[There shall be spoilers here, variously placed...]
Here in the Forest, I know this review will be preaching to a choir (and some preachers), but there really isn't any place else to put forth this review... except my blog but that's like preaching to some crickets. And anyway, isn't this supposed to be a Fire Emblem Fansite? Aren't we supposed to support each other, support compatibility be damned? As the internet has become (not sure about the timeframe, I will need more hindsight before I can be certain) a place to be angry at other peeps and to also throw said peeps in the dirt for not knowing everything and getting with a program... I should set my expectations low... or something. Whatever. I'm getting a bit misanthropic and I haven't even started the review yet! Plus, my ability to amass a very long paragraph never ceases to fascinate me... The following review will touch on points that have been touched, poked, prodded, and beaten to death far too many times before (you guys' ability to finish, be done with, and intellectually digest a game many months in advance of this review amazes me. Well done, I believe your chances of survival might be greater in the era when machines are our bosses and all they care about is speed and efficiency). I hope that you might find some of the points I touch on and some of the thoughts I share to be new(ish). Now, time to put my college-level analysis skills to work! So, I finally dug into Fire Emblem Fates sometime in April. I bought the Special Edition at way over retail pricing, bought most of the DLC, and even forked over for five amiibos just so I could have Marth, Ike, Avatar MK III, and Lucina in the game. It's now nearing August and my 3DS sits in the corner, unused. My third playthrough, Revelations, is about 7 chapters before the end and I can't really bring myself to finishing it. I know I'll eventually get around to finishing it but I've never quite experienced this before in a Fire Emblem game. This is still (technically) the first playthrough of the whole kit-and-kabootle and I can't really find the motivation to finish it off. So, "what's the issue?" I asked myself. Many of you have already asked this question and already addressed your thoughts on this website. I'll attempt to list my thoughts here without trying to follow the majority's thoughts. My conclusions I came to on my own: if they match up with other people's previous thoughts, I assure you it's 90% coincidence. I only really started peeking around SF to try and see if other people were feeling the same way about this game as I a few weeks ago and a lot of this stuff was brewing in my head before that. So, I'm going to talk about various pros and cons to the game. Hopefully as we go along we'll discover what I think makes Fire Emblem special and what of what specialness is missing from Fates... So without further TL;DR, let's get cracking! Pros 1. This is a pretty game. The characters are well detailed (we'll get to that in greater detail, I assure you) and the maps are all very well put together. The designs for the various classes are excellent. The artwork is pleasing (for the most part). The cutscenes are exemplary and they really put a lot of effort into the battle-model cutscene-ish type stuff (such a gamer I am) in the in-between-battle conversations. The game, in short, *looks* great. 2. Music is fantastic. As you know, music is all important in a video game to help bring home emotions and the general feel of the game (Skyrim still takes the crown for best use of this, but as my close second is a game from 1998 called FreeSpace, you'll realize quickly how much of a bumpkin I am). The music in Fates accomplishes this task well. And then it takes things up to eleven with these pieces:
I only wish this piece would've been used in an all-sky battle with dragons fighting pegesi... but then you'd be restricted to like 6 units so yeah.
Why couldn't this have been the battle theme for fighting on Grima's back??? Overall, the music is an improvement over Awakening (though Awakening had some good moments... maybe I'm just not a fan of accordion) and well done. 3. This game is mechanically well put together. Now that doesn't mean the game is perfect. Over-nerfing anything that isn't a Killer or Iron weapon is something they should never do again. The Dragon Vein function is a bit overused and reduced to gimmickry at times. That said, the maps are a tremendous improvement over Awakening. They did succeed in nerfing the pair-up function just enough, which gives something that resembles an actual challenge. The AI is a little more competent and you can't block reinforcements anymore, which is well done (being the type that likes to squeeze as much EXP out of a battle as possible, it's nice to know I won't be missing out on some enemies whist taking advantage of a fort). Ah, are the pros finished? I'd best get to the cons then... Cons 1. The story takes center stage. When I finished Birthright, my first thought was, "Was that Fire Emblem? That didn't feel like Fire Emblem." To me, Fire Emblem is about the secondary/tertiary characters. The fact that you can raise such a side character from mediocrity up into an UltraBadass as a honored member of the team is extraordinary. To date I have not encountered another game that allows you to do this (and if you, reader, know of another game like this, please let me know! I crave it! (TearRing Saga and Berwick Saga don't count)). It makes the player feel like they're doing something special, something that they're not supposed to do. (Train up some practically-an-NPC? Preposterous!) And some games in the series reward you for this: through support conversations, you learn that this practical nobody has thoughts and feelings of their own and the character starts to come to life. One of the ways FE7 (I'll be picking on this'un a lot) does this is the story. The main characters aren't tremendously interesting in my opinion and the main story as such is only "there" if you want it. Basically, it's easy to get into the story but just as easy to remove yourself from it as well. The main attraction isn't quite the main story but instead the little paralell stories of your selected team as they intertwine with the main story here and there between going off in their own directions. Fates doesn't really allow this to happen. Fates felt like an anime. Not a shabby one, but an anime nonetheless. Makes sense, considering the main guy who wrote it is a famous manga writer. The story isn't gelling with the Fire Emblem concept (in my eyes), it's trying to fight it. The story feels like this really deep manga that's trying to get out and become the center of attention... but we gotta pause all that because some "Fire Emblem nonsense" has to be observed. We gotta take this battle in turns. The stunning cutscenes and the really long inbetween-chapter dialogues really hammer this home. It's like the really Fire Emblem-y bits (you know, the battles) don't play a very big part of this story. And there's resistance to this story-dominated idea too. The "world map" function (not exactly as such) will show you where your next battle is... but in order to get to the context of how you bloody got there (in some cases, on a completely different continent) is all had in about thirty-odd minutes of conversations and cutscenes before the battle (which is where the point on the map is). It is, to say the least, totally immersion-breaking. Lastly, the story taking center stage (as the hype touted) means that there are more eyes on it, which means the flaws are more obvious. Sure, FE7 is not without its flaws in the story, but in that game you have the ability to turn off the story in your mind just enough to not care about said flaws but not enough for the battle to be meaningless. Here, you are so focused on taking the story seriously that the whole experience is ruined. 2. There is little context for the cutscenes. All the cutscenes are so pretty and cool and well done (with the exception of one that really Erks me) that you feel like you're catching glimpses of a really cool anime. The story really doesn't live up to them. I'll pick on the most problematic cutscene, the opening battle thing:
Now that is a fantastic little piece. Gosh, I'd want to play the game that comes from... Oh snap. So what's the context of that scene? I'll have a go: Xander takes a shitton of soldiers over a handful of precarious rope bridges over a bottomless pit in less than a week at most and manages to get several miles (again, at least) into his enemy's country. Chronologically and logistically that's impossible. Why does Xander do this? To get Avatar back? Because Daddy said so? To show Hoshido his might? Were they even at war? There's no reason at all; none is given and there's no way you can accurately guess. If you say Xander invaded after Mikoto's death then how could he have possibly known the barrier was down, amassed a shitton of soldiers, crossed the border, and gotten a third of the way into Hoshido... in a matter of hours? Are these countries like two miles across? (This is actually another problem, I'm getting off topic) Where does the battle go from there? Who wins? Who loses? Did Xander's men turn around and go home? Did the invasion continue? Your guess is as good as mine. See, the battle cutscene has no context. It's merely there because LobsterChan ShockySword needs an awesome setting to challenge ChizzledBrow EvilSword. The thing is, if there wasn't all this hype about how great FE Fates's story was gonna be, I wouldn't care... well, not as much, anyway. 3. For a game with a player created character... you don't have much input in your character. I've somewhat touched on this before (slightly) but Fire Emblem is a backward series. I suppose it's really Nintendo, isn't it? Whatever the reason, Fire Emblem has always been somewhat behind the times. FE1 would be more at home in 1985 than 1990, right? FE5 came out in 1999... on the SNES... because nine year old platforms are better? FE9's graphics are more 2000 than 2005. Finally, IS gave you an Avatar, a nod to what "Western" RPGs have been doing since the mid 90s... Now I'm really needlessly ragging (to an extent). State-of-the-Art graphics don't make a good game (case in point) and I would say Fire Emblem is fun and unique despite any shortcomings it terms of modernity it may have. But you have to understand the context. IS seems to integrate things into their games as token nods to trends. One of their nods is the Avatar. In Awakening, you were given two (three? can't remember) moments where you were asked what to do with your Avatar ("Let Lucina slice you up with her Falchion?" "Sacrifice Emmeryn for Juna Fruit?") and aside from the big decision at the end, they had no baring on the plot what-so-ever. It was a token nod to games like Skyrim and Dragon Age (yeah, you didn't have much choice in these games either, but it felt like you did...) and even so, it did make you feel like you had a thimble-full of control over the story... harharhar... And then in Fates, you have no control at all. Basically, you chose what skin model your Avatar has. You get to sit back and watch as your Avatar is a hypocrite and a terrible person. We all know this. There was more room for head cannon in Awakening partially because the traditional "story can fade into the background" Fire Emblem method and partially because the Avatar in that game was so personality-less than you could insert anything you wanted pretty much into that character. I'm not saying I want every Fire Emblem to have this sort of thing forevermore... rather, as a one-time-only thing, it works enough. In Fates, your fate is to decide: A. You are an airhead, blind to the hypocrisy around you and within you, whist pretending you want to really change your evil country for the better. B. You are an airhead, blind to the hypocrisy around you and within you, whist pretending you're doing the good guy thing. C. You are an airhead, but in an uncharacteristic stroke of sense, you decide there must be something more to all the crap going on around you. We at IS apologize for making this sound like a cooler option because somehow, it's just not. So not only can you not put any characterization of your own onto YOUR AVATAR THAT YOU MADE (this is, as you've guessed, the primary reason why Avatars exist in video games and also this is usually where a player derives joy and pleasure from their creativity) but the character that you get your name/looks stamped onto is generally unlikable. 4. Does anybody learn anything in this story? Sorta? The purpose of a story is that a main character learns something. Like really, a character starts out an idiot (give or take) and then ends off way more wise. Does the Avatar do any of this? Is this where IS expected us to put our head cannon? I dunno...moving on. 5. There's no real reason to use anybody who isn't a Royal. This is especially obvious in Revelation. You've got ten royals: one's a singer, two are healers, one's a mage glass cannon, three are powerhouse tanks, two are flyers, the Avatar never fails to be one of the best units in the game, and Leo's not too shabby of a unit either. They all can support most of the others, half of them come with no-strings-attached badass weapons (which has become quite a commodity in this game which is bogus by itself), Elise is so crazy with MAG that you could give her a regular Thunder and call it a day, and every single one of them can use a Dragon Vein. That's an ultimate dreamteam if there ever was one. Who could ask for anything more? That's a problem. Why does one replay Fire Emblem? To try out other characters and unlock supports (and then just keep beating Hector Hard Mode until the Sun melts your cartridge). Why would you want to do that here when your obvious dreamteam never changes? What's the point of switching things up when: 1. The Royals stats, weapons (in some cases), and abilities are all so superior. 2. The story is so in your face (with so much time taken on conversations and so many cutscenes) that you feel compelled to use the relevant characters: The Royals. Now of course you don't "have" to use the royals (Thank God) but the game certainly favors them, which puts the other characters at a disadvantage... And why is it 90% of the non-Royal characters are retainers of said royals? It just doesn't make the game's world seem all that big. This leads to... 6. There is a ton of build up and very little payoff; The worldbuilding sucks. Who are the Astral Dragons? Who are the First Dragons? What was Xander, Leo, and Camilla's big mission before they joined Avatar in Conquest? Why is there a Dragon's Gate in Nohr? Who possessed Takumi (really) and why wasn't he possessed at all in Revelation? The Avatar was quarantined? What was the story of the Avatar's life in Nohr? What's the Rainbow Sage's deal? Why were Divine Weapons given to 16 year olds; did they have to prove themselves? Where did the Divine Weapons come from? Where did Ganglari and Evil!Takumi's Evil!Yumi come from? If FE14 was just a one part story, these questions (and more) would just add up to some terrible writing and a lackluster game... But Fates is in three parts. That made things way, way worse. I call it Trilogy Syndrome, actually. The first story is pretty good, the second not so much, and the third... wtf was that?!? Various trilogies suffer from this to varying degrees. The idea being at the end of the first installment, anything goes and you develop what you think'll happen in your head, in the second one, your ideas are narrowed by how the storytellers went, and by the third one you're pissed because things went way different than what went on in your head. Fates is special because it's all one story... but still it suffers from Trilogy Syndrome. At the end of Birthright, I had more questions than answers... and so I thought the next two would answer those questions. Sure, Conquest opened things up more, but not enough and not in the right places. Now on Revelation and take your pick of above. None of those things are answered (not really). Too much is left to the imagination. The support conversations, the Avatar's past, the history of the land, the name of the bloody continent... I could go on for hours. It's a very barren, bony world. I think the developers thought that you, as the Avatar, would already know this stuff. That's what it feels like. The game just starts with very very little backstory as to what happened before. Every other Fire Emblem worldbuilds better. Not the most exemplary of worldbuilding, sure, but I got a sense of what Elibe was like, of who lived there and what they believed. What the relationship between the countries was. Just a little bit of prompting and I could imagine myself there... I couldn't even tell you the name of the FE14 continent. Nobody can. It doesn't even have a name. It's like they stopped trying. 7. Even Anna seems less interesting. It's like Anna has become a parody of her FE13 self. I much rather preferred that voice actress anyway. Why couldn't they just import FE13 Anna into this game??? 8. What is up with Charlotte??? Charlotte is an appalling character... Why is she going into battle in her panties? (It's like they're not even trying) Why is she such a disgusting person? Why is she literally a sex object? ("Did you come for business or... leik idk pleasur?") I had already branded Camilla as Aversa Mk II but then I found this one. I guess she's something of a female Vaike. Vaike was his own crazy... I guess Ylisse has coastline and desert... but what context does Chrom's Shepherds have for a really tanned surfer dude? I guess he's so ridiculous he's somehow likable... but Charlotte... literally has been the acme of unlikable. I dunno, maybe it's just a minor offense compared to the story... oh, and the following... 9. The children. WTF!?!?! (I know, I know, so many people have said this before. I need to vent, please) So firstly, the characters decided that instead of waiting until after the war to have kids LIKE A NORMAL PERSON WOULD AND LIKE IN EVERY OTHER FIRE EMBLEM, they ought to get it on with each other immediately with such ravishing that each female got knocked up. Then, because in Fates time is... wha? ...apparently, every female had a baby in a matter of (insert time unit most convenient for plot) while the war is on... (can you fight pregnant? No, no you can't) and this is why worldbuilding is important because the bogus-ness of this sentence is impossible. Now, because everybody in the army lives in an untouchable castle in a pocket Astral dimension that can't be breached unless the plot demands it... the Avatar and/or Lilith decided it was too dangerous to have a bunch of babies around... despite there being a full time butler, two maids, a ninja, whomever you decided to bench, an untold amount of nameless villagers, and a Jeigan on hand, despite your aforementioned castle having enough dragon veins to easily make a fully impenetrable fortress-daycarecentre. So, to deal with the non-existent danger to the babies, Avatar and Lilith decided to chuck all the babies into different pocket dimensions where time is accelerated so that in a few days (I guess) the babies are teenagers and/or grown adults. There's no mention of whom will take care of the babies/toddlers/kids but it's certainly not the parents or anybody from the army... so babies can get their own food in this world... or--I don't even know. So after all that, which is defined as child abuse, these teens/adults are supposed to like their parents showing up to save their rears one day... and then they join the army. You got all that? I sure haven't. I can't believe somebody wrote that and thought "that's a good idea." ...I'm going to leave it there. These aren't the only problems Fates has, just the ones that really really cripple it to death. The thing is, I want to like this game... I wish some of these characters were in a better game. I guess there's always fan fiction? Overall, it was a nice idea at first but what we got wasn't what we were promised; that was clearly the biggest mistake on their part. Clearly several right hands had no idea what the left hands were doing. The best way to improve, first and foremost, is to have a congruent team. This story was so bad... but the gameplay was rather enjoyable. And maybe IS should either make an Avatar that the player can actually have make decisions for different outcomes or just forgo the Avatar entirely. Of course we all know they aren't gonna learn from Fates or treat it as a mistake. They've found the cash cow, they reckon, and now they're going to milk it dry... It's sad that Fire Emblem is like this now. The series was saved but at what cost? Maybe the next game will be better... maybe Vestaria Saga will be better... maybe it's time to move on...