I put off writing this review for a while, because I don’t like bashing Nintendo. They’ll always be forgiven because of what they did for millions and millions of people and their childhood, hence the legion of Nintendo fans ready to defend Nintendo no matter how badly they mess up. I almost feel the same way. Pokemon is repetitive just like Call of Duty, but I’m still getting Sun when it comes out later this year. I have no problem with the frequent releases of Mario games; I always end up buying them cause I want to see what’s new.
Fire Emblem Awakening was a fantastic game. The story was great, the characters had some of the best support conversations ever, and overall it was a neat and tidy presentation, which is why everyone had high expectations for Fire Emblem Fates.
Unfortunately, like Resident Evil 5 and Chrono Cross before it, the bar was set too high by its predecessor for Fates to reach. The biggest tragedy is that this game introduces some of the best characters in the series, but they are unfortunately stuck in this mediocre game. This review will talk about the two major reason why Fire Emblem Fates failed, and it shall contain spoilers.
I recall the first time my heart sank and I realized Fates may not be the game I was hoping for. After Chapter Three your character falls into a chasm, but instead falling to your death you end up in a magical dimension called the Astral Realm, where you raise your army, take care of crops, buy weapons (from your own soldiers), and watch babies grow up in a literal blink of the eye.
Fire Emblem is rooted in fantasy. In past games there have been wizards, dragons, alternate dimensions, and so on, but never before has Fire Emblem done something so blatantly lazy/incompetent as the Astral Realms.
First off, why are my own soldiers selling me weapons? Never mind the question of where the weapons come from, but my character is the commander of this army, and we are at war. Yet, for some reason, the developers thought it would make sense for my units to sell me weapons that I’ll equip them with, in order for THEM not to die.
It’s so obvious the Astral Realms was created as a cure-all for every plot hole and logistical gameplay issue, and it destroys immersion completely. Anything that reminds the player that they’re playing a video game is bad. A good game gets us absorbed in its world; it’s realistic, observes common sense rules, and that is how we can relate to it. A convenient magical world that has magical self-supplying shops and hot springs is bad enough, but Intelligent Systems clearly didn’t think things through from a logical perspective, which is why your own soldiers are selling you weapons they’ll need.
The second obvious reason the Astral Realms exist is for fan service. The matchmaking/kid system in Awakening was so good that it seemed inevitable they would bring it back to get more sales. The problem is that the children being grown up and fighting alongside their parents actually made sense in the previous game; time-traveling was part of the main plot. Here, it has nothing to do with the story of Nohr and Hoshido. The children mechanic is simply here because just about everybody loved Owain, Inigo, Noire, et al. from the previous title. And again Intelligent Systems showed just how unintelligent they were in rehashing the system.
Any couple that gets an S rank will make a baby, but there are several underage characters in this game. Does Nintendo condone preteens conceiving children? Let’s put that can of worms aside for a moment. In the story of the game, there is a war going on. King Garon is massacring people and committing heinous crimes against humanity, and yet our soldiers have time to flirt and make babies?! In Awakening it was fine because the children were conceived after the game’s events, but here in Fates nothing makes sense whatsoever. It would’ve been fantastic if Soleil, Nina, Mitama, and the others were brand new characters who were part of the main game. They could’ve replaced half of the main units with boring and generic personalities (Sakura, Azama, Hinata, Oboro, Hana, for example).
The Astral Realms is proof that Intelligent Designs struggled to stuff what they thought we would like in order to make a familiar and safe game. It ended up being a mess, and a lot of nonsense ends up being a lot of clutter. From the 3rd mission on, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing something that was trying to pander me, thinking it was giving me everything it thought I wanted, when what I really wanted was a new experience and a quality product. Thus, immersion was completely absent during my playthrough. I’m not even going to talk about the lame story here (why the heck does Corrin need to turn into a dragon?), but the weak plot is another big reason why Fates is hard to take seriously.
Lack of Focus
It is almost always better to be exceptional at one thing rather than average in many things.
When I realized what the purpose of the Astral Realms was, I had to ask myself: Am I actually playing a Fire Emblem game?
Fire Emblem’s primary identity is that of a grid-style tactical role playing game. Yet, in Fire Emblem Fates, you are expected to manage a fort like in Clash of Clans, gather resources like in Harvest Moon, and play matchmaker and maintain relationships with NPCs like The Sims. It broke my heart, literally something tore inside of me, when I saw Fire Emblem trying to be another game. This is a series I love, and yet here it was trying to copy the popular kids and putting on too much eyeliner and wearing ridiculous clothes.
Imagine if the effort that went into all these elaborate and ultimately useless features were directed instead at polishing the story (to make it less convoluted), coming up with a way to reconcile the triple-path story with a single means of maintaining your army (without the use of a magical la-la land), and designing better and more challenging levels (instead of reusing half of them in each separate story). That sounds like paradise, but instead Intelligent Systems took the easy way out.
Rather than make an excellent tactical game, like Path of Radiance and Awakening were, they tried to do too many things at once with Fates. In consequence, the game excels at nothing, and ends up being a forgettable entry notable for asking consumers to pay thrice in order to get the full package (not even counting DLC).
This game was a big disappointment. It shouldn’t have been surprising. It’s very rare for a developer to produce A+ titles consistently, and after the glory of Awakening maybe Intelligent Systems was doomed to rehash the formula. I can only hope and pray that children won’t be making a return in the next installment. It was the feature that made Awakening so special, and reusing it again and again will only wear it out and force the story to be mind-numbingly stupid.
This has been a gamobo review.