Fire Em­blem War­riors

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You slice through dozens of hap­less sol­diers who stand in con­ve­nient clus­ters

De­vel­oper Omega Force, Team Ninja Pub­lisher Nin­tendo For­mat Switch Re­lease Out now

Well, we weren’t ex­actly an­tic­i­pat­ing a walking sim­u­la­tor with rhythm-ac­tion sec­tions. We’re kid­ding, of course: Fire Em­blem War­riors is pretty much ex­actly the game we ex­pected it to be from the mo­ment it was an­nounced. The es­tab­lished War­riors tem­plate hasn’t suited ev­ery fran­chise Omega Force has draped over it, but Fire Em­blem slips on a treat here, the fic­tion of In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems’ uni­verse prov­ing a fine part­ner for Mu­sou me­chan­ics. As lantern-jawed knight Fred­er­ick sweeps scores of ter­ri­fied sol­diers off their feet, snarling “pick a god and pray” be­fore he launches them into obliv­ion, Awak­en­ing fans will be in rap­tures.

War­riors fans, mean­while, will be right at home. This is, as ever, a game about tidy­ing up a bat­tle­field, wip­ing all those un­sightly red dots off the map and steadily turn­ing it a clean, ster­ile blue. You slice through dozens of hap­less sol­diers who stand in con­ve­nient clus­ters, wait­ing obe­di­ently to be brushed aside, while lead­ers and ar­moured guards are your more stub­born stains, of­fer­ing a mod­icum of re­sis­tance be­fore yield­ing to a bit of el­bow grease. You’ll spo­rad­i­cally flick to the map screen to guide a unit not cur­rently un­der your di­rect con­trol to go some­where, be­fore as­sum­ing com­mand once they’ve reached their des­ti­na­tion.

We’ve been here be­fore, then, and while the Fire Em­blem weapon tri­an­gle has been parachuted in along with a se­lec­tion of pop­u­lar char­ac­ters, the con­cept of en­e­mies be­ing weak to some at­tacks and strong against oth­ers is noth­ing new. But the ‘pair up’ sys­tem in­tro­duced in Awak­en­ing en­livens the com­bat. You can use it to negate weapon-tri­an­gle dis­ad­van­tages: cou­pling the axe-wield­ing Lissa, say, with Hi­noka, whose lance can make short work of any swords­men caus­ing the diminu­tive cleric some trou­ble.

There are far more ad­van­tages to team­ing up, too. Swap­ping is al­most in­stant, while the sup­port­ing char­ac­ter boosts the stats of the one you’re con­trol­ling, and can be called upon for sin­gle at­tacks to stun hardier op­po­nents, or to nul­lify dam­age from a sin­gle in­com­ing blow by div­ing across to parry it. As those gauges re­fill, you’ll be top­ping up oth­ers with each hit you land: tra­di­tional Mu­sou- style spe­cials are one thing, but if both char­ac­ters’ me­ters are full, the ef­fect will be much greater. At­tacks with weapon ad­van­tage even­tu­ally put you into Awak­en­ing mode, which ig­nores the weapon tri­an­gle to let you dish out a beat­ing against the odds. Two pairs of units nat­u­rally can’t cover as much ground as four, but it’s still more ef­fi­cient to fight this way.

Safer, too, since this fol­lows an­other great Fire Em­blem tra­di­tion. Though we’d be tempted to make a case for Ca­sual mode be­ing a better fit for the way we tend to play War­riors games, a Clas­sic op­tion is avail­able for those who pre­fer the threat of per­madeath. There are cer­tain story-cru­cial char­ac­ters you must keep alive in each mis­sion to avoid see­ing the game-over screen, but oth­ers can per­ish. Then again, since you can spend in-game money on a bless­ing to res­ur­rect the fallen, death isn’t quite so per­ma­nent after all. Each fort you lib­er­ate, and each vil­lain you de­feat, is es­sen­tially an at­tack an­i­ma­tion from Awak­en­ing or Fates writ large, the anime cut­aways and punchy sound­bites slot­ting in so neatly you’ll won­der how this col­lab­o­ra­tion hasn’t hap­pened sooner. Con­cerns about the rel­a­tive lack of breadth in weapon types are eased when mages like Robin and archers like Takumi come into play, and there are clear dif­fer­ences be­tween sim­i­larly equipped units: Chrom and Ry­oma may both favour swords, but their styles are noth­ing alike.

Bat­tles of such grand scale would ap­pear to be­long on the big screen; in­deed, you’ve a choice be­tween per­for­mance and qual­ity, where 60fps means a mi­nor vis­ual down­grade. There’s no such op­tion in por­ta­ble mode, though that’s where Fire Em­blem War­riors re­ally sparkles. No hand­held Mu­sou has ever looked this good, and its un­de­mand­ing com­bat and crisp the­atrics are well-suited to the short bursts of play en­cour­aged by a friendly voice on the main menu screen. Nin­tendo’s been sug­gest­ing we take breaks for a while, but here it seems less out of con­cern about the player’s well­be­ing and more an ac­knowl­edge­ment that this can be calm­ing to the point of drowsi­ness when played for many hours.

You can mit­i­gate rep­e­ti­tion, but an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic slop­pi­ness is harder to avoid. Key bat­tle up­dates suf­fer com­i­cal de­lays: a minute after heal­ing a char­ac­ter, we re­ceived a mes­sage warn­ing us he needed help, while an­other stage first alerted us to a threat to the al­lied base five sec­onds be­fore it was lost. Boxy cas­tle in­te­ri­ors can mean the fi­nal flour­ish of a spe­cial at­tack is lost be­hind a wall, or you’ll see a pe­ga­sus knight clip through a ceil­ing as she loops around to de­liver a fin­isher. The cam­era some­times frames spe­cials badly, too, as if prud­ishly avert­ing its gaze from the mass slaugh­ter. And menu quirks linger on. When you’ve got up­wards of six units to con­trol or com­mand, op­ti­mis­ing load­outs and up­dat­ing skill trees can be as time­con­sum­ing as the bat­tle that fol­lows. Sell­ing and re­forg­ing weapons, mean­while, has to be done piece­meal, each trans­ac­tion ac­com­pa­nied by a sin­gle voice sam­ple that quickly drives you potty.

Nev­er­the­less, while the har­mo­nious­ness of this seem­ingly ideal pair­ing may have caused Omega Force to rest on its lau­rels, in the heat of bat­tle this comes star­tlingly close to a se­ries peak. And even as it lacks the same tac­ti­cal depth and sto­ry­telling nu­ance, in its col­lab­o­ra­tive com­bat and earnest hero­ics, it cap­tures the spirit of Fire Em­blem re­ally rather well. If it’s mostly con­tent to meet ex­pec­ta­tions rather than ex­ceed them, that’s one pleas­ant sur­prise at least.

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