Fire Emblem Fates (2015/2016)

[ファイアーエムブレム if]

Fire Emblem Fates (2015/2016)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Director:Kouhei Maeda, Genki Yokota
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

A prince who was kidnapped by an enemy kingdom as a child learns about his true heritage and must choose between the family he was born into and the family that raised him.

The core gameplay is unchanged. The series staples remain intact and the improvements made in Awakening are taken further. One of the biggest new developments is the elimination of weapon durability, something that hasn't been seen since Fire Emblem Gaiden. You might think this would significantly drop the difficulty level, but they make some adjustments for game balance. For instance, using silver weapons results in a debuff, so you don't want to use them too much. Weapons are also more expensive to offset their unlimited use. Rods still have limited uses, though. There are also some differences between the two factions and what weapons you get, such as Byakuya/Birthright players getting rods that work at a range by default.

Buffs and debuffs play a bigger role in combat, so you have to watch for that. Also, enemies now can use tandem attacks, which makes battles a little more pitched. I didn't use the defensive formations at all in Awakening, but here it's necessary to survive some encounters. The fact that the lead character is a dragon makes it extra fun when the enemy likes to pass out Dragon Killer swords. Some people missed ballistae in Awakening, but now there are long-distance emplacements for archers, mages and ninja. Royals can alter environments with their powers, which can have a significant effect on the tide of battle.

There are more passive abilities, to include a number of character-specific abilities, and now six slots to accommodate them. This ties into my previous comment about buffs and debuffs. There are a number of new classes, but some of them are effectively rebranding previous classes to match with the Japanese theme of Byakuya/Hoshido.

One of the key differences between the Anya/Conquest option and the others is that there are no random encounters between missions, which is more in line with older entries in the series (barring 8) and means you have limited XP and money to work with (unless you play the DLC missions). That makes for more of a challenge, which may or may not appeal to you.

Outside of battle, you have "My Castle", where you can customize your home base for online battles (or the three designated castle defense missions). Then there's the notorious "My Room", which involves a mini-game that has been dummied out of the NA release. For those of you who don't know, you invite characters into your room to have some intimate bonding. It involves rubbing their faces with the stylus. Sound creepy? Well, just imagine if the team that wanted to do a full-body thing won out. Instead we just have the head and shoulders. I told myself it was fine so long as they didn't ask me to blow into the mic. Guess what. My wife shows up all piping hot from the onsen and wants to cool down. We're not going to discuss how many times I played the dutiful husband (or wife in some of my other save files) before learning that it wasn't at all necessary. -_- In retrospect, maybe I didn't need to wear down the screen protector on my 3DS. ^_^;

As with the previous game, you can marry off characters when you S-rank supports. This time the second generation is patrilineal instead matrilineal as it was in Awakening. Some people complained about the kids being game breakers the last time around, but here the benefits of siring offspring seem to be a little more muted.

The story is pretty good, but you only get pieces of the larger picture from each scenario. The course of the plot in the Anya/Conquest scenario feels pretty pointless as the theme seems to be nothing more than "make Kamui suffer" with the protagonist just taking it.

More than the plot, though, is the characters. The two families are pretty similar to each other, which narrows your basis for picking one or the other. I'm pretty evenly divided. I prefer Hinoka and Sakura as sisters and Marx and Leon as brothers. The retainers for either side are mixed bags. I generally like both sets, but there are a few individuals I particularly dislike. That's something for a commentary post. Most of the characters are fairly trope-heavy and they all seem to be catering to particular proclivities. There's a waifu (or husbando) for just about any taste.

One thing that stood out to me is how few of the characters get along. Not just across factions but within them as well. In Awakening, Chrom's bunch was a fairly tight-knit gang even before Reflet came along, but in this game you have some friends and loyal retainers, most of whom don't actually warm up to one another until they at least A-rank their supports. I will say that more of the children seem better adjusted this time around. Rather than coming from the future, they're raised in alternate dimensions with a different time flow. Plenty of them have resentment issues, but more of them have a surprisingly healthy relationship with their folks given who their folks are and the circumstances of their raising. It's not quite growing up at the end of the world, but many of the kiddos are surprisingly sanguine about the whole thing. The kids tend to be characterized by their quirks even more sharply than their parents, which can be a little annoying.

I've commented before how the "My Room" stuff (otherwise known as FE Amie by some fans) is a bit creepy, but I will say that the characters' personalities come out in the segments, which you might see as a redeeming value. The way I understand it, NA players will just see the line said at the end of a session, which cuts out everything in the middle. However, given how some characters get a little too into it, it may be just as well.

Things look marginally better this time around. Many people have praised the prominence of feet in the 3D models this time around. As with Awakening, I like the character designs and you may or may not like the more unabashedly Japanese aesthetic of Byakuya/Hoshido than anything we've really seen in previous games. I like the cel-shaded CG for cutscenes, but I'll admit that in some places, I like the Live2D models used in the "My Room" segments even more than both the standard portraits and the cutscenes. (Sakura is one example of a character who looks her best in Live2D.) Speaking of Live2D, some people have complained about the characters being a bit over animated. It's a valid complaint, but not one that bothers me too much.

The ability to accessorize your characters, to include getting them down to their underwear or dressing them up in sexy swimsuits is one of those points some people object to. If you find it objectionable, it's not something you have to do. It's just one of several fanservicey elements that's part of the game.

There are some fine tracks for your listening pleasure. The main theme "if~Hitori Omou" is quite good. I sometimes find myself mumbling "Yurari yurureri". Voice acting is solid, at least in the Japanese version. (The "My Room" cuts eliminates some sound clips I wouldn't want in English anyway, so that probably benefits everyone.) Some people lament that support conversations have gone silent. I don't mind as it seems to be a better alternative to having a limited selection of sound clips clumsily shoehorned in, though I will admit that did add some humor to the convos in Awakening. You still have it in story dialog, which can still have the same effect. Some of the sound clips work better in some contexts than others, but what can ya do?

A lot of people don't like the fact that the game is split into three parts sold separately. I cut through all that by getting the limited edition, even if I did end up paying nearly twice the MSRP to get my hands on it. Bear in mind that each scenario has 27 regular chapters, which is a full game ordinarily. As you can acquire the subsequent scenarios for a fair bit less than the base game, it works out more or less.

Much like Awakening, the DLC is arguably overpriced, but by offering a bundle option, you may be tempted to just get the entire pack. I have yet to play through all the DLC missions, so I can't comment definitively on the value yet.

This game took the leaps and bounds of its predecessor and continues to move the franchise forward. The division of the scenarios into separate products and the greater amount of fanservicey content are controversial, true, but the game remains a great value for your money. Just about any FE fan is definitely going to want this one.

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