Fire Emblem Fates is broken into three parts: Conquest, Birthright and Revelations. Among the three Conquest is the most difficult and structurally different game, but it’s a good thing. Conquest doesn’t hold your hand; in fact, it gives you the bare minimum as you try and fend off the enemy who has double the number of units. It’s going to make you earn a victory and people looking for a challenge will find it here in its 25 plus hour fight for power.
Instead of simply being more difficult than its Birthright and Revelations counterparts, Conquest puts you at severe disadvantages: It strips away the necessities to construct a powerful army, such as removing almost every opportunity to grind for levels and stronger relationships. Stuck on a difficult mission or losing units you can’t afford to lose? Sorry, you’ll have to make do with what you have. You have to play the battles more carefully because one mistake can mean the death of a healer or a tank, which immediately causes you to consider restarting the mission entirely. This, of course, is only an issue if you’re playing on classic/permadeath, but part of the appeal of Conquest and Fire Emblem itself is playing on a higher difficulty. Even the normal difficulty still provides enough of a challenge and Conquest is not to be taken lightly.
You have to take advantage of the side missions because there are so few of them in Conquest. In my playthrough I had one Paralogue mission and three castle defense missions. These battles aren’t enough to make a huge difference, but I was appreciative of them providing my characters experience, no matter how small it was. Compared to the main story missions there are a lot fewer enemies in these skirmishes so there’s more room to play the battles casually without the frustration of losing a significant character.
Permanently losing a character in Conquest is more taxing because the number of units at your disposal is quite small compared to Birthright. Every few missions will introduce a new character or two to help ease the tension, especially on the likes of Corrin. The game is more generous than I anticipated, though. Before I knew it I had a team sizeable enough that I was more at ease with losing a unit because I knew I was able to count on the rest of my team moving forward. There’s also the Einherjar shop if you want a second copy of Corrin or other characters, but they can be quite costly. The cheaper cards are generic copies of sword, archer and other units, but if you’re desperate they can be utilized.
Supplies become a premium too when you’re only given upwards of 20,000 gold to strengthen the army and buy medicinal items. “I’d like to buy a stronger sword for Corrin, but a staff for my healer is more beneficial to the team. And can I afford to buy a Master Seal, or should I wait until I get more gold?” It’s important decisions like these that affect whether or not you’ll successfully rout the enemy. It’s stressful when a character desperately needs a weapon upgrade but Vulnaries and Mend spells take precedence.
The mission structure in Conquest is one of the game’s strongest aspects. They’re nuanced and stressful but it’s exhilarating. Instead of the classic kill all enemies, some missions have you surviving a certain number of turns, escaping the region or seizing a Hoshidan castle. For example, an earlier mission in the storyline requires you to survive for 11 turns while significantly outnumbered. I was forced to play defensively, utilizing nearby ballistas and tomes to weaken my enemy before going in for the kill. To make matters worse, there were villages scattered across the map that offered rewards if I visited them, which meant I had to risk a unit for precious gold and supplies. No matter how many enemies I killed, more would spawn in so I needed my weaker units to retreat until my healer was able to reach them. It’s these high stress missions that make Conquest special; you’re constantly on your toes and the enemy doesn’t relent. The strong mission structure helps keep each battle fresh and I found myself more invested in the battles as opposed to being bored by the same, dull mission over and over again.
Dragon Veins also play a large role in literally shaping the battlefield. They’re only useable by members of the royal family and these veins provide a strategic advantage or disadvantage depending who accesses the veins. One mission’s dragon vein will suck a lake dry, allowing units to pass through and quickly reach the enemy instead of circumventing it and taking more turns to reach the destination. Another will destroy a barrier allowing you to reach a pesky archer who’s been nagging you all day. Take that, you bastard. These veins are a welcomed addition that complements the strong mission design.
Depending on the path you choose, Fire Emblem Fates will have Corrin choosing either the Hoshidan family, Nohrian family or neither. In Conquest, it’s Nohr, the family who took Corrin as a young child and raised him as their own. The Nohrians are a tough family and I ultimately hated my decision to side with them from the get go because of the man on the throne. King Garon doesn’t take excuses lightly and won’t hesitate to kill his own kin, especially if someone questions his decisions and motives. It was gut wrenching to see him question the loyalty of Corrin, someone he’s raised since a young age. But as the plot progresses, you find out why the King of Nohr is acting this way and why he’s become so difficult.
There are surprising twists throughout the story and I enjoyed the Nohrian side of things. It helps that the characters, especially the royal family, are all well developed and their relationship with Corrin is healthy and supportive. Prince Xander is tough on Corrin, but he has to be if his younger brother wants to fight against birth family in Hoshido. He isn’t afraid to speak his mind if it’s to better his brother. Leo, Camilla and Elise are also strong characters that support the young prince. They may treat him like a child, but it’s a nice balance. I found it fascinating that the royal family members would put on a facade to please their father, but in the background understood that not all was well with King Garon. They disagreed with him but had to be discreet about their plans so certain characters wouldn’t find out the family’s desires for peace.
My Castle is the central hub where you strengthen character relationships, buy equipment and design the layout of your castle. Completing battles will reward you with a currency that is used to create a fighting arena, lottery shop, stones that buff character stats and so much more. You’re also able to upgrade these buildings so they offer better gear and are better when fending off castle invaders. It’s relaxing to walk around and interact with the characters and explore the goodies each shop has, because it helps take your mind off the main conflict. I like the addition of My Castle because it’s beneficial to your team and it’s fun to place buildings wherever you see fit.
Fire Emblem is a rock solid game with great characters and a sound mission structure. I’d suggest that newcomers play Birthright first but Conquest is tremendously satisfying, for vets and rookies.
+Strong mission design
-King Garon is a jerk
Fire Emblem Fates Conquest is a difficult but solid strategy RPG that will test even the best strategists. It doesn’t hold your hand so be prepared for it to test your wits and abilities.
Brett Woodmansee is an editor for The Game Bolt and he loves RPGs, Chipotle and his beard. For tweets about video games, sports and more, follow him on Twitter.