Review: Fire Emblem Fates

When I reviewed Fire Emblem Awakening back in 2013, I was pretty much a complete newbie to the series and it became, to this day, one of my favourite 3DS experiences alongside A Link Between Worlds. At a point in time where the future of the series was in limbo, Awakening was an unprecedented hit worldwide, and developers Intelligent Systems set their wits on how to proceed next. The answer? Make not one, but three games.

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Fire Emblem Fates consists of three parts: Birthright, Conquest and Revelation. The first two are available as standalone games, the third as DLC and alongside the other two in a Special Edition bundle. Unlike the variations of different editions of Pokémon games, these are three distinct experiences that just share the first six chapters before you literally choose which fate you will take on.

Your main character is, like in Awakening, a customisable avatar, named by default as Corrin (who you may be familiar from his/her recent addition to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS), a member of the Hoshido royal family who has grown up in captivity by King Garon of Nohr. After the first couple of hours of gameplay, you are faced with a choice – go with your true family and battle in vengeance in Birthright, stand strong with your adoptive siblings in Conquest, or shun both and go your own way in Revelation.

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The gameplay of Fire Emblem Fates builds on the refined systems built over the series’ history, but with several key changes. Like Awakening, on top of your standard difficulty settings. Casual mode is available, allowing players to switch off permanent death, which many Fire Emblem diehards see as a series staple, but for someone like me, is a welcome addition and makes the game a lot more enjoyable, while the option to not have units who die in battle is still there for those who want it.

However, Fire Emblem Fates takes things a step further by introducing Phoenix mode. With this switched on; dead characters will revive in the next turn. It is intended for those who are not very good at the game at all and just want to complete the story, but I do think this is a step too far in dumbing down and removing any challenge to the game. Saying that, I think it is unlikely that many who buy the game will use it.

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Fire Emblem’s combat has always worked on a simple concept - swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords. The big change for Fates is that magic, bows and hidden weapons have been added to the triangle, magic pairing with swords, bows with axes and hidden weapons with lances. Weapon durability has also been removed, instead higher-level weapons will leave you vulnerable in other ways; for example choosing a better sword may reduce your avoidance stat considerably.

Other than these changes to combat, the standard grid-like levels return, with the great level design and tactical, almost chess-like gameplay we’ve come to expect of the Fire Emblem series. Do you storm into battle, or play it defensive? Which character units should you pair up? There are so many units and classes available, it sometimes feels too overwhelming – if I listed every tactical consideration possible this would be an extremely boring review! But the point is, there is a ridiculous amount of depth to the strategy and customisation available in Fire Emblem Fates.

Fates introduces a feature called Dragon Veins, which are tiles that royal characters can stand on to change the environment - for example creating a lava pit, increasing the wind to impede flying foes, drying out a river to make the map easier to traverse... the problem is your enemies can use them too! On top of these Fates brings back a range of different turrets that allow you and your enemies to fire projectiles across the map, providing another layer of tactics to consider on top of those you would have had in Awakening.

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When a character develops a strong enough relationship with another they can have children, so you could spend hours stressing over which partnerships will create children with the best attributes. My advice is to simply enjoy the soapy support conversations that are unlocked when characters battle alongside each other, and couple-off the pairings that you find work well in battle/enjoy their scenes together. They really do help you care more about what could seem like soulless troops in battle. Some you might find extremely cringey, but they’re easily skipped through with the A button!

If you choose the Birthright path, your army will be full of units inspired by historical Japan – samurais and ninjas galore. It offers the easiest of the Fates experiences, with plenty of side missions available to level up your characters, fairly simple objectives requiring you to defeat all enemies/beat the boss character, and several units on your side that can seemingly rip through any foe that stand in their way (I’m looking at you, Ryoma!). This path is definitely one suited for those who are new to the series or those who were new to the series with Awakening, and the opportunity to grind by taking on randomly generated outside battles, plus paralogues where you can recruit new units means you should never be going into a story mission underlevelled.

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Conquest, on the other hand, is a lot harder, doesn’t give much opportunity outside battle to grind and forge relationships, and I definitely recommend playing it after completing Birthright. In the seventh chapter – just one after making the fateful choice, I was glad I was playing on casual mode as I was left with just Corrin left at the end of battle! Enemies are a lot less forgiving, and for that reason your army is made up of the more traditional medieval-style knights we’ve come to expect from the Fire Emblem series. For those who thought Awakening was too easy, Conquest is definitely for you! For me, there were many points where I felt like it was too hard, even on Normal difficulty, but it taught me to be more patient in battle, to think ahead more, and if you put the time into it, it is very rewarding. At first I hated it and thought that Birthright was going to be by far my favourite of the two paths, but by the time I reached the end of Conquest, I felt like a much better player and that it was worth the additional frustration.

Conquest offers a wider variety of mission objectives - unlike in Birthright where most of the time you must just defeat all enemies or the boss character, this harder path requres you to achieve such tricky tasks as escaping the map with all of your soldiers alive, or defeating all enemies within a defined number of turns. These missions can really get the adrenaline pumping as you frantically try to outwit the AI and achieve your goals, and while the number of retries they take may leave you frustrated, it makes victory even sweeter. Even when playing on casual mode, every decision in and outside battle is crucial - money is scarce so don't go buying weapons willy-nilly.

While you could say Birthright provides a more vanilla experience, series veterans will love the challenge that Conquest provides. Sometimes it feels like the enemy re-inforcements are never ending and you might find this boring and a cheap way of increasing the difficulty, but in reality, coping with these is the only way you're going to build up the experience needed to advance further into the game.

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The two diametric plotlines provide an interesting dynamic of nature vs. nurture, and will have you feeling conflicted when you go through your second path and find yourself in battle against those you’ll have seen as brothers, sisters and lovers. Hoshido are the clear good guys, but as you progress through both plots you will see things aren’t so morally clear as good vs. evil. As you battle with your true brothers and sisters in Birthright, to what lengths will you go in battling those you grew up with? And when battling for Nohr in Conquest, can you bring change from within to alter the evil King Garon's brutal methods?

Once you've conquered Birthright and Conquest it's time to go for the third path.In Revelation, which it is important to note unavailable as a standalone product, purely as DLC, you decide to be a traitor and leave both families, going your own way to find out what's behind all the conflict in Nohr and Hoshido. Although the other two entries provide more than satisfactory endings, this third path will provide you with the 'true ending'. And this storyline is full of twists and turns that will keep you gripped throughout. Sure, there's some silly contrivances along the way, but they're easily forgiven.

Revelation provides a perfect balance between the ease of access of Birthright and the map variety of Conquest. Along this path, you will be able to recruit characters from both the Nohr and Hoshido armies, allowing you to create your strongest squad yet! Although some maps are recycled from the other games, the changed objectives keep things very fresh. One particular highlight was trying to get through a castle without being seen by any enemies - no-one told me stealth would be required in a Fire Emblem game! It is more difficult than Birthright, but shouldn't provide too much of a difficulty bump if you've completed that as your first path.

Like in Birthright you are able to train outside battles against randomly generated enemies on previously conquered maps. This means it is a lot more forgiving than Conquest, and helps put the focus back onto the relationships between the characters. With pretty much the whole cast of characters available in your army, there's a lot of work to do in building up their friendships and romances - and that's even before you've unlocked the many paralogues where you can recruit the children!

At first, I felt like that perhaps the supporting cast of characters in Fates was just too big. For me, the cast of Awakening is more instantly memorable, and although I understand the reasons for the larger ensemble, it left me frustrated with so many units sat there unused and I felt like I could have been missing out on some great character interaction just by sticking with the team of warriors I had used from the start and built up a relationship with. I didn't feel like I'd got to know them enough, but this feeling started to change by the time I got to the end of three games, having seen the cast from three different perspectives. How much neglecting characters bothers you, and how many relationships you build up will depend on how much of a completionist you are.

Outside of battle, Fates has introduced My Castle, which is kind of a Fire Emblem twist on Animal Crossing. Here you have a fort that you can customise to your heart’s desire, filling it with shops, an arena to gamble resources, statues of your characters, a restaurant to feed your troops and more. Your team-mates man the shops and can affect what discounts are available – for example if a magic user is running the Armoury, expect a discount on tomes. Chatting to people around town may give you bonuses and is a nice break from the action, makes the game feel more personable and it is beneficial to take advantage of as you will get boosts in battle by developing it.

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Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this area in the Japanese release was the ability to invite allies over to your personal quarters, where you could then rub their face in a Pokémon-Amie like fashion to raise affinity levels. While the face rubbing has been removed, you can still invite people over for a bit of a flirt, the brevity making things even more suggestive. On top this, you can visit a hot spring where the characters get down to their trunks and bikinis and make a little small talk – there is literally no point in this area at all.

My Castle also provides the basis of multiplayer for Fire Emblem Fates – you can visit other player’s settlements via Streetpass and via the Internet. By doing this, you can collect different resources (each castle will have a different home crop and mineral) that can be used to enhance your items and you can also take part in online battles. There is a substantial amount on offer for those who like to delve into things deep beyond the main plotlines, and this is before any DLC comes to add even more for players to do! The more you put in, the more you will be rewarded on the battlefield. Unfortunately, your castle doesn’t carry across versions of Fire Emblem Fates, meaning if you go through all three paths, you will effectively have 3 multiplayer profiles. With Revelation offering everything from both of the other paths, I suggest that you make that your main profile for the purpose of online, DLC and relationships.

Battling your way through the main plot of each of the three games will set you back at least 25 hours of your time, probably even more, and that’s before you get into all the extras. There are no worries about a lack of things to do here. Intelligent Systems haven’t skimped and made cut down experiences – each path will give you as much to do as Awakening offered, so if you do just fancy playing a single path, you will still get a great experience, but Fates’ real strength is how it all ties together and I encourage you to play all of the paths if your budget allows - it will be a very rewarding experience, I assure you.

Fire Emblem Fates is visually great, bringing back the lovely style of Awakening that combined simple 2D maps, enhanced by the depth in layers and special effects the 3D can add to it; 3D models that bring more life to the battles; anime-style character art that are full of personality and the wonderfully animated FMV cut scenes that I wish there were even more of!

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The soundtrack compliments the game perfectly, feeling majestic throughout with the theme sung by the songstress Azura providing a familiar motif across both paths. The little voice clips that play during conversations can get repetitive and annoying, but to say this was anything more than a minor nitpick would be exaggerating things. The entire production is ambitious, exciting and full of life. If Awakening was Intelligent Systems giving their all for what they thought may be the last entry in the series, I don’t know what they tapped into to go even further with this!

Birthright, Conquest and Revelation build on Awakening in almost every way imaginable. They compliment each other perfectly, and while I understand the decision to offer the first two separately, any true fan of Fire Emblem will be picking up both and downloading Revelation afterwards. It does require a bigger financially outlay, but these aren’t really multiple versions of the same game á la Pokémon,– they’re different games tied together as part of one captivating world.

Birthright is perfect for those new to the series, fans of Awakening and the romantic side of Fire Emblem, while Conquest offers all the enhancements plus the challenge that series veterans will love. Revelation is a love letter to the series that, a bit like Hovis, brings the best of both together. It's really a Fire Emblem greatest hits, and although I'll always look back at Awakening with fond memories as my first real experience with the series, the variety on offer here is just so much fun, and it is for sure on of my gaming highlights of the generation, and a worthy finale after 75 hours of epic adventuring.

War, romance, strategy, humour… Fire Emblem Fates has it all.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Fire Emblem Fates is an absolute joy to play. Easy to get into for newbies, yet rewarding for veterans, it will provide hours upon hours of strategy fun with an epic, multi-layered plot to hold you in.

  • Gameplay5
  • Playability5
  • Visuals4
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan5
Final Score



A ridiculous amount of depth
Intriguing plot
Addictive gameplay
Provides something for both old and new fans


Conquest may be too hard for some
Expensive if you want the whole experience
Multiplayer options slightly frustrating

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