Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright

Story: 5/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Music: 9/10
Context: 5/10
Ambiance: 6/10
Overall: 32/50

Introduction: Fire Emblem Birthright is a Nintendo game for the 3DS. It falls under the umbrella of “Fire Emblem Fates” which includes three games: Fire Emblem: Birthright, Fire Emblem: Conquest, and Fire Emblem: Revelations. If these three games were all ice cream flavors comprising a proverbial Fire Emblem Fates ice cream cone, FE: Birthright would be the vanilla scoop. FE: Birthright is meant to be the easiest and most accessible of the three games, both in terms of understanding your purpose and in completing your missions. The following evaluation takes into account both how this games fares when evaluated on its own, and how it fares when evaluated in the context of the larger ice cream cone. Please enjoy, and share your thoughts and scores below!  

Story: 5/10

The Story: The story of FE: Birthright is, well, basic. You play as your avatar fighting on behalf of Hoshido, the stereotypical “good guys” of the story. You fight against Nohr, the “bad guys” and the plot unfolds as you would expect from there. You fight for peace and there is never a reason to doubt the justness of your cause.  The juxtaposition between the good and the bad is omnipresent – Hoshido itself is the land of bright colors and light, while Nohr is the land of dreary colors and darkness. There is no mistaking what this story is; it’s our typical good vs. evil throwdown, with some “surprise” ambushes, traps, and detours along the way (but really, who didn’t expect those to show up at any point?).

Why this story is good: The good vs. evil trope is so common that playing FE: Birthright feels comfortable and familiar. As players, we’ve faced this dynamic at one point or another, and so playing this role again means you can focus on how to fight your enemies, as opposed to why you fight your enemies. And for a series like Fire Emblem, that can be a welcome reprieve, with the gameplay requiring as much strategic thought as it does.

Why this story is bad: The familiar feeling of playing the lead role in the good vs. evil fight can also make this game feel unremarkable. Without deviating from the traditional GvE formula, this story is generic and overall unmemorable. Progressing through this game, players will have some interest in the next plot development, but it will be the gameplay that keeps the cartridge in your system and keeps your armies marching towards Nohr.

The final score for FE: Birthright’s story is 5/10. Normally, given the above criticisms, I would give this game a lower plot score, but FE: Birthright is unique in that it only really tries to be one-third of a larger, over-arching story. Yes, this story is basic, but it’s supposed to be basic – the complexity comes later as players progress to FE: Conquest and FE: Revelations.  FE: Birthright is meant to be simple. It’s meant to be easy to understand. Birthright is the proverbial shallow end of the pool, where swimmers can wade in comfortably and have a simple, albeit unremarkable swim.

….but that’s if you’re actually to play all three games. On its own, the simplicity of FE: Birthright doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s just simple. And in my opinion, that’s not great. Hence the score.

Gameplay: 7/10

The Gameplay: This is a Fire Emblem game, and at its core, it plays like one. That said, let me take a moment to go over the basics for those who may not be familiar. This is a tactical, turn based, strategy/RPG (I think that’s fair to say?). Basically, you control an an army made up of several units all of which have their own stats, weapons, skills, and relationships that factor into how strong each person is, and what he/she can do in battle. You take these units and move them around a checkerboard against a CPU army, with your goal being to achieve a certain objective set at the start of each fight. Simple enough, yeah?

Switching audiences now – let me address the folks that already understand Fire Emblem and speak to the strengths/weaknesses of this game specifically. FE: Birthright is meant to be the easier/more traditional and straightforward of the games included under the Fire Emblem Fates umbrella. There are a lot of “route enemy” and “seize” maps, with not a lot of twists and turns regarding unique gameplay objectives.

The mechanics of the game draw heavy inspiration from Fire Emblem Awakening. The option to avoid perma-death is back. The concept of pairing units, building affinity, marrying units, and then recruiting their offspring in their adult forms is back. Character recruiting is kept simple, with nearly every character joining you by virtue of mandatory plot progression (except for the offspring of married units). There are bonus fights that can be found on the overworld map allowing for extra experience fights to keep your units strong, and give the player the option to introduce weak units to a team by giving them a way to get stronger outside of the main fights.

FE: Birthright does introduce some new features as well. Weapon durability is now gone except for staves. On certain maps, players can now find and activate “dragon veins,” which will cause some action to take place, like creating a healing zone on the map, or causing units within a certain range to take a set amount of damage. There is now a hub world called “my castle” that the player returns to after each fight. “My castle” can be upgraded, and is where a player can buy new weapons/staves, strengthen relationships between your avatar and other units, forge weapons, and all the other typical options you would find in between fights in previous FE games. Unique to “My Caste” is the ability to outfit the world with obstacles and fortifications, and then accept challenges from the CPU to come and storm your castle for bonus fights.

Why this gameplay is good: Don’t fix what’s not broken, right? The reason Fire Emblem as a franchise is growing so rapidly and finally finding success is that, at its core, its got a winning formula. The strategy of the game, and the different ways each map can be played (and the different characters that can be used) make for a game with a lot of replayability. FE: Birthright very much embraces this core and presents very little deviance from it. Any player looking for a fire emblem fix, or an introduction to the series and gameplay can certainly start here – it’s basic, and it’s true to Fire Emblem form.

Why this gameplay is bad: Because of the formula, Fire Emblem is a very replayable game. Personally, I have played through fire emblem games collectively over probably 30ish times. And while these games are replayable, there does come a point where that replayability runs thin. Let me get to the point – FE: Birthright feels like you’re replaying previous games, as opposed to playing a new installment in this blossoming series. It’s basic – intentionally so – and so the gameplay doesn’t want to complicate itself beyond its previously established complexity. I would say the dragon veins are the most unique/interesting new mechanic for the actual gameplay, but overall this difference is marginal in scope compared to the innovations brought to the table by previous installments of the series. 

The final score for FE: Birthright’s gameplay is 7/10. This is a fire emblem game, so already it’s a 7/10 because I truly believe Fire Emblem has a winning formula at its core. The problem here is that there is really no reason whatsoever to add to that score based on the features introduced in this game. In fairness, the game doesnt give reason to detract from this score either, which is equally important, but that leaves us with a very generic feeling game in the end. Hence the score.

Music: 9/10

The Music: Look, I just need to be up front about this: I LOVE “Lost in Thoughts All Alone” aka, what I consider to be the main theme of the game. Music will always be a subjective evaluation, so just speaking for me, I really feel that this song is a transcendent piece of video game music. Whereas I would consider Fire Emblem as a series to be overall weak in the music department, this song alone sets a new bar for the series. In fairness, it gets remixed and reprised a lot, so the developers knew they had something special here (and I agree with them).

For your listening pleasure…

The final score for FE: Birthright’s music is 9/10. I wrote that this raises the bar for FE, and that factors into the score here. For me, if a game can produce one song that I would go and listen to separately on its own, then I would consider that a successful soundtrack (a relatively low bar, I know). Of course a successful soundtrack would probably be a 7/10 and up – this score is higher really because I think that one song is THAT good. It’s all subjective here though, so feel free to disagree with all of this entirely – I won’t object (or likely know about it).

Graphics: 8/10

The Graphics: For a 3DS game, these graphics are very strong. Everything looks crisp and is polished. There are no mind blowing visuals, but that’s not really the focus of these games. Overall I consider the improvements here more a product of new tech than the game itself, but there’s no denying that it looks great.

The final score for FE: Birthright’s graphics is 8/10: The bar for successful graphics for a Fire Emblem game should be whether everything can be seen, and whether the visuals dont interfere with the players ability to strategize and process everything that is happening in game. This game meets that standard on both counts – and to it’s credit, everyone has feet!  If someone were to pitch to you the strengths of this game, he/she probably wouldn’t mention the graphics because they dont stand really stand out – but that really is as much of a compliment as it is a detriment. Hence the score.

Context: 5/10

The Context: Crudely stated, this game does nothing for the Fire Emblem series – but that’s okay. The story doesn’t introduce new themes or new philosophies. It’s a basic good vs. evil bout, rather than a fight with moral complexity or nuance. It doesn’t introduce a new, game changing mechanic, or go in a new direction. It’s true to the FE formula, to the extent where you may feel you’ve already played the game as you’re going through it. The music is great, which is important to consider but that’s really the only facet where FE: Birthright takes a step forward for Fire Emblem overall. The graphics are a step up, but that’s more a product of ever-evolving technology than really a credit to the game itself.

The final score for FE: Birthright’s context is 5/10. Much like the score provided for the story, this score would be lower if this game was meant to stand alone, rather than be the (recommended) first game of a trilogy that completes the story, and ultimately determines the impact Fire Emblem Fates has on the franchise overall. So while FE: Birthright doesnt do much for the franchise, it isn’t meant to, which adds to what its total would be otherwise. Hence the score.

Ambiance: 6/10

The Ambiance: FE: Birthright feels just okay. Evaluating ambiance is about how it feels to exist and operate within the world of the game, and to that end, the vibe is mediocre. The music is really strong at points, but otherwise, the games simple and generic approach feels uninspired. The player will spend a lot of time in “My Castle,” and while this makes for a fun new setting at its introduction, it gets boring pretty quickly, even with the new renovations the player gets to make. The maps themselves are basic because the game tries to be basic, which leaves certain maps feeling dull.

It’s not all bad – you are still a makeshift army progressing towards the capital of a hostile nation, which adds some tension to the various scenes and settings. Overall though, because we know how the good vs. evil story ends, that tension feels hollow. Like the tension of watching an actor in peril on a stage, the sense of danger is present, but it’s not REAL danger, and that very much is the feeling the player gets in FE: Birthright.

The final score for FE: Birthright’s ambiance is 6/10. To restate, the ambiance is just okay. For someone new to the franchise, I’m sure the feeling of the game would be more compelling – it can’t all seem generic when it’s all new! But for those who have played Fire Emblem games before, there’s nothing about this game that will stick with you once you’ve played through it – except for the music, which is enough to bump up the score, slightly. In fairness, it’s also not uncomfortable to exist or operate within this world – you aren’t presented with uncomfortable choices, or made to feel as though you aren’t enjoying your mission. And the characters are all charming in their own way. It’s not great ambiance, but it’s not terrible either. Hence the score.

Overall: 32/50

Overall – It’s important to remember that Fire Emblem: Birthright is a complete game on its own. It has a complete story, the game is fully developed, the campaign is long, and frankly, it was sold at retail for the standard 3DS game price. It’s a complete game – and that’s important – because that means FE: Birthright can be evaluated on its own as a standalone game.

When looked at on its own, FE: Birthright is a generic Fire Emblem game. It doesnt introduce significantly new concepts and it doesn’t introduce a particularly unique or deep story. It’s not a bad introduction to the series – its simplicity can allow for a younger/less informed audience to be able to pick up the game and begin to get into the series as a whole, and I’m sure that was part of the reason behind its style. Seasoned veterans of Fire Emblem however will find a more noteworthy experience in other Fire Emblem games.

And yet, seasoned veterans of Fire Emblem games, I suspect, would likely play the other Fire Emblem Fates games as well, which is an important distinction. Appreciating Fire Emblem: Birthright in the context of all three games can excuse some of the problems it faces when evaluated on its own. Yes the story is basic – the complications are meant to come later. Yes the maps are straightforward – the difficulty will come in FE: Conquest and FE: Revelations. And overall yes – this game feels generic on its own – but the overall experience of the three games put together is unique and noteworthy, and therefore rewarding. (Of course, you have to actually play through three full games to get that experience, but I digress…)

The final score for FE: Birthright is 32/50. FE: Birthright is a smooth and fun experience on its own. While the story is generic and the gameplay isn’t revolutionary, it’s still a polished game that sticks to a winning, strategy-based formula. Given its simplicity, FE: Birthright is a good gateway into the Fire Emblem franchise for those who are looking to get into the series. On the other hand, veterans of the franchise will find this game relatively underwhelming, though still fun enough to scratch any Fire Emblem itch. So, by my assessment, I’d say it’s a decent game. Hence the score.

Thanks for reading!

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