As tends to be the case with me and popular video games, I’ve only just gotten around to playing Fire Emblem Fates (known as Fire Emblem if in Japan) due to wanting to avoid the mad memefest that was its localization in the U.S. But after more than a year of familiarizing myself with the game’s delightfully trope-ful characters and spoiling everything Birthright and Conquest, I was finally ready to tackle the three routes. For my first run, I chose to side with Hoshido and forged onwards with a clear sense of what to expect.
Or so I thought.
All it took was one painful decision and a knight with the worst bed head in the army to remind me of the incredible power of role-playing when it comes to making players search their own hearts.
Though a bit gimmicky, one can only experience the entirety of Fire Emblem Fates by playing the three separate games – Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation – that make up its central conflict. However, this situation didn’t particularly bother me as the plight of the avatar, Corrin (known as Kamui in Japan), definitely needed more than one perspective to reach its full potential. Like the avatar’s own lack of memories, certain details in the story are left deliberately vague, leaving you alone to approve of, regret, and piece together the consequences of your actions. While some fans found Corrin too bland a protagonist, in my opinion, he/she had enough personality to be both malleable and pleasantly “middle-ground” when compared to their fellow royal siblings. It also helps that Corrin is the first protagonist of the franchise to be at center stage rather than someone’s right hand man.
And as if that weren’t appealing enough, Corrin can turn into a dragon.
Without a doubt, the ability to customize and construct one’s own interpretation of Corrin (I personally see my “Kamui” as a mix of Don Bluth’s Anastasia and Disney’s Rapunzel) is one of the factors that makes the game so immersive. This is especially important considering the purpose of Fates is to make every battle against either your birth or foster family as painful as possible. Similar to Fates’ predecessor Awakening, the real magic lies with the game’s ability to make you genuinely care about the characters and their families, and as a result, do everything in your power as a commander to prevent anyone from dying. The stakes are raised even higher when the player is given opportunities to either kill or spare an enemy unit. Which, from a story standpoint, is often impossible. All three paths open with “Kamui” having a prophetic dream in which the Nohrian royal family comes to blows with her Hoshidan siblings. Unbeknownst to the avatar, this is the reverse scenario of what actually occurs five chapters later. But no matter who you choose to side with, there are guaranteed to be grudges and tears along the way.
For the most part, the player learns the backstory of both kingdoms alongside the protagonist due to the latter’s trauma-induced amnesia as a child. We immediately get a sense of the loving dynamic among the Nohrian siblings, but also understand the anguish that nearly tore apart the Hoshidan royal family upon losing one of their sisters. As the game progresses, these relationships are unveiled layer by layer as we learn more about what transpired in “Kamui’s” past. With each piece of the puzzle, the player is beyond the two families, we also get to meet an ensemble of royal bodyguards, political allies, and neutral nations – many of whom can either be befriended or romanced. Which brings me to a subject quite dear to the Fire Emblem fandom: A+ and S-Supports.
In addition to the debut of same-sex relationships, the A+ support is also a new addition to the franchise. During battle, any two characters who fight together can build up their relationship via support conversations. Through these conversations, we learn a great deal – ranging from the amusing to the feelsy – about a multitude of potential friendships and pairings. But instead of there being only A-Supports available, characters of the same sex can now bring one of their friendships to the A+ level. With said bonus, two units can promote into each other’s classes and even perform better when attacking or defending one another. Unfortunately, the avatar is the only unit incapable of A+ supporting (otherwise, I would have made either Azura or the stylish Scarlet my bestie). I did, however, have the privilege of playing matchmaker for “Kamui” and her many prospective bishie husbands.
Mere days after the release of Fates’ first trailer at E3 2015, fans new and old rushed to compile their own ships. With over thirty love interests to choose from, how could players possibly select the perfect partner for their avatar? Well, this is where the roleplaying aspect of the game comes the most into play. As intriguing as the story surrounding the royal families is, it’s pretty much set in stone according to one’s chosen route. And the A+ supports, as mentioned earlier, were never an option for Corrin to begin with. So by process of elimination, the S-Supports are what really set the game apart from others within its genre. The addition of a personal quarters and hot spring in which we may spend time with allies one-on-one certainly sweetens the idea of holy matrimony. But in true Fire Emblem fashion, players often struggle to decide between forming a couple with lots of chemistry or a pair with high combat potential.
For me, “Kamui’s” romantic dilemma came in the form of her loyal retainers Jakob, Kaze, and (SWOON) Silas. As a sucker for couples with a history, all three men really appealed to me due to their having known the avatar when she was younger. Though I’d be lying if I said their good looks didn’t sway my decision-making. The implementation of first-person “bonding” makes all of your interactions with friends and family quite intimate. As can be expected, said relationships change once a spouse is chosen and moves in with you.
Moving in? You heard me right.
S-Supporting means playing for keeps.
But after hours of mulling over my options, “Kamui’s” childhood friend ultimately won me over – and I have not once regretted my choice. Silas’ blushing face and sweet talk even had me, the player, feeling flustered from time to time. And while I certainly liked the character, I truly believed his earnest personality would serve my avatar well in her time following the war. I have since come up with several headcanons concerning their love and that of many others.
In the end, Fire Emblem: Fates didn’t just sell me on playing all three paths, but inspired me to look into the accompanying manga and upcoming drama CDs to debut on September 21st in Japan. The game allowed me to easily play out different scenarios in my head – all shaped by how I’d chosen to process the characters and their motivations. Birthright was way more of an emotional roller coaster, an experience, than a game in which pixelated sprites are simply means to an end.