Fire Emblem and Koei Tecmo’s Musou (Warriors) franchise have always been a perfect marriage. It’s just taken too long for the marriage to actually be consummated. I’m sure some might find the mix odd; after all, the Fire Emblem games are careful tactics titles while the Warriors games are pure action, but what both franchises have always been about, underneath their mechanics, has been the characters.
Review: Brad reviews the previous Nintendo + Warriors collaboration: Hyrule Warriors, on the Nintendo Wii U.
And so Fire Emblem Warriors, as a game that’s all about the characters, is a near on perfect realisation of both franchises. It is so razor-focused on giving players the ability to take control of some of their favourite heroes from the Fire Emblem universe that it’s almost pure fanservice. Not in the “bikini and boobs” sense of the word, but the literal meaning – as a service to series and genre fans. As such, it won’t resonate to anyone beyond the Fire Emblem faithful, but it is the best licensed Warriors game of all, and it does easily eclipse Koei’s last Warriors collaboration with Nintendo – the also excellent Hyrule Warriors.
But first, let’s talk about the character roster, because in the lead-up to the game’s release, Fire Emblem diehards were more than a little miffed that the game focuses on the more recent 3DS Fire Emblem titles, rather than the earlier Game Boy Advance and Gamecube titles. And fair enough, too. We who have played Fire Emblem far too much for far too long all know are the better games in the overall franchise. On the one hand it is disappointing that this game isn’t a greater celebration of Fire Emblem, the franchise, and seems to be more geared towards establishing a legacy for the 3DS titles and characters that they don’t necessarily deserve. It’s almost like Nintendo and Koei are telling us “hey these characters were good enough to be in a spinoff game, so they must be good characters!” Don’t get me wrong, those 3DS Fire Emblems are solid five-star games, one and all, but they’re not quite the same as the two GBA titles, and Gamecube Fire Emblem, which are genuine classics that will live on forever.
So on the one hand I am disappointed that we haven’t got characters like Eirika from Fire Emblem The Sacred Stones, or Nephanee from Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. I’m disappointed that there the largest ‘block’ of character are ten characters from Fire Emblem Fates, when of the entire series, that is the one I would have identified as the weakest cast (and they didn’t even pick my favourites from that roster). Meanwhile, even looking at the three 3DS games that Koei Tecmo did focus on, the developers basically ignored Echoes, and Echoes has a great roster. So, while there’s the potential that DLC might balance these things out a little, nonetheless I understand where people’s initial disappointment might stem from.
But the game does have Lyn, so, let’s face it, at least Koei Tecmo recognised that they couldn’t leave the most popular Fire Emblem character of all out. It’s quite obvious that she’s only in the game because she is so ridiculously popular, and that gives me hope that Koei will indeed be using the DLC to throw in a broader range of fan favourites, as further fanservice for the Fire Emblem veterans. Irrespective of what happens with DLC, though, what Koei has done well with the roster is pick a range of characters that reflect a good variety in combat styles. More on that in a moment, but it’s important to recognise that the roster of characters does do right by the gameplay itself.
And so, satisfied that at least my favourite character was in the game, I started playing Fire Emblem Warriors… and quickly came to realise that I’m enjoying many of the characters a lot more here than I did in their original games. Each character has their own distinct fighting style, and I quickly found myself enjoying a lot of these heroes for their dynamic fighting styles in a way that I never connected to them in their original games. I suspect if I was to go back to the actual Fire Emblem games now I’ll find myself more partial to a number of the characters this time around because of the positive associations that this game has given them to me.
Amazingly enough Koei’s also managed to make mounted combat actually work in a Warriors game, which is a first, and this further enhances the combat styles I refer to above. Usually with Warriors games I’ll use my horses or mounts to get across the battlefield quickly, only to dismount the moment I needed to fight something. Actually fighting from horseback was a clumsy and inefficient way to do things. But with this one you can’t do that. A Pegasus Knight has to fight from the back of her mount – she can’t dismount. Same goes for the Cavalier. My immediate thought when I first discovered that was that I would loathe these characters and find them almost unplayable, but I was pleasantly surprised in the way their mobility made them useful across the battlefield, and that their combos and special attacks were all specifically tuned for mounted combat. The result is that these characters felt both useful and different, and I have a new expectation for mounted combat in all Warriors games going forward.
As a turn-based tactics series, you would probably assume that Fire Emblem Warriors won’t play anything like a Fire Emblem game. This is true to an extent, but only if you play on “Easy” difficulty. Ramp the difficulty up enough and you’ll quickly discover that the only way to actually get through the challenges is to regularly pull up the game’s map so you can direct your allies to key objectives while you focus on one corner of the battlefield. These battlefields are simply too big for a single character to cover by themselves, so you need to be strategic about where you direct the AI to draw the four playable characters that you’ll take into battle when you can only directly control one at a time. We’ve seen this kind of mechanic in some other Warriors titles (notably the Samurai Chronicles series), but from the the grid layout of the map in Fire Emblem Warriors, through to the icons of the characters as you direct them around this way, it all feels very Fire Emblem. Throw in some little touches like levelling up screens and musical fanfares pulled straight from the Fire Emblem series, and I would say that this game very much feels like the authentic Fire Emblem experience.
The game’s narrative itself is largely a contrivance to throw all these characters together, though Koei Tecmo have done the wise thing of creating some new heroes to base the narrative; something I felt Hyrule Warriors could have used, in hindsight. Given that some of the Fire Emblem games are starting to push some pretty heavy narratives forward, this does come across as a step back, but it’s enjoyable enough, and besides, the real narrative thrill is in taking control of your favourite characters on large scale battlefields.
The flow of each battle will be familiar to anyone who played Hyrule Warriors, as it’s functionally the same experience, minus the occasional monster battle that required Link use special items to overcome. That mechanic was pulled from the “real” Zelda games, so wouldn’t have been appropriate for this game. What Fire Emblem Warriors does really well is spin the hero-vs-hero combat into real set-pieces. These duels can be very difficult, very unforgiving, and downright memorable. You’ll have access to the usual range of weak, strong, and super attacks as in every other modern Warriors game, but it’ll still not be enough if you’re not careful, because the opponent can hit you hard. The game’s regular enemies are even easier to ignore than they’ve been in previous Warriors games, but that also makes sense, because Fire Emblem has always been about the one-on-one conflict.
Related reading: The other best licensed Warriors game is Arslan. Read Matt’s review here.
Away from battle there’s a levelling and character customisation system ripped straight from Hyrule Warriors, which requires that you collect a lot of resources in battle to then use to “unlock” everything from new attacks to additional protection from certain kinds of enemy attacks. Doing this for all the roster is very grindy, but you’ll only need to work with a couple of characters to be able to push through the game if you’re not the kind of person that cares about levelling everything to 100 per cent. A neat little nod to the Fire Emblem series is that there is permadeath of a sort in the game; if a character on your side “dies” in battle then they’re no longer available to you unless you pay a significant amount to get them back. I love permadeath, and it certainly raises the stakes in Fire Emblem Warriors, really forcing you to pay attention to the whole battlefield at all times, and the performance of your characters.
Hyrule Warriors had a really good secondary mode, beyond the story that basically gave players the ability to explore the world of the first Legend of Zelda, while fighting in Warriors-style battles. Fire Emblem’s bonus stuff is nowhere near as engaging. There’s the ability to fight in some classic battles from the “real” Fire Emblem games, but given the vastly different play styles of these games, these maps are abstracted to the point that they’re a vague resemblance at best. So it’s just as well that the main quest is comprehensive and you’ll get many hours from it.
I am, of course, a hardcore Warriors fan. Everyone knows that. I play them all. Fire Emblem Warriors is, for my mind, the best of the licensed Warriors titles. It was Arslan previously, and I really love Arslan still, but the respect that Fire Emblem Warriors has for its roots, and the way that it’s cleverly melded the tactical atmosphere of that series while keeping the pacey action of the Warriors formula, is truly impressive stuff.
And it has Lyn. Bring on the swimsuit DLC and I’ll throw in another full star for good measure.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
|Please Support Me On Patreon!