fire Emblem songs are also blended in nicely and feel like natural fits. Though, I will say that despite the good moments it has, the game sure does love to play Azura’s song a lot.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to Birthright’s most redeeming factor—the gameplay. This in particular is most similar to Awakening with its general structure and serves as a good gateway for those like me who were introduced to Fire Emblem recently.
Battles take place on a grid-based map, a variety of classes with different skills can be obtained as well as a variety of weapons with strengths and weaknesses. The pairing system returns, but this time the enemies can pair up for more challenging confrontations.
Birthright also adds many improvements to enhance the experience. Dragon Veins are trigger points on the map that can be activated by royals and grant various effects to the terrain and allies to either help or harm. Turrets can be used by certain classes for long range damage. New weapons can lower stats on enemies to make follow-up attacks hit harder. Rods also play a more prominent role in doing more than just healing.
One of the biggest overhauls in the formula is the weapon system. Both Nohr and Hoshido have their own weapons and classes, but they function pretty similarly. The weapon triangle that has been a series staple gets some major changes. It doesn’t just apply to melee weapons (Sword beats Axe beats Lance), it also applies to ranged weapons (Tome beats Bow beats Knife).
Another change in the weapon system is removing the degradation. While it may come off as making the game easier, this does bring with it a new way to strategize. It decreases necessity for gold, letting it be funneled into other uses like class upgrades and scouting for enemies to gain experience. More powerful weapons are also more scarce and can decrease your stats temporarily after use. While this may not be noticeable on easier difficulties, these can mean the difference between life and death in Classic Mode. Rods still have limited uses, so at least that’s not broken.
The last major feature added to the game is the Castle and the Astral Plane. This is essentially the hub world you return to between battles. Your castle is where you’ll cultivate your relationships with characters, as well as shop for gear and visit other players’ castles.
Improvements to the Support system make it so that certain characters can obtain an A+ Rank as well as an S Rank with units. New class seals account for this too, allowing you to change class based on the character’s spouse, friend, or personality. Your private quarters also allow you to deepen your relationship with Corrin’s spouse to open up more interactions.
Building Shops and the like is very useful, but these can also be upgraded with new features and stock as you progress through the story. These cost Development Points, which can be gained by completing stages or by visiting other castles. You can also battle other people this way, but the opposing team will be AI controlled instead of handled by the player.
All in all, the castle system makes for a more vibrant and useful hub world, even if it ends up being a chore by the end of the game. It’s a natural fit, and it really added a lot to my experience with Birthright.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright does so much right as a sequel to Fire Emblem: Awakening. Almost everything has been expanded and improved upon. The surprising depth to the weapon system really left an impact on me, more so than I thought it would. It’s a shame that the story doesn’t have that step up in quality, The streamlined approach accompanied by limited side story narrative puts a damper on my enjoyment, but the presentation and gameplay bring me right back. On the whole, I really enjoyed Birthright and am looking forward to giving Conquest and Revelation an honest shot.
I will be reviewing Fire Emblems Fates: Conquest and Revelation, but I wanted to get my review of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright done as soon as I could. I feel that it serves as a good barometer for the titles, so I prioritized this review. As for when the others will go up, it’s hard to say. With Twilight Princess HD coming out today and games like Bravely Second and Star Fox Zero on the horizon, I’m honestly not sure how long it’ll take. Nevertheless, I’ll try my best to get them out in a timely and hopefully relevant fashion.