When Nintendo showed off Roy and Marth in Super Smash Bros. Melee, few knew which series the swordsmen belonged. After several years of interest, and a fair amount of fan-prodding, Nintendo started releasing the series in the US and other territories. While it was never a huge financial success, the series quickly gained a strong fan-base that ate up the high-fantasy story and the punishing strategy element that saw characters permanently exit the game when their health bottomed out.
Unfortunately, feverish fans aren’t enough to keep a series going when the game doesn’t blaze charts, as I’m sure every Mother fan will tell you. When production began on Fire Emblem: Awakening, the first 3DS entry of the series, it became clear that this was likely the last game in the series. The developers went all out and put every one of their ideas into the game, thinking that they wouldn’t get another chance. However, FEA somehow managed to become a financial success, saving the series from doom.
With FEA’s follow up, Fire Emblem Fates, there isn’t a lot that’s been changed. Well, except that the story is split across three different campaigns. That’s right, if you want the full experience here, you’ll have to shell out $40 for the base game, $20 for the other campaign, and another $20 for story that gives you the true ending. Is it just a way to con fans into purchasing a game three times or is there any sort of merit to it? Well, it’s a little bit of both and it depends on how much you like you some Fire Emblem.
Much like every other Fire Emblem game, you gather groups of named characters and take them onto gridded fields to battle a variety of different humans and monsters. Different classes have advantages over others, governed by a basic rock-paper-scissors-style weapon hierarchy. Older entries in the series would have characters whose health was reduced to zero killed and removed from the rest of the game, which amped the stakes and forced you to take every move into consideration. Starting with Awakening, you could select Casual Mode, which only removed the character from the current encounter as opposed to the entire game.
Another major addition to Awakening was character relationships and the possibility of having a child. Initiate enough actions with units next to each other and you can improve the relationship between the two. Do it enough times and with the right unit and the characters get married and open up a mission where you could recruit their child, brought forward in time due to story line reasons. The real way you leveled up in the game was unlocking these child units, who not only shared abilities with their parents, but also had substantially improved stats.
All three paths of Fire Emblem Fates changes none of this. Besides the addition of an easier mode that resurrects units several turns after they drop and the removal of wear and tear on equipment, the games play pretty much identically. The only major difference is in one of the Paths, Conquest. There, you don’t have the option to go out and look for encounters to level up. You’re stuck with story missions and the occasional child recruitment to get gold and experience. It’s as difficult as it sounds and if you don’t engage in any of the online features, you’re looking at barely squeaking by with your units alive and kicking.
The real difference lies in the way the story is told. Early on in all three campaigns, the main character is faced with a choice. He or she must side with either the family they grew up with or the family they were taken from at a young age. The decision pushes you down either the aforementioned Conquest path or the substantially easier Birthright path. Both paths have complete stories that work just fine on their own. Should you decide to only buy one scenario, you’ll get an entire campaign that should last you anywhere between 30 to 40 hours. Should you decide that you want to see what happens on the other side of that fateful choice, you can purchase the other scenario from Nintendo’s eShop for only $20.
Now there’s another choice you could make. Instead of siding with either family, you could strike out on your own to try and figure out what’s going on. This scenario is called Revelation and is recommended for after you finish one of the main campaigns. This is supported by the fact that it can only be purchased via the eShop and not on its own. In this series of events, you get a better idea of what’s going on and who is behind all the shenanigans. To me, it’s the best story of the bunch, but it is better after seeing what happened in the other paths.
In total, I put about 120 hours between all three campaigns over the last couple of months. That’s taking into consideration that I married off almost everybody in the Birthright and Conquest paths. By the time I got to the middle of Revelations, I just picked the major characters to hook up and pushed toward the endgame. I purchased the special edition, which cost $80 and came with the all three paths on one 3DS cart, a pouch to store a 3DS XL and an artbook. Note that the total cost of buying all three paths would’ve been $80 anyway, so I got a couple of knickknacks for free in that deal.
If you’re looking for a deep turn-based strategy game on the go, then I would definitely recommend getting either version of Fates. If you’re looking for something a bit easier, go with the Birthright path and if you want a stiff challenge, go with Conquest.