Nintendo’s 2015 hit Fates – or If, in Japan – was one of the latest titles to the historic Fire Emblem saga, that has been described as a “darling of the hardcore strategy RPG crowd – and one of the shining gems of the genre” (IGN, 2013). It is created by Intelligent Systems, a subsidiary of Nintendo who developed the first Fire Emblem game in 1990 and has influenced a number of games like Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics, with its mechanics.
As part of the tactical role-playing genre (TRPG) its combat system revolves around a grid based map where the player will move around their unit characters to defeat the opposing side; like chess with stakes. The story is heavily built into the battles and keeps the levels hard through its weapons triangle and durability, unit classes and the use of permadeath; whereupon, if a character is gone then you have not only lost that unit but everything they could contribute to your run of the game. They and their future is essentially “dead” which brings a weight of consequences to narratives that are already heavy with war and conflict.
Fates has brought a new flavour to the series by furthering the advances brought to the Fire Emblem by 2012’s Awakening – or Kakusei – which was set to be their last game, with the cancellation of the saga due to failing numbers. “The sales manager of Nintendo, Mr. Hatano, told us that this could be the last Fire Emblem.” Yamagami Hitoshi, a developer from Intelligent Systems, said during an interview on their reaction to the news. “Our reaction was clear: if this was going to be the last Fire Emblem, we had to put [in] everything we always wanted to include.” This attitude brought about new features, mechanics and they also went as far as to westernise to make it more commercial; resurrecting the series.
Awakening received acclaim from both critics and players and enabled Fates to be green-lit. Not everyone was happy with the news as some long term fans thought that the added features was “absolutely disgraceful” and that it “wasn’t Fire Emblem” and started a petition to stop another “blunder” as Awakening had added a “Causal” and “Classic” feature where the player could choose whether to play with permadeath on, as well as introducing the marriage system (enabling units to start relationships with one another through engagement on in battles, through the buddy system). It seemed though, that this opinion was shared with few as it only had 29 supporters with many of the other fans understanding that the changes brought in new players, and allowed the game to be more accessible.
Fates turned out to be unique on its with three versions of the narrative, two of which could be brought as physical copies (Birthright and Conquest) and one in the form of downloadable content (Revelations). All three revolves around the conflict between the neighbourhood kingdoms, Hoshido and Nohr and a secret threat which is one discovered through the DLC. The changes between versions is the route the player takes; the decision the player’s avatar makes in what kingdom he wants to side with. Though some consider it unnecessary, overall the opinion was “three paths, one amazing experience,” (Digital Spy, 2016)
Unlike in Awakening, your customisable avatar was the main character with a narrative that made you invested in both kingdoms with characters which were individual to where they hailed and family on both boarders.The two sides are stylised deliberately with Hoshido in whites and blues; seemingly a peaceful people and muddled after Japan with their historical fashion e.g. kimonos. In contrast, Nohr is darker, colours not really straying from blacks and purples though they have a more typical Fire Emblem appearance with their more european style of dress and weaponry. Whatever side people preferred, everything is dripping with identity.
Fates was generally considered a “hugely rewarding” game (Expert Reviews, 2016). That, however did not mean that there was not controversy. Before localisation, the game was accused of homophobic themes when someone translated a support conversation between two characters that allegedly featured gay conversion therapy. In reality, it was the first Nintendo title to allow gay marriage between the avatar and two other set characters.