Like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Birthright is very much a soap opera. Dialogue sequences are long and sometimes drawn out, characters will predictably flip-flop between sides, and everything is just a bit too cliched. But this is what gives the Fire Emblem series its charm, and Birthright is no different. Fire Emblem: Birthright is one of three stories told in Fire Emblem Fates. Early on in the story, the player is forced to either join their birth family, the family the character grew up with, or secede from the two. If you choose to join your birth family, then you have picked Birthright.
Birthright is the easiest of three. Classic mode and the Lunatic difficulty settings are still in tact, but in Birthright you can grind in between story missions and recruit a larger number of allies as you retaliate against King Garon’s regime. With your birth family you will travel across the world, building an army as you slowly thin out Garon’s army and unpleasantly reunite with the family you grew up with. Each chapter consists of a tactical battle bookended by dialogue sequences, and sometimes a beautifully rendered cut-scene. Upon beginning a battle you pick your units and guide them across the map as you pick off enemies until you’ve cleared a path to the unit’s leader. Similar to Awakening, what makes the battles so engrossing is how you can mix and match your units to cover a character’s weakness or to exploit a strength while building relationships between your soldiers.
The relationship mechanic is just as strange and addicting as before. When certain characters fight alongside each other a heart will pop up over their heads. Do this enough and you will be able to listen in on a brief, usually comical, conversation. Once their relationship hits S-rank they can have a kid that can join the fight as well. The relationship system isn’t quite as pervasive as it was before, but it still leaves a lot of room for experimentation for players willing to put in the time.
But you can’t raise an army without a castle. One of Fate’s new features allows you to customize your fort. After each battle you are given the ability to create a new building that can range from a weapons shop to a mess hall. As you’d expect, upgrading your castle rewards your army with perks and new equipment. This is a welcome addition to the formula, but it wasn’t implemented as well as it could have been. Apart from the shops, the only building I took advantage of was my private quarters in order to build relationships. Some buildings I didn’t even bother to visit. After about halfway through, visiting the castle felt more like a chore than a good way to break up the action.
Fortunately, building a castle isn’t what you’ll be spending most of your time doing. Fire Emblem is a deep and rewarding tactical RPG that rewards your risks just as often as it punishes them, especially if you are playing on classic. One wrong step and you could lose your medic or your master class archer. The tension lies in the game’s risks. It is heartbreaking when a character you’ve spent hours training falls in a terrific battle, but it’s all the more uplifting when a unit defies all odds and survives another turn. However, these moments can be few and far between making most deaths feel unfair. Nine out of ten times when a character dies you will grunt and restart your game because an archer got a lucky shot through a wall. This can all be avoided if you choose to play on normal, but because Birthright frequently grants more units you will rarely be challenged on easier difficulties. And the game’s story seems to be more geared toward casual play. When a character dies he or she will limp off the battlefield and never fight again, but he or she will still pop up from time to time in cutscenes. The gameplay consequences are harsh, but these consequences aren’t reflected in the narrative which ultimately voided the appeal of classic mode for me.
Birthright still offers a challenge for those seeking one, but it’s also a great introduction to the series, or the tactical RPG genre for those who are interested. The meandering and cumbersome story might turn some people off, but there are enticing stories to be told for those willing to put in the time.
+Range of difficulties
-Underdeveloped stronghold system
Birthright won’t push you to great lengths, but the rewarding combat and its addicting relationship mechanic should pull you through to the end.
Jake Dekker spent 25 hours playing Fire Emblem: Birthright. He still isn’t sure if he should jump into conquest next.