Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we look at games that time forgot. Well, in this case we're looking at three games that time forgot. And less forgot and more games that people wish that they could forget. Yes, the title didn't lie, we're looking at Fire Emblem: Fates, arguably the most divisive game(s?) in the series. I know that I said Fire Emblem Warriors wasn't big with fans due to how disappointing it was, but if we're looking at the main series as a whole, the game with the most fan backlash and controversy, then the crown goes to Fire Emblem Fates. Some of it was warranted, some of it not, but all of which made the game a bit of a hot button issue among fans of the series, and would spill over into other products. And before you ask, yes, I did play all three games. We'll get to that.
As to why I'm covering it now, well there are a couple of reasons. The first is that Fire Emblem Engage is set to come out soon, and that game's gimmick is getting powered up by the main characters from previous games, which includes Fates, so you know synergy. The second reason is that with the great 3DS and Wii U Shop purge of 2023 happening, Fates is the first one to go in Feburary....for some reason. So in any case, this might be a good time to talk about and maybe convince some people to give one of the versions or a whirl.....or maybe not. It's hard to say.
So let's kick off the new year by choosing our path and talking about Fire Emblem Fates. God help me.
Fire Emblem Fates, which includes Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation (by the way, I'll only refer to them as such when I'm talking about a specific part and refer to the whole thing as Fates going forward for both my sanity and yours) was developed by Intelligent Systems, published by Nintendo, and released on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan, there known as Fire Emblem if on June 25th 2015 with Birthright & Conquest and Revelation releasing on July 5th of the same year, with the North American getting Birthright & Conquest on February 19, 2016, with Revelation coming on March 10, 2016, and Europe and Australia getting them on May 20, 2016 and May 21, 2016 respectively, with them both getting Revealtion on June 9, 2016 and June 10, 2016 as well. By the way, for Revelation, that was only if you bought the basic version of Birthright or Conquest, as the special edition that I was lucky to get came with all three games on one cartridge. Also, this was the last game in the series to release like this, as starting with Three Houses, the games would all release on the same day, most likely to avoid spoilers.....we'll get that in a bit as well. But before I talk about that, and Fates' development as a whole, I kind of have to give a quick referesher course on the series because to understand what happpend to Fates, we need to know about Fire Emblem as a whole. Some of this may be old news for some of you, but for those of you haven't, I'll try to make this as brief as possible.
So, the original Fire Emblem originally released for the Famicom on April 20th, 1990 *insert 4/20 joke here*. I was surprised to find that many critics at the time hated the original game, calling it too confusing and hard to play, but regardless of that, it did well enough sales wise to create a new series, and is often cited as the game that made tactical role-playing games popular in Japan. The series trucked along during the late Famicom and Super Famicom lifes in Japan, but it wouldn't be until a small indie fighting game by the name of Super Smash Bros. Melee and the inclusion of the first game's Marth and the star of the newest Fire Emblem at the time of development Roy, that the series would get some world wide recognition. After the overseas success of Intelligent System's other previously Japanese exclusive series Advance Wars and the popularity of Marth and Roy, Nintendo decided to localize the next game in the series, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, only calling it Fire Emblem, and kept localizing the games. They were never big sellers, but they did well enough, were well received by critics, and in the case of Path of Radiance, helped fill a void in the Gamecube's library. Unfortunately, Radiant Dawn was where the wheels on the Fire Emblem gravy train started to fall off, because while the game was well reviewed, it didn't do any better than its predecessor, which wouldn't be a problem if Radiant Dawn hadn't launched on the Wii, where the system printed money. Seriously, the game doesn't even show up in the top 40 best selling Wii games list, and it's one of the worst selling games in Japan.
Things didn't get any better for the series, as the remake of the first game didn't do as well as Nintendo of America would have liked, because they didn't bother localizing the next game, which was a remake of the third game, and what many people consider to be a superior game. Granted, this was a time where Nintendo of America and Europe were a little more conservative with what they wanted to localize, but it felt just as bad with Fire Emblem. That brings us to the game before Fates (finally!), which is Fire Emblem Awakening. I think everyone knows about this already, but if you don't, Nintendo told Intelligent System that this game needed to sell well, at least 250,000 copies overall, or else the series would be put in moth balls. Intelligent System took the challenge, decided to throw everything they wanted into this game, because as far as they knew, it was most likely going to be the last game.
Awakening ended up selling 242,600 copies in its first weekend in Japan, before selling 180,000 a year later in North America, and was the best selling game in the series until Fates and later Three Houses sold better. Yeah, the series is now one of Nintendo's biggest frachises at this point. But what does that have to do with Fire Emblem Fates, I hear you ask? Well, because it was in this age of Fire Emblem being back that developer Intelligent Systems needed to think about what they were going to for the follow up to what was, at the time, their best selling game. That's when the team decided to do what they did with Awakening and tap into the series' past. That's when Nintendo producer Hitoshi Yamagami remembered a mission in the first game where the player had to pick from one of two villages to get a calvary unit, with the other one being locked out. Neither unit was all that different and was mostly personal preference, but what if that decision did have an effect? What if you could see both sides of a conflict and see that there wasn't one side that was good or evil? It's actually not a bad idea, and would make for a compelling game, with three distinct campaigns and characters, and almost unique maps, this could be one of the best games ever made!
As long as they didn't do something stupid like split the three campaigns into three seperate versions like Pokemon, and then charge full price for two of them! That would be ridiculous! HAHAHAHA, oh thank God they didn't do that!
I don't think it's a stretch to say that Fire Emblem Fates is to Fire Emblem what Metroid Other M is to Metroid, which is to say that they are two games that split the fanbase in terms of it's quality: the people who love the game, REALLY love the game, and the people who hate Fates absolutely despise the game. I'll go into the fan reaction in detail later, but it is important to realize that Fates isn't exactly in the best position going in, made worse by the fact that yes, they pulled a Pokemon and gave us three versions. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Fates, but for now let's talk about the story for a bit, which I feel is where a lot of the good and bad stuff in this game stems from. I won't go into two much detail on the stories, because there are three games here, but I'm talking enough about the plot for it to be a SPOILER WARNING! So you know, keep that in mind.
Fire Emblem Fates has you taking control of your own character (default name Corrin), a mysterious and soft spoken character who has an allergy for foot wear because they walk barefoot everywhere; unlike in Awakening or the DS remake of New Mystery of the Emblem, where your created character was mostly and observer of the game's events (at least for most of Awakening), Corrin is front and center in this story. Corrin was raised in the kingdom of Nohr, a place that is almost always dark and gloomy, ruled by the totally not evil Garon, and beloved by his four royal siblings: the honorable eldest brother Xander, the well endowed Camilla, the emo younger brother Leo, and the always bubbly Elise. After your totally not evil father King Garron sends you out on a mission with a guy who is totally not evil, you get captured by the peace loving nation of Hoshido, where you meet your totally going to live forever mother Mikoto, who is also the queen of Hoshido, as well as a mysterious singe named Azura, who has long blue hair, wears white, has a mysterious aura around her, and like you, has an allergy for comfortable footwear. While in Hoshido, you also discover that your totally not evil father is actually evil, killed your real dad, kidnapped you, and that you're actually from Hoshido, where you're introduced to the family you never knew you had: the noble elder brother Ryoma, the tomboy Hinoka, the hot headed archer Takumi, and the sweet shy Sakura. Everything seems so happy until your mom dies, your Nohrian siblings come back to rescue you, and that's when you make a choice: do you side with your birth family and defend Hoshido? Do you return to your to the family you knew your entire life and fight for the glory of Nohr? Or do you find another way where both families get along? Spoiler alert: it's the last one.
Fire Emblem Fates on paper has a genuinely good overall story on paper, but in execcution, it falls flat on its face, since each of them does something that just doesn't work. Birthright for example is the most straightforward of the three, but it's also incredibly boring and feels like the plot of your average Fire Emblem game, but not as good, especially with a plot point about who's a traitor to your campaign, since Nohr seems to always know where you are. It turns out that it's Takumi, the youngest son who's under an emperor's control, but since I didn't care about Takumi and found him annoying, I didn't care. Conquest is a little more interesting by playing as the invaders, but it suffers from everyone being stupid. To go back to Birthright, you and your Hoshidan siblings are fully aware that King Garon is evil, but it isn't until near the end of the game that you realize that he's actually controlled by some evil monster and that things aren't what they seem. In Conquest, you find that out much earlier, so what do Corrin and the newly reunited Azura do? Allow Garron, who is shown to be incredibly ruthless in this route, continue his campaign of death and destruction in the hope of him sitting on the throne in Hoshido, where it'll expose his true form. And they don't tell anyone else about this; it was stupid and it was stupid now, made even worse by the fact that neither Corrin or Azura make any effort to try and change anyone's mind in Hoshido or tell his siblings that their dad is evil, even though there's a part in the story where he orders the death of an entire opera house full of dancers because a disguised Azura gave him bad gas with one of her songs, but nope. Let's just commit war crimes and not tell anyone why we're okay with it! I could go on about how bad Conquest's story is, but we have to move on. Especially since we need to talk about Revelations, which in my opinion, is the worst of the three.
Revelations is, well, a revelation that there's been a third mysterious power in play that has been trying to get both Hoshido and Nohr to fight and hate each other, so after deciding not to join either route, you discovery that Corrin and Azura are from the mysterious kingdom of Valla, meaning that it was totally okay for you to marry your Hoshidan siblings!.....And made my marriage to Azura during my first playthrough awkward, uncomfortable, and creepy because Corrin and Azura are revealed to be cousins; I'll talk more about that in the game gameplay part. The marriage part I mean, not the.....other thing. Anyway, Corrin and Azura have to convince the others to come with them to Valla to stop the evil dragon Anakos. Problem is, if Corrin tells anyone about this outside of Valla, they turn into water and will die; just roll with it. While this does lead to an interesting back and forth as Corrin tries to convince everyone to join his cause, it doesn't mean much because everyone somehow believes him, magically put aside their differences and fight to save the world from the real bad guy. While there are some hints of them being uneasy about working together, it doesn't really go anywhere outside of the support conversation between the characters, which are completely optional and can be avoided, robbing the whole them teaming up together thing even more pointless. Even with as brief of a plot synopsis that I gave, there is so much wrong with the plot of Fire Emblem Fates in every possible way. It's made even worse by the fact that there are some genuinely great moments; seeing characters who were your allies in one game being your enemies is genuinely hear breaking, especially when they were a character that you connected to, and while they are optional, the support conversations between the siblings in Revelations are genuinely great, from Ryoma and Camilla arguing over who loves Corrin more, Xander hosting a party for Hinoka just because, or even Leo and Takumi pulling a Step Brothers. But those moments are few and far between or are optional, leaving the main story in all three routes to feel like there are parts of it missing, which I guess gives you an incentive to play the other games besides your route, but that's still a terrible way to tell a story.
I could go on further, but I've spent too much time talking about the plot, so let's go on to the gameplay, which fares a bit better than the story. Key word being a bit.
Much like most Fire Emblem games, Fates has the weapon triangle system where sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword. You go across each map, kill enemies, clear the objective and restart the game where your waifu/husbando dies despite playing it on Classic mode (don't give me that look, you all did it). So the core gameplay is solid, but what does Fates bring to the table? Well, not a whole lot.Okay, well there are some changes to the core gameplay are either building on what previous games did, some well and some not so well, or does a couple of new things that are exclusive to this game, again some of it well and some not so well.
In the case of the former, the pair up mechanic introduced in Fire Emblem Awakening was brought back, and is actually a bit more balanced. Unlike the first game where a paired up character will both defend them and attack, now you have to either have your units positioned next to each other to attack, or pair them up to defend, and only after a meter is filled up. It strikes a nice balance between pairing your units together, but actually requires you to put in some work, unlike in Awakening where it kind of breaks the game in two by the half way mark. Fates also doesn't have weapon breaking, instead giving each set of weapons different attributes and advantages. For example the bronze weapons never land critical hits, but never misses, while more powerful weapons may be more powerful or land critical hits more often, but may have another effect, like lowering your attack or missing more frequently. Again, it adds some strategy to the game and means you don't rely exclusively on your best weapons.
These changes are great, and combined with some other big changes like being able to get a specific class based on who you're friends with or even the game's difficulty curving so that enemies are around the same strength as you makes for some genuniely compelling gameplay. It's just a shame that the core is wrapped up in a really bad packaging.
Going back to the choice you make in the game, there's more to choosing who you side with beyond story reasons, as what you pick determines what units you work with, how the game plays, what classes you can unlock, etc. For example, picking Birthright and siding with Hoshido will give you access to their units, which reads like a weeaboo's wish list. I'm talking units like Samurai, Oni Warriors, Shrine Maiden (healers basically), and of course Ninjas. These units don't have much in the way of defense, but they're more agile and are able to dodge easier. Missions in Birthright are also more basic, akin to Awakening missions, and include stuff like "rout the enemies" or "defeat the commander", with the game being overall easier than the other three and is something for people who are newer to the series. Conquest has you siding with Nohr, and has you dealing with units that are seen more in past games, like Cavaliers, Knights, etc.; Conquest doesn't get Ninjas like Birthright, instead getting maids and butlers. I know it's implied that they're also assassins, but man that is still incredibly lame. Conquest is structured more like a classic Fire Emblem game, with more diverse missions, like defending points or escaping to safety. I think now is as good time as ever to bring up my thoughts on making this into three games: I don't like it, and I feel like by doing it this way, you end up hurting Birthright and Conquest routes by making them feel incomplete.
I hate using the term incomplete to describe a video game because that is completely subjective and because an ex-Dtoider loved using that term, but I'm willing to use that this time because both of the main games, aka the games you can buy at a store, feel like they're missing something. Sure, there's never a situation in Birthright where you feel like you need a horseback unit or ever feel like in Conquest that you need a ninja, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it feels like I only have a third of a game in either of the base routes because there is no way for me to get the units from the other routes. I can't recruit other characters or swap them from previous games, and while there is an option to capture random units in certain maps, there's no way to get access to the units from the game opposite of the one you're playing. I know from a story perspective, it doesn't make any sense, since some of them die, but the option to get some of the characters in my route would have been nice. And yes, I know that there are characters that will join you regardless of what route you take, like the ninja Kaze, Silas the cavalier, and both Jakob and Felicia, your loyal servants. But that doesn't make it any better because if those units die, they're class is gone for that route.
Revelation is the middle ground where you get access to every playable unit and the game is a more balanced on the difficulty, which while it does make it the superior route, the game really hammers home that you should play all three routes to get the full experince......yeah good luck with that. No one would be dumb enough to play all three routes to get the full story. *looks at myself in the mirror* Oh, yeah. I did. Oh yeah, and marriage and having kids is back in this game too. It says a lot that I had a lot of stuff to say about Fire Emblem Fates bringing back marriage, and how really stupid it is that you literally get a cutscene that boils down to "oh we had a kid, but oops! This is a warzone! Better throw the kid into a pocket dimension where they grow up incredibly fast and now we have an excuse to fight alongside them!" It made sense in Awakening, it made sense in Genalogy of the Holy War, but it is dumb, stupid, and needlessly pointless. Like a lot of this game actually.
I know I spent a lot of time, and I mean A LOT of time ragging on this game, but the truth is that I don't think Fire Emblem Fates is bad. On the contrary, the games can still be fun at their core, it's just combined with their moronic stories and terrible decision to make this into three seperate games where I feel like I'm doing a jigsaw puzzle with a third of the pieces missing, and it's easy to see why Fates is the considered by many to be the "worst", and I use that term loosely, game in the series, and is easily the worst Fire Emblem games on the 3DS. And while I don't think they deserve as much vitrol as they've gotten over the years, yeah I can safely say they're the weakest games by far. Not terrible or anything, but a bit of step down from previous games.
Let's see what other people thought though. I promise that part won't be as long.
While fan reception of Fire Emblem Fates has been mixed, the critical and commercial impact was very cut and dry, in that it was well recieved. Most critics loved the games, with some reviews saying that Birthright was the best, though our own Chris Carter preferred Conquest. Sales wise, the games sold 3 million units as of December of 2019, making it the best selling game in the series until Three Houses came out. When Fire Emblem Heroes came out, Fates was the most recent original game that had come out at the time, so of course it got a lot of love there, and surprisingly still does today: Camilla with her huge.....tracts of land holds the record for most alts in that game, so the characters at least are still around. Of course, Fates was strongly represented in Fire Emblem Warriors, and Corrin became a playable character in Super Smash Bros., first as DLC For Wii U and 3DS, then as part of the main roster in Ultimate. And everyone was happy about this and didn't complain once about too many Fire Emblem characters in the game.
As for why it seems to be forgotten or not talked about as much, I think its a victim of the series' revived success. As I said before, Fire Emblem has quickly become one of Nintendo's biggest money makers, with Fire Emblem Awakening being the game that really helped firmly plant the flag that the The Binding Blade started carrying. And while it may not seem like it now, Awakening doing well was a huge deal for the series and genre, and that the next game that was going to be a big deal. Remember back when I talked about Fire Emblem Warriors how initally hype for the game was high because after Hyrule Warriors it made sense to make a Musou game based on Fire Emblem? Yeah, it's kind of like that with Fates. Unfortunately, Fates is kind of in a worse position than that because it's a mainline game, and was for the longest time the last original game in the series, with Fire Emblem being dominated by remakes and spinoffs. Which wouldn't be a problem if the game was great, but as the series went on, and we got an excellent remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, caused Fates to get reevaluated and made people start to notice some of the flaws, which is totally normal and happens all the time. But when you had a game like Fates, where there was some grumbling about the game due to it coming out a year earlier in Japan and seeing what the localization was like, which is its own dumpster fire that I am not talking about here, and yeah that can lead to some people not looking at the games favorably.
Espcially when the next mainline game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses did everything Fates was aiming for and did it so, SO much better.
Okay, I've been trying to avoid talking about Three Houses this whole time because it's still a recent game and the discourse around it is so bad that calling it a dumpster fire would be an insult to dumpsters and fires, but there's no denying that Three Houses did everything that Fates was aiming for, and just made it so much better. Which I feel hurt Fates even more, because while Fates does have its own style, it makes going back to them even more pointless because again Three Houses does everything better. The stories work better on their own (for the most part), the academy phase does a great job of getting you to get to know the characters, and best of all, just because you picked a house, doesn't mean you're limited to just the students of your house. In fact, you can recruit just about every character into your house of choice, meaning that if there's a unit in your house that you don't like, you can recruit someone from another house to yours. Granted, you have to met a certain requirement to do that, but it's still better than nothing.
And all of this doesn't even consider that as part of the great Wii U/3DS eShop purge, Fire Emblem Fates will be gone digitally forever, with it actually going offline almost a full month before the March 27th, 2023 closure, getting taken offline on Feburary 28, 2023. So, you have about a month to get it all of them digitally, or find a special edition copy at reasonable price, because when that day comes, it's going to be really hard to get these games.
......And now I made myself sad.
.....You know I was going to answer the first question with yes, but the more I think about it.....unless you can find the special edition with all three games or are able to emulate, I would say no, due to how hard it is to get the games and everything. In terms of whether it deserves better? That's a tougher question to answer.
Are Fire Emblem Fates good games? Yes. Did they help the series stay relevant and alive, showing that Awakening wasn't a fluke and that Fire Emblem was here to stay? Also yes. Are they weakest games on the 3DS and the series as a whole? Oh god yes! But just because they're the weakest games, or worse if you want to be cynical, doesn't mean they're bad games overall. Beneath the lairs of terrible stories and dumb design decisions, there exists good games with interesting ideas and characters. However, time has also not been on Fates' side, since it feels like other games have since done what Fates aimed for and just did it better; well okay one game has for now, but to be fair that one game is really good.
I guess I would say it deserved better in that it shouldn't have been shut down so suddenly or get dumped on as badly as it is. But I'll also concede that it has some problems and I can totally see why, after all these years, it's left a bad taste in people's mouths. To those of you who do love Fire Emblem Fates and main Corrin in Smash and Heroes? You guys do you, and I hope you live your best life. Keep flying that flag, for Hoshido and the glory of Nohr.