Welcome back to "Games That Time Forgot", where we take a look at games that have been lost to time. So let's talk about Koei-Tecmo's Musou games, aka the Warriors games. You may have heard of it over the years, and much like the Fast & The Furious series, everyone has played one to see what the big deal is; don't give me that look, we've all done it! And much like the Fast & the Furious series, everyone has an opinion on the Musou games: you either love how dumb they are, or you hate them for how dumb they are. Personally, while I don't particularly like them, I do respect them for not only kicking around for so long, but for just working on a weird cathartic level. Again, they aren't a series that I'm going to whip out, but there's something so oddly fascinating and dare I say fun about taking on hoards of enemies at once. And I say this as someone who's only ever really played three of these games, all of which are spin-offs: both Hyrule Warriors games, and the game we'll be looking at today, Fire Emblem Warriors.
Hey, wait! Don't leave! I know that this game gets a lot of crap for how disappointing it is, but that doesn't mean that there isn't merit behind. Clearly there has to be something about this game, considering a sequel set in Three Houses has recently released. In fact, my biggest surprise going into this was how poor of a reception it's recieved over the years; I know a lot of critics at the time were mixed, but everywhere I looked I saw a bunch of forums just not liking the game. And it wasn't just like some people thought it was misunderstood or anything or it had a mixed reception, like Fire Emblem Fates; people genuinely didn't like it. Fire Emblem Heroes has more fans than this one has, and that's a mobile game designed solely to take everyone's money!
But that makes it the perfect game to talk about here, because there's clearly something about this game that has fascinated me. How did a game, hot off the heels of the postively reviewed Hyrule Warriors, go from being one of the most anticpated games on the Switch, to nothing but a footnote that no one even remembers? Let's grab swords, forge bonds of friendship and get ready to take on hundreds of generic soldiers, as we take a look at Fire Emblem Warriors!
Fire Emblem Warriors was released on the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS in Japan on September 28th, 2017, and the rest of the world a month later on October 20, 2017, which means this year is the game's 5th year anniversary. Neat. For referenc by the way, I'm looking at the Switch version because reasons. The game initally started development around the same as Hyrule Warriors was being worked on, specfically the 3DS version known as Legends, with even the same team that worked on that game working on this one, which included Team Ninja and the Omega Team, the latter being the team that works on most Musou games. It's pretty interesting to see how on board Nintendo was with making another Musou based on a Nintendo IP, especially with how short of time there was between Hyrule Warriors and this game. Then again with how well that game did, maybe Nintendo was more open to more games, especially if it meant that there would be more games coming out for the upcoming Nintendo Switch console, which Nintendo needed to do really well.
Getting a little off topic here, but even today, Hyrule Warriors felt like one of the weirdest games to happen. The Legend of Zelda series is hardly the series I see get a Musou game due to its gameplay and design. And yet, it worked really well and quickly became one of the stand out games on the Wii U. Despite that though, a lot of people, myself included really wanted to see what they could do with a franchise that's better suited for the Dynasty Warriors franchise, like Fire Emblem. So imagine the excitement of me and so many others when during a Fire Emblem themed Nintendo Direct, the game that we know as Fire Emblem Warriors was officially shown off, and everyone got excited. And the funny thing was that it didn't show much; all it showed was Chrom from Fire Emblem Awakening fighting a ton of dudes, and a release of 2017. That was it.
And yet, that was all the game needed. A lot of people, myself included, were really excited about the game because it was coming off the heels of not only a great game like Hyrule Warriors, but have it based on a franchise that fit the Musou format perfectly! Sure the hype started to die a little bit as we got closer to release due to how much of a focus there was seemed to favor the recent Fire Emblem games, but it didn't matter! If this team could make a great game out of something like Zelda, then just think of how it would be with Fire Emblem! What could go wrong?
Okay, so even at the best of times, Fire Emblem Warriors wasn't going to be one of the greatest games of all time or anything, because again like the rest of the Musou games, this is all about mindlessly hacking and slashing through faceless grunts while butt rock versions of your favorite themes are playing and every being impressed at how powerful you are; nothing more, nothing less. Still, like I said earlier, there was a bit of hype for this game due to how well the last game did, and also helped by the fact that Fire Emblem Warriors makes a pretty decent first impression.
One of the things that Dynasty Warriors games based on other properties like to do is take elements of their respective property and putting them into that style; this could range from recreating moments from the series like with the games based on One Piece, or picking up tools in treasure chests like Hyrule Warriors. Fire Emblem Warriors does a lot of the former in the Adventure mode, where you explore maps with distinct characters (though they replace characters that would normally appear on the map with the roster) and events that happened in previous games, but in terms of mechanics, the game does add quite a few things. You can for example pair units together, a concept first introduced in Awakening, by having two units come together, with one defending you from attacks and boosting your stats in exchange for less playable units. More importantly though, the game introduces the series' weapon triangle, adding a surprsing amount of depth to the shallow combat.
For those unaware, Fire Emblem has a system called the weapon triangle, wherein the three main weapons cancel each other out like in rock-paper scissors, so sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword. There are some exception in some weapons, but that's mostly how it works, and the same applies with archers being effective against flying units and magic users against heavily armored units. Every enemy is set up like this, and it actively encourages you to not only stretch out and use all the playable characters, but also encourages you to command your units like you would in a normal Fire Emblem game, as they can take over and fight specific enemies and capture certain points. Sure, at the end of the day, you're still doing what you did in previous Musou games and mashing the attack button until the game tells you to stop, but it's nice to see a little bit of strategy put into this, and there's something genuinely satisfying about breaking an enemy's defenses a lot faster due to the weapon triangle. So overall, I would say that Fire Emblem Warriors from a design standpoint is a much better game than Hyrule Warriors, with the Fire Emblem gameplay translating nicely into Musou's hack and slash gameplay quite nicely, like peanut butter and chocolate.
.........And yet, it's overall an inferior game to Hyrule Warriors. Why?
To get to the root problem of that question, we need to look at Hyrule Warriors for a bit. Now as much as I think Hyrule Warriors and its sequel are much better games than Fire Emblem Warriors, the first game had a few problems at launch, specifically the initial roster. It only covered three games, all of them the 3D ones, none of them Wind Waker, and it was pretty clear that Twilight Princess got the most love. It wasn't great, and while later DLC and versions of the game did improve on the roster, it was still lacking a lot of characters, like Groose from Skyward Sword, Linebeck from Phantom Hourglass, and no one from the GBC, GBA or DS era of games. Yet despite the roster being sort of disappointing when it comes to the games represented, the game more than made up for it by having characters with different playstyles, making characters like Twilight Princess' Bug Princess Agatha being a viable character. Fire Emblem Warriors can't really do that because of how the base games are set up, so what they could do instead is have a variety of characters from the series be in and let you choose who to send into battle based on what classes you need for that map, or let your characters reclass to other classes. Fire Emblem Warriors did neither of those things.
I'm of the opinion that the Fire Emblem critique of 'too many swordsmen" is a bit overblown, but in this case it's a bit of a problem. A lot of the characters are sword users, even the two main characters, and while I don't mind the sword users, the character I used the most in Hyrule Warriors was Link so I'm basic as all hell, at least add some other classes; especially if you're going to incorporate the weapon triangle! Sure, there's a difference between Lissa, who was a healer first in Awakening and could use an axe by reclassing but is an axe user here, and Camilla, but that difference mostly boils down to who I send to take out the archer, and it's not the one flying on a wyvern; same goes with the pegasus knight characters or even the archers, who I feel only exist for the aerial units and no one else. I wasn't expecting the game have unique play styles, but if you're going to use the combat from Fire Emblem, why didn't you add more lance or axe users from other games?!
That's honestly my biggest problem with Fire Emblem Warriors: it's built on a solid foundation, but the final product is built like a house of cards. Throw in some characters like Hector or Eliwood from the GBA Fire Emblem games (which is funny, because Lyn is in the game and so is Celica, but only after you beat the game) or let Fredrick use more than just an axe, a.k.a what he was able to do in Awakening. Give me more to work with here! I can forgive that the number of characters who use swords, or that a third of the roster is made up of the characters from Fire Emblem Fates, which was the latest game at the time. But you can't add a system where certain weapons are stronger than others, let me strategically move units across the map, etc. and then not do anything with it when it comes to the characters. It's like taking your lover on a trip to Cancun when you've been dating for a week, or hiring a DJ and having an open bar for your kid's first birthday; a complete and utter waste of a good idea.
I know I've harped on the roster for a bit, but the lack of an interesting roster really drags down a lot of the game. Take the aformentioned Adventure mode for example, where you play missions based around certain levels from the series. Neat right? Well no because while the maps to select missions are the same, at certain points you'll have characters pop up and recreate certain scenes; it's not bad on maps that are the focus of the game, like with Awakening or Fates, but for other maps they have to use the roster to fill in for NPCs, and it is weird as hell. Seeing Camilla have Corrin replace his mom on one map for example is incredibly weird and raises a lot of questions, and I'm sorry but Caeda is not the same character as Florina. I don't know if a bigger and more diverse roster would have helped entirely, since a lot of the characters would most likely play the same, but it is incredibly frustrating to have a game that has a solid gameplay structure overall wasted on a game that ultimately doesn't go anywhere with its roster.
And I know that it's a good concept, because Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes came out recently, and is a very good, if not great, game. Sure, your mileage may vary depending on how much you liked Three Houses and Dynasty Warriors, but it improves on a lot of things and adds some really great stuff, like being able to change classes for better stats, weapon proficiency, supports, being able to recruit enemy units from the other houses, etc. I'm not mad at Fire Emblem Warriors, I'm just disappointed. It isn't a terrible game, it's actually quite good. But it could have been great instead of just okay.
Fire Emblem Warriors did not do well with critics. While many people praised the game for adding more nuance to the Musou formula, a lot of criticism was leveled at the game's shallow incoporation of Fire Emblem's mechanics, and the roster wasn't the best. Our own Chris Carter described the game as "brings the whole idea [Musou games] back to earth". To talk about the roster a bit here, the game got three DLC packs shortly after launch......and they only covered the three main games covered (Awakening, Fates, & Shadow Dragon, so no more Valentia or Blazing Blade characters for you!), and of the nine characters added (three from each of the three games), three of them were characters that were already in the game as NPCs; I'm just going to move on and not dwell on that for too long. The game overall did sell one million units as of April of 2018 according to Koei Tecmo, so that was neat. The team that worked on this went onto work on other Warriors games, such as Age of Calamity and the aforementioned Three Hopes; they even worked on Fire Emblem: Three Houses itself, so they're doing pretty well for themselves. So why is this game forgotten? There are a lot of reasons for it being cast aside, chief among them releasing the game in the same year that gave us Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Super Mario Odyssey among other things. But honestly, I think the biggest one lies with Fire Emblem Heroes. Yes, you read that correctly, the mobile gacha game is the reason.
To go back a little bit, during that Nintendo Direct where they first showed off Fire Emblem Warriors, they also showed off Shadows of Valentia on the 3DS and Fire Emblem Heroes, one of the first games in Nintendo's mobile phone plans. It felt weird that Fire Emblem got a mobile game first at the time, but whatever the reason it took off immediately. Over the course of five years, the game has added characters from various games (many of which have never seen the light of day outside of Japan), numerous events and original characters, and more importantly as far as developer DeNA, Intelligent System and Nintendo are concerned, has made a ton of money. As of the time of this writing, Heroes has made $1 billion dollars, making it not only the first Nintendo mobile to do so, but also their most successful mobile game (which isn't really saying a whole lot, but I digress) and arguably one of their most successful games of all time. And I can see why.
It isn't a great Fire Emblem game by any means, but the idea of making a team of four characters across different games, or getting to look at pretty great pngs of your favorite characters in the series in swimsuits and silly costumes is a compelling prospect, something I know first hand, on account of the fact that I've spent money on Orbs over the last five years, so yes I am part of the problem. And let's be real here: which would you rather do? Spend money on a Musou game, a series that is already niche, that covers a franchise that was at the time still not as big as Mario or Pokemon outside of Japan on a console that people have to buy? Or, develop a gacha game for mobile phones that most people own, milks people's nostalgia for the series (especially in Japan, where the series is still a huge deal), and requires those fans to spend a ton of money in the hope that they can look at their favorite characters- and I don't need to finish the rest of that sentence to know which one you're going with.
But even if I wasn't spending money on seeing anime soldiers in swimsuits and the like, I can also see why Nintendo focuses so much of their attention in the mobile space on Heroes, and why we're most likely not going to see another game like Fire Emblem Warriors. Oh, we'll see Dynasty Warriors games coming for sure, but I have a feeling it'll be less Hyrule Warriors and this game, and more like Age of Calamity and Three Hopes, I.E. games that focus on one game in the series and flesh out those ideas. And to be honest, I think that's the better call in the long run, because while it's cool to see games that cover entire franchises, I'd rather them focus on quality not quantity. Which is a shame, since I do think Fire Emblem Warriors could have been something much more, but that's how it is. Sometimes, you land a critical hit, and other times you whiff and lose your best character and have to start the mission over again.
I don't think you're missing much if you decide to skip Fire Emblem Warriors, especially if you aren't a fan of either Fire Emblem or Musou games. As for whether it deserves better......you know what? Yeah, I'd say it deserved better.
Or rather, it deserved a chance to do better. Hyrule Warriors was released across three different systems and got numerous updates and additions over the years, with the Switch version getting it all in one package. I feel like if Fire Emblem Warriors had the same treatment and gotten more post launch DLC or even just waited in the oven a little longer and not release in the same year as Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey among other games, the game maybe could have stood more of a chance. Granted, I can't imagine a world where Fire Emblem Warriors is touted as the greatest game ever made or whatever, but if it had some more support thrown at it, it maybe could have done better. Instead as it sits, the only way Fire Emblem fans can live out their dreams of having various characters team up with each other to stop evil is to have a smartphone and a few bucks lying around to take part in the gacha.
Well, that was a bit more depressing than I wanted it to, but hopefully the next game I look at is a bit less dreary. See you then.