Name: Fire Emblem Fates
Route: Birthright [Hoshido]
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Genre: Tactical RPG
JP Release Date: 25 June 2015
NA Release Date: 19 February 2016
EU Release Date:
Fire Emblem Fates
used to be is a tactical fantasy RPG series where you control a company of units and strategically move them around various grid-based maps to defeat enemy units and advance the plot. This latest iteration, Fates, revolves around the customizable protagonist Kamui as he or she gets drawn into the war between two neighbouring countries, the peace-loving Hoshido and the ambitious, invasion-minded Nohr. Kamui was born as Hoshidan royalty but was raised in Nohr, and the story diverges when the player makes their fateful decision as to which side to support.
What you will find below is a bit of a mixed bag. There are a couple of review-type paragraphs concerning the game mechanics and the controversies surrounding the game, but also my in-depth subjective impressions of the units and the plot (only very few spoilers, rest assured). Of course it was going to get personal. This is Waifu Emblem, after all.
Warning: Light spoilers ahead.
About two weeks ago, I learned that there was to be no dual audio in the Western release of Fire Emblem Fates. To me, that was the final straw in the string of controversies it’s been the subject of in the run-up to its NA release. The surgical removal of all the other lost content wore my patience dangerously thin, and the dodgy-sounding English dub (if Felicia’s voice was any indication) finally made me realize that I would not be comfortable with paying a premium price for what I perceived to be less than what the full game should have been. There was nothing stopping me from getting my hands on the JP import instead (my local version would be the yet-unreleased EU, so the NA release means nothing to me) and experiencing the game properly through a faithful fan translation patch (admittedly minus many of the support conversations, which will be rectified with the next patch update). So I did. I’ve been playing Hoshido on my daily commute for the past couple of weeks.
Having only messed around with DS emulation and R4 hardware in the past, I have to say my self-taught crash course into dumping, extracting, patching, rebuilding and hex editing a 3DS game was a really painful experience, both for me and for my ageing computer. It worked, though – I had another minor hiccup involving the lack of unit sprites in-game due to one of the extracting programs having no unicode support, but everything was solved in the end. My updated 3DS firmware (10.5) meant that, as much as my wallet would have liked me to pirate it, I had no choice but to take the legal route of using a real, legit JP game card and using Homebrew to English patch the text on the fly. I’ve got the Special Edition of Fire Emblem if. It comes with TCG cards instead of the fancy pouch sported by the NA version, but other than that it should be identical. The art book is pretty sweet.
Waifu Emblem is actually a point of controversy in itself. To clarify my experience, I’ve played the Tellius series, so I know what it’s like at the other end of the spectrum – when supports are bastardized into generic lines of text. But with Fire Emblem: Awakening came what is now often perceived as an attempt to broaden the mass-market appeal of the series, perhaps in a last-ditch attempt to save the franchise from what was then its impending doom – everyone could now be married to everyone else, and you could have kids together. What many purists weren’t fond of was how Fates was waifu-ized even further, in that you could now invite units to your room and literally rub their faces in a Pokemon Amie-type mini-game.
Its alleged removal in the Western release sparked a lot of discussion – some say even more than when Fates was first announced. I can understand the Soleil dialogue change, but no Amie made me stop and think about whether this was something I’d unhesitatingly buy. As someone who was very much in support of face rubbing, I was pretty dismayed. Incest is apparently okay. Marrying and having babies with literal children (I mean Midoriko, not ostensible 1000-year old loli dragons) is apparently okay. But rubbing your waifu’s face – that’s where Nintendo of America drew the line? Really? I can understand why people might not like it. I get where they’re coming from. But what of the people who do like it? If you don’t want to rub people’s faces, then don’t – and leave the people who do want to alone. Removing it is tantamount to saying ‘we don’t like it, so nobody else can have it’. Localization is also sometimes a problem in terms of what happens to some of the text. Sometimes it’s quite horrific.
It was recently confirmed that face rubbing still exists in some form in NA, making use of the Live2D assets in the game to implement a mini-game involving just your waifu. In other words, you can just rub your waifu or husbando’s face. Which is not all that bad, admittedly, because it’s the waifu-specific skinship that I found myself enjoying the most (there are two types, ‘Skinship’ for your S-support and ‘Invite’ for everyone else). But this has its own problems, which I’ll elaborate on below.
No dual audio is where I drew the line. I know I said I played Tellius above, but that’s exactly why I can’t stand the thought of English audio in Fire Emblem any more – and everything in the promo English audio proves that, from the lacklustre ‘I’m Ike’ to the infamous ‘we’ve got trouble!’ from Felicia. Some argue that the lack of licensing rights for Aqua’s song was what prompted the lack of dual audio – but then why not just dub the song and leave the JP audio be? What extra work does it involve to just… not do anything with it? An ‘undub’ has been recently released for the NA version, which I very much encourage everyone to use if you can manage to apply it – but it doesn’t un-censor and clean up the localization (I think a full ‘restoration’ patch is being worked on, but will take time) meaning you lose things like the first type of face-rubbing and will have to deal with terrible puns and memes. Eva tells me the NA version has some dodgy changes even as early as character creation: instead of clear-cut, stated assets and flaws you apparently get descriptions like ‘calm’, ‘robust’, ‘sturdy’ or ‘deft’ and ‘quick’ to pick from. Feels like Pokemon. And aren’t deft and quick supposed to be the same thing?
You get the main, non-lewd benefit if you go for the undub though: the JP voice actors. Kaji Yuki, Ono Daisuke, Nakamura Yuuichi, Sawashiro Miyuki (again!), Mamoru Miyano – the JP cast is full with A-list voice actors, and you’d be foolish to want to miss out on them.
I’m only going to cover the units I ended up being fairly familiar with.
Kamui: I used MaMU with +MAG -LUK, as I learned Dragonstone damage was now based on MAG and decided I’d like to rely on that. It weirdly turned out to be a physical attack that tended to have higher damage, lower accuracy and couldn’t double, which was odd as in Awakening it was a STR-based fireball attack. I’ll probably go for +SKL -LUK in Nohr. MaMU was pretty strong. His prf Yatogami and the Dragonstone transformation made for a nice variety, but even though I set his secondary class to Dark Mage (to complement +MAG, and it was a Nohr-specific class so I wanted to try it out) I found Hoshidan magic in this game to be sub-par overall. So I pretty much stuck with swords in Dark Knight and went through it for Lifetaker. MaMU married Hinoka. I had this ambition to Marriage Seal to the Pegasus line so we could fly together, but reason won out in the end and I went with White Blood.
Aqua: She’s really cute. I initially wanted to marry her, at least until I fell in love with Hinoka. Aqua is surprisingly capable, and didn’t suffer from the crippling lack of STR that Olivia had – she’ll still die in a single hit, but at least she can fight back so long as you aren’t screwed by RNG. I’m also a little more appreciative of the usefulness of refresher units now, perhaps because Aqua arrives very early in Hoshido and I didn’t have to grind her painfully at the end of her introduction map like I did in Awakening to marry Olivia to Chrom. My first and only reset thus far was when Aqua was tragically and prematurely killed in the first Camilla map. Thundertits ruined everything.
Felicia: Not really a fan. Felicia was very useful at the start, and I’ve heard good things about her but it just didn’t work out between us. For some reason I had this urge to use her primarily as a combat unit, and as useful as she was with shuriken debuffs (the ice was cool too) there was… well, nothing she could do that Suzukaze and Sakura couldn’t. I relied on Suzukaze for utility and Sakura for healing, and although my Felicia was versatile in being able to do both their jobs, she couldn’t do them both as well as they could.
Suzukaze: I heard that Saizou was a stronger, sturdier but slower Suzukaze, and that initially sounded like a good trade-off to me. But my Saizou fell behind and my Suzukaze managed to keep up with the rest of my units, so I ended up going with the latter. He’s really useful – I was so happy to learn that shuriken debuffs exist in this game (and conversely, the first time I was hit by one I was devastated). Suzukaze is a little flimsy at times and doesn’t hit too hard in the later stages of the game against promoted and armoured units, but he debuffs and sets enemy units up well from the safety of two spaces away. Also he has a drug-dealing loli daughter named Midoriko.
Cyrus: My Cyrus fell behind for some reason. I don’t like his character design much either, when you first recruit him it definitely feels like he was a mook boss to be killed on sight during his map then forgotten about for the rest of the game. Cyrus hits very well, but never enough to OHKO when he needs to especially in some of the later maps.
Hinoka: Why is she so perfect? My beloved Hinoka has hilariously high RES and SPD, and joins with a nice stat-boosting naginata (which is very odd given that an increase in weapon grades are often accompanied by forced stat reductions) and great growths. Her high SPD combined with Swallow Strike means that she’ll practically always double, even with double-reducing weapons like the steel naginata. My Hinoka fell a little behind in terms of STR stat growths, but she’s still my pega pony princess. In all seriousness, a really reliable unit. I’m putting her through Basara for Rend Heaven but will finish with Golden-Kite Warrior.
Sakura: She took care of all my healing needs. I started off being a bit conservative with how I used my Spring and Summer Festals until I realized they weren’t actually all that expensive, then after that my Sakura went around healing people every turn with Aqua refreshing her constantly so she could get more exp in. I’m not looking forward to spending money on staves for Elise in Nohr. Sakura will die in two hits, but she’s not supposed to be fighting anyway, nor does she have the STR to. I hear she can change to the Pegasus Knight class, but she’ll never be as good as Hinoka or Tsubaki so don’t bother.
Tsubaki: I actually really like this guy. His supports with Sakura were pretty cute, and I could see them as a couple together so that’s what I did. I wanted to ship him with Kazahana first, then I realized that Kazahana was made out of tissue paper. Tsubaki reminds me a bit of Crowley from Owari no Seraph. He’s basically a male Hinoka with growths that aren’t as good – but hey, it’s a male pegasus! A male!
Orochi: And Tsukuyomi, I guess. I’ll encompass both magic units here because I’ll say the same thing about them – don’t use them. Magic in Hoshido is pretty shitty, honestly. The tomes don’t feel that good, and the magic units themselves are really lacklustre. Tsukuyomi is literally a worse Ricken in terms of both character design and as a unit, and Orochi will hit hard but is also made out of tissue paper. I don’t like tissue paper.
Takumi: Takumi is my hero. I wanted to go gay for Takumi. I actually questioned why there weren’t more gay marriage options – and if I could have, I would have swapped to FeMU halfway through the game just so Takumi could impregnate me and give Kanna his god-tier genes. My Takumi was an UNSTOPPABLE WIND OF DESTRUCTION. A bit like Ryouma, except he joined early enough to make a real impact. His prf Fuujin Bow removes all terrain movement penalties and is super overpowered even when it’s not effortlessly shooting flying units out of the sky. I don’t think he’s ever gotten hurt. And he was a vital unit in the first Camilla map (I had some problems with that map, if you hadn’t gathered) where, upon defeating Camilla he gained a perfect level-up. Takumi too stronk.
Oboro: A serious waifu candidate. I didn’t think much of her to begin with, but I grew to love her dry personality and her intense hatred for everything Nohr-related. She’s also one of the few excellent female units in Hoshido. Lance Fighters in general are very strong in this game, as are their abilities – Seal Defence is very useful early on for example.
Nishiki: I really liked him – and he was yet another excellent male unit. Fox Spirits (and Garou in Nohr) are basically the Fates version of Taguels, but a lot better. At least Nishiki is, because he has Beastbane right when you get him and it’s very useful against the many horseback units you face. A Guard Beaststone you get a couple of maps after he first joins will keep his defences up and thus his health manageable until he’s promoted to Nine-Tailed Fox. I paired him with Aqua for a blue-haired Kinu! In all honesty I just didn’t know who to pair Aqua with, and really wanted to recruit Kinu so they were involuntarily shipped together. Also Nishiki says the best things during his level-ups.
Ryouma: He is too overpowered. Takumi already breaks the game enough, and then comes along this guy. Is it even fair having him as a friendly unit? I feel like I’m cheating whenever I use him. Once I accidentally placed him within an enemy unit’s range and mourned woefully at the enemy committing suicide by daring to touch Ryouma. Using Ryouma is the equivalent of using a legendary Pokemon as part of your in-game team. He comes with super-high stats and growths, pre-promoted as a Trueblade (i.e. this game’s version of a Swordmaster) and you basically end up sending him to test out certain areas of the map to see what sort of movement the enemy units will make – because whatever happens he won’t die. He’s also a useful Dragon Vein activator. His prf Raijin Katana even hits two squares away! It must be those god-tier genes at work again.
Children: I have to admit, I didn’t use the children all that much. This happened with me in Awakening too, because while playing through their maps and recruiting them was fun, as units themselves they were hard to integrate into what was already a very full company. And while they can theoretically be amazing units due to passing down skills, it’s really not worth it or possible (nor is there any point, given the difficulty level of Hoshido) grinding through classes. They’ll be very useful in Nohr for the map exp and if you pair your units up properly, but I didn’t feel they were necessary at all in this game. That’s partly reflected in how you even recruit the children units – how they explain it off is rather artificial, and it feels like they were shoehorned into Fates because that’s what the fanbase has come to expect from Awakening.
My first two second-gen recruits were Kanna (who was a smaller, loli Kamui) and Midoriko (who felt like a loli aircraft carrier from Kancolle). My Midoriko was super stronk, mostly because I paired Suzukaze with Mozume in every battle (without actually training Mozume) and so Midoriko ended up with Aptitude which meant game-breakingly beautiful level-ups. Her recruitment map was pretty hard though, I ended up getting a game over the first time because I didn’t properly grasp the winning conditions. Matoi and Gurei (aka Not!Cordelia and Not!Gaius) I didn’t use, but Kinu was very useful as a second Beastbane unit. During Nohr I plan to use Soleil (I have to see this controversial support first-hand) and Ophelia (because she’s a semen demon).
General Unit Impressions
I feel like the Hoshido units aren’t too interesting as a whole. As and when they were introduced, they seemed to follow the pattern of a royal family member joining followed by two of their retainers – and their retainers were sometimes dodgy units or just weren’t too interesting overall. You do get exceptions like Oboro – her and Tsubaki were probably my favourite retainers. Also too many ninjas joined. I guess what I’m saying is that there wasn’t enough variety – and that extends to waifu options too, although the children were all great. Apart from Aqua and Hinoka, I only really gave serious thought to marrying Oboro and maybe Kinu (although it’s not really my style to marry the second-gen units). If I was FeMU I’d have been swimming in great choices though – Hoshido has a wonderful husbando selection. The male units are very much better overall here I feel – both as units and as characters, from Ryouma to Nishiki to Takumi. On the other hand, I’m spoilt for choice for waifus in Nohr – Nyx looks really cute, and as I never married Severa I want to give Luna a go at some point. And of course, marrying Thundertits at least once is pretty much obligatory.
Note that in the Western release, a lot of the names were changed to various degrees. Some are perfectly understandable and a part of romanizing, such as changing Ryouma to Ryoma or Kagerou to Kagero. Suzukaze to Kaze and Kazahana to Hana were both acceptable. Others were a little strange, like Marx becoming Xander, Nishiki becoming Kaden or Aqua becoming Azura. And why did Tsukuyomi become Hayato?
Seals: So unlike the infinite re-classing and levelling up of Awakening, there is a limit to levelling up in Fates. You get to go up to Lv 20 for a base class, upon which you can promote using a Master Seal to a promoted class. Then you can go through the promoted levels again to what I assume is a maximum of 20 levels (I haven’t gotten that far yet). The key change is that, unlike with Second Seals, when you use a Parallel Seal in this game your level does not decrease. It stays the same, but any skills you missed out on will be automatically learnt as you progress to the next level. So say I have a Hinoka at Lv 11 Pegasus Knight. I re-class her to Lance Fighter. At Lv 12 she will learn the Lance Fighter skill Substitute, and at Lv 13 she will learn Seal Defence. This is how they’ve gotten around the fact you can no longer decrease levels without promoting, nor de-promote yourself down to an un-promoted unit – so if Hinoka promotes to Lv 2 Golden-Kite Warrior without going through Lance Fighter but then Parallel Seals over to Lv 2 Basara (a promotion option for Lance Fighter), she’ll learn the Lance Fighter skills at Lv 3 and Lv 4 Basara. At Lv 5 she learns the Basara skill Rend Heaven (which is basically Ignis for Basaras).
Non-Degradable Weapons: A major change from Awakening. The way they’ve compensated for the fact that weapons are no longer limited use is through giving stronger weapons handicaps. Iron is generally the highest weapon grade you can go without running into auto-debuffs whenever you equip a weapon. Steel adds -5 to doubling an enemy unit, for example. I don’t know how I feel about this, because it really is annoying the higher you go – you’re basically crippled after using a really strong weapon, yet all the enemy units have strong weapons and there are so many of them. Dragonstone+ for example (though it does have DEF +9 and RES +7) now cannot double attack and slams you with SKL -5, SPD -4 and all stats reduced at the end of the battle. It really hurts.
Attack Stance and Guard Stance: So apparently the Pair Up system in Awakening was too broken. I thought it was rather handy, and there was always a sigh of relief when a partner in a pair helpfully blocked an attack for you out of nowhere – but Fates attempts to water it down slightly through separating Pair Up into AS and GS. AS is where an adjacent unit will attack with you as a pair, but they have to be adjacent and not ‘paired up into one unit’ with you in order to trigger it. Pair Up as we knew it in Awakening now only triggers GS, which adds stats to the front unit and will only trigger a block once you max out a gauge which fills up on its own. I suppose this gives it all a new dimension to strategic planning, but it’s actually quite difficult to ensure that everyone who you’d like to be adjacent is actually adjacent – and of course if you pick GS your secondary unit gains very little exp. It’s shaken up yet again by the fact that enemy units can use AS and GS too, meaning that more often than not you end up getting into 4v4 battles which is quite cool.
Dragon Vein: This turned out to be pretty cool. It felt very gimmicky at first, especially in one of the early maps where you had to use it to build a bridge to cross to an inaccessible area, but its frequency and variety in later maps made it quite a fun strategic consideration. For example, there were Dragon Vein alterations where you could cause hidden spike traps to activate in a certain location, or cause an earthquake to inflict damage to all enemies in an enclosed area. Sometimes it worked against you, such as on a map where many enemies were isolated by water and were on boats, and Dragon Vein froze the water and suddenly all the enemy units could rush you. The fact that many enemy generals (in this case, the royal Nohr siblings) could use Dragon Vein too made it very interesting, as they could then alter the terrain to their advantage.
I thought the whole concept was a little contrived, if I’m going to be honest. When I first heard about the My Castle feature pre-release, I thought Kamui and friends would actually build a massive castle in between Hoshido and Nohr and use that as a base of operations while running around the map. Instead, it’s magically self-contained in the ‘Astral Realm’, where time flows at a different rate and so Kamui’s company can take their time resting up in between each battle, visiting hot springs, cooking food and rubbing faces. It felt far too separated from the rest of the story, and although it was cool to have free movement I would have preferred something a little less extravagant.
By the way, if you play as MaMU you leave immediately when a girl is in the bath – except if it’s your S-support. If it’s them you’ll soak in the bath together and you get to zoom in on them and all that. Cough.
I went into my first face rubbing session (with Aqua) with rather high expectations (and thankfully no-one around me), and after all the discussion I have to admit it was a little over-hyped. It just involves… well, you rubbing their faces with the stylus and them saying some stuff every few seconds. They’re actual sentences, it’s not just moaning. I mean, there is moaning, most noticeably with your S-support (a particularly sinful line from Hinoka was something like ‘I never thought I’d be in this sort of relationship with my little brother’) but if you’re touching your S-support’s face you’ve canonically rubbed a hell of a lot more than just their face, if you know what I mean. Heh.
It’s worth noting that there are two types of face rubbing mini-games. The first is the type you can do with any unit, and this is the JP-exclusive type. You can call any unit in, of any gender (I’ve rubbed Takumi and Ryouma) into your room, and if they’re one of the three designated units that day (seemingly at random, identified with a pink heart) your support points with them will also increase. Just keep rubbing in line with the horizontal meter until the heart gauge fills up. It’s not really all that inappropriate, at least to me. And it’s not like it’s sexist or male-oriented – husbandos can be rubbed too. Rubbing Saizou was fucking hilarious. They can moan as well, and say embarrassing lines like ‘what would Mother say if she knew?’ It’s equal opportunity, you know? Face-rubbing for all.
The second is the one also included in NA (and presumably EU, though I don’t know how lewd it gets) and is limited to your waifu or husbando only. It’s also primarily a face-rubbing mini-game, but they blush a lot harder and a lot faster, and you can unlock new events as you continually rub them on a daily basis. For example, doing it three times unlocked an occasional possibility of me catching Hinoka sleeping on our bed when I walked in, meaning I had to poke her awake before I could do anything else. It’s kind of cute.
I can foresee it being a slight problem that the first type of face-rubbing was removed from NA, and that’s because of the no-grind, limited-resource campaign in Nohr. It’s a lot harder, and that means the extra support points you can get from a daily face-rubbing session can end up being pretty important, in all seriousness. After rubbing Ryouma’s face once I found MaMU was eligible for a C-support with him, even though we’d never actually paired up in battle before. With no opportunity to build supports outside of actual maps (since there are no skirmishes in Nohr) I can genuinely imagine the first type of face-rubbing being quite useful.
I won’t give away too much, but I guess this is where I talk about my main impressions of Hoshido. I’ve heard that story-wise, Hoshido is the weakest of the three – that sounds about right given that I thought it was slightly less interesting than Awakening. Having to choose a side at the point where the story diverges actually became a conflicting experience for me, which was surprising – I knew I wanted to do Hoshido first because it was easier and would allow me to get a grasp of the changed game mechanics and units before the tactical difficulty of Nohr, but part of me did feel like picking Nohr after having spent a few chapters with the adopted family and I genuinely wasn’t sure of what to do for a bit.
Sadly the family I chose to betray didn’t really seem to share the same conflict. Except for Camilla, and that’s only after you lay waste to her, Not!Severa and Belka. I’ve always found it weird that there was such a contrast between the happy family scenes and the ‘you traitor!!!!111’ tone they all take once you pick your side – it felt like they only loved you to the extent that their country allowed. I guess it’s because they were the royal family, and so betraying the country was analogous to betraying them? Marx and Leon had no qualms with crushing Kamui without hesitation when they next met, although Elise and Camilla were a lot more unwilling to do so. What I do know, however, is that it will hurt like hell when I play through Nohr. I’ve raised the Hoshido units with care, rubbed their faces, read through their supports, cheered when they survived an enemy ambush or missed an otherwise fatal blow, paired them up and generally just got to know them better as characters. What will happen during Nohr is that I’ll have to kill them all one by one. And I married Hinoka, meaning that I’ll be forced to fight her as a boss on her very own map. Shit’s going to be heartbreaking.
Hoshido is an easy game. They really weren’t kidding when they said it was newcomer-friendly. I picked Normal/Classic because I was afraid I’d gotten a little rusty, but I found myself quickly wishing I’d gone for Hard/Classic instead. It’s really not very difficult, and the fact that you get free skirmishes (meaning lots of free money and exp) makes it even more accessible. That being said, there’s a lot of room for experimenting and the inefficiency that comes with it all – you don’t know which units are the best when first starting out, and a little leniency can be good. On the whole it feels wrong treating it as a stand-alone game, because even though it’s marketed as one it really has to be considered in conjunction with Nohr and Invisible Kingdom as a whole – it’s just one part of a three-part story, and no extra route discounts or separate physical copies will change that perception for me. So I’ll have to reserve my overall judgment of it until I’ve actually played through the other two routes, but based on just Hoshido it seems that Intelligent Systems haven’t lost their touch since Awakening.