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Fire Emblem Warriors

Platform(s): New Nintendo 3DS XL, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2017


Switch Review - 'Fire Emblem Warriors'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 6, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Fire Emblem meets the Warriors series in Fire Emblem Warriors.

Buy Fire Emblem Warriors

On paper, Fire Emblem and Dynasty Warriors seem like a perfect match: two war-focused franchises with a heavy emphasis on recruiting diverse characters and tearing through large armies. The combination of the two titles comes very close to being ideal. Fire Emblem Warriors has a ton of potential, but like a lot of new Warriors franchises, that potential is diluted by the growing pains of adding a new property to the tried-and-true Warriors gameplay. The result works well enough, but it isn't the easy success that the less sensible Hyrule Warriorswas.

Like most games in the Warriors franchise, Fire Emblem Warriors is a mega-crossover between various entries in the series. In this case, it follows two siblings, Rowan and Lianna, who are royal heirs to the Kingdom of Aytolis. When the kingdom is sacked by monsters, the two set out to find a way to save their homeland. Portals have brought heroes from other worlds to join them, and together, the band of warriors must stop a great evil from taking over the entire multiverse.

From a gameplay perspective, Fire Emblem Warriors is a pretty clear evolution of Hyrule Warriors. It plays a lot like that game and uses almost all of the same basic mechanics. It's a Warriors title, so the focus is on beating the crud out of enemies using one of a variety of characters, while capturing bases and occasionally fighting bosses. The item mechanic from Zelda has been dropped in favor of a more streamlined experience. However, the ability to swap characters from Hyrule Warriors Legends has been retained, allowing you to instantly swap between four playable characters at once.

Fire Emblem is known for its weapon triangle, and that holds true in Fire Emblem Warriors. There are three main weapon types: Axe, Spear and Sword. The spear beats the sword, which beats the ax, which in turn beats the spear. In game terms, this causes advantages and disadvantages against certain foes. Combat can cause a weak point gauge to appear above the enemy, and when it's depleted, players can unleash a powerful attack. It's very similar to Hyrule Warriors in that regard.

If you have weapon triangle advantage, then the weak point appears more often and depletes faster. If you're at a disadvantage, then it won't appear at all. This is pretty essential on the hardest difficulty modes, though there are ways around it if you're careful. Some characters also don't have a triangle weapon and use magic or bows — or in one case turns into a terrifying dragon — which gives them a disadvantage against the usual foes but can make them strong against others. Bow users are gifted against mounted flying foes, and magic users are more effective against heavily armored knights.

You can get around this with the Pair Up mechanic. Much like Awakening, Pair Up lets you combine two characters into a more powerful character that can swap between the two entities at will. In addition, players can launch support attacks and use support defenses, which bring out the other character to attack. If they have the weapon triangle advantage, it will still count and bring up the enemy's weak point gauge. Support defense allows the second character to block one attack for the main character, which is a tremendous boon for getting high rankings on stages that require taking no damage. You also can perform a team-up special attack that uses both characters' special meters for bonus damage.

The weapon triangle is a big flaw. Part of it is because the game has an extremely poor balance of characters and weapon types. Sword users are massively overrepresented due to the amount of sword-wielding lords found in the franchise. Lance users, on the other hand, are underrepresented, with only a single lance move set being offered to players. There are far too many sword users and not enough of every other class. You have to make sure you can cover the triangle so you can deploy enough magic or bow users to fill any niche, but you're often pigeonholed into a very small number of characters. There is DLC coming that has the potential to expand this, but DLC that covers a flaw in the main game mechanics isn't really satisfying to anyone.

The biggest problem in Fire Emblem Warriors is that it sticks too closely to canon for its own good. I respect that it's trying to capture the feel of Fire Emblem, but the end result works against the game. Clone characters are understandable if you're sticking to the extremely limited move set offered by Fire Emblem, but they aren't fun. More to the point, they aren't necessary. Hyrule Warriors made playable fighters out of characters who never so much as picked up a weapon in the series. Fire Emblem characters have small move sets but enough personality and style to be good fighters. For example, Lissa the cleric has a distinctive ax-based move set that draws from her character quite well, but it feels like the developers didn't really try with a lot of characters.

Beyond that, the cast is disappointing. Fire Emblem is a rich franchise, but Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates are overrepresented. It's understandable in the case of Awakening, which was the Final Fantasy VII of the series, but it's disappointing that Fates is so heavily represented considering the aforementioned problems with diversity in weapon types. There are some Fire Emblem staples missing from the mix, such as a playable armored knight character. Some characters also appear in cut scenes or as NPCs but are unplayable until DLC comes out, and that feels absurd. Fan favorite Owain shows up in a number of cut scenes, so it the fact that he's DLC makes it feel like he was cut from the main game. Fire Emblem's cast isn't small by the standards of a new Warriors series, but unfortunately, the design choices make it feel small.

Fire Emblem Warriors doesn't lack content, though. If anything, it's pretty well-designed and has a lot of gameplay. There's a main story mode that allows you to follow a crazy mix-up mash-up of Fire Emblem characters as they seek to battle a fairly ill-defined evil and then a History mode that is basically a reskin of Hyrule Warriors' Adventure mode. You're thrown into maps resembling old Fire Emblem titles and have to complete special missions to unlock new characters, items and weapons.

The RPG elements of the weapon system are more played up in Fire Emblem Warriors than in Hyrule Warriors. Weapon customization plays a huge part in how viable characters are, and weapon types are shared among more characters. Characters with high magic stats, for example, desperately want the Topsy-Turvey ability, which allows their magic stat to be used for regular attacks. There are attributes that reverse the weapon triangle, which is necessary to get around the disparity between weapon types. Fortunately, most mechanical improvements made to Hyrule Warriors over the course of its life have been carried over, and it's a breeze to create and improve your weapons.

Fire Emblem Warriors is a solid-looking game. It goes for a more cel-shaded art style that attempts to mimic the cut scenes of recent Fire Emblem titles, and it largely succeeds. There are a few flaws, but overall, the game looks nice. I think it has less personality than Hyrule Warriors, but that is also due to a difference in source design. After all, there are only so many blue-haired, sword-wielding heroes you can have in a single game. My largest complaint is that the UI is not well designed for the Switch's handheld mode, and the map sometimes borders on unreadable. The music is excellent, with solid remixes of a lot of excellent Fire Emblem tracks. The only downside is that the English voice acting is weak and drags down the story.

Fire Emblem Warriors is a fun game held back largely by its adherence to the source material, which drags down several gameplay systems. It's still enjoyable, especially if you like Warriors games, but it could've been a lot more. The lack of diversity in the cast hurts it as a collection of fan favorites, and the overt similarities to Hyrule Warriors mean that it's easier to recommend Zelda over Fire Emblem unless you're a die-hard fan of the latter. If you can get past the nagging flaws, it's still one of the most solid Warriors titles on the market and a great Switch exclusive. It's always going to be in the shadow of Nintendo's other popular sword-swinging franchise.

Score: 7.5/10

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