Fire Emblem Warriors
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.