Fire Emblem Fates changes up the series in a number of ways while continuing features popularized in Awakening, but where did these features come from? What’s their lineage within the Fire Emblem series?
Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. The Fire Emblem series used this rock/paper/scissor system for years and across many games, but when the original Fire Emblem came out, no such relationship existed between weapons. The Weapon Triangle came with the fourth game, Genealogy of the Holy War. Since then, the Weapon Triangle has remained mostly unchanged.
Bows and knives stands outside the Weapon Triangle, and thus have no meaningful impact on units wielding swords, lances, and axes. Meanwhile, magic has a similar system between fire, lightning, and wind elements called the Anima Trinity. Depending on the game, another system exists between Anima (the three aforementioned elemental magic), dark, and light magic.
Fates brought magic, bows, and knives (or concealed weapons) into the Weapon Triangle for the first time.
Upon reaching chapter six, players travel onto one of three unique paths with their own story and cast. According to Hitoshi Yamagami, a producer for Fates, the kernel for this idea came from the original Fire Emblem on Famicom. The sixteenth chapter presents players with the opportunity with recruiting one of two neighbors: Arran or Samson.
Those characters don’t fit into the larger story of Marth fighting against the Shadow Dragon Medeus, so the choice carries no story implication.
“When I said, ‘Aww, I wish it would change something,’ my senior told me, ‘We can’t due to limited memory capacity,’” explained Yamagami in the Iwata Asks for Fire Emblem Fates. “. . . I said, ‘[Director Kouhei] Maeda-san, wouldn’t you want to play a game where you could see what would happen if you chose the other side? I want to try this!’” (Nintendo, n.d., pg. 4).
The series has toyed with this idea before. Fire Emblem Gaiden featured two protagonists that the player switched between. The Sacred Stones (which takes a great deal from Gaiden) splits the two heroes and asks the player to follow one of them for a few chapters.
Radiant Dawn jumped between different protagonists several times, leading up to a major conflict in which half of the cast fights against the other half. Not surprisingly, both sides eventually come together to face a greater threat.
Casual Mode rankled a few feathers in the more hardcore Fire Emblem community, but proved its worth by helping draw in a wider audience. So it might come as a surprise that Awakening didn’t introduce the feature.
New Mystery of the Emblem, the second DS game (never released outside Japan), introduced Casual Mode first, but it’s not the first game in the series with an easier mode. Eighteen years prior, Gaiden included an easy mode that granted more experience and allowed unrestricted trading between the two heroes’ groups, unlocked by pressing a simple button sequence on the controller.
(I’m using the default names for each avatar, but any name by the player is fair game as long as it fit within the allotted space.)
Avatars will likely to see continued use in future games, but the series only recently warmed up to the idea. Before Robin joined Chrom on the battlefield, players customized Kris from New Mystery of the Emblem.
Before players jumped into Kris’s shoes and participated in that story, they took the role of an amnesiac tactician-in-training named Mark. We view the story through Mark’s eyes, so the tactician rarely makes a physical appearance, never uttering a line of dialogue, much less has any support conversations with other characters. Only Mark’s name, sex, and birthday (and blood type in the Japanese version) vary on the player’s discretion.
The idea of inserting the player into the world and story came after six previous games. The next time that an avatar joined the action came four games later with Kris.
The developers haven’t forgotten about Mark, either. At the end of Awakening’s Smash Brethren 3 DLC, Lyn (of Fire Emblem 7) believes that Robin is Mark. Players can confirm her suspicions or refute her. Although probably just a wink at older fans, making both tacticians the same person might make for a fun backstory.
Playing matchmaker and gaining a child began and ended, at least until Awakening, with Genealogy of the Holy War. Unlike Awakening and Fates, children did not simply add a new unit for players to use. Instead, the first generation of characters are, put simply, taken out of action during the Belhalla Massacre. Seventeen years later, the children (and other characters) continues the story.
This meant (whether they knew it or not) that players had a deadline to turn characters into couples. Aptly named “substitute characters” fill the roles in the roster of any child not born before the Massacre.
When children were brought back sixteen years later in Awakening, the system changed so that players could bring together two units and gain a child right up until the last mission, and without the death of either parent. The developers basically explain away the lack of an age difference between parents and children by time-travel.
…Which is still considerably better than the flimsy excuse that Fates used to erase the age difference.
Fates’ “My Castle” feature is a culmination of a handful of features from across the series, starting with the pre-battle screen that allowed players to tweak what weapons and items a character held. This evolved into the Base, a menu accessed between chapters in Path of Radiance. Besides playing with inventories, players watched support conversations, shopped, and dispensed extra experience, among other things.
Radiant Dawn, the direct sequel to Path of Radiance, kept the Base, but was dropped by the next game, Shadow Dragon, in favor of the traditional pre-battle screen.
Meanwhile, New Mystery of the Emblem introduced an option familiar to fans of Awakening’s Barracks: Everyone’s Condition (also translated as How’s Everyone). Like the Barracks, characters are granted temporary stat bonuses, experience, items, and more.
My Castle is a combined and expanded Base and Barracks. Notably, this isn’t the first time that characters are able to freely walk around (at least in this series). Gaiden already did that.
Speaking of which (assuming you read the paragraph above), Gaiden also introduced traversing across an overworld, albeit on predefined paths. The Sacred Stones later revived this, which again went ignored until Awakening.
While the Birthright and Revelation paths of Fire Emblem Fates contain an overworld that players can move about on, Conquest does not.
Fates isn’t the first Nintendo game to allow players to fondle their friends. Pokemon X and Y gave us Pokemon-Amie, a mode that displays a specific creature on the screen for trainers to feed, play games with, and yes, touch using the stylus.
Given that Pokemon are basically pets (that are used to fight one another), it’s not so weird to massage your Pikachu. Not as weird as massaging the face of not only your friend, but comrade-in-arms. This doesn’t need much explaining thanks to the internet exploding about censorship and creative intent, but the Japanese version of Fates allows players to rub any character’s face.
Man or women, young or old, they’re all fodder for the stylus. Doing a little rub-rub increases the support between Corrin, the hero, and other characters, but it’s still weird. From the little I know about Japan, it’s a deeply introverted nation, so I doubt that much face-rubbing goes on between friends.
In the North American version, support between Corrin and comrades increases automatically, no rubbing required. The only contact occurs when the player attempts to awaken a sleeping spouse by tapping his or her face. Not quite as weird.
Never before has a Fire Emblem hero been capable of transforming, but such beings aren’t unusual to the series. Manakete — dragons forced to take human form — appeared in the original Fire Emblem, and have been included in nine of the fourteen games, sometimes with different backstories and names for the species.
In most cases, Manaketes attack using dragonstones, transforming them into their powerful dragon forms. Awakening introduced Taguels, similar to the Manakete except that their beaststones transform them into large rabbits, while Fates brought Wolfskin (wolves, kind of) and Kitsune (foxes) who use beaststones in the same way.
The only game to make meaningful changes to these creatures is Path of Radiance. Instead of Manaketes, Taguels, and Kitsunes, all human-like creatures able to transform into animals are called Laguz (while humans are Beorc), categorized as beasts (lions, wolves), birds (hawks, herons), and colors of dragons (red, white).
Laguz differ by sticking in their human form until a gauge fills up instead of using dragon- and beaststones. As humans, they’re weak and unable to attack (but can counter-attack in Radiant Dawn). Once transformed, they’re (pardon the pun) beasts. At least until the gauge empties and they return to human form. Items also exist that automatically fills a gauge.
Awakening makes a few off-hand references to the Laguz. Panne, a Taguel, mentions bird and cat Taguel, while Henry speaks about a man capable of transforming into a crow, all being types of Laguz.
The original Fire Emblem introduced an indestructible weapon with the Falchion, but Gaiden broke ground first on making all weapons unbreakable. Instead, characters automatically use a basic, weaker weapon unless a stronger weapon is dropped into the unit’s single equipment slot. It’s another take on using weapons that the series hasn’t repeated, but the point is that every weapon had unlimited uses long before Fates.
Fire Emblem went back to the durability system in the next game, Mystery of the Emblem, and stuck to it until Fates. Still, certain unique weapons are blessed with unlimited usage, like Ike’s Ragnell.
Genealogy of the Holy War altered the mechanic so that a broken weapon changes into, well, a broken weapon. In other words, the object no longer vanishes from inventory, but becomes, for instance, Broken Sword. While these weapons can still be wielded, the stats are naturally inferior until fixed for a fee at shops.
Otherwise, durability stayed mostly consistent until Fates.
Nintendo (n.d.). Iwata Asks: Fire Emblem: Fates. Retrieved from http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/3ds/fire-emblem-fates/0/0