Another great returning feature introduced in Awakening is the support system. Pairing up two characters or even having one next to another when they fight initially provides a low stat boost and the possibility for additional attacks, but repeating the process with a specific pair will eventually trigger them to earn multiple levels of ranks together. Doing so no only adds more stat boosts when paired, but many characters can marry each other once they reach the highest rank, often enabling the addition of their children at a certain point to be recruited and used in battle.
The flow and format of Birthright also draws from Awakening in that, outside of the preset order of the main story missions, there’s a lot of freedom in choosing what to do next. You can spend gold earned in battle to scout previous locations for possible battles if you want to grind a bit, purchase and play several DLC levels, and, if you have any of the four current Super Smash Bros. Amiibos featuring the latest entry’s playable Fire Emblem characters, you can scan them into the game and unlock their corresponding character for extra items and eventual recruitment.
Possibly the biggest new addition, though, is a feature known as My Castle. A main hub of sorts, this peaceful environment lets you customize its look, music and building locations, but you earn upgrade points for it through battle that can be used to unlock and upgrade more buildings that will give you an edge in battle. These range from the obvious like weapon shops, to cute novelties like a lottery where you can potentially win rare goodies and an accessory shop to unlock various clothing items for characters.
This is a well done feature that adds more to do in the game outside of just fighting, but I will admit that, with all the downtime I spent doing random things there, it throws the pace of the game off slightly. Players can certainly choose to skip over this area for the most part, but the fact that it often provides new items and opportunities after each level, combined with it being the main place to get new equipment outside of occasional loot drops in battle, can make visiting it often hard to resist.
Fates also provides true online functionality for the first time in the series, as players can upload and visit each other’s castles, and there’s finally the option to battle against others via an option in the main menu. I wasn’t able to find a match for this mode before the game’s launch, but with Fire Emblem being a turn-based series, it sounds like an experience that wouldn’t be completely ruined by possible lag.
The game retains the redesigned aesthetic that Awakening brought, and while I do miss the more vibrant colors that earlier entries had, there’s still a lot of effort and charm put into the character designs and especially the exquisite CG cutscenes that show key story points (though the fact that subtitles for those are now displayed on top of the FMVs rather than the lower 3DS screen baffles me). The soundtrack is also appropriately epic, and while there’s less fully voiced dialog than before, it’s far from a deal breaker.
While I’ve named some minor gripes like the less memorable cast, there’s no denying that Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright both preserves and expands on many of the best qualities of Awakening and the series as a whole. While players will still likely want to try the alternate version Conquest and the Revelation campaign for different stories and characters, it’s impressive how well Birthright stands on its own as a satisfying and fleshed-out experience.
It’s worth noting that Conquest apparently eliminates a lot of the non-linear progression and is more challenging overall, so newcomers to the series or those looking for something similar in structure to Awakening will probably want to start with this version. But whatever your experience or lack of experience with Fire Emblem is, if you’re a strategy RPG fan who owns a 3DS, this is a title that is well deserving of your time.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which was provided to us.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright does a great job of preserving and building on its predecessor's strengths as well as offering a solid standalone experience, and is a must-play for any 3DS owner looking for a quality RPG.