The Fire Emblem franchise has arguably been in hot water since the SNES era, and definitely since the GBA era. What used to be a rich, complicated tactical RPG regressed with Fire Emblem 6’s back to roots philosophy, and it’s been trying to claw its way back ever since. Though some improvements were made, the regressions didn’t stop, instead growing like a malignant tumour, soon to encompass story and characterisation as well. The 14th instalment of the series, coming off the success of Awakening, was supposed to fix all that was wrong with that game, by bringing back complexity to the game, and also a professional author to give us a compelling story. What a nice world that would have been if it were true.
Fire Emblem Fates is the first instalment in the franchise that adopts a Pokemon-esque distribution model: it’s actually three games with three different campaigns, presumably exploring different aspects of the world. The core of the drama is the protagonist, Corrin, who must choose between his biological family and his adopted family; in the third campaign, you have the option of siding with neither. It tells a tale of a continent split between two mega-kingdoms; Nohr, the Dusk Kingdom, and Hoshido, the Dawn Kingdom. Finally, there is a last, invisible, silent kingdom, Valla, which interferes in strange and mysterious ways.
The first two main campaigns are Birthright—Hoshido—and Conquest—Nohr. The bonus DLC meme is Revelation. See, the creative team knew they had a split in their fanbase between the new, retarded children with no sense of style, used to the Awakening gimmicks, and the old school intellectuals craving for something challenging. Instead of choosing one or the other to appeal to, they decided to do both, simultaneously, by creating multiple games. I’m sure you remember many products which tried to please everyone and they ended up great.
Let’s start with the good parts so we can get them out of the way. Conquest, for what it’s worth, has some of the best designed maps in the franchise, and is genuinely a challenge to play through. The basic mechanics of the game are enjoyable and addictive, and the addition of sandbox elements to customise your army are a great idea which enables variety and role-playing. The soundtrack is pretty nice.
The support conversations are some of the best seen to date—ever since their inclusion in FE6, they have been the most enjoyable part of the franchise for me. You can tell tales of medieval/fantasy warfare in many mediums, but you can’t have support conversations there. The waifu simulator elements are controversial, but shipping has always been a huge part of Japanese media, and if you’re not into that then I suggest getting out of this fandom.
I strongly prefer the GBA aesthetic visually, but Fates is the first since the 3D graphics meme that actually looks great. The colours are on point, and the character design—though nonsensical and overly busy at times—is memorable and identifiable. The animations look great, and overall there is thematic consistency between the hand drawn elements and the rendered ones; not as much as other Nintendo titles, mind you, but it’s still a huge improvement over the visual abominations seen previously.
That’s it for the good parts.
Fates’ worst problem is that its writing is absolute fucking garbage. It’s difficult describing exactly how horrible it is. The review you’re reading right now has had more planning and artistry put into it than most of the shit you’ll read in game. This clashes heavily with the support conversations, which rarely flop. Actually, there are too many support conversations. The game could afford cutting them down even by half, compressing them down to fewer, denser supports with more rapid character development; is it really necessary for Corrin and Azura to be shippable with everyone and everything? The writing staff is badly needed elsewhere.
There is no world-building. I actually have no idea what the world looks like, because we never actually see a political world map or much geography; instead, we get a Google Maps overview, which I couldn’t decipher even if I tried. With the world mostly split between two gigantic, autocratic, well-integrated kingdoms, there isn’t much to be had in terms of political intrigue: the good side hates the bad side and vice versa. Valla is even worse, in that most of its people are literally fucking dead. I got absolutely nothing in terms of culture anywhere; honestly the world just feels so empty and bland.
But that critique pales in comparison with the plot itself. Fates doesn’t have plot holes; it’s a gaping hole that occasionally has figments of plot. For all campaigns, you have a short introduction where things happen, then a whole bunch of nothing happens, then it’s the last few chapters so we’ve gotta rush things and end the game, guys. It is in its entirety a series of conveniences and contrivances. Need a boat? How lucky, here’s one! Need to meet a sage that’s far away? Here’s a teleportation doodad that will take you there and back, works for exactly that set amount of distance and two trips! Can’t win against a powerful enemy? How lucky, your magical sword that flew into your hand evolves into Super Saiyan 2!
Remember how back in the day you had to go on a series of dangerous missions and struggle in order to get legendary weapons? Wasn’t that a sense of achievement? That was obviously too much effort for the 5-year-olds in the audience, so the main characters come prepackaged with their legendary weapons so you won’t have to look for them. You would have thought that with three separate campaigns and countless hours of gameplay, someone could afford to cut out irrelevant bandit-slaying gimmicks for missions that actually achieve something.
As a rule, characters don’t do things because it makes sense, but because the plot needs them to. The worst offender is Xander, who is loyal to his country, not in the abstract sense, but because he loves his people. Whenever this is inconvenient to the plot, like, for example, when he needs to stop psychotic murderers from slaughtering innocents, we cast that aside and turn him so blindly loyal that he must have had a stroke to still believe in his cause. This also happens to go well with his undying loyalty to his family, obvious in all his support conversations, which is swept aside in the campaign, where murdering his own sister so his dad can keep waging wars doesn’t make him question anything.
By far the most dislikeable person in the game is the Corrin, the protagonist. He’s a bland boy scout the babies playing this can project themselves to, which is par for the course in Fire Emblem these days, I guess. The problem is he's got less intelligence than a cabbage. His naïveté goes from annoying to a fucking superpower—it never passes through endearing. More fundamentally, if you have a protagonist like that, the choices he makes have to be good, for some interpretation of good; you can’t have clearly good and clearly bad things and have your boy scout systematically choose the bad things. Conquest in particular is supposed to be all about grey morality.
Yeah, nice meme. Nohr is hell on earth; its ruler is a megalomaniac psychopath, the sun never shines, bandits kill innocents, and even its own capital is in a state of dissolution. It can only sustain itself by occupying surrounding countries, even if it has to raise zombies to do their work for them. By contrast, Hoshido is a Japanese paradise—no joke, it’s literally the first kingdom modelled off feudal Japan in the franchise, and nobody ever wants for anything there. Even shōnen anime doesn’t have such clear-cut black and white morality.
Corrin siding with Nohr means enabling senseless slaughter for no fucking reason, only the vague promise of “change from the inside”. Never mind that it could have been ended at any moment had characters learned to talk; by the time you’re done playing all the DLC, it’s inexcusable that nobody ever explains things to anyone so that the war could be averted. It’s almost as if things are made up as you go along and there is no planning at all involved. Hmm… 🤔
The game repeats the same gimmicks over and over—I think there’s about half a dozen traitor subplots, which all go the way you’d expect. The villains are worse than comic book tier; they’re basically muscle that kills and destroys out of sheer nihilistic sadism. The writing attempts to produce drama by killing off characters, and they’re all universally emotionless, because they revolve around characters who a) we don’t give two shits about and b) died because of their own stupidity. Looking at you, Lilith. Fucking kill yourself.
Conquest is the most tolerable of the trio, and it’s all downhill from there. The gameplay for Birthright and Revelation is abhorrent by comparison, kiddie tier stuff. I’ve seen better stuff in romhacks. The primary problem throughout all campaigns is there is no pressure to move forward, so you can turtle the shit out of them, losing all the fun in a strategy game. It becomes really tedious, and it could be solved by arbitrary turn count limits, or at least thieves/bandits running around pillaging villages and chests, robbing you of tasty loot if you turtled too much. These basic gameplay insights which permeated the franchise in the SNES and GBA era are nowhere to be found.
There is no balancing. Conquest can be a challenge, but rest assured, if you use all the tools the game makes available to you, all campaigns are trivial in any difficulty. On the one hand, there’s no bullshit like ambush spawns. On the other hand, it’s like nobody playtested this shit, especially Revelation, opting instead to throw units at a wall and see what sticks. I don’t know how to feel about the new mechanics, especially dual strikes and skills. They can be cool, but most of the time I don’t feel like this is Fire Emblem, only a loose imitation of it.
Fates’ case is not helped by the rampant censorship it’s suffered. Despite its only appeal being waifu simulation, important aspects relating to it were cut out of the game, and support conversations were edited or removed completely to make them more palatable to the grandmother down the street, especially in terms of incestuous overtones. Oh, don’t worry, you can still marry, fuck, and reproduce with your sisters, cousins, and nieces, it’s just that it isn’t addressed explicitly in supports, robbing us of what little personal conflict that might bring about. It’s one of the worst localisations I’ve ever seen, and the translation team should kill themselves; luckily, Fates isn’t exactly high literature, so their bullshit feminist moralising didn’t cause maximum damage.
Fuck this game. Fuck it to death. You can tell the development team gave up at some point, because all of you idiots will still pay money for this garbage. For fuck’s sake, even if you play all the campaigns, important plot elements are still left out, so you have to buy DLC for the low low price of just end my fucking life holy shit why even live. If you must play it, and you already have a 3DS, stick to Conquest, which at least is kind of fun, and ignore everything else. Somewhere in there, deep inside, Fates is a wonderful game with wonderful characters that could be the best in the franchise, but that core of brilliance is surrounded by the meat of a game that’s as empty as Linda Sarsour’s soul. At some point, it’s painful seeing relatable, well-written characters damned to be in this piece of garbage; worse still is the legacy of this series.
Final Verdict: 3/10