Fire Em­blem Fates

3DS

EDGE - - GAMES -

So, re­la­tion­ships based on in­tense ex­pe­ri­ences never work? We have pow­er­ful ev­i­dence to the con­trary. Hav­ing fool­ishly left our avatar open to at­tack from the Hoshi­dan army’s most pow­er­ful units, we watch with awestruck de­light as our but­ler-cum-hus­band Jakob steps in to bravely block no fewer than four suc­ces­sive at­tacks, sav­ing us from yet an­other soft re­set. Ours was a bond forged in the fiery heat of battle – and over our ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to make a half-de­cent cuppa – thus prov­ing that love can in­deed flour­ish in the un­like­li­est of sit­u­a­tions.

Suf­fice it to say that Fates is re­liant upon Awak­en­ing’s won­der­ful part­ner me­chan­ics for its most elec­tri­fy­ing mo­ments. To wit: plac­ing units in ad­ja­cent squares gives you an of­fen­sive boost, al­low­ing al­lies to launch a sec­ondary as­sault in the same turn, while squeez­ing two into the same tile of­fers a po­ten­tial source of pro­tec­tion. These thrilling lit­tle vi­gnettes are rich in char­ac­ter and drama: there’s lit­tle to com­pare with the feel­ing of a vul­ner­a­ble unit sidestep­ping what would have been a fa­tal blow and coun­ter­ing with a de­fi­ant roar and a crit­i­cal hit for dou­ble dam­age. And, yes, your troops ac­tu­ally have feet this time.

Fates, how­ever, trades in Awak­en­ing’s fo­cused nar­ra­tive for some­thing more am­bi­tious. At first, it seems like a purely com­mer­cial de­ci­sion to split the story into three, with sev­eral units ex­clu­sive to each cam­paign: a need­less Poké­mon- isa­tion of a beloved series. That many char­ac­ters and set­tings fea­ture across all three does lit­tle to ease those doubts; like­wise the com­par­a­tively tiny down­load size for each ad­di­tion af­ter a hefty ini­tial in­stall. And yet the dif­fer­ences be­tween them are far more pro­nounced than in Game Freak’s vari­ants, as the series ex­plores a con­flict from three dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, even­tu­ally giv­ing a clearer over­all pic­ture of the mo­ti­va­tions of all in­volved.

Birthright will be the start­ing point for many and is the eas­i­est way in for new­com­ers. Be­fore then, a series of tu­to­rial bat­tles is threaded through an in­tro that es­tab­lishes the crux of the plot: hav­ing been raised in the king­dom of Nohr, you dis­cover you were kid­napped as a young­ster from your fam­ily in Hoshido, with the game’s sixth chap­ter fi­nally forc­ing you to pick a side.

What fol­lows is the eas­i­est of the three cam­paigns, with the abil­ity to scout the land for op­po­nents, giv­ing you the op­por­tu­nity to level up your troops in op­tional bat­tles. The pros­per­ity of Hoshido means re­sources are plen­ti­ful, and you’ll be re­warded hand­somely for your ef­forts. The mis­sions, how­ever, are very sin­gle-minded, in keep­ing with your avatar’s stead­fast be­lief that the only way to achieve peace be­tween the two na­tions is to defy the tyran­ni­cal Nohr king on the bat­tle­field.

If Birthright feels as much an RPG as a strat­egy game, Con­quest shifts the fo­cus firmly to­wards the tac­ti­cal, forc­ing you to rely upon com­par­a­tively lim­ited sup­plies – and with no scouts, you’ll have to do your lev­el­ling dur­ing story mis­sions. And while you’ll visit many of the same set­tings you saw in Birthright, the maps have been tweaked, with a much wider va­ri­ety of goals. In one chap­ter, you’ll use bal­lis­tas and de­fen­sive for­ma­tions to guard the en­trance of a port town for a given num­ber of turns. In an­other, you’ll fight among urns con­tain­ing medic­i­nal and poi­sonous elixirs, shat­ter­ing their con­tents to buff al­lies and blight op­po­nents. Rev­e­la­tion, in­evitably, finds a com­fort­able mid­dle ground, ex­cept your po­si­tion is any­thing but cosy: by re­fus­ing to de­cide be­tween Nohr and Hoshido, you’re cast out by both sides as a traitor.

Birthright’s unswerv­ing em­pha­sis on rout­ing en­e­mies and the rigid­ity of ap­proach en­forced by the ab­sence of op­tional mis­sions in Con­quest could eas­ily be re­garded as weak­nesses and yet, con­sid­ered in light of the nar­ra­tive, they rep­re­sent a con­scious and dar­ing de­sign choice. It would’ve been sim­ple enough for In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems to vary Hoshido’s aims, or to of­fer Nohr more free­dom; this way, nar­ra­tive and me­chan­ics co­here with a greater con­sis­tency, while dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing each cam­paign de­spite their many shared as­sets.

Each path, mean­while, casts the oth­ers in a fresh light. Fight­ing along­side your Hoshido fam­ily, you’ll be told that Nohr are born war­riors, re­sis­tant to the no­tion of truce. How­ever, within the bo­som of your adopted fam­ily, you con­duct a clan­des­tine re­bel­lion against the or­ders of your king, in­sist­ing that vic­tory can be earned with­out need for fur­ther blood­shed. For­mer en­e­mies be­come fast friends and life part­ners, as Con­quest’s height­ened chal­lenge forces you to rely upon a smaller band of pow­er­ful units.

The pain of loss is ame­lio­rated by the knowl­edge that units are re­treat­ing from the front­line rather than dy­ing, though their ab­sence along­side you is as keenly felt as the guilt you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence in deny­ing them a le­gacy in the post-game cred­its se­quence. And some char­ac­ters do suf­fer a more per­ma­nent re­tire­ment, as the ab­sorb­ing (if melo­dra­matic) story cru­elly swings its scythe just as you’re getting the hang of leav­ing no wo­man, wolf­skin or child-dragon be­hind.

Such tragedy doesn’t al­ways sit eas­ily with the light­hearted tone of the sup­port con­ver­sa­tions, and the cen­tral plot con­trivance in Rev­e­la­tion is so stupid it comes close to un­do­ing some ex­cel­lent char­ac­ter work. And while the Ca­sual op­tion that makes fallen units avail­able for se­lec­tion in the next battle is a wel­come sop to be­gin­ners, a Phoenix mode that re­vives them af­ter a sin­gle turn triv­i­alises the sense of at­tach­ment to your com­rades-in-arms that dis­tin­guishes the series. But these are small scratches on a grand can­vas; this sweep­ing trip­tych is as lux­u­ri­ous and for­mi­da­ble a game as you’ll en­counter on por­ta­ble hard­ware.

Their ab­sence along­side you is as keenly felt as the guilt you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence in deny­ing them a le­gacy in the cred­its se­quence

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