This Game Might Have Killed the Franchise for Me
Let me give some background to what I know of Fire Emblem and why I grew to love it. First, I have played every game that released to North America. I picked up the first game on a whim thinking the art looked cool, since that’s all I knew to discern at the age of 10. I enjoyed the gameplay and style. The characters were fun. When I realized the need to keep them alive in battle I would spend hours replaying levels just to keep everyone with me. When I saw the next one in the game store, I got it. And continued to get the games because I knew I would enjoy them.
When Fire Emblem Fates was announced, I was thrilled. The series had hit bumps and it was thanks to the success of Fire Emblem Awakening that the series was able to continue on to Fates. I got the collector’s edition to get all the versions of the game at once; in hindsight, having spent the money on it has factored into some of my current bitterness towards this title. I rage quit this Fire Emblem Fates– not for difficulty, but for being beaten and drained with the story elements and features I’m going to discuss in this article.
Let’s start with the multiple versions. When I first heard about there being 3 different versions I was not thrilled, but I accepted it. I could justify it with hardware limitations and the fact that there are different story routes, even with the gameplay differences; Conquest is more challenging and Birthright a mirror to Awakening in the ability to train troops (which is a whole other set of grievances). Only thing is, I got the collector’s edition. In that version, all 3 routes to the game were included in one cartridge. What I had hoped wasn’t the case, ended up feeling like what was expected- a cash grab. Another point being that the first Fire Emblem game to make it to the US also had multiple story routes without selling multiple versions.
As for when it comes to the story paths involving different forms of play, I can accept that on some level as a reason for selling multiple titles. It’s nice to allow players the chance to experience the different types of gameplay they’re looking for, whether it’s something more relaxed and closer to Awakening, or the more challenging and strategic battles of Conquest. My issue comes from the trailers that gave anticipation for a deeper story question of right and wrong, being torn between two families. Glimpsing into the psychological argument of nature vs nurture, should you choose your genetics over the family you’ve lived with for years. I never felt torn.
Your adoptive father attempts to have you murdered very early into the game. While mildly welcoming the Hoshidos never feel to be a proper fit either. In reality while my abandoned play-through of the set of games ended with Birthright, I would have preferred to choose Revelations. I’d rather not pick either side because screw them both, the only reason I picked Brithright is due to the game’s own recommendation to play the two different sides first. Maybe if I had gone with Revelation I would have gotten further.
Next, the designs. I’m not complaining about the quality or the introduction of a more Japanese style to contrast with the more Medieval Europe. My real complaint comes to the color swapping of character palettes, giving them a new name, maybe new personality, and expecting them to be unique. This isn’t true for every character, but the few that it does relate to feel so glaring and obvious that it takes away from the experience. Had this been a sequel to Awakening, where the designs were first used, it might be less of an issue to me, but even that is slim. Not to say that the series doesn’t have a few look a-likes over the years, but there is a difference between similar and the same.
The nest issue is the Supports. I have a number of reasons against them: they take away from the story, the translations/localization make some of the conversations just plain bad, they give nothing to real character development and friendships, and the marriage/child elements were shoved in based on the popularity of it in Awakening.
Let’s break this down and start with the story. This might be a spoiler, just for some warning. But this was something I figured out thanks to the supports. You’re not related to the supposed ‘Birth Family,’ the Hoshido Royals. Mikoto is your mother, but all your siblings of that family are step-siblings, no blood relation. How did the supports let players know this, before it could even be mentioned in the plot? Because you can marry them. Part of the marriage system that gives a large hint to this is that only marriageable characters can reach a level ‘S’ Ranking. When I noticed that was available between my supposed siblings, I didn’t suspect anything at first, but when I saw that between them there was no ‘S Rank’ supports I discerned the truth.
As for the localization and translation issue, it might not just be limited to them, but I found most of the conversations to be fluff. No real content or depth, just cute little scenarios and discussions that gave no real bonds between the characters. It goes to part of my dislike for the matchmaker system that the supports have now, because you’ll get those fluffy moments with any character of the opposite gender. It comes down to player preference to which interaction stands out as the more romantic option. There are no canon relationships. And with little story emphasis on character, the relationships makes it worse.
The relationship between the Avatar and Kaze is mentioned, but the importance just fizzles away. It became a forgotten footnote within the current conflicts until a later point in the game. Kaze was the Avatar’s original bodyguard and protector, but Kaze didn’t stand out in the story. The main character and siblings take most of the attention. So how was I to know I would need to get an A rank support with him to keep him alive?
I won’t say Awakening did not have some similar issues, but there were some clear bonds formed within the story, not just through the supports. Most clearly being Sumia and Chrom, who, unless their supports with others were higher, would marry in the story automatically. Or Cherche and Virion, even if players don’t choose to couple them they did have a history together that pre-dated the game’s events and were introduced as a pair. Fates does provide some improvement with ‘A+’ rankings, but this is still limited to characters with non-romantic options, meaning those of the same gender for the most part.
As for the “Children” system, or what I refer to as the “Worst Parents Ever” system. After the ‘S’ support is reached, the resulting child will be sent into another dimension where time moves differently allowing them to grow fast enough to be recruited into their parents’ war. Now, it isn’t like they haven’t done the training for it; most of the ones I recruited took the place of their parents in my lineup. From a narrative perspective, however, how does that even make sense? Some of the children just seem to want to get to know their parents that they’ve only seen in moments. In Awakening, the first game to implement this, the reasoning felt sound even when it was dealing with time travel. The children would come from the future, already hardened for war as they have been fighting in the future the same beast they’re looking to stop in the present. The Children of Fates have been guarded and isolated in their dimensions and then brought into their parents’ war.
The Fire Emblem franchise has been a reliable source of entertainment, even through some mild rage in my efforts to keep all the characters in my roster alive until the very end. Fates potentially is the best series entry so far in terms of sheer gameplay; if I could get by with just that, then maybe I would have enjoyed Fates. In the end, Fire Emblem Fates lacked the depth of story and characters for me to care to finish it. Instead, I’ll watch it collect dust on my shelf as I debate buying the next game, wondering if it all should have died with Awakening.