You may have read my post explaining why I think the Fire Emblem series is in danger of going stale. The series is doing gangbusters right now, so of course Nintendo and Intelligent Systems are milking it as much as they can. When a series is as good as Fire Emblem though, you can forgive them and Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is no exception. This is a hugely enjoyable, vastly smart strategy game that you can play on the go.
The Fire Emblem sequels never particularly deviate from the franchise’s core gameplay that was developed almost 30 years ago. In Birthright, the gameplay hasn’t moved on much from the incredible Awakening, but this is no bad thing at all. The core elements remain, largely untouched. Birthright features the clever, addictive turn-based strategy gameplay we all know and love. The weapon triangle remains (spears beat swords, swords beat axes and axes beat spears) and you can still pair units together, either sharing a tile, or next to each other. This time around however, several new features have snuck their way into the game.
For example, the weapon triangle has been expanded. On top of how I described it above, magic, bows and hidden weapons have been added to the system. Swords and magic now defeat axes and bows, whilst axes and bows beat lances and hidden weapons whereas lances and hidden weapons best swords and magic. Add into this things like certain magic types being stronger against certain classes, and the depth of the gameplay goes even deeper than it did before. A nice bonus are all the new and unique classes found in Birthright. Each of the three Fates titles contain unique classes and weapons only found in that title. Indeed, the classes use a lot of iconography from their respective regions, making for some of the most unusual and incredible looking characters and regions in the series’ history.
Unit pairing saw something of an overhaul here, also. If your units are lined up next to each other, the unit you aren’t controlling will always attack, but if you are paired, your unit that isn’t attacking will always defend against an incoming second attack as well as build up a shield meter that, when full, will block against any attack once. Depending on different situations, both ways of setting up your units can work brilliantly. Perhaps the biggest change in the core gameplay is in the weapons themselves. No longer do you have to worry about weapons breaking, as they do in all previous entries. Instead, each weapon carries distinct advantages and disadvantages. The iron sword for example is weaker than the steel sword, but you’re more likely to land a hit with it, or even two. This new system will make you think more about weapon choice than you have done before, but with strong relationships (which can develop all the way to marriage and children as in Awakening), you can iron out any issues your weapon may have.
Relationships are just as much fun to advance and develop in Birthright as they are in any previous entry. Long has this been a quality part of the series, and long may it continue. It allows for more personality in the game’s plots as well as a more personal experience from player to player. Indeed, any and every of the series’ best features are present in Birthright. But on top of them, you’ll find a rich tapestry of new features to go along with it, none more so than “My Castle”. My Castle acts as your hub-world in Fates. You are open to choose the design, including the music of your castle, a place you’ll wander around in a top-down view that contains your army’s essentials such as a weapon shop, item shop and a sauna.
Wait, what? A sauna? Yes, in the newest Fire Emblem you can relax in a sauna alongside a small handful of your soldiers. You can even invite anyone of your units into your private quarters to improve relationships with your home-made avatar. These take the form of little conversations with highly detailed depictions of your units. When married, these discussions become a little stranger, making you do things like blow on the screen because they’re feeling too hot. Ooh matron. The more you talk to your spouse in this way, the more new conversation pieces unlock and little bonuses are given. Essentially, you are in charge of your own shipping here.
While features such as this may sound a little odd, they only help to build upon the game’s already strong story of war, family and loss between the nations of Hoshido and Nohr. The plot can get quite dark as the character you design is stuck right bang in the middle of it all. Birthright sees you side with your true, blood relations of Hoshido, but it’s complicated, as you were brought up by the kind(?) folks of Nohr, who raised you as one of their own. This is an emotionally charge plot, and the game can be extremely difficult (especially if you have the series’ famous permadeath feature turned on), so in all honesty, it’s nice to be able to go back to your castle to see if you’ve grown any rice, do a bit of shopping, or relax in the sauna.
Your Castle is a safe zone for when the tough game gets you down. Unless you choose to have tackle a castle invasion, or visit other castles to invade via streetpass. You can select your very own crack-squad to help defend your castle from streetpass invaders, and it can be good fun. The castle invasions are very tricky though, perhaps more so than the main game. Birthright may have added quite a lot of new features, but at its core it is largely similar to the excellent Awakening. This is no bad thing, but you might find that Birthright isn’t quite as memorable, or as strikingly fantastic as Awakening. I’d personally still recommend Awakening to anybody as the best in the series, but Birthright is a close second. This is about as essential as video games come in my opinion, thanks to a grand, epic story and hugely likable characters, backed up by utterly and completely incredible gameplay.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is about as good as this legendary series has ever been.