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.
Of note: I’m using the default names for each avatar, but any name by the player is fair game should it fit within the allowed space.
It’s a strong bet that future Fire Emblem games will feature a character that the player can insert themselves into, but Intelligent Systems only recently warmed to the idea. Before Corrin, players stepped into the shoes of an amnesiac tactician named Robin. And before Robin, Kris introduced the avatar template that Fire Emblem would follow in the next few games. Of course, being that Kris was included in the Japan-only New Mystery of the Emblem, few players in the West actually got to experience this character.
And yet, Kris wasn’t the first instance of players assuming a role. Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, originally released in the West as simply Fire Emblem, started with heroine Lyn meeting an amnesiac tactician-in-training named Mark. The character rarely makes a physical appearance because the story is viewed through Mark’s eyes, and not a single word of dialogue is uttered. And forget about support conversations with other characters. Beyond name, sex and birthday (and blood type in the Japanese version) are the only elements that players customize.
That is a four-game gap (or seven years) between Mark and Kris.
Mark wasn’t forgotten, either. The conclusion to the Smash Brethren 3 DLC for Awakening sees the aforementioned Lyn questioning whether Robin and Mark is the same person, a subtle wink at the possibility that the player controlled both avatars. You’re able to confirm her suspicions or refute her. Of course, nothing hints at the possibility beyond the similarities between characters (both being amnesiac tacticians), but it makes for a fun backstory for Robin.
Playing matchmaker and having characters birth a child who’d take up arms began and ended with Genealogy of the Holy War — until Awakening revived the idea almost two decades later. With Genealogy, children were not added immediately for players to use, but instead required waiting until a specific point in the story when the first generation of units become unavailable. That’s when the children (and characters to replace the children who aren’t born) continues the war that their parents partook in.
In other words, players had a set deadline to turn characters into parents.
This is different to how Awakening and Fates handle it. Intelligent Systems changed things so playing matchmaker and enlisting the child can occur up until the final chapter, and without losing either of the parents. Unfortunately, their explanation for erasing the age difference between parents and children isn’t great, although I’d still take the time-travel excuse from Awakening over Fates’ flimsy excuse.
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.
And while on the subject of Fire Emblem Gaiden, that game also introduced an overworld that players could travel across on predefined paths. The Sacred Stones revived the idea, but was against dropped until Awakening brought it back.
It’s worth mentioning that not every version of Fates contains an overworld. Birthright and Revelation do, but 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.
Corrin is unique in that no protagonist in the series has been capable of transforming, but such creatures aren’t unusual in Fire Emblem. The first game introduced the Manakete — dragons forced to take human form, yet still able to transform back with Dragonstones — and they’ve been included in the majority of titles. Sometimes they have different backstories or names for the species, however.
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
August 11, 2017: Rewrote the Avatar, Children, Overworld, and a bit of the Transformation segments.