Despite another month remaining before its western release, Fire Emblem: Fates has already seen astonishing success. According to the Japanese video game magazine Famitsu, it was the 10th best-selling game of 2015, with almost 530,000 units sold. Its main character even landed one of the coveted final slots in Nintendo’s ever-popular Super Smash Bros. Wii U.
With such a strong start, one can only imagine the success it will see after its February 19 release in North America. Many retailers are already sold-out of the game’s special edition and have been since day one. And on the surface, all of this is fantastic news for fans of the Fire Emblem series. After all, Fates’ record-setting sale numbers pretty much guarantee at least one more sequel.
Unfortunately, the situation isn’t so cut and dry. While Fire Emblem: Fates seems to have done a lot right, long-time fans aren’t thrilled about plenty of the game’s qualities. In this way, the success becomes a double-edged sword. While good sale numbers encourage the game’s developer, Intelligent Systems, to bring back the well-liked changes, the bad stuff might get dragged along for the ride.
With that in mind, let’s break down the game’s major components so it’s easy to see what’s worth keeping around and what should be fixed going forward.
First and foremost, the visual quality of the game has reached drool-inducing levels. Cut-scenes are rendered with gorgeous animation — and despite some general qualms about the voice-acting, no one has anything bad to say about how Fates looks and sounds. On top of that, introducing distinct styles between the Hoshido and Nohr paths was an inspired choice that really brings out the cultural identity of the game’s characters. There’s no reason the production quality would ever take a dive, so fans can rest easy there.
Second, it’s important to acknowledge Intelligent Systems’ attempts to fix the game’s troubled gameplay. Hard-core players already groan every time the series gets another mode that makes the game easier, and many were disappointed by Awakening’s artificial attempts to up the difficulty in the hard, lunatic, and lunatic+ modes. This time around, the Nohr path seems to involve much more diverse maps, objectives, and viable strategies. Hoshido and Revelations may be laughably easy for series vets, but at least, the developers have made it easy for players to pick their poison.
Finally, many of the game’s mechanics got an update, this time, around, including the venerable weapon triangle. But the mechanic that sorely needed tweaking — the pair-up/dual system — has been fixed. Now, instead of rolling through the game with six pairs of unstoppable married couples, players are forced to be more strategic about pairing up for offense or defense. With this mechanic sticking around, the update was a must-need. And overall, Intelligent System’s willingness to tweak established gameplay mechanics is a good sign that innovation will continue in future entries.
When starting in on the pile of ideas that should be left behind, none deserves first mention more than the series’ weird emphasis on marriage and children. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Awakening and Fates aren’t the only Fire Emblem games to have marriage or a second generation of playable children. In fact, those two mechanics were frequently lauded as experiences that improved the overall experience of playing Fire Emblem. However, Awakening and Fates have taken things to extremes that have produced a number of issues.
For one, many players have voiced concerns about being able to marry siblings together, or marrying off characters that look like children. On top of that, instead of using time-gaps to introduce children to the story, Awakening and Fates opted for poorly-explained time travel.
And, I mean, it worked fine in Awakening. But using the same hand-wavy gimmick twice? It’s lame. Go back to your roots, and just make marriage something that is mentioned at the end of the game. Don’t make it a necessary part of the gameplay.
Another complaint many fans seem to have with the series’ direction involves the art style. Each of the Fire Emblem games have always had their own distinct style, but Awakening and Fates have adopted many conventions of modern anime. And for fans of anime, that’s a good thing. Hell, for anyone that’s a good thing.
Truth be told, modern anime is a gorgeous art style that makes any media pop. But the problem is, anime-inspired art carries a lot of baggage in the form of fan-service. One easy example is Camilla’s ample bosom.
Now, while there’s no reason to exclude busty characters from a video game that represents the broad spectrum of human personalities and body types, there’s a good way to go about it and a bad way. Camilla may be stacked, but she’s also a warrior. It doesn’t make sense for her to go onto any battlefield without some real support, you feel me?
Finally, another hot-topic in the Fire Emblem community has revolved around Fates’ multiple paths. Many initially feared that Fire Emblem would go the way of Pokémon, with multiple versions sporting minimal differences. Fortunately, for fans, Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations all seem to contain enough content to make them their own game.
However, with the addition of a lot of DLC and Amiibo support, the game starts to get expensive. While it was an interesting experiment, Intelligent Systems would be better off focusing on one version of the game, crafted with supreme TLC. That way, no one has to choose between the full Fire Emblem experience or an empty bank account.
Since Intelligent Systems doesn’t comment much on its development process until way after the fact, it’s almost impossible to say how fans can influence future entries, outside of letting their wallet do the talking. And unfortunately, wallets can’t specify which features are worth keeping around and which should be ditched. A lot may come down to reviews, internal feedback methods, or even vocal Reddit communities.
The only certainty is more Fire Emblem is better than less Fire Emblem — and let’s hope someone at Nintendo is keeping an eye out for what the community wants in the next title.
- Jason Krell