This review was originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 18th October 2017.
I was a huge fan of Hyrule Warriors; the unusual match-up of the Warriors formula with the Zelda aesthetic and characters worked tremendously well, especially in terms of the sheer amount of content the game provided and how the Zelda mechanics altered the tried and tested Warriors franchise in interesting ways. When Nintendo announced yet another Warriors crossover, but this time with Fire Emblem, a franchise that I personally prefer over the Zelda franchise. The more information that came out about Fire Emblem Warriors, the better it looked, and the hype levels were very high. So, now that I have had a substantial amount of time with it, how is the game?
The main portion of the story of Fire Emblem Warriors follows Rowan and Lianna, the Prince and Princess of Aytolis, and their quest to save their kingdom and the world from dark and demonic invaders. To achieve this, they have to find and gain the help of various heroes from other worlds and complete the powerful Shield of Flames. This is where the story becomes a little messy, as the various plot threads of the different Fire Emblem games are brought together into a single story. In an attempt to mark the key plot points from Awakening and Fates, the story can feel a little disjointed and doesn’t make sense at some points, including a few erroneous moments involving battles taking place where they really hadn’t needed to. Overall, the story is undeniably twee with it’s “power of friendship” themes, but the endearing and well-rounded nature of (most of) the characters does shine through.
The gameplay is, as opposed to the slightly messy story, remarkably solid and focused. Taking control of a single warrior at once, the player fights through waves of enemies using a mixture or normal and strong attacks, which can be strung together in a slowly unlocked list of different combinations. In any given battle, there are multiple heroes in play at once and these can be switched between by pressing up or down on the D-Pad. As there are multiple different warriors to use with different weapons, this is where Fire Emblem Warriors’ main defining mechanic comes in; the Weapon Triangle. This is a core mechanic in Fire Emblem and states that swords beat axes, that beat lances, which beat swords. This means that if the player is trying to engage enemies that have the advantage, they will definitely feel this fact and obviously vice versa.
As the majority of the main campaign’s content revolves around defeating bosses or acquiring keeps through dispatching the captain of them, there is a real need to pay attention to this triangle aspect of the gameplay, even in the other warriors on the field. This is where another distinctly Fire Emblem trait seeps in, with the ability to strategically direct the warriors you are not currently controlling to take on particular objectives such as opening routes, taking over keeps, or protecting the other NPCs on the field. The ability to switch between warriors at will aids here as the warriors, when controlled by the in-game AI, are not quite as savvy as the player and tend to rush in with no thought of weakness and with little inclination to heal themselves. It’s at this point that you can pause the action and direct the hero you just stopped controlling forwards as they will blindly head towards the main objective otherwise. This can be slightly resolved by bringing in another player to play the missions in 2-player split screen; there’s a dip in the amount of enemies on screen at any one time, but the game runs smoothly and is greatly enjoyable with others.
For anyone familiar with the gameplay of traditional “Musou” games, or the popular Hyrule Warriors crossover, will know how this is played for the most part; continually hammer the standard and strong attack buttons until you win. Also returning from the Hyrule games are the two additional bars monitoring your current hero’s Awakening or Warrior gauges. The Warrior gauge builds up as you attack (or collect yellow vials) and can be used to unleash a powerful, and visually spectacular attack called a Special. The Awakening gauge temporarily increases the warrior’s strength and breaks the weapon triangle meaning that any enemy has you as their weakness. This gauge can be refilled while Awakening is active by continually defeating enemies, or by collecting blue vials, but when it runs out the warrior will automatically use a powerful attack similar to that of their Special, so make sure you have enemies left so as to not waste it. These different attacks can be strung together to create devastating combos, but they aren’t the only tool at your disposal.
The other main tool is a new addition, and once again comes from the Fire Emblem franchise, which is the ability to pair up units. This can be done with any other blue unit on the map with a simple button press when the player character is nearby and has three benefits to player. The first is that, once the shield wheel has filled, the warrior is shielded from a single attack whatever the strength of the enemy. The second is that, once the weapon wheel has filled, the support character can be summoned to attack once. This can be used to break the guard of a powerful foe, or in the middle of a combo string to increase the length of the combo and therefore the damage overall. Thirdly, with a support character in tow, the Special attack of the warrior increases in both damage and spectacle as both characters attack at the same time. The only negative to this feature really is that it lowers the amount of units on the field that can be directed to complete objectives.
In between chapters of the Story Mode, the player can visit the Convoy or the Camp to buff their heroes in a variety of different ways. The Convoy allows the shifting of equipment around, so the equipping of new weapons or the replenishment of vital health items. The Camp is were the characters themselves are given new abilities and attributes through the conversion of materials dropped by enemies in the heat of battle. These abilities can be anything from the extension of combo strings, to the increase of defence against certain weapon types, or even the ability to class change your heroes once they pass level 15. This gives the player quite a lot of agency in how they want their characters to develop, in that they can focus purely on attack and enhance combos or speed up their Warrior gauge, or concentrate on cast iron defence. Needless to say, you’ll be spending a lot of time in this two areas of the game working on creating the best army you can.
Apart from the main Story Mode, the game has far more content to drop into if the player fancies a break from the arguably messy plot. The most important of these being the History Mode, in which the player can work through a simplified scenario based on a key plot thread from one of the key iterations of Fire Emblem featured in the game. Each of the encounters in this mode is a more focused affair, usually concentrating on a single, simple objective. As such, History Mode is a refreshing break from the usually frenetic gameplay of the main game. What’s more, there are several different scenarios to work through, and it’s a joy to revisit some of these small plot threads from the history of a franchise that has run as long as Fire Emblem.
The Extras menu is the last portion of content, and where all of the unlockables for player perusal are placed. In this menu the player can find all of the cut-scenes they have watched, all of the music they have heard so far, all of the achievements they have unlocked, and all of the character models of characters they have found (which can then be viewed in full 3D). Also found in this menu is the Amiibo mode, which allows five Amiibo figures to be scanned each day in return for weapons, materials and items. The sheer amount to unlock in here is incredible for completionists as some of those achievements are devilishly difficult to unlock; and for those that happen to be a fan of the Fire Emblem series, the Extras menu is probably the first time that you would have seen some of these characters look this good.
Speaking of aesthetic, this game looks and sounds incredible. All of the character models look so clean and crisp with even the unique characters to this game looking very much like they belong in the Fire Emblem universe. The locations are beautiful, if slightly generic, and are a marked improvement on the slightly overly blocky areas in Hyrule Warriors. The animation is smooth and clean too, with minimal frame rate issues and no noticeable input latency to disrupt the flow. Also, the little flash of the character’s eyes across the screen during a Special, referencing critical attacks from the main games, is undeniably hype-inducing.
The sound design is incredible, with suitably epic music lifted from the franchise itself, and original compositions sounding distinctly like the source material too. All of the recognisable sound effects are here, in the menu selection chime, the level up sequence for the characters, even in the Camp menu with the characters chiming in. Also, the voice acting in this game is as well-executed and utterly cheesy as we’ve come to expect from the Fire Emblem games. All-in-all, this game feels so intrinsically familiar whilst breaking into new ground.
So, should you buy Fire Emblem Warriors? If you love the Warriors format of games and love Fire Emblem, this is a match made in heaven. It’s fun, it’s flashy and is tremendously immersive if you don’t mind a bit of a repetitive ride. Personally, I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun with the game, and am looking forward to the DLC that’s incoming for it. However, if you aren’t a fan of either Warriors or Fire Emblem, there is nothing for you here. You might get a kick out of it for a short spell, but it likely wouldn’t hold your attention.
Fire Emblem Warriors is released Friday 20th October 2017 on Switch and Nintendo 3DS.
Thank you to Nintendo for kindly supplying the code to review this game.