A new quest to save the world brings us a massive time sink and some deep thoughts.
When it came to upcoming releases I was interested in, Fire Emblem Warriors was high on my list. You will notice that I didn't say ''excited'' as you might expect. The road to its release has been a rollercoaster of emotions as I wasn't really sure what to think anymore. I started off initially excited, then to disappointment about character reveals, and then finally I ended up somewhat hopeful. Now that have I played through both the Nintendo Switch and New 3DS versions, only one question remains: where do I stand on it? Well, it is good, but not without its fair share of faults.
The story takes place in the land of Aytolis, where a darkness has fallen upon the land. Monsters hop out of gates and quickly overtake the royal castle in a matter of minutes. With only seconds to spare, the children of the late king manage to escape its destruction. These two, Rowan and Lianna, are tasked to bring back the light and ensure that the curse doesn't spread further. Their mother hands them the Fire Emblem in the hope of reclaiming the power it needs. The journey sees them meeting characters from three different games: Awakening, Fates, and Shadow Dragon.
While I can't speak for the English voices, the Japanese voice acting is really good. Many of the original voice actors make their return and help to make the journey feel alive. This is mostly done in text conversations with art of the characters there to give it flavor. The good thing is that they are completely voiced, which makes it more enjoyable. Besides that, there are animated cutscenes as well. There are slightly more than thirty, with one third being character introductions during key battles. They are mostly moments that help to sell the struggle. That being said, I didn't think that the story as a whole was all that special. While I understood what the developers tried to do, it felt limited in more areas than one.
This is the key thing that you can say about Fire Emblem Warriors as a whole. The 21 scenarios that you play through in the Story Mode are, in all honesty, less exciting than I hoped. Does that mean I think that they were the worst thing ever? Far from it. If you are expecting the level of mission variety in Hyrule Warriors however, you will be underwhelmed. It follows much more a standard format with you taking over keeps, destroying key opponents and working your way to a final showdown. There is the usual Warriors gameplay you need to deal with. The Y and X-buttons are your main methods of attacking, while the R-button puts you in a special Musou/Awakening state that makes you stronger. It feels grindy at moments, but overall, this is stuff I can still get behind.
What helps are the Fire Emblem quirks that the developers have put into it. A good example is how the Weapon Triangle impacts how you approach opponents. Enemies with a white exclamation mark are extremely weak against your selected character, while a red one will force you to stay away. You will find yourself switching characters and tweaking a team to fit the task at hand. In the beginning that might prove rather tricky, considering your options, but the game does a good job of making it approachable. This is also noticeable with the fact that you can freely switch between the members in your team. Before and during the fight, you can guide them to certain spots on the map and quickly take over if necessary. There is never a dull moment, which is very much appreciated.
Another thing that I very much like is the implementation of the pair-up system. The system, introduced in Fire Emblem Awakening, allows you to approach another character on the battlefield and work together as a singular unit. Naturally, this means one less character (AI or controlled) during the grand encounters, but that could also be blessing in disguise. It is one less character that you have to protect and it nets you all sorts of benefits. The controlled character will have a bigger amount of HP and the paired up unit will have to defend or attack alongside of you. This isn't just during the regular attacks, the Special Attacks, performed with the A-button, could see both units performing a massive offensive. This is a spectacle to behold and some of the best moments when it actually occurs.
A rather interesting inclusion is the well known Classic Mode. Unlike other games in the series, your characters won't die, but they will be severely hurt. This means that they can no longer be used to complete the main campaign and become inaccessible as a result. By enabling this, you are forced to think more before you send characters off on their own. The journey will be rougher if you lose a unit that can be strong on certain maps. It’s a strong commitment to keep the spirit of Fire Emblem alive in this Warriors game. Players can bail out of Classic Mode if they want to and put everybody back on the board. However, there is no return from Casual Mode, forcing you to make a new file for your Classic run.
As far as the characters are concerned, there are two sides to the story. For starters, I don't have major issues with any of the characters chosen. While I wish that other games were represented, they chose plenty that make a lot of sense. That being said, I do take issue with removing some uniqueness from them. My key issue would be with Takumi/Sakura and Elise/Leo. Their moves are extremely similar, which I found disappointing. With some simple retooling or unique takes, their separated spots would be a lot more deserved in my book.
That being said, there are also plenty of characters I'm quite happy with. The female protagonist Lianna is a heck of a fighter with fantastic slice moves that rival the established FE characters. Robin is another I had a lot of fun with as his magic is very distinct and varied. A lot of his magic isn’t overly strong, but it is great for crowd managing and getting quickly to the more important tasks. One of the more sillier inclusions is a young Tiki, which does mostly magic involving gigantic Dragonstones and making opponents fly with the wind from her wings. Her Awakening attack sees her transforming in a Dragon, which is totally rad. I haven't seen all the characters yet, mostly because of the extra ones are found in the History Mode.
History Mode is a secondary mode that delivers an equally meaty experience to the player. There are five maps for you to go through, each with a variety of missions for you to tackle. Missions start rather early in the quest with more unlocking as you carry on with the story. There will be also more missions as you wrap up the game, so it rewards you for exploring everything available. What kind of missions can you expect? You will have to defeat a certain amount of enemies, defeat onslaught of harsh opponents or complete a certain task in a level. It is quite similar to the Adventure Maps in Hyrule Warriors, but way more straightforward. You simply go from mission to mission here, which I prefer. The missions kept me very engaged as they pass by quicker than a scenario map. A few missions come close to the main scenario maps in the sense of scope, but it doesn't take away from the core experience. In general, I would say that the missions are quite an endeavour to get S-ranks on.
As you S-rank the missions (or complete scenarios), you are rewarded with new elements for your arsenal. This can be a powerful weapon, a Master Seal to upgrade your character or an ultra rare material to unlock a specific ability. Just like the previous Warriors games, there are a ton of options to unlock for your character. With the right materials, you will easily unlock additional combos or build a better defense against certain opponents. Levelling up is also more critical than ever with statistics that grow similarly like in a Fire Emblem entry. Using a Master Seal takes all of this to the next level as you unlock more strength and more abilities to eventually uncover. This keeps the characters and their options engaging for a very long time. Next to all of this, it offers key missions and scenario Memory scrolls that you need to pick up from Anna. This unlocks a new piece of a puzzle that showcases key moments from the franchise.
With the Nintendo Switch version, players can enjoy high quality visuals during gameplay. When docked the game can be run at either 720p and 1080p, depending on the frame rate you prefer. The latter option only allows for 30 frames per second to be displayed, which might be distracting for some. In the options, there is a toggle with which you can decide if you put priority on resolution or processing power. By dropping it to 720p, the game will run at a smooth 60fps and you will be able to enjoy silky smooth gameplay. In return, the character models and other elements don't look as sharp. In 1080p, everything looks nicer and this is the default way of playing the game. That being said, they are a few noticeable (but not game breaking) frame drops.
On both systems, New 3DS or Switch, the game can be enjoyed on the go. The advantage to playing on the Switch are once again the visuals, which look sharp on that handheld screen. You have to be aware that it is cluttered with information all around you, like the map and stats of your characters. I find it a fair trade-off for having the console experience everywhere. With the New Nintendo 3DS version of the game, you have it on a system that’s a little more portable. All of the content is available and, to my shock, Fire Emblem Warriors runs quite well. The frame rate seems well optimized and it is nice to see most of information on the touchscreen. As a handheld gamer first, I do have to say that I preferred the Switch. This is mostly down to the controls. For example, you have to press ZR to lock in on an opponent on New 3DS, which I didn't think was too handy. For those wondering, there is no 3D effects in this version. A rather good move considering the compromises made in Hyrule Warriors Legends.
Overall though, I have to say that I am enjoying my time with Fire Emblem Warriors. Sure, there are things that I sincerely dislike, but it does a lot to win you over. Where the game succeeds is applying the Fire Emblem filter over the Warriors gameplay and making it their own. The added strategic elements keep it entertaining throughout and ensures that there are new twists hours later. There are moments where it feels less grand than Hyrule Warriors, but the game wins by being accessible and instantly gratifying. This is sometimes enough for me to put a reasonable amount of time into it and that rings true here.