Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 19th, 2016
Note: Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is available as either a $39.99 standalone product or as additional content for Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright at a reduced cost of $19.99. This review is written in the context of Conquest as additional content.
Coming from Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, I had a genuinely good time. While it lacked content when compared to Awakening, I knew that two more campaigns were waiting for me on the horizon. While Birthright has been marketed as the next entry for new and beginning fans, Conquest is aimed at pleasing the experienced ones. Does Conquest satisfy that itch? From the perspective of playing Birthright first, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is honestly better in almost every way.
Due to the nature of the game, I’d recommend checking out my review of Birthright here. This goes in more depth on the mechanics and gameplay of Fire Emblem Fates as a whole. The features that are similar will be touched on in this review, but I’ll mainly focus on what Conquest uniquely has to offer.
As with the other campaigns, Conquest shares the first six story chapters until you hit the pivotal moment of choosing a side. In this branch, you side with Nohr and the reason isn’t as crazy as I thought. Wanting to protect the people you’ve known all of your life, you set out to stop the war from the inside.
The story of Conquest has a similar escalation to Birthright, but I found the narrative structure to have better variety and characterization. Instead of a Good Vs. Evil structure, the story has better hooks to keep it interesting. While characters still fall into an assortment of tropes, I found them appealing. Some characters are shared with Birthright, but the vast majority are brand new to Conquest.
I thoroughly enjoyed Conquest’s story, but that may be because I played Birthright first. In fact, that’s the only real downside to Conquest’s narrative is how reliant it is on playing in the somewhat intended order of Birthright>Conquest>Revelation. There are plenty of references to the fact that there are other paths, like “Was my choice the right one?” and “Maybe in another life, we would have been good friends!” Like I said, this may be a result of going into the story knowing the events of Birthright, but it felt more on-the-nose here.
Of course, since this is another campaign in the Fire Emblem Fates shell, the presentation here is on par with Birthright. Level visual design is still top-notch, and Conquest’s route takes you to some interesting places in both Nohr and Hoshido. Only a few locations are revisited, and of these even fewer use the exact same map layout.
Nohrian character designs also fall more in line with the series’ medieval/European influences in contrast with Hoshido’s Japanese ones. This familiarity makes some classes pop out less than others, but familiar designs are still good.
The soundtrack also has some tweaks, honestly more than I expected. Of course you have your regular tracks to keep continuity, but many have noticeable progression changes. The differences in the themes that play before battle in the last campaign and this one are a good example of this.
Conquest retains the same basic structure for the Fire Emblem Fates campaigns; the weapon triangle, classes, pairing units and the like. However, this campaign has two big changes.
First off, Conquest is a much more difficult game than Birthright. Here, you no longer have the ability to pay gold and search for battles to grind. You have to progress with limited gold and experience. On top of that, the missions you have are limited to story chapters and paralogues with the occasional castle invasion. Luckily, you can grind your unit supports to unlock the paralogues by battling with other players.
With the set amount of possible experience to gain set so static, this makes for a very well-tuned gameplay progression that’s both engaging and satisfying when you overcome the odds. Sadly, this tension was something I never felt in Birthright. As a result, Conquest knocks it out of the park with the content it provides in this streamlined experience.
It’s not perfect, as there are choke points in the difficulty curve that will throw you for a loop if you’re not prepared (which is very likely). If you strike the right balance between completing story missions and leveling through paralogues, you can overcome these. While I only played Conquest on Normal Casual, I can’t imagine doing this at a higher difficulty level. I’d have to be insane.
These limitations also make developing character and offspring relationships more tedious. These can be ground as mentioned before, but it’s much easier to be inclined to stick with your core team to keep pace with the levels of the enemy. I tried a few, but with no substantial gameplay rewards (especially for offspring S-Rank Supports), I found myself just giving up on the idea.
One of the other big additions to Conquest is the variety of stage mechanics and win states. In Birthright, the only mission to really deviate from defeating enemies was an escape mission. Here, you still have missions that focus on defeating enemies, but they’re sprinkled around instead of being the main course.
As far as useable stage mechanics, the turrets and Dragon Veins that were introduced in Birthright are expended on even more in Conquest. Dragon Veins aren’t used as often here, but they do have more interesting effects like buffing and debuffing the party and changing enemy positions. This campaign also has more tangential stage mechanics, like caltrops that can be disabled by an ally unit or defending an entry point from invading forces for a number of turns.
While it is virtually identical to Birthright content-wise, the tweaks Conquest makes are just enough to deviate it. New characters, new Support conversations, new paralogues, all of these were in both games. However, I feel that Conquest just does these better. The quantity is identical, but the quality’s something else.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest may be a step up in difficulty, but that step up is perfect when coming from Birthright as well as a standalone challenging hurdle the experienced will want to tackle first. Everything Conquest does is polished and refined, but it’s impossible to be perfect. A couple of difficulty curve spikes and its structure as the middle game are its only real flaws, and that may make the difference for those on the fence about diving in. A refined design helps make this game, but it’s possible that my experience is biased from playing Birthright first or that I paid less for the add-on version. Either way, I still think that, even as a standalone product, Conquest is currently the best campaign Fire Emblem Fates has to offer.