by Daniel Lein
Fire Emblem is fast becoming one of the more popular RPGs in the mix at the moment, and for good reason. After the smash-hit that was Fire Emblem Awakening it’s important for Nintendo and Intelligent Systems to follow it up with another amazing title. Impressively Nintendo is following up with three games, each of which follows the same group of characters, but with separate missions and different story paths. One of these iterations, Conquest, is a significant deviation from the formula used in Awakening. Does this new formula work for Conquest?
In all versions of the game you begin as your custom made character and grow up in the house of Nohr. Then, after visiting the rival Kingdom of Hoshido (which is also your home of birth), the player must choose between these two kingdoms. Conquest is the path followed when the player sides with the kingdom of Nohr. There are several interesting differences that Conquest brings to the table in all departments, but in the case of the story Conquest gives the unique experience of fighting for the “bad guys”. Though the game does an excellent job of giving you a reason to fight and still make you ultimately the good guy, there’s no escaping the horrendous actions committed by the country you fight for. This interesting story telling technique does a good job of showcasing some of the horrors that real world war can bring about. Unjustified killings, betrayal, and even sketchy motives all play into the campaign and are all used as examples for some of the terrible things done in war. The game also deals with PTSD and a reluctance to participate in conflict. It’s all very deep stuff for a Nintendo game, and though it never really goes all the way on the maturity meter, it’s nice to see Nintendo take on a serious topic for a change. In addition to the war commentary the dialogue itself is also brilliantly written. Creatively constructed characters develop bonds with one another and show their unique personalities. Though there are certainly some characters that follow classic anime molds, there are also plenty of other characters with fun and interesting personalities. Beyond that the dialogue itself can go from adorable and funny to serious and grave, all with great effect. The only downside to this otherwise expertly crafted story, is that sometimes the messages delivered can be a bit heavy handed. Subtlety would go a long way in many of the conversations.
Mainstream Nintendo games are known for having excellent presentations, and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is no different. The graphics are a brilliant mix of detailed 2D sprites, well animated 3D models, and absolutely beautiful 2D cut scenes. The 2D sprites look amazing and adorable on the battlefield. The 3D animations didn’t blow me away, but they served their purpose in the battle animations, which added some depth and anticipation to many of the encounters. Lastly the 2D cut scenes were hand drawn works of art that demand the 3D slider on the 3DS to be cranked up. Every frame of animation screams excellence with a wonderful style and an anime aesthetic. The music in Conquest is also excellent. There are dozens of songs used throughout the game, all of which are wonderfully orchestrated and emotional. The ones in the last few chapters of the game are particularly good as they set a dramatic mood for the climactic ending.
Out of all of the differences that Conquest makes in comparison to Awakening’s formula, perhaps the biggest changes can be found in the gameplay. The mathematically precise and nail biting turn based strategy combat remains center stage, but with a significant increase in difficulty. While navigating your troops across the board, attacking enemy troops, and defending key characters you must also keep in mind whatever new twist that individual mission has placed on the game. Nearly every level in Conquest contorts the classic concepts of Fire Emblem into new and challenging hurdles. In addition to defeating bosses and routing enemies the player must also cope with whatever unique characteristics are held by the map in question. For example, one level forces the player to navigate their army through a maze of pots that, when destroyed, give off either positive or negative effects to surrounding units. Another map was split down the middle with units on either side. Each side had switches that would allow the other side to progress. Though they seem like pretty simple ideas, they really changed the way I approached every level. Those are just a few of the many map types that spice up the gameplay and keep every level both interesting and challenging. Most of these level designs are thanks in part to Dragon Veins, which are tiles that royals can step on and affect the terrain of the battlefield. Some Dragon Veins slow enemies, while others unleash board wide status effects. Each Dragon Vein has a give and take type of dichotomy that must be weighed just right to be utilized to the fullest. All of the combat and unique map types are made all the more interesting by the fact that every single one of your units can die permanently in any encounter. This permadeath function, though frustrating at times, makes every character seem valuable to some degree. When you add in the relationships that characters have with one another you suddenly have soldiers that are more than just a bundle of stats. Speaking of relationships, the player can force bonds between these characters by having them battle together. These relationships will lead to interesting dialogue sequences, where the player can learn more about their soldiers. If two characters reach S rank relationship status then they can get married and have children. This pseudo dating system is a nice addition as far as story is concerned, but it also gives valuable stat bonuses during combat, making every relationship a strategic decision as much as it is a love decision. It’s also important to note how the difficulty of Conquest has an effect on the relationship system. In Awakening I was able to pick and choose my relationships as stat bonuses and strategic advantages gained through character bonding were less important. In my playthrough of Conquest, however, relationships were developed out of a necessity for some type of strategic advantage rather than being developed based on what characters I thought had chemistry. This gave a very natural feeling of progression in relationships. I no longer felt like the love god, but rather a passive observer to developing friendships. This change is in no way better or worse than the dating-sim focus of Awakening, but rather a delightful new take.
The last thing I want to touch on is the My Castle portion of the game. My Castle is an area that the player can call their own by building shops and relaxation places for their troops. Here the player can tweak their armies equipment and relationships. However the player can also harvest a food type and a mineral, both of which can be used to improve the stats of characters in various ways. You can also go online to other player’s My Castle and get a small sample of their materials to see what effects they will have. Speaking of online, you can also invade other My Castles or have your castle invaded. Both can yield rewards, but the rewards are never really worth the hastle. All in all the My Castle is little more than a distraction.
Conquest follows up its predecessor with excellent art design and songs that are both beautiful and memorable. Though it carries over the strategic battle system from previous games, the dozens of unique levels provide hours of challenge and fun for even the most skilled of players. Lastly, Conquest delivers a story that makes commentary on some mature subjects; throw in some character development and a few twists and turns and you have an excellent story. At the end of the day Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest succeeds in delivering an excellent strategy RPG experience albeit a much more difficult one than previous Fire Emblem titles.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest earns a 9/10