With this review we thought we would try something new. For the past few months Mr. Seal and I have been putting our heads together trying to find a different way to write reviews. Not necessarily a better way mind you but something more interactive. So much of what we read today feels like its is being thrown at us. Big sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes distill critic scores and ratings down into percents that in turn tell us a movie or games worth. Here at NitWitty we don’t want to tell you what to think or what to buy. We just want to share cool things with you that we think are worth of discussion. Which is why we wanted to try and experiment with a different way of reviewing. One that cuts out the bullshit and focuses in on what we think readers care about most: thoughtful and honest discussion.
Jordan: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is really unique from a storytelling perspective. At first it seems too simple. There is a war and two great nations and a child who has somehow become a key figure in both. We have seen that song and dance before in one form or another. But as the story lines diverge, around chapter 6, something pretty special happens. The different game elements really pull together to invest you in the characters. Suddenly there you are right there with them, knees deep in the trenches. I was honestly surprised how good the game was at making me pick a side and really empathize with it without being unfair or gimmicky. The other side doesn’t just straight up go crazy evil. The game just finds ways to make you like the humans you are playing. Which is the most successful part of the game in my opinion. That you start to see the two different families as people. With their own internal power dynamics and motivations, Birthright is phenomenally developed.
Seal: I agree completely! The Fire Emblem games — the ones I’ve played, anyway — excel at getting you to care about your characters. Leveling them up and pairing them together, which is a returning feature from Fates’ predecessor, Awakening, is the driving gameplay loop for me. The vibrant personalities of your dudes makes each one memorable, and each loss (if you’re playing in Classic permadeath mode) absolutely devastating. But yeah, as you said, instead of only caring for the characters on the Hoshido side, you care for your enemies on the opposing Nohr side. I feel Intelligent Systems really pulled off the dual family aspect, building your relationships with each for the first 6 chapters of the game, before you’re forced to choose a side in the growing conflict.
Jordan: Yeah, the decision to include a 6 chapter prologue was crucial. I really feel like that added context goes a long way in raising the stakes and getting the player invested in their decision. Which of course pays off in droves when it comes to the matchmaking and castle building systems. The Hoshidians are now your people and the land your land. Once I had crossed that threshold and made my choice I instantly felt connected to my new comrades.
Eric: Like, we’re talking about villains this month, right? I liked how many enemies in Birthright are your former family members, people who loved you and cared for you. It’s nerve-wracking in the later face-offs with your former siblings like leon. Speaking of nerve-wracking, what difficulty did you choose to play on? Tell me you chose permadeath this time.
Jordan: All of that is exactly why I ultimately couldn’t play the game on classic. At first I really tried, but I lost my character’s love interest (best girl Reina) at the very start of the game and was absolutely heartbroken. I couldn’t take it and had to change the difficulty to casual because I am a pleb. That said it does show you how much I cared.The feelings were definitely there.
The gameplay in general builds a sense of ownership with regards to your varied friends and family. Since the game is a tactics based RPG and we are adopting the role of general they literally become your loyal soldiers. And I am sorry to say, I couldn’t live with killing them.
Seal: I guess that’s why I’m such a fan of Nuzlocke then. I’m always chasing those game experiences that have game-affecting stakes. With permadeath, I feel that sense of ownership was heightened, as by the end of the game you’ll have a decidedly different team than someone else depending on who made it out alive. I’m guilty of losing some of my early favorites (I thought Hana was fun and spunky, and Silas’s interactions with other characters were delightfully antagonistic).
What really shocked me more that the deaths was the surprising changes made to combat. For instance, enemies can now pair up for double attacks, which can be absolutely crushing if you move a squishy class like a Diviner or Archer into a bad position. On your end, pairing characters together can provide stat boosts, as well as double attacks and damage negation. Birthright is a lot more transparent about when those extra attacks and saves are triggered, showing in stat boxes with damage and hit percentages, which leads to even more strategic planning. What did you think?
Jordan: Birthright is absolutely a step up the strategy department. I know that this particular installment is actually known for its easy-going gameplay and it really didn’t feel like it. This go around I was shocked by how “together” the enemy seemed to play. Whether it was the unexpected pairing mechanic or the added terrain altering gameplay, there is actually quite a bit of depth on display. Especially with regards to the dragon panels which were a newly introduced mechanic that had players forcibly altering map terrain. Some of the later levels had me really thinking about positioning and the dragon panels became an integral part of beating the game. Which is fantastic given how they came off initially as a bit of a gimmick and then gradually evolved and changed as the game progressed. Suddenly it became essential that attention was paid to how you moved your characters and when.
Seal: One thing I did find surprising was how unit types are missing. Like, in the wealth of information the game makes available to you, the absence of those little icons showing your units are armored, beast, dragon, or winged type seems like an oversight. You do get a tutorial explaining them, and you get warnings over enemy units who have weapons good against those specific unit types. But it seems weird it doesn’t show them specifically, especially since they were there in the last game. It’s a small gripe, and just about my only one with Birthright.
Jordan: It is my guess that the developers did that on purpose just for Birthright. They have said many times that this portion of the game was mostly intended for beginners and that the Conquest and Revelation portions of the game were going to be intended for a more advanced and experienced audience. That gripe actually strikes a nerve with me in that Birthright really does feel watered down as far as the combat goes. None of the chapters have any variance of gameplay and each of the objectives are very straight forward. For a tactics centric game it seems really odd that roughly a third of the game doesn’t involve much tactical play at all. A vast majority of the difficulty in the game is simply derived from sheer unit health/strength and that seems kind of lazy. Despite that there were portions of the game that were more difficult and the paralogues in particular presented a healthy challenge. But it was all kill quests only. It felt like some of the franchise’s iconic complexity was indeed missing.
Seal: Well, I can’t speak for other games in the series, but even Awakening’s objectives were mostly just “Rout the Enemy” or “Defeat the Boss.” The narrative reasons, the “why,” are what felt thin to me, but it didn’t bother me that the final goal is to kill everything in the map. After all, some missions’ secondary objectives were to save people or visit buildings. Watered-down Birthright may be, but the moment-to-moment strategy is what kept me coming back.
Jordan: That, and the art and sound design that goes with each slice or dice. One area of the game that completely blew me away was the sheer quality of its animation and art. We talked a bit about character and story but man the art direction is fantastic. Which includes the battle scenes and critical strike animations. There was just so much detail put into every aspect of the game and that really went a long way in bringing everything together. Faults aside one of the main motivations I had in playing the game was to unlock those juicy cinematics.
Seal: Yup, it’s as excellent as ever. Character portraits and cutscenes are beautiful, and the music, from battles to the feudal Japan-inspired planning phase, is memorable and thrilling. Birthright is a feast for the eyes and the ears.
Speaking of which, what did you think of the castle part of the game?
Jordan: About the castle, honestly I was super underwhelmed. I was really excited when I first heard about the feature. I mean I thought I was going to get a whole tower defense/tactical turn based mini-game mashup. That would have been so fucking sick. But instead the game really left it mostly ignored. There was so much wasted potential. The defenses I built were super mediocre and the invasions themselves were a complete letdown and poorly balanced. The spike in difficulty between the first and second for example was completely insane. Not to mention that there was like a 10 chapter break in between the action.
Seal: I’m there with you. I thought being able to buy your own items in a single location was pretty handy, and building statues/cooking food to pump your dudes’ is a great thing, but I didn’t find the combat engaging at all. Like, all the pieces were there for the castle to be a knockout home base (it has a sauna, for crying out loud), but I just didn’t find much reason to spend a lot of time there.
Not to go too deep into story, but I felt that there was a narrative disconnect with the castle. It exists outside the physical realm, and so I never felt like it was really at stake which is pretty important in a game where losses are permanent. Maybe that explains my lukewarm feelings on it.
Jordan: Agreed. Let me ask you another question: What did you think of the games localization?
For me the game could at times feel and sound really weird. While playing matchmaker there were more than a few times that the dialogue seemed really out of place. I mean I am all for zany humor, but some of the stuff written in for these interactions was straight up awful, not to mention awkward.
Seal: Most interactions between characters who fought together made me excited to see how their relationships with each other would develop. For others, however, support dialogue seemed…uninspired? Just kind of flat, or ended more abruptly than I’d like or was expecting. Maybe lazy localization is to blame, maybe not, but when characters are the element that sets this game on a whole other level for me, it’s an important one that seems silly to have gotten ignored. As or the more, erm, eccentric features of the game like bathhouse visiting and waifu petting, those weren’t essential to my enjoyment of the game.
Jordan: I agree but it’s more a matter of principle for me. Censorship in any form and for any reason rubs me the wrong way. It’s like, yeah, do I need to pet all my characters? No. But would I have liked the chance to do it once and laugh at how ridiculous the whole feature is? Absolutely. And as a self identified gamer who lives in the US, I think it is within my rights to have that chance despite cultural considerations.
All that said, I think this game is an absolute masterpiece. For all its faults, or rather, my nitpicking, there is just so much to love about Birthright. Whether it’s the feudal Japanese setting or the fact that I get to play matchmaking god, there is something magical about Fire Emblem and it’s ability to pull you in and immediately and irreversibly immerse you in it’s world and characters.
Seal: Agreed. Fire Emblem continues to be among the more engaging strategy games out there. The few gripes I had are eclipsed by the wealth of smart changes and additions to an already satisfying tactical game that I can’t wait to delve into more deeply with Conquest and Revelations.
NitWitty Score : The Fates Have Smiled Upon Us