Video Game Review: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright

Details: Played through it in about twenty-two hours. Didn’t play any of the downloadable content. More information can be found at https://fireemblem.nintendo.com/fates/

Score: 7/10

Birthright is one of the three versions of Fire Emblem Fates. The internet recommends that you play this version first, which I did. Birthright is similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening, except that it improves on almost every aspect of that game. It looks better, sounds better, feels better, and plays… about the same.

The story in this game takes place in a fantasy world and focuses on a conflict between the Nohr and Hoshido kingdoms. You play as a prince connected to both kingdoms. During a particular battle, a choice is forced upon you and you side with the Hoshido (you side with the Nohr in Conquest and with neither/both in Revelations). Now you seek to defeat the Nohr and bring peace between both nations.

The story is exactly what you’d expect from a Japanese role playing game. You go on a vast adventure to defeat a great evil. There are some twists and turns along the way. It was enjoyable, but predictable for the genre.

Gameplay focuses primarily on combat and is mostly the same as in Fire Emblem: Awakening. You still play on a low quality, two dimensional grid/checkerboard with low quality sprites being used as character icons/game board pieces. When two characters meet each other on the grid, they get into a conflict and attack each other and the camera zooms in to a cool animation involving three dimensional models (I eventually turned this off  because its optional and is less cool as time goes on). As in most role playing games, there are stats, weapons that improve stats, characters will level, etc.

The only changes to combat are a slew of minor quality of life improvements and technical improvements. For instance, when players get into conflict, the camera actually zooms into the map in an almost seamless way. In Awakening, it just kind of cut into the combat animation, which was jarring. Weapons don’t have limited durability anymore, which is nice because weapon durability is almost always annoying and unnecessary.

The social system makes a return, and its still pretty basic. If you pair up characters or put them next to each other during combat on the checkerboard, they get social points which can then lead to dialogue and back story between the characters. This occurs outside of combat. As relationships grow, you can eventually make characters enter into romances with one another and even have children with one another through a poorly explained narrative device. You can then recruit these children into your army or playable characters.

This is one of the Fire Emblem franchise’s most well known gameplay elements and I’m glad it’s back since it’s fun and helps you care about your characters. The only changes are some minor improvements like personal quarters where you can have “quality time” with a character (this is probably just a PG-13 reference to sex). You can also have same sex romances now, though you can only make children with characters of the same sex.

There are a few new gameplay mechanics. You get a base now. It’s not all that revolutionary and basically serves as your “town,” where you can buy equipment. You can build and upgrade buildings and play few base defense missions as well. With that said, it’s still a very minor, simple part of the game. It’s still nice to feel like you have a customizable home base though.

Visually, the game looks decidedly better than Fire Emblem: Awakening, but it is still on the Nintendo 3DS. That means that there is only so much this game can do to look pretty. The prerendered cut scenes look amazing and could pass for something on a console like the XBOX or the Playstation 4. The 3D models and animation are improved. There are more cut scenes and dialogue, which really help move the plot along. The art direction is better, which means the environments and menu’s and just how everything looks is better.

In terms of audio, the music is amazing. Unfortunately, this game is still not fully voiced. You’ll get a sound bit like a grunt or a brief statement at the start of dialogue, but it is not fully voiced. Full voice acting is important to me for a game that so heavily relies on dialogue and plot. That this game is not fully voiced takes a lot away from this game.

Overall, Fire Emblem: Fates/Birthright improves upon the franchise in just about every way. It’s not a radical departure from the franchise, but a step forward. Birthright really makes me curious about Conquest and Revelations because at its core, the gameplay is basically the same as in Awakening. I’ve read Conquest changes the gameplay formula more and I’m curious what those changes are.

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