If choosing to return to your Hoshidan birth family in Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright sees you wander the path of peace, those that decide to stay with the Nohrian siblings that they grew up with in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest will tread a path of revolution.
The Nohrians, whose royals are distinctly garbed in composed regal purple, live under the tyrannical rule of their disdainful King Ganon. Nohr is in stark contrast to the colourful lands that you wander in Hoshido, a kingdom in which the sun never shines – with such depressing weather resulting in poor crop growth and inevitable food shortages. Where Hoshidans are a peace-loving people, Nohrians are perpetually riddled with corruption and underhand scheming.
That devilishness carries across to the gameplay experience, which, if Birthright is well suited to newcomers, Conquest challenges seasoned strategists with a path that limits their resources and sees your objective continually change in each battle that you face.
The change in tone becomes immediately apparent once you choose to side with your Nohrian siblings early on. King Ganon’s lust for power sees him rule Nohr with an iron fist, humoured by stirring unrest and therefore tasks the player with quashing any resulting rebellion. The King sees Corrin as an expendable pawn, and therefore the situations in which you are placed are far more treacherous than those encountered in Birthright. Corrin still longs in his pursuit for peace, but that comes at a more significant cost as the tension between the warring nations heightens.
That ultimately means that there is more to deal with in battles. Beyond the standard routing the enemy, maps will often list optional ways in which the player can achieve victory. Whether that be taking control of a specified area on the tile-based battlefield, carving your way through the opposing army to allow a unit to escape, or simply toppling a boss character, this repeated variation allows Conquest to feel all the more distinctive.
That carries across to the map and enemy structure, which are far more interactive and diverse in comparison to Birthright. Enemies can impose negative status effects on your army such as silencing your magic users, ballistae and orbs can be used to aim area of effect attacks at advancing foes, and one map has pots that can be smashed to heal or poison nearby allies and enemies alike. Dragon Veins, seen across all versions, only add to this, allowing Nohrian royals to turn the tide of battle in their favour by dealing damage to opposing forces or opening new paths to trek.
Your journey through Conquest is a hardened one, and not only in terms of the rather stark narrative that will unravel. Players are left to deal with situations with more limited resources, while there is less chance to earn experience to level your army. Those tougher circumstances make it a more resolute experience, expertly worked by Intelligent Systems to make it feel as if the AI is continually pushing back at you to heighten the challenge that you must overcome.
That means that Pair Up, a mechanic that lets characters team up with one another to lend a stat boost, becomes all the more important. The bond that builds between characters will soon make you feel more attached to them, making the experience all the more worrisome for those that choose to enable Permadeath – where one miscalculated move could see them lost forever.
That being said, failure never results from the fact that you haven’t sufficiently levelled your units, but more from the fact that you aren’t necessarily approaching the map with the right strategy.
Characters continue to have their own class – with Malig Knight, Adventurer and Wolfskin unique to Conquest – which reflect their abilities. When they reach Level 10, the player can then choose to use a Master Seal to upgrade their class – strengthening the character and expanding their weapon specialisations.
My Castle will be your pit stop between the game’s many chapters, a rest point that players can customise with buildings and fortifications. Those that you choose to construct will help you gather resources, purchase new weapons and nurture bonds between characters, and it acts as a crossover to StreetPass too.
Players that you encounter will appear in the Traveller’s Plaza, where you can battle a team that they have put together. This will take place in either your or their castle, so it is recommended that you build defences to help hold enemy armies back. Those looking for a multiplayer component will be happy to find Local Play and Wireless Battles, which will again let you battle with your selected team.
Ike, Marth, Robin and Lucina amiibo are all compatible with Conquest, and, when scanned, they will appear in My Castle to gift you a special item. After a few successive scans, players can then challenge them to battle which, if victorious, will see them join your army’s ranks.
If Birthright delivers a classic Fire Emblem experience, Conquest steers it toward the future to outpace it in every way imaginable. Rewarding in its tactical brilliance, it dethrones Awakening to become the very best strategy RPG experience the Nintendo 3DS has to offer.
Version Tested: Nintendo 3DS
Review copy provided by Nintendo