Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Renan Fontes 12.04.2016 5

Review for Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright on Nintendo 3DS

There was a fair bit of controversy when Nintendo announced that the latest romp in the Fire Emblem series would be split into two parts, with one final part as DLC. Fans were very understandably concerned that they wouldn't be getting their money's worth by purchasing just one version. Nintendo had already opened the DLC floodgates to mixed results with the series' previous instalment Fire Emblem: Awakening, and multiple versions of the same game didn't land too well. After more information and trailers came out, however, Nintendo was able to reel the majority of the fanbase back in, promising enough differences between all three versions. The questions remain, though: are all three versions really different enough to justify the split, and is Birthright capable of standing on its own as an individual experience?

Returning from the two previous instalments is the Avatar feature. In the previous entries, the Avatar mechanic was a simple way of allowing self-insertion into the story without compromising the plot and narrative (though less so in Awakening). Fates takes it to a whole new level, merging the Lord role with the Avatar role completely. By merging the role of main character with the role of self-insert, Fates either sets itself up as an incredibly immersive or one that shamelessly panders to its protagonist. Unfortunately, it's the latter.

Corrin/Kamui/Insert Name Here is perhaps the worst main character to ever grace a Fire Emblem title. Corrin starts out incredibly promising, sheltered from the outside world and being posed an incredibly difficult and genuinely thoughtful question; do they betray their adopted family and side with a victimized country, or did they forgo their Birthright and stand with their kidnappers? Birthright sees Corrin siding with the former, going over to Hoshido to fight the war against Nohr with their adoptive siblings they have just met.

The concept of Corrin's arc is incredibly strong and sets up several emotional moments to come as the opening chapters do a great job at fleshing out the now betrayed Nohrian siblings. Unfortunately, the development for the Nohr characters ceases as soon as Corrin makes their decision to side with Hoshido, causing any potentially impactful moments to feel stiff as they require character context from Conquest to have the right amount of weight.

Screenshot for Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright on Nintendo 3DS

For a series that's so story and character driven, refining the writing and making sure the narrative works is incredibly important, but Birthright feels very lacking in this regard. Support conversations, the series' main way of character development, feel gimmickier than ever. Units rarely have more than a few traits that get fleshed out, and the insistence of making sure everyone can marry anyone returns from the last instalment. Changing otherwise platonic relationships into romantic for the sake of eugenics did not come off naturally in Awakening, and they feel downright abnormal and forced.

On the subject of eugenics, child units return from the previous entry, albeit sloppily. Before, child units were a part of the plot and served an important thematic purpose. This time around, they exist because Intelligent Systems realized child units made them money. Their integration into the main plot is downright mind boggling. When two character have a child, they ship them away to an alternate dimension where they grow up on a different timeline until they're inevitably recruited to fight in Corrin's army. They effect nothing, are ignored by everyone outside of support conversations, and serve only to taint the few likable characters the game has.

Screenshot for Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright on Nintendo 3DS

The story, characters, and writing are all pitifully below average for the series, but that doesn't mean Birthright can't be salvaged. The map design itself is significantly improved from Awakening, featuring incredibly creative layouts that require genuine strategy to beat. Difficulty-wise, however, Birthright is overall far more challenging than its predecessor. Where Awakening's difficulty severely dropped off after the first five or so chapters, Birthright manages to keep up a good balance up until endgame. From a purely gameplay perspective, a lot of mistakes from the previous entry have been fixed by going back to more traditional Fire Emblem design while keeping some of the more convenient features Awakening introduced, albeit with a catch.

After every chapter is beaten or a certain amount of real time has passed, Birthright will offer challenge maps for extra gold and experience. At first, these serve as incredibly helpful tools for those who are having difficulty and needed to grind for skills, supports, or levels. In a rather baffling move, however, Birthright's main chapters are not balanced with these challenge maps in mind. At first, the challenge maps allow for some catching up, but if kept consistent, Corrin's army will inevitably be leagues stronger than anything the main campaign can throw at them putting an abrupt end to any challenge.

Screenshot for Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright on Nintendo 3DS

Challenge maps aren't the only way to break the game's difficulty though, the new My Castle features allows Corrin to visit other Avatars' castles and challenge them for skills and unit recruitment. Skills cost very little gold and recruiting a unit requires nothing other than winning the duel by routing or seizing. This can be easily exploited for army fodder or simply overpowered units that can clear chapters with little to no trouble.

Even if both of these potential advantages are ignored, Birthright will eventually present Corrin with its greatest unit, Ryoma. A unit so ridiculously overpowered that he can clear maps on Lunatic with little to no trouble. It says something negative when a legitimate strategy boils down to placing a unit down in the middle of a map and letting waves of enemies suicide themselves into him.

Still, the worst part isn't the bad story and cast or the exploitable game mechanics, it's the fact that it's overall just wasted potential. There's a lot of good under the bad here, and it's certainly not unplayable, but it doesn't present itself well enough. It very clear expects fans to play Conquest and Revelation to understand the story, as Birthright refuses to answer everything. It squanders the war narrative by framing Hoshido as overtly pure and Nohr as cartoonishly evil. It wastes otherwise great map design by presenting too many options to shatter any and every challenge, but worst of all, it's just very much one-third of a full game.

Screenshot for Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

While not a bad game, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is one of the biggest disappointments in the series in years. It manages to have more map variety than the previous instalment, but it's pitifully lacking in every other regard. Even with better map design, it's so poorly balanced that the hardest difficulty feels less like a challenge of skill and more like an endurance match of how long certain units can go without being used before frustration kicks in. With an even worse story being fronted by one of the worst casts in the series, Birthright offers very little in terms of series progression, instead opting for an incredibly safe experience that, while not bad, doesn't push the series forward either. With context needed from Conquest, Revelation, and DLC content to fully flesh out and understand the story, Birthright, and by extension Fates, sets a bad precedent for not just the rest of the series, but for video games themselves.

Developer

Intelligent Systems

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Like, wow dude. Was there ANYTHING you liked at all about the game? I've said more positive things about games I've given 4/10's. I found the opposite to be true. I enjoyed the cast MUCH more than I enjoyed FE 7's (sure, you had some stand-outs, but most I can't even remember the names of besides Nino and Serra) or FE 10's newcomers and, as far as MC's go, Sothe is just worse all-around. I also found the gameplay to be much better than in prior Fire Emblem games with things like Phoenix mode functioning as a nice 'no-pressure' mode for people just interested in story while the harder modes in FE have always been cake state-side. I also didn't find Ryoma OP'ed, but that may have been because my Hana was a ****ing brute who got ungodly good growths (except in HP), I reclassed Felicia right away to a mounted magic user, raised up Sophie, and so-forth.

Sothe certainly isn't the most endearing of FE10's cast, but I'd probably argue that Micaiah and Ike are overall more central to the story than Sothe is. He's kind of periphery to Micaiah at best, in that he's essentially a second mandatory character for her chapters.

I'm generally inclined to agree that Birthright has some pretty weak characters; sure they get more exposition than the Dawn Brigade in RD, largely due to that game's lack of supports, but I definitely don't think they have the depth of Blazing Sword's. At least Eliwood and Hector and Lyn have some compelling character arcs, which the main lord in Fates just doesn't, really.

I think a big issue with the balance in Fates is that it continues on from Awakening's "it's fine to have grinding as a mechanic in an SRPG" stance, and generally, I don't think that wins it a lot of favors. Birthright and Revelation are especially bad in this regard, given how easy it is to endlessly farm gold from random encounters, spend that to encounter more, etc. etc. Since weapons aren't as much of a money sink with the lack of durability, money (especially in non-Conquest routes) is pretty easy to come by, even on Hard or Lunatic.

Coming from a fan of FE since the moment it got released state-side... the weapon durability thing is a MASSIVE plus. It really irritated me in other games because it was almost always better to use iron/steel unless the situation REALLY called for it just because of how frail the 'good' weapons are. I much prefer them having built-in advantages/disadvantages to having low uses. Means I'll actually crack out that Killer weapon every once in a while now as well as have a reason to consider using something else!

Also... While I agree that not all the characters are good and some are pretty... bleh... I don't see how that can justify hate when plenty of other characters in other games were pretty flat on the whole as well. Like Mia or Ilyana in RD. As much as I love the little sword-wielder her personality is pretty straight-forwards and not terribly huge on the whole and I don't see why characters in Birthright should get flack but people gloss over characters from the older games to make them 'good' by comparison.

I think that those final words sum up my issues with this sort of thing entirely. People look at Fates and seem to immediately try and compare it to FE7 when it is a VERY different game and the series has drastically changed direction and method over the years. As a result it's not 'how good is Birthright' but 'how good is Birthright compared to FE7'.

Also, I fully admit I've got some pretty big hate backlash for the pre-FE8 games (Hector and Roy especially) and wish the fans would just shut up for a bit.

Swedra (guest) 30.01.2017#4

...and the review of this game i read just before this said that Awakening had better map variety than this....so who of you two haven't actually played the game? X3

Swedra (guest) said:
...and the review of this game i read just before this said that Awakening had better map variety than this....so who of you two haven't actually played the game? X3

Or different opinions? X3

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