Bloodline or loyalty: Fire Emblem Fates launches in North America
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Fire Emblem Birthright and Conquest, also nicknamed Fates, Fire Emblem 14, or If, were released in North America on February 19th, after almost a year of already being released in Japan. Fire Emblem is a Japanese role-playing game, or a JRPG, relying on strategy and technique to win a chess-like game of war. Most of the games are set in a time similar to the medieval days, and the games focus on commanding a close-knit group part of the army to succeed.
The Fire Emblem series, a branch of the Nintendo franchise, is highly popular in Japan, but not as popular in America, due to most of the older games not being localized. Most people in the west will recognize Fire Emblem from characters in Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
The two different games follow two kingdoms, Nohr and Hoshido, and the conflict between them. Both of them start off by having you creating your avatar, and are initially the same until chapter six. In the first six chapters, you are released from being living in a military fortress for the first time in almost two decades, as your father has finally deemed you strong enough to leave. While being ordered to fight Hoshidan prisoners, the avatar refuses to kill them and is soon kidnapped by them, being taken to Hoshido – here it is revealed that Hoshido is your true home, and as a young child you were kidnapped and taken to Nohr, making you the bridge to the two countries.
The player is forced to choose between Nohr and Hoshido, your loyalty or your bloodline.
Conquest follows the path of Nohr, your adopted family. Nohr is known for its strong, oppressive leader of King Garon, and is more European styled in terms of characters, weapons and design. Nohr is known for aggravating the war between the two countries, in hopes of stopping economic trouble. If the player chooses Nohr, it’s noted the avatar will feel much guiltier for choosing their adopted family over their bloodline, to go along with the fact that the leader of Nohr is not the best leader, to avoid spoilers. The avatar decides in this route tries to decide to change Nohr from the inside, deciding to put King Garon in his place.
The game of Conquest follows more like the old Fire Emblem games, where it is harder to get experience points so it’s much harder to increase levels, while also being harder to obtain funds to buy and forge better weapons. It is designed to be much more of a challenge, whereas Hoshido follows the newer Fire Emblem games.
Birthright is more Japanese-style, in terms of warriors, characters and architecture. Mages in Hoshido will have Asian mythology based magic, such as Hoshidan Mages using scrolls to summon Chinese zodiac spirits to fight, while Nohrian mages will use more Western style elements, such as fire magic. Hoshido also has samurais, and Japanese styled weapons such as katanas, naginatas and shurikens.
Some of the jobs of the characters differ. Hoshido is more popular for its ninjas, but Nohr has dragon tamers, mages, and more traditional knights. It’s very easy to tell the difference between someone from Nohr and Hoshido because of the mass cultural difference, which may be odd to understand the references and allusions from Asian, mostly Japanese, culture it brings. Hoshido is relatively calm with a colourful atmosphere opposed to the gloomy Nohr. If you choose the latter, then your idea will overcome by Nohr with brute force.
Promotion art for Fire Emblem Fates from the covers.
Each nation must rely on a different strategy than they are used to – Nohr must get used to peace, while Hoshido must fight even if that isn’t the Hoshidan way to solve things. While the theme of the game is a bit cliché, the game’s own ring on it gives it an independent flair. Depending on which game you choose, it determines which characters you can become friends with, the family you spend the game with, and the characters you can marry.
The games bring new features to Fire Emblem, taking more of a Pokémon-esque twist to the games. The game now includes stat boosts and losses from enemy attacks, such as lowering defense, the amount of spaces the character can move and making them paralyzed for one turn, adding more ways to strategize. In past games, weapons used to break after a certain amount of uses, but now they don’t. This takes away part of the challenge, but may be because it’s harder to get money.
In the Fire Emblem games, there have been a few difficulty level. Two those are Casual and Classic. In Casual, fallen units return in the next fight, but in Classic, if a character dies, they die for good. The newest games have added Phoenix mode, where fallen units return to the battle after the next turn. People have argued that it’s ruined the series, or it’s too easy, but it’s perfect for beginners or people who enjoy the story. Realistically, it also makes sense for units that have retreated to come back as soon as they are able to. Phoenix mode makes the game great for beginners to learn the rules of the game, while making the Conquest route a bit easier.
The North American localization has removed some scenes and features from the original game.
In Fire Emblem it’s possible to have your characters marry each other, or your avatar, to help strengthen bonds between the army. Marrying two units is extremely beneficial, if they pair up in battle they get stat boosts, a higher chance to land a critical attack, and other factors depending on the characters.
In the Japanese version, it was possible to “pet” the characters, like playing with their hair or patting their face, which was taken out of all further releases, which caused a controversy. It was deemed inappropriate, but this is actually censorship. Fire Emblem is a T rated game for suggestive content, fantasy violence and language, and is targeted for older audience. The localization not only censored this, but many of it’s more colourful languages and phrases. Because of the localization, many parts of Japanese characters have been reduced to character tropes. One character loves pickles, which was translated into the Western idea of pickles, but the character really means a Japanese food called Tsukemono.
Tsukemono (soo-key-moh-noh), a Japanese dish meaning “pickled thing”. It means any kind of pickled vegetable and is often served with rice.
A major criticism is that since there are three paths, the first two don’t explain much. The end for Nohr and Hoshido seemed rushed, and many deaths seemed unnessecary. However, the path where you choose neither was much better and answered a lot of untied questions the first one had not.
A controversial scene was a bisexual character going through “conversion therapy” with a potion that made her see all men as women to help cure her shyness. Fire Emblem is becoming increasingly more anime based, and in its creation this was probably seen as more quirky than purposely homophobic. In both versions, however, she can only marry other males. In the North American version, they reduce these marriages to take out any and all romance involved.
Soleil, the character apart of the conversion therapy scene.
It may seem like a small step, but it’s important to note that same-sex marriage is still illegal in Japan. Afterall, many Fire Emblem characters were hinted at to be a wide variety of sexualities, but it was never specifically stated to avoid controversy.
Nintendo, after receiving criticism for not allowing same-sex marriage in Tomodachi Life, Nintendo’s version of the Sims has done its best to hint and include same-sex relationships in different franchises as times change.
Another complaint about the new Fire Emblem is that some of the female characters are used as petty fanservice. It’s not to say that they aren’t strong characters with great development, but it’s unnecessary for someone who is in a war to wear something so revealing, unless you want to get killed. Of course, the game also a diverse range of female characters who vary as people, jobs, and roles in the story.
Effie is shown as an extremely strong knight with a deeper voice, and Hana is a samurai who protects one of your avatar’s blood siblings using past harassment of her gender to help her stay determined. Many other female characters show a wide variety of personality traits that all vary in their strengths, weaknesses, roles, and personality showing that you don’t have to seem more masculine, like Effie, to be powerful.
It isn’t just sex appeal fanservice, it’s also references to the past games that are heavily overused. Odin, Selena and Laslow are three popular characters from the last game who have appeared by traveling across time and space on accident. In the last game, they were three of the children you could get by marrying different units.
Traveling across space and time isn’t a strange concept in recent games with the game’s mythology, and it wouldn’t be too bad if three of Japan’s most popular voted characters from the last game also made an appearance as completely different characters – with the same personality, appearance, and traits.
The avatar is also somewhat of a controversial character as in they are completely over the top.
While not only being the tie between the wars, they can also turn into a dragon. That isn’t new to Fire Emblem either, with many in-game species using stones to transform into a variety of animals. However, the avatar is the only one of the royal siblings on each side to harness their ancestor’s dragon powers enough to turn into a dragon. The avatar can also wield the chosen weapon that says the holder will bring peace to the land, which all together the avatar almost seems a little too perfect to be a realistic, well-thought character, even though it does tie into the game’s mythology.
The game also heavily advertised how different the two would be depending on the version you chose; however, some fans feel that it wasn’t all that different and wish there was more of a difference between the two. Most of the differences have the same areas and characters, but are put in a different place in the story. The third path, Revelations, is much better in diversity and is recommended to play if you were invested in either Conquest or Birthright.
Fire Emblem Fates downsides are bearable and the game is opening up a realm of new possibilities for the series, as the game is slowly being more revolutionized in terms of characters, game-play and plots.