It was the Christmas of 2003. I made up a list of GameCube and Game Boy Advance games for my parents to buy me as gifts. Amongst the general Nintendo fare at the time such as <em>Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga</em>, <em>Mario Kart: Double Dash!! </em>and <em>Kirby Air Ride</em>, I added a fairly unknown title that I saw in <em>Nintendo Power</em>’s December 2003 issue. Dubbed by Nintendo’s official magazine as “a new GBA masterpiece,” I was intrigued by the medieval fantasy setting, the focus on careful planning and strategy, and the snazzy battle animations, but never thought my parents would actually pick it as my Christmas gift. To my surprise, I opened my present Christmas morning to find a brand new copy of <em>Fire Emblem </em>beaming out of the wrapping. </p>
What I didn’t expect at the time was that this one strategy RPG would entrance me to the point that I can honestly say Fire Emblem is my favourite Nintendo franchise of all-time. More than Mario, more than Metroid, and — this might sound like sacrilege — more than Zelda. There is just something special in commanding a small army in the palm of your hand. Plus, it’s always fun getting attached to the vast cast of characters in Fire Emblem, especially thanks to the series’ signature permadeath. Seriously, losing your favourite unit because of poor planning is one of the most crushing experiences you can experience in gaming.
While I can go on all day about my love for Fire Emblem, I’m not here to do that. I’m here to guide you on one choice: Hoshido or Nohr. Your birthright or your conquest. Embrace the dark or return to the light. To buy or not to buy Fire Emblem Fates.
Fire Emblem Fates is the newest and most ambitious entry in Intelligent System’s long-standing strategy RPG series. Taking a page from Pokémon, Intelligent Systems split Fates into three versions: Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. Unlike Pokémon and its contemporaries, each version of Fates is more than simple character and setting swaps — they are three full games with drastically different stories, objectives, and outcomes, but the same game mechanics at their core.
Birthright and Conquest represent the two opposing sides in the game’s central conflict: the war between the peaceful Hoshido and the conquering Nohr. While Nintendo has marketed these two versions as light and dark respectively, the differences between the nations aren’t so black and white. No matter which side you choose, you are fighting for the greater good. Maybe it will be by defending your homeland from invaders or fighting the corrupt King Garon from within his own kingdom. The story of each title has so many well-crafted twists and turns that you won’t want to put your 3DS down.
Birthright is built for those just introduced to Fire Emblem. The missions are the straightforward “rout the enemy” or “seize the throne” affairs, with an endless amount of side-missions for you to grind levels and support relationships, and resources such as cash and materials are plentiful. Conquest, on the other hand, is meant for Fire Emblem veterans. The mission objectives vary in ways never before seen in the series, resources and experience are restricted, and there is a generally unforgiving difficulty curve. While no version is greater than the other as they both have pros and cons to their different approaches, I give the slight edge to Conquest for its efforts to build on and evolve the Fire Emblem formula for the better.
If I have to fault Fates on anything, it has to be the My Castle feature. It isn’t bad per se as it does a fine job of building upon the barracks from Awakening. My Castle sadly falls short of its potential. Instead of building your own hub from scratch, it restricts your freedom to a few styles and a grid arrangement of buildings. It doesn’t help that your personal quarters, the barracks of Fates, is just as repetitive and bare-bones as its predecessor.
Although Pokémon X and Y may be its killer apps and Super Smash Bros. may be its greatest technical achievement, Fire Emblem Fates is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best game to grace the 3DS. There are no words that can describe the elation of playing through this strategy RPG masterpiece.
If there is one game you buy this year, make sure it is Fire Emblem Fates. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.