Intelligent Systems are a very well known, and respected, developer. They’re primarily famous in the UK for their multiple turn-based, tactical RPGs which have seemingly always appeared on a Nintendo handheld, even though that’s not entirely true. From the various Advance Wars games on multiple Gameboy SKUs all the way through to the latest Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Fates (with Warioware and Paper Mario in-between), Intelligent Systems have always delivered inspiring gameplay.
This is relevant as it levels some expectation in terms of the new game’s quality. Most reading this will have played an Intelligent Systems game and all will have enjoyed it. The most recent Fire Emblem game was universally acclaimed and a big hit here at The Digital Fix. Thankfully the expected quality remains - Fire Emblem Fates is a wonderful and varied example of high quality tactical role-playing. It does however take a bit of time and effort to understand what it is all about at the point of purchase. Let me explain.
You see, Fire Emblem Fates is actually three games. Two are available in the shops or online, with the third coming from some DLC. Each game shares the same first act. At the end of said act you, or your avatar - depending on how you like to play your RPGs - has a choice to make. I don’t want to spoil the details here as it’s fun to play the game up to this pivotal moment and choose the right path for you, based on what you feel is correct, as defined by your emotions towards what you’ve played to that point. Suffice it to say it will be affected by the character you are, how you like to play these games and the other characters around you within the story presented. Intelligent System’s ideal is that you’ll play the game three times over, of course. And to be fair to them they haven’t just written different stories for the same game - there are real differentials in the game you’re playing based on your choice as well.
The most notable is the challenge. Birthright is the game to choose for newcomers to Fire Emblem or this genre of gaming. Conquest is far more hardcore, and Revelations is somewhere in-between. This makes sense given a player is likely to play one of Birthright and Conquest, and then move to Revelations before going back if they so wish for completeness. Fortunately you don’t need to purchase two standalone copies to play Birthright and Conquest - the alternative can also be bought as DLC meaning you only need one physical copy of the game.
As mentioned earlier the first act is the same whatever you do. You can totally customise your avatar in the first place if you wanted to totally replay things. You’ll also make different choices in those early stages which will mean in turn things are altered in the future. Specifically I’m talking about the way you level up yourself and your companions as well as the relationships you build with folk. Yes, in true Fire Emblem style you can get married and have kids still. The offspring you create will share certain aspects of their parents. There is a wide and diverse array of characters on display here ensuring the building of relationships is as engaging and important as ever. There’s a real drive behind putting in the effort with that one person to see where it goes, and also to provide that little extra oomph in battle thanks to the benefits you get when fighting with folk you’re on good terms with. You’ll also want to be using and levelling up your preferred battlers, adding another element of strategy to the relationship building and linking it with the fights.
At the same time the narratives diverge you also get access to your castle. Basically you have a hub area within which various buildings can be built, goodies purchased and characters talked to. Similar to Assassin’s Creed II you can also level up the buildings after they’re in place, providing access to different weapons, food and so on. Perhaps the best part about this is that if you have a friend with a different version of the game you can visit their castle and vice-versa, giving you access to alternative goods compared to those available in your home grounds.
The meat of the game though is of course the battles fought. Here the evil goodness just pours out from your 3DS making it incredibly difficult to put down once you get going. That ‘just one more turn’ feeling is nowhere more present than here. As those who’ve played previous installments will know, the battle is turn-based and fought over a map segregated into squares which can house one character at a time. Dependent on the stats of your team each person will be able to move so many squares per turn, and then attack where possible. They can do so via ranged battle or close combat. As your team levels up the way they fight will change, and you in particular will have some very funky options which would be a shame to spoil here - so we won’t. Any battle can be tackled, won, and lost, in a myriad of ways, If you struggle at first it is a wonderful feeling when you finally ace it and move on. Equally others can just come together like the click of your fingers. More still fall into place purely because you, the lucky General, are at the helm.
The ‘just one more turn’ feeling can be further impacted based on how you chose to play the game from the start. You have your standard difficulty levels but you also get to choose to play in casual, phoenix or classic mode. Classic is the hardcore choice given when a character dies, they’re dead. For good. No, it doesn’t matter if you fancied them and were hoping to have their babies. Phoenix is the halfway house and new to the game series - basically if a character dies in a battle they’re gone for good in terms of the fighting, but you still have them at your castle so you aren't necessarily widowed or anything. There are certain conditions which can bring them back fully into the fold, but if you wanted that why not just play casual mode from the start?
What we have here then is a failure to fail. Intelligent Systems have done it again and produced an enthralling and engaging role playing game which will eat up hours on the commute, at home or however else you devour your 3DS games. The team who delivered the Brilliant Awakenings moved straight onto this and didn’t falter along the way. Every self-respecting gamer should try this. They’ll either love it, or recognise its brilliance despite it not being for them. There is no questioning the game’s at the top of the pile quality-wise. The only problem is that it's an evolution versus a revolution; something refined to the umpteenth degree to deliver the best you can get, and exactly what you know you want loading it up right back at the beginning.