“Begun, the waifu wars have”

Fire Emblem Fates (Birthright) (2016)

I’m as lazy, uninspired and bone-idle as the next man, but even I suffer from that strange phenomenon of the 2AM jolt of motivation, that moment where you’re lying in bed, nowhere near deep sleep, and you suddenly resolve to learn 2 languages, design a video game, write a book ad lose fifty pounds, and you’re even crazier if you think you’ll do it in that order. This is all forgotten about the following morning of course, when you awake startled, frazzled and you must shamble into school or work. But eventually, through early morning perseverance and more than a little keeping up with the Joneses, there is a change.

In fact, you’re lucky if you find me in bed at 2AM on any given day, and I don’t mean that in a sexpest way for once. These days you’re more likely to catch me desperately trying to get to the end of whichever Fire Emblem game I’m playing this week. You see, Fire Emblem fans? I’m one of you now, but I’ll have you all turn against me because I’ve got your precious franchise all figured out now. You see, with over a dozen mainline games to work one’s way through, it seems daunting enough to find a place to dip your toes into. This feeling gets compounded a lot when you start getting hit by a zillion names to recruit and train, death by proper nouns.

Well, I’m here to tell you that every Fire Emblem game is actually the same. Bodypillow-clutchers and fleshlight-bashers among you will be spitting with rage right about now, but it’s true. Let’s set the scene: you’ve got a continent full of regions who just can’t wait to have a scrap with each other.

This doesn’t usually happen for real until some king succumbs to insanity (usually the one with the biggest land and army) and actually kicks off the war. He won’t be the final boss actually, this will usually be some dragon behind the scenes, though you can even feel too good about killing that because it’ll turn out that we humans turned the dragons bad and we all have to feel sorry or something.

Anyway, at this point the Lord of your game crops up, the main character essentially, and he or she is nearly always royalty or nobility, but still fairly gormless and ignorant about the world around them. They’ll generally have some grizzled old veteran unit there to tell them what’s what, a unit who is also very strong in battle early on as well. This is a pre-promote, the Jagen archetype and they tend to decline in usefulness as the game goes on – think of them like a Charmeleon that’ll never evolve into Charizard.

Next up is the red and green knight duo (there’s that Pokémon theme again), two proud servants of the army and the lord, usually demonstrating their friendly rivalry with the most wooden dialogue imaginable. Kind of like the lick-arses you get at work, basically, but it’s always useful to have a horse around, if even just to stave off hunger – Tesco had a few ideas about that.

You’ll have a starting white mage healer and a mage using attack magic, usually female, or as good as. These tend to get absolutely folded over by even the lightest of sword strokes, and if you have any compassion, you’ll then reset immediately. If you’re more of a Machiavellian leader though, you’ll probably gladly leave the squishy little mages to die in order to further your advance.

Speaking of female units, you’re usually at least three strong female units atop flying horses, or the Pegasus Knights if you know a bit of Greek husbandry. They react to bow and arrows in an ever more severe manner than most women react to my approaches – we’re talking screams and fatal falls, here. But this is where the waifu trouble starts, you see – the weebs start arguing over who is best girl, and it’ll never, ever end from there.

This is why I must advise you to exercise extreme caution when playing Fire Emblem Fates for 3DS. Plenty of the casuals (that’s me) got involved with the previous game, Fire Emblem Awakening, one of those titles that might have marked the end of the series, only to revitalise it instead – a bit like (new Thomas Tank Engine). With Fates, you mightn’t even know where to start because the whole chronology is split into three paths, and you’ll have to download the third one unless, I’m told, you track down some special edition cart.

But Janey Mac, you know how wallet-crippling those special editions of anime games can get. It’s not just your common garden regulation steelbook anymore is it, you’re talking about letter openers, gas masks and the crème de la crème, your choice of anime figurine. Again, having your anime figurines out on display is typically the mark of a wrong ‘un, but if you’re gonna be a top level Fire Emblem Fates enthusiast, that’s the cross you’ll have to bear.

I’m not kidding about the anime and waifuism either, you know. Probably the most flagrant example is Camilla, even her meganormous axe looks piddly next to her boobies, though really it’s her outrageous flirting in a most wincestuious manner that got everybody talking. But it really is your pick of the babes here, but also plenty of buff, burly guys if that’s your thing.

As for the gameplay? Well, it’s a bit like reading Playboy for the articles, if that reference isn’t already on its last legs, but I suppose it’s really a poor derivative of Fire Emblem Awakening, fast food strategy you could call it. You might have seen more than one game under the Fates umbrella, in fact there are three in total, all of which tell a story that you’ll care nothing for.

I found the easier difficulty almost insulting – but the medium difficulty absolutely punishing. In between chapters you have a sort of communal castle area which really isn’t as engaging as it ought to be, although it is your chance to see the characters in various states of undress, and for once I’m not just coveting the women here. Well, you know what I mean.

Yes, Fire Emblem Fates Birthright may not be the first Fire Emblem game that’s a bit anime, and it’s certainly not the first one to let you marry off your characters. But Birthright brings both of these elements into play, full force, and Fire Emblem veterans won’t be ready for it. And Fire Emblem casuals would want to stick to Awakening and the Switch games. So, whatever niche Birthright is there to fill, I don’t think it does so very well.

I don’t even like many of the waifus and husbandos here either, Camilla obviously excluded. And I don’t recognise any of the character classes either. Where’s the snipers, the thieves, the myrmidons? That just leaves us with twenty-odd rout maps that just get more and more tedious as you go. Just stick to your own head-canons and fanshipping, and try to ignore the dilution of the Fire Emblem formula, this time in 3D.

16 May 2023

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