If you could only ever play one Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest should be it. It takes all the elements that you could possibly want in a turn based tactical RPG, and brings them together in an experience that keeps you immersed from the first moment to the very last. With captivating characters, an excellent soundtrack, crisp visuals, nuanced, strategic combat that is always deeply challenging but never unfair and some truly memorable missions- thanks to a combination of excellently designed maps and a huge variety of mission objectives- this is the closest this game could have possibly come to being the perfect SRPG.
Conquest and Birthright are two sides of the same coin (read our Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright review here). Both tell the story of the war between neighbouring kingdoms of Nohr and Hoshido. When Nohr’s Prince Corrin finds out that he was actually kidnapped as a child by the man he thinks is his father, and that he is actually a royal prince of Hoshido, he arrives at a crossroads moment in his life. In the war between the two kingdoms, he can either side with his adoptive siblings from Nohr, the only family he has ever known, or he can side with his biological siblings from Hoshido and fight against his adoptive father, a cruel and evil man.
Conquest follows the story of what happens when Corrin decides to stay and fight alongside his adoptive siblings, the brothers and sisters he loves and grew up with. Right from the get go, Conquest’s setup is much more captivating than what we see in Birthright. When Corrin makes the decision to side with his adoptive siblings, his choice makes complete sense to you as a player, and his reasoning behind the decision- the bond and love he shares with his family in Nohr- feels organic and authentic, and resonates on an emotional level far more than when he decides to side with Hoshido in Birthright.
"Conquest’s setup is much more captivating than what we see in Birthright. When Corrin makes the decision to side with his adoptive siblings, his choice makes complete sense to you as a player."
What also makes Conquest’s story inherently more intriguing than Birthright is the fact that its main characters are much more interesting and better developed than their Hoshido counterparts. It’s very easy to get invested in the characters and their lives. The relationships and interactions between Corrin and his adoptive siblings feel real, and every conversation has meaning attached to it. Emotionally heavy moments have the right amount of impact here, and the game does an excellent job of detailing and describing the wonderful and long relationships all these characters have had with each other and- most importantly- with Corrin.
Several personal character moments will have an impact on you. The fact that these characters are this interesting and well developed- even though some of the background characters can be a bit one-note- makes those moments that much more poignant. Make no mistake- this is no Lord of the Rings. It’s a fairly simple tale with a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s told crisply and does its job of keeping you engrossed and, where necessary, provoking the right emotional responses. It should be noted that the writing is a little inconsistent at times, but for the most part it does its job perfectly well and rarely ever breaks immersion. Which is, frankly, a little surprising, considering the writing in Birthright is at best mediocre.
This feeling of attachment you have with the characters isn’t exclusive just to the game’s narrative, though. It translates with almost as much weight, if not more so, into the core of the gameplay itself. Just like in Birthright– the way you fight and orchestrate battles has an impact on the relationships all characters develop with each other- and vice versa. This Support system, as it is known, is integral to Fates as a tactical game- how you position your units on the map matters, and as two units spend more time fighting next to each other, they start bonding. The deeper their bond, the better they will fight alongside each other.
"It’s a fairly simple tale with a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s told crisply and does its job of keeping you engrossed and, where necessary, provoking the right emotional responses."
This Support mechanic is essentially the nucleus around which the entire game is built. It encompasses and forms the foundation on which the combat of Fire Emblem Fates stands. Characters with high Support ranks help each other avoid attacks, hit enemies harder or have better hit accuracy, among other things. Characters with exceptionally high Support ranks, in fact, often even throw themselves in front of an enemy attack to block damage on their partner. The Support system is, therefore, central to the way you play Fire Emblem Fates, and the more time and thought you put into it, the more satisfying and enthralling the reward will be.
The Support mechanic, however, isn’t the be all and end all as far as combat goes. There are several other elements that also contribute to dictating the flow of a battle. Other than the rock-paper-scissors system of weapons that Fire Emblem is known for- where each set of weapons is stronger against some sets and weaker to others- your surroundings on the map play a vital role, and the game encourages you to make use of environmental advantages. For example, positioning your archers on top of hillocks gives them the advantage of having the higher ground and lets them deal more damage and/or have better accuracy, while units surrounded by trees are harder to hit.
The newly introduced Dragon Vein mechanic takes these environmental boosts one step further. This new mechanic allows specific characters in your party to move to a set location on the map and change the environment to suit you better- for instance, in one map you can melt a frozen lake to make it harder for tougher enemy units to get to you, while in another you can destroy walls that enemies are using as cover.
"Your surroundings on the map play a vital role, and the game encourages you to make use of environmental advantages."
The fact that your enemies have all these tools- support boosts, environmental boosts and often Dragon Veins too- at their disposal as well makes combat that much more entertaining and intense. You always have to keep an eye out for enemy movement and actions. There is a deep sense of strategy involved, and the game demands you to stop, think and plan ahead. All of this makes combat incredibly challenging, forcing you to actually put a considerable amount of thought into how you fight your battles.
Conquest is an extremely challenging game on a very fundamental level- much more so, in fact, than Birthright. Enemies are smarter, maps are more complex, and in almost all missions, you are heavily outnumbered. All throughout my 30+ hour playthrough, I got the feeling that my army was fighting with the odds heavily stacked against them. Every victory- be it something as tiny one of my units going head on against a dauntingly tough enemy unit and coming out victorious, or something as major as an entire battle- gave me an incredible feeling of swelling satisfaction and pride. The fact that, unlike Birthright, Conquest gives you next to zero opportunities to grind and level up outside of the main story makes the difficulty even more intense. It’s a relentless forward march, and the game’s pacing greatly benefits thanks to this, and there’s always a palpable sense of tension. You actually feel as if you’re micromanaging a small army.
While the game is challenging, though, it’s rarely unfair. Sure, Conquest demands a certain level of strategy and tactical thinking from its players, but it always gives you the necessary tools to deal with the situation on hand, no matter how desperate it may seem. You can also always turn off the permadeath feature (you can go with Casual- units are revived at the end of a battle- or with Phoenix- downed units are revived at the end of that very turn) and/or scale down the difficulty to suit your playing style, but it’s highly doubtful that you will do so because you felt cheated or unfairly backed into a corner.
"While the game is challenging, though, it’s rarely unfair."
The challenge is directly complemented by the game’s ingenious map design, which is consistently innovative and well thought out. Developers Intelligent Systems have clearly put a lot of effort into the development of this game, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the game’s map design. Map design in Birthright is excellent to begin with, but Conquest takes that to another level. The maps that are exclusive to Conquest are immaculately constructed and add greatly to the complexity and nuance of the game. What helps is that enemy placement is, for the most part, perfect.
While Conquest and Birthright share a few maps, the former somehow manages to make much better use of them. Where mission objectives in Birthright almost always devolved into killing all the enemies, or taking out the boss enemy unit, Conquest has a lot more flavour and variety. Other than the basics, objectives in Conquest range from invading an enemy castle and “seizing it”- bringing it under your command, essentially- to holding a position on a map and defending it against a barrage of enemy units for a certain number of turns. One particular map asks you to identify and eliminate an enemy boss unit disguised as one of your allies, whilst what is essentially a countdown is playing in the background. The game challenges you to adopt different strategies and tactics, and the layered nature of the maps only serves to help.
While Conquest is significantly superior to Birthright in aspects such as maps and storytelling, the one feature that is almost completely identical in nature and quality in both the versions is My Castle. This feature allows you to build and customize your own fort, which serves as your base of operations outside of battle, consolidating all out-of-battle activities neatly into a single hub. Often, the game will give you invasion missions, in which you have to defend your castle against enemy forces.
These battles don’t have any impact on the development or maintenance of your fort, but they make for some enjoyable and thrilling encounters, while providing some rare opportunities to earn extra gold and experience points, both of which are in short supply in this game. Outside of these invasion missions, My Castle lets you engage in all sorts of activities- hanging out with your fellow soldiers, feeding your army, buying weapons, upgrading them, or improving Support ranks between characters. It ties all of Conquest’s extra-curricular actives neatly into a slickly presented hub. It needs to be reiterated, though, that this is the only area where Conquest is matched by Birthright. In every other way, this is indisputably the superior version.
From maps and mission objectives to characters and presentation, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest rarely falters and constantly delights. It is an intense, stimulating and thrilling experience that is a must-buy for anyone who likes a game that challenges them on an intellectual level. As far as tactical strategy games go, it’s hard to see them getting any better anytime soon.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Incredibly nuanced, layered combat that promotes strategy and planning; Support system adds another dimension to the gameplay, both on the battlefield and off it; My Castle feature is a convenient hub that consolidates all extra activities neatly; Impeccably designed maps; Varied mission objectives keep you on your toes; Memorable cast of characters; Personal story beats resonate more than you would expect them to; Crisp visuals style and beautifully animated cutscenes; Excellent soundtrack.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is just about as good as an SRPG can be.
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