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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest.

Fire Emblem Fates:

At last, we have reached the end of the parade of irritatingly disappointing television shows, and can now focus on what really matters: That game which is sort of the game I reviewed last week but also not. Specifically, Birthright and Conquest are in essence two simultaneously released games with the same (well, similar) gameplay, graphics, voice acting, etc, that form two parts of a three part story. By the beneficence of people who realise that is a marketing strategy plucked directly from my nightmares, it's possible to buy one part and get the second (and third, due out in Europe in a few days) as DLC - which is what I did.

Conquest is, specifically, the evil - or at least dark - route: Whereas Birthright saw you siding with the sunny, bright, Japan-inspired land of Hoshido to defend them from an invasion by Nohr, Conquest sees you siding with gloomy, dark, England-inspired Nohr and working directly under King Garon, an evil king with a preoccupation with making you suffer only outmatched by his obsession with sitting on the Hoshidan throne. As you, as Hoshidan-prince-or-princess-raised-in-Nohr Corrin, work under Garon to try and conquer Hoshido, you find your morals and ethics taxed and weakened, as you are forced to fight your blood siblings in the name of putting Garon on the throne, believing that doing so will reveal Garon's true form: A demonic entity masquerading as the real Garon, who is long dead.

On a technical level, there's not a huge amount of difference between the two games (which are themselves pretty similar to Fire Emblem Awakening). Obviously, they're graphically identical, the voice acting and music is pretty much the same, and the core gameplay is pretty much the same: You have a certain amount of named units, and you must move them about a battlefield to kill enemy units and achieve a certain goal, with units receiving buffs from being placed in adjacent spaces to units they've formed personal relationships with.

That's all pretty much expected, to be honest, I don't think anyone believed these games would be drastically different on a technical level.

Garon is in the dictionary under 'evil king.'

Where gameplay differences do come in is in your variety of units and the complexity of your missions. While Birthright specialised in light, fast moving troops and a lot of flying units, Conquest gives you a lot of heavily armoured, mounted troops, almost no flying units apart from a few wyvern-mounted ones (not a pegasus in sight), and what seems like significantly more mages. 

The missions, meanwhile, tend to be more complex and varied, with a greater range of objectives (while it was almost always 'rout the enemy' or 'kill the boss' in Birthright, with, I think, one 'seize' and one 'escape', Conquest mixes things up by giving you multiple escape missions, a few 'defend an area' missions, and so on) and with a greater range of environmental hazards, which is to say that while every hazard in Birthright was of the 'step in it and bad things happen' variety, Conquest gives you things like gardens filled with pots of medicine and poison, where you must break the pots of medicine but not the pots of poison; or strong winds that will either blow you forward or back across the battlefield, and which can be turned against enemies. 

The basic idea seems to be that Birthright is the beginner's game meant to teach you things like game mechanics, introduce you to the basics of the story and so on, whereas Conquest is the game you play afterwards, with more variety, a steeper difficulty curve and a plot that starts exploring the deeper mystery in the games.

Camilla, you seem like the odd one out here.

By 'steeper' I mean 'much steeper' - I never needed to use Phoenix Mode in Birthright, but there were a few missions that I needed to switch it on for in Conquest. Part of that is that you can't level up or earn unlimited money in Conquest - there are no skirmish-esque missions to do that in, meaning you're limited to leveling up in the story itself, and in the occasional invasions. A net effect of that is that Conquest is also shorter, albeit only in terms of sheer playtime, not in terms of its story.

The story, meanwhile, is pretty interesting: While a lot of it is just Birthright in reverse, as you travel from Nohr to Hoshido, through more or less the same locales, to depose the rightful royal family and place a tyrant on the throne, Conquest explores a lot more moral grey areas than Birthright does. While Birthright has you eagerly jump into killing right away, Conquest sees Corrin and their allies genuinely doing their best not to kill anyone - and succeeding at first, only to then find themselves starting to fail more and more, either due to Garon's interference or just impossible circumstances, and as they rack up a body count, start trampling over both the sovereignty of other nations and the peace of people just trying to get by, the game takes pains to make you wonder if what they're doing is actually worth all the blood they're having to spill to get it.

You still get to turn into a dragon, but it feels a lot less useful in Conquest.

Conquest also introduces the concept of Anankos, the dragon god that Garon worships, and the Invisible Kingdom, a mysterious alternate dimension, and while there's not a huge amount of time spent on either of those things, they are presented as looming mysteries and threats, presumably to set things up for Revelation. 

It's a good game, although I don't think I could make bones as to whether I prefer it or Birthright more - ultimately, they're very similar games, enough so that Conquest really does fit better as a DLC than as a standalone title, and it seems pretty likely that Revelation will not be much different either. That's fine, though: I'm looking forward to seeing how this particular story ends.

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