People love a good crossover. As a kid some of the earliest ones I remember were TV specials like the Jimmy Neutron/Fairly Oddparents crossover as well as the theatrical film combining Rugrats with The Wild Thornberries. I always thought these were neat ideas but often they crossed something I really liked with something I didn’t care all that much about, so the idea that crossovers could be the coolest thing ever hadn’t really cemented itself in my brain. My teenage years really got that going with Super Smash Bros Brawl – I loved the Subspace Emissary mode and wanted to see a more story-driven game where Nintendo characters from a variety of games all met up and went on adventures together. Combine that with webcomics like Brawl in the Family as well as the very beginnings of the Avengers buildup and a young Ian was absolutely enthralled at the idea of all of his favorite things being shoved together in one big thing.
Fast forward to age 30 and I’ve somewhat flipped on the whole crossover thing. Marvel’s “cinematic universe” model becoming an industry standard, characters from a huge variety of media showing up in free-to-play bids for your money like Fortnite, and finally playing Kingdom Hearts 3 have taught me to be skeptical of the idea of all your faves in one place. At their best, crossovers take the themes and personalities of two different worlds and blend them together in a way that conveys something new and fascinating about both. At their worst, they slap an empty shell of something you like into a shallow storyline devoid of meaning with the hopes that you’ll pay just to see two characters you like happen to be on screen at the same time.
Over the past few years, game company Koei Tecmo has made a number of these crossovers in the style of their musuo (AKA Warriors) games. From video games like The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest to anime properties like One Piece and Berserk, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to see characters from across the franchises we love swat 1000 dudes at a time with their swords, spears, and magic. While Koei always does at least a little something to bring in elements of the world they are borrowing from, game to game you can see a huge difference in the attention to detail given to a particular franchise. From the depth of the game mechanics to the quality of the storytelling, these crossovers run the gamut from vapid cash grabs to games so effectively engaging with the source material that they feel like legitimate sequels. And today, I want to talk about where on that scale I think that Fire Emblem Warriors lands.
Fire Emblem Warriors is a musuo crossover between Fire Emblem Awakening, Fates, and Shadow Dragon, bringing a number of characters from across those strategy titles into this 1-vs-1000 action game. It released on the Nintendo Switch and 3DS back in 2017, which means that it fell in the slew of games landing on the Switch during its first year of life. I decided to check it out over four years after the fact in anticipation of a new FE Warriors announced for the Switch, called Three Hopes. The first Warriors tells the story of a pair of royals from the kingdom of Aystolis (created for this game) who have to find heroes from across a number of worlds in order to assemble the Fire Emblem and defeat a dark dragon from atop the world tree Yggdrasil.
“Hey Ian, are you sure you aren’t talking about the plot of Dragon Quest Heroes, one of the other crossovers Koei Tecmo made?” you might ask. The answer to that question is: they are the same. But that’s not the only thing about Fire Emblem Warriors that is going to feel overly familiar. The first arc of the game – about five or six chapters – are torn beat for beat from Fire Emblem Awakening. It feels like someone elbowing you and saying “hey man, you liked Awakening, right? Remember that? See what we’re doing here?” From a story perspective, Fire Emblem Warriors is the opposite of ambitious. The plot of the game is the most basic premise of a crossover made manifest and the cast of Fire Emblem just happens to be copy-pasted onto it.
Speaking of copy-pasting, I hope you don’t like characters with different playstyles because we’ve thrown that out the window with Fire Emblem Warriors. The two protagonists play the same, Chrom and his daughter Lucina play the same, Leo and his sister Elise play the same, Takumi and his sister Sakura play the same, and every single pegasus knight? You guessed it! Despite the game having 20 playable characters in the story mode (with a few others unlockable in adventure mode), there are only about 14 distinct playstyles – and that’s a generous count that doesn’t acknowledge the deep similarities between units like Lianna, Marth, and Chrom who all technically play differently but essentially boil down to “fast person with sword.” Compare this to what we got even in just the base game of the first Hyrule Warriors – 13 playable characters each with a totally unique fighting style, and some of whom had additional weapons that changed their style completely. Even FE characters like Corrin or Robin who canonically have two unique weapon styles are flattened down to a single weapon and given no variety in terms of the gear they can bring to the table.
Now an argument can be made here that having characters overlap in playstyle allows them to add more characters and that means it is more likely that your fave will be included, which is ultimately a good thing. I can respect that argument, but it doesn’t appeal to what I find interesting about these games. The joy of playing a musuo is in finding the fighting styles that gel with you the most, and the excitement of unlocking a new character comes from learning how that character functions differently than the others and fills a niche for your crew. I don’t want Gaius in the game if that just means he is a swappable skin with Ryoma. It doesn’t matter if the game has Claire if getting Catria at a later chapter of the game means that it’s just easier and more practical to play Catria instead. When including every single character who could be in the game is already an impossible task, I’d rather them focus on making the characters who do make it in as distinct as possible.
The parts of Fire Emblem Warriors that worked the best for me are the parts that most directly draw from the DNA of Fire Emblem in order to make unique mechanics that you wouldn’t find in a different musuo title. Claiming a fort in order to activate a dragon vein that changes the physical environment of the map is a neat idea. Creating a distinct mechanical advantage based on the weapon triangle forces you to care more about unit positioning than in other musuo games, leading to a more tactical approach that captures the strategy element of Fire Emblem. There are a few elements here where you can see Koei Tecmo’s real talent shining through: the ability to build the elements of a franchise that make it special into the core mechanic of Warriors to create a unique and meaningful experience.
I think in a world where I had only played games like the first Hyrule Warriors or Dragon Quest Heroes, I could be a little more forgiving of what FE Warriors brings to the table. But having now had the experience of playing some of Koei’s more recent contributions, I have higher expectations and standards for their crossovers. For all intents and purposes, Persona 5 Strikers is Persona 5 II. And while I personally didn’t like some of the storytelling decisions in Age of Calamity, it made bold intentional choices and it utilized what made Breath of the Wild groundbreaking in order to push the Warriors formula to a new level. And while it would be unfair to judge a past version of Koei Tecmo on what a future version of them was able to accomplish, the fact remains that in my experience of the series I am playing the first FE Warriors after having played more engaging entries in the musuo crossover canon, and it doesn’t live up to what I know their creators are capable of.
Here’s the thing: I knew coming in not to expect Age of Calamity or Persona 5 Strikers. I was fully aware that by taking a step backward in time, I was going to be engaging with a fundamentally different version of what Koei Tecmo was doing with these crossovers. And even understanding that, even lowering my expectations and acknowledging that this experience would likely not be that great, I was still disappointed. The only reason I finished Fire Emblem Warriors was to write about it and to justify the money I spent on it, and when sunk cost fallacy is your reason for finishing a game, you know you’re not playing a great game. On the great continuum of crossovers, FE Warriors falls firmly into the spectrum that I hope we are done making.