There are any number of rote sayings we could roll out for our third and final Fire Emblem Fates review; three is the magic number, third time’s the charm, etc. but perhaps it should be “can you ever have too much of a good thing”? Both Birthright and Revelation stand tall as phenomenal examples of the tactical genre, utterly peerless on Nintendo’s 3DS besides the preceding Fire Emblem: Awakening. Does Conquest complete the trinity?
Conquest sees you take the side of Nohr, the nation that kidnapped your character as a child, but who have raised you since then. Alongside your adoptive siblings Xander, Leo, Elise and Camilla, you embark on the most challenging of the three paths, piling on the difficulty by limiting your access to experience points and gold.
After playing through Birthright’s path first, it feels like a huge betrayal to take the side of the Nohrians and take arms against the characters you cared for through that campaign. My first kill was that of Hinoka, your birth sister, and it felt utterly brutal. It’s fitting that I’d kitted my character out with a black eye patch just to be sure I knew that this was the “evil” path, though that’s not the be all and end all as far as the narrative is concerned.
It’s a small addition, but the game allows you to restart your game from the Branch Of Fate – chapter six where you choose which of the three paths to take. It saves you from repeating the opening two hours that remain the same no matter what your later choice is, which if you’re planning repeated playthroughs speeds the process up nicely.
As in Birthright and Revelation, the combat is utterly engrossing, and can be truly devastating when you permanently lose a character you’ve spent hours with on and off the battlefield. You move your army around the battlefield on a grid, with different characters capable of varying degrees of movement and attack ranges. A wyvern rider equipped with a bow or a throwing axe can swoop in and attack from a huge distance, while some of the heavier classes have only a few squares of movement at a tim, but virtually impenetrable armour.
The information at your fingertips could be overwhelming, but it’s laid out in an intuitive manner on the touchscreen, and a swift tap tells you exactly what a statistic or icon means if you’re unsure. This is practically essential for following each character’s individual skills, which tend to be boons that come into play under a set circumstance such as being close to an ally, or below 50% health. If it’s still all too much to take in you can switch to the simple UI to clear things up a bit.
In combat situations you have multiple factors to consider, from how much damage you’re going to deal, to the percentage success rate, and the chance of making a critical hit. Entering combat shifts the action to a 3D view as you watch your actions play out – emphasising the drama of a crucial hit, or a potentially fatal miss.
When you’re playing in classic mode – the mode with no character revives – you’ll be glued to the screen, just in case one of your beloved characters fall. And fall they will, as Conquest is genuinely the toughest of the three Fates releases. As with all of the entries in the Fire Emblem stable it’s never unfair, there is always a way to achieve victory without losing a valuable member of your team, it will just take a few tries to get there.
Some of the best things about Conquest are its levels and mission structures. From overwhelming odds that you somehow overcome across fantastic looking levels, to others where Dragon Veins must be activated – or deactivated – to allow you to make your way across the map, there’s a variety to proceedings that appears infrequently in Birthright.
However, in normal mode, Conquest is the toughest Fire Emblem game I’ve played for a number of years. It’s rewarding, yes, but not for the faint of heart, and newcomers may be burnt if they leap straight into it. You can tone it down quite considerably, but that’s rather missing the point when considered alongside the deliberately easier difficulty of Birthright.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is as lethal as it is lovingly crafted, with challenging tactical gameplay that will push series veterans to the edge. It’s hugely satisfying when you successfully navigate any of its encounters, and you can’t help but be drawn in by the likeable characters and engrossing narrative. I still have to wonder whether three separate releases was truly necessary, but it’s hard to argue when the resulting games are all equally phenomenal.