Fire Emblem Fates Review – Part One: Conquest

Holy cow, folks, it’s been an intense few days. Fire Emblem Fates was released on Friday, February 19th, and I made sure that there was a copy sitting on my doorstep the second I came home from work. From Friday to Tuesday I logged in over 40 hours and have beaten the Conquest version of the game. So now I’m here to discuss my opinion on it.

First of all, if you haven’t read one of my Totally Subjective Reviews before, here’s how it works. Did you ever watch Whose Line is it Anyway, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter? Well, the points don’t matter here either. Folks always assign these scores like 8/10, 6/10, 11/10, but then readers look at the score without paying much attention to the substance of the review. Plus, who’s to say that my definition of a 7/10 is the same as yours? Maybe to me, the 5/10 you gave the story is way more important than the 8/10 you gave the graphics.

So when you read a review here on Adventure Rules, there still will be scores, but they are going be to crazy, completely arbitrary numbers. If you want to know what I think of the game, you actually have to read the review. But I think that ultimately, that’s gonna be a lot more helpful when it comes to deciding whether you really want the game or not.

Second of all, this review is going to happen in parts. Fire Emblem Fates had three different versions: Birthright and Conquest are available physically or digitally, and Revelation is available only digitally with one of the other games. While they technically are all the same game, they’re pretty different. Difficulty levels are different, the style of gameplay is different, and the characters are different. Because of this, I will be reviewing each version separately, even though they all count as “one game.”

Alright, enough talking! The time has come for my review of Fire Emblem Fates’ Conquest version. I’ll be reviewing the game based on Graphics, Audio, Story, Gameplay, and a fifth category on the game’s Characters.

OVERVIEW
Fire Emblem is a series of turn-based strategy games that are kind of like chess and rock-paper-scissors on steroids. The series is well-known for being quite challenging and for having high stakes, as losing a character means losing them for good. That’s pretty rough in a game where character growth and relationships sits at the core of the gameplay. Fates is unique because of the three versions it will offer.
You are a prince who biologically belongs to one kingdom but has grown up in another. When these two kingdoms go to war, you have to choose a side: your birth family or your adoptive family. Your choice is actually decided by the game that you choose to play, and by playing Conquest, you are choosing to side with your adoptive family against your biological one.

GRAPHICS
Fire Emblem Conquest is pretty solid graphically. As a strategy game, you need to be able to see the whole field before you, and Conquest does this in a way where everything looks crisp and clear. There are two main sections to the game: story and gameplay.
Story sections are conveyed through character portraits and dialogue boxes, allowing you to enjoy some quality artwork while reading the character’s interactions. The characters look great and the backgrounds that they stand in front of look lovely. In Conquest, much of the early game occurs in Nohr, where things are darker and more European in style. You can definitely tell that this country is a pretty drab place to live. Your battles in the neighbor country of Hoshido are contrasted from this by lovely backgrounds with bright greenery and the soft pink of cherry blossom trees. The scenery helps to drive home the differences between the countries.¬†Occasionally, story segments will use cut scenes as well. These are usually short but sweet, as the cut scenes look fantastic. The 3D models of the characters are lovely and seeing them move around and fight is a ton of fun. If you’re coming at this game from Fire Emblem Awakening and you enjoyed those cut scenes, you’ll be glad to know that they are somewhat more frequent this time around.
Gameplay sections feature small models of the characters on a large map with a grid. Despite their small size, these miniature character models look good and are pretty easy to distinguish from one another. On the battlefield, members of the different armies are displayed in different colors. Your troops are blue, enemy troops are red, and allied troops are green. This reads easily and I never found myself mixing up troops or getting confused about what was going on. The maps are quite varied with a lot of unique places to battle. Some are dark and craggy, others lush and lovely, and the game explores everything in between as you explore inside, outside, underground, and in the sky.
During combat, the screen zooms in on the units in battle and shows their fight. These larger 3D character models look good, though they do suffer some minor problems like clothes and weapons phasing through each other and such. Fighting in Conquest is crazy stylistic, even compared to Awakening, which is an acquired taste. If you love crazy flips, whirling swords, and 20 foot leaping slashes, then you’ll love watching the combat in Conquest. If you prefer combat more grounded in realism, you’ll just have to endure. Or turn off the combat animations.
That’s one great thing about Conquest graphically – if you don’t like something, chances are you can change it. Things like grid outlines and combat animations can easily be adjusted in the menu, you can alter how much information is displayed in menus or on character sheets, sometimes without even having to head to the options menu. This makes it easy to set the display to exactly what you want it to be.
Overall, Conquest is a good-looking game. If you’re coming at it from another Fire Emblem game like Awakening, there’s nothing but improvement to be seen. However, if you’re a Fire Emblem newbie, be ready for plenty of dialogue boxes, menu screens, and static artwork. That’s all part of playing a turn-based strategy game, but Conquest makes looking at all that stuff a pleasing experience.
Score: 87909802387696740980969973409785092877468387575679190276398309846732

AUDIO
I found the music in Conquest to be satisfactory, but not impressive. Ordinarily, the tunes from Fire Emblem titles get stuck in my head all the times. The songs are simple, but catchy enough that I can still hear them playing in the background even with the sound off. With Conquest, the music is more atmospheric. It sounds good when you’re hearing it – it might even sound really good when you’re hearing it – but ultimately it isn’t memorable. Except, of course, for the game’s main theme, which is used quite frequently and is in my opinion the only song in the game with the “catchy” factor.
Voice acting in this game is very similar to Awakening. If you don’t know what that means, then here’s an explanation. Rather than having lines fully voice-acted (I suppose due to the sheer amount of dialogue in the game), characters instead grunt or say little three word sentences at the beginning of their lines. This means as you’re reading, you’ll periodically be hearing interjections of: “what? Hm. Alright! Thank you. Hahahahahaha!” along with the occasional catchphrase like “you have the devil’s own luck!” It’s not distracting, but it certainly leaves something to be desired in the voice-acting department. I think a good step for the next Fire Emblem game would be to fully voice the game’s main chapters. I understand that voicing every possible support conversation would be obscene, but just focusing on the main game should be feasible.
Now this isn’t to say that the voice acting is poor; during cut scenes when the characters speak in full sentences, their voices sound really good and their lines are acted well. But if for some reason the voices bother you, you have the option to shut them off.
Like with the graphics, you have a pretty solid selection of audio options that allows you to control pretty tightly what audio you hear and when you hear it. So if you have a problem, you can always adjust to suit your playstyle.
Overall, the game audio does its job. It may not be super memorable, but it does sound good, and that’s really all you can ask for. Audio is something you tend not to notice unless it’s fantastic or it’s awful – while I felt that the music of Conquest rarely reached fantastic, I never felt that it descended into awful.
Score: 3

STORY
Now we’re getting to the good stuff, the stuff where Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation truly become different games. I described the basic story to you earlier: two kingdoms are at war and you have to choose either your birth family in Hoshido, or your adoptive family in Nohr. In Conquest, you side with Nohr, betraying the mama who bore you to serve (I’m quoting Prince Zuko of Avatar here): the worst father in the history of fathers.
Choosing Nohr is interesting because it’s a really hard choice. I’m not spoiling anything about this game by saying that the King of Nohr is clearly evil. It’s written all over his face; his voice acting, his words, his actions, all of these things make it super obvious that this guy is bad news. Choosing Nohr is really choosing to side with your Nohrian siblings, a tightly-knit group that protect each other from the fickle will of a cruel king. Although you’ve chosen the kingdom of war, you’ll try to march the path of peace and much of the game’s conflict comes from that decision.
The writing is very well done, and you can definitely feel the ache that comes with making a difficult decision. This ache is clearest at the moment you first make it, but it follows you throughout as you are forced to watch your character make difficult choices. In Japan, the original title of Fates was Fire Emblem If. This is quite appropriate as you’ll find the characters and yourself asking “what if?” throughout the game. To a degree, this is a good thing; it makes the choice have some weight and hurt you a little bit. But while this story is well-written, I have one very major complaint about it.
Fire Emblem Fates is being marketed as separate games. “Birthright and Conquest are different, they are different games, they each have a unique story.” And that’s true to a degree. They do have a different story, but don’t get that confused with having two different stories. Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation are pieces of a puzzle that all have to be put together to form a coherent whole. Technically, the story of Conquest can stand alone, but you’re going to be really dissatisfied if you don’t play the other games. There are so many subtle implications and allusions that are never addressed, plot holes that are not filled, and explanations that are never given. You won’t feel like you know the whole story.
Why is that bad? Because it’s expensive.
One story path of Fire Emblem Fates is going to run you the same as any other new 3DS game: $40. Now as long as you have one game, you can digitally obtain the other paths at a discounted rate. But at $20 a pop for two more paths, you are effectively paying $80 dollars for one story. They market this as paying $80 for three different games, but don’t be fooled – you’re paying $80 for one game. The story is not totally coherent unless you’ve played other versions. This is great marketing and Nintendo is going to make a ton of money off of that, but it can be frustrating as a player to have to shell out extra money to play one entire game.
The story that Conquest tells on its own is very good. Your character is forced to make very difficult choices, choices that you as a player will feel in your soul. It hurts to make the choice, which shows great writing and character development on the part of Intelligent Systems. But if you want to know the whole story, you can’t just play Conquest. There are plenty of little pieces that will be missing in the end.
Score: Blue

GAMEPLAY
While the meat of an RPG is usually considered to be in the story and characters, gameplay is still a very important aspect of the game. The Conquest path is a solid blend of old and new, taking steps that were made in Awakening and adding the kind of challenges present in older Fire Emblem titles.
I’m going to do my best to describe the gameplay in a way that makes sense to those who have never played Fire Emblem before (for the sake of those of you who haven’t). Conquest is a game centered around war. You control one army pitted against another army. Combat takes place on a grid map full of obstacles like forts, rivers, trees, and partitions that can get in your way. On your turn, you move each one of your characters, positioning them on the battlefield and potentially attacking enemies. Then the other army will take their turn, retaliating and making their own moves against you.
Your goal is typically “rout the enemy” (defeating every enemy soldier) or “defeat the boss” (beating the enemy leader). However, there are other goals for missions including escaping, seizing a particular location, or surviving a specific number of turns.
The characters in your army have classes that decide what abilities they have. Different classes wield different combinations of weapons and have different stats. Some classes are strong, some are fast, some are skilled in magic, others are impenetrable walls. You want a variety of classes on the field to be prepared for every possible situation.
There are six main weapon types: swords, axes, spears, magic, bows, and hidden weapons (things like daggers or shurikens). These weapons have a rock-paper-scissors relationship: swords/magic defeat axes/bows, axes/bows defeat spears/daggers, and spears/daggers defeat swords/magic. You’ll want to choose your battles based both on your class and on the type of weapon the enemy is wielding in order to give yourself the greatest advantage.
In addition to your weapons and stats, every unit has a variety of skills. One cool new feature in Fates is that every character has a personal skill that is completely unique to them. When playing, you’ll want to keep your eye out for when these skills will come into play. In addition to personal skills, characters earn skills based on their class. These vary from things like passive stat boosts to special attacks that the character can use.
Of course, soldiers don’t fight alone. There are two kinds of pairing in this game: attack and support. Attack pairs stand next to each other on the battlefield. When a soldier attacks with one of their allies beside them, the ally will attack as well, adding more damage and helping to finish the battle more quickly. Support pairs have one unit standing behind the other, occupying the same space on the map. When a support pair is attacked by an attacking pair, the second attacker will always be blocked. As your pair attacks and suffer more attacks, you’ll build up a guard meter. When the meter is full, you’ll be protected completely from one enemy attack. Support pairs also experience a small stat boost.
As allies fight side by side, they grow closer. Building relationships among your units is really satisfying for a lot of reasons. It makes them more effective on the battlefield, which is great, but it also unlocks conversations between the characters that allows you to learn more about their lives and personalities. These conversations are an incredibly fun part of playing Fire Emblem and a huge source of the game’s replayability. As characters reach their highest potential relationship levels, you’ll unlock even more characters to fight with and to support each other.
In Conquest, there’s not a lot of down time between missions. All three Fates games have an element called My Castle where you have a little hub town for your characters that you can lightly customize. I say lightly because the only thing you can really customize is building placement. If I had been in charge of my town, there were some trees I definitely would have felled. Fallen? Felt? I don’t know. Anyway, My Castle has some fun little features that allow you to take a quick break, but after that it’s back to the main story. In Conquest you can’t take on challenges to gain extra experience like you could in Awakening, and that makes the game more difficult because you can’t just grind for levels when you need to. You also don’t gain experience by completing DLC missions or by having battles in your My Castle with other players.
Difficulty in Conquest comes from more than just the limited opportunities to level up, though. Conquest features a number of challenging levels where you’ll really have to think outside of the box or use some unique strategies to get through. One feature that is used pretty frequently is the new Dragon Vein ability. Anyone with royal blood can activate special spots on the battlefield in order to change the landscape or cause other dramatic effects. Using Dragon Veins strategically is important, as they sometimes can benefit the enemy, or you’ll only have one or two you can utilize. If you’re battling an enemy that can also use Dragon Vein, you definitely want to stay on your toes. In addition to these Dragon Veins, there are levels with traps that you have to navigate around and try to outmanuever or turn to your advantage. I never really got bored with Conquest because almost every battle featured something that made me go “oh, well what the heck am I gonna do with that?”
I completed the game in a little over 40 hours, so there’s definitely plenty of time you can sink into the game. And with so many support conversations left to have and some characters that I missed on my first time through, the game definitely has some replayability value. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck, which can help soften the blow of the whole “paying $80 just for one complete story” problem.
One last note about difficulty: like the graphics and audio, the game’s difficulty is highly adjustable. Starting out, there are three difficulty levels: Normal, Hard, and Lunatic. These control how smart the enemy fights, what kind of skills they have, how quickly you gain experience, things like that. There are also three modes: Classic, Casual, and Phoenix. Classic is the old-school Fire Emblem experience where a defeated character never returns to the battlefield. In Casual mode, defeated characters sit out the rest of the fight but are able to return later. In Phoenix mode, defeated characters hop back up on the next turn of combat. If you’re playing Fire Emblem for the very first time and want some forgiveness for your mistakes, Phoenix is a solid option. If you’re playing just for fun and for the sake of learning the story, Casual is a good way to go. If you want a challenge or love the old school Fire Emblem experience, go with Classic.
Overall, the gameplay is where Conquest really shines. It keeps you on your toes, forces you to think, and challenges you at every turn. The new elements like personal skills, Dragon Veins, and the addition of hidden weapons definitely improve the experience and add a new layer of strategy that didn’t exist before.
Score: 9000+

CHARACTERS
Does anyone play Fire Emblem for a reason other than the characters?
I jest, but only a little. The cast of assorted characters is definitely a big draw for any Fire Emblem game, and unlocking many support conversations is part of what makes the experience so much fun. So what are the characters of Conquest like?
Overall, I really liked the cast of this game. In particular, the Nohrian siblings are great. You really feel like they’ve developed a close bond over the years, and your heart melts every time they have to stand together to survive the cruelty of their twisted father. Xander in particular is an incredible brother, and I kind of want Elise to be my little sister in real life. She’s so freakin’ adorable!
The cast of the game mainly consists of the Nohrian royal family and their retainers – personal servants/bodyguards who fight for particular members of the royal family. Each of your four siblings has two retainers in their service. The cast is rounded out by your own servants, some quirky characters from around Nohr who join for their own purposes, and a couple of enemies who can be swayed to your side.
The personalities of these characters are quite varied. Some are serious, some are goofy, some are exactly what you’d think while others will surprise you. Now where they are pretty varied in character, in design some of them leave a lot to be desired.
Your older sister Camilla is just creepy. You’ve probably seen her in the trailers for the game – she’s the one with the cleavage exploding out of her armor. Because that’s practical. Anyway, you’ve been raised as her little brother or sister but her behavior towards you is oddly sensual. I think it’s supposed to read as “motherly” but comes across as “incest.” At any rate, her whole character is essentially fanservice. Some folks like it, others find it gratuitous and unnecessary; either way it’s something to be ready for.
There are multiple characters who seem to be based on characters from Awakening, and to me that was the most frustrating design choice. Having these characters just look like people from Awakening would have been bad enough, but in most cases their personality is identical as well. Laslow is basically Inigo, Selena is basically Severa, Odin is basically Owain – see how their names even line up? It is clearly intentional and not accidental, but in my opinion it was a very poor decision. Perhaps there is some sort of story explanation for this that only shows up in a specific support conversation, but even if they justify it somehow I still think it doesn’t work.
I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but unfortunately this is a situation where the good things I have to say would be spoilers and the bad things are not. Conquest has a really solid cast of characters and you really learn to feel for them. They’re a lot of fun to have around and I am looking forward to playing with them again and delving even deeper into their unique personalities.
Score: Spicy

OVERALL
Conquest is a fun strategy game that is quite challenging, always throwing you curveballs and never letting you get too comfortable with the formula. The game has a fun cast of characters and a very well-written – if incomplete – story. If you’re a fan of Fire Emblem, this is a great game to play. It builds upon what Awakening did for the series while also returning to the roots a little bit, addressing complaints that many long-time fans had about the relatively easy Awakening. I highly recommend this game, but if you pick it up, beware: it’s going to be very hard to resist playing Birthright and Revelation, so be sure you have the funds to spare. Once you dive into this world, you won’t be satisfied until you experience every path it has to offer.
FINAL SCORE: 14

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