It is not often that I write about gaming, though I do my periodic share of it. I certainly game more than I did in my teens since I now manage my own time and disposable income. A lot of games are coming out this year that I am very excited about — Dishonored 2, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Uncharted 4. You get the drift — I have an affinity for 3rd person action-adventure games with a stealth component. I have been looking forward to these games for some time, having greatly enjoyed their prequels.
One game, suggested by my friend, Charles Agbaje, seized me from left field recently and is already on my list of all-time favorites: Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. Holy macaroni, I love almost everything about Conquest (with the minor exception of the child mechanic) — the surprisingly nuanced and emotional story, the character designs, the characters themselves thanks to some engaging support dialogs (I find myself grinding without complaint just to unlock more of those), the customization, and the punishing gameplay and capable opponent scripting that capitalizes on most errant, uncontemplated moves. What I have considered to be just a simple, inconsequential re-positioning of a character outside of the enemy’s range has come back to bite me a couple turns later. As a Fire Emblem newbie, completion of each level in Conquest on Hard mode feels like a great accomplishment. I have the game set to Hard Casual, but have been playing it as if it were on Classic, resetting whenever a character dies. I applaud the coders at Intelligent Systems for there well-coded, opportunistic AI.
Actual war strategizing is obviously not like this. I find myself very thoroughly pondering moves I make in the game, especially at the opening phase of each level, which I usually find to be the most difficult part of Fire Emblem maps. And other than the opening tutorial levels, I have reset for every map since unpredictable enemy reinforcements often mess me up. It goes without saying in war (and yet I say it) that one does not have the luxuries of thinking and resetting. Yet I find the writing in Conquest captures the gray areas inherent in conflict and military service at behest of a nation-state so well. This is certainly the finest video game narrative about war I have had the privilege of experiencing, even counting the relatively one-note cartoonishly evil villain. Characters acknowledge that they sometimes have to sacrifice people they like for people they love. There are plenty of goofy exposition dumps, corny, fanservicey lines, and clunky exchanges (especially when the game goes into dating-sim mode in the support dialogs), calling to the familiar anime tropes we hold near and dear to our hearts. But especially between Azura (Azura is simply a great character) and Corrin, and Corrin and his adoptive Nohrian siblings, there is self-aware discussion of guilt and doubt that does not get too bogged down in angst. The support dialogs with Charlotte, stereotyped as a gold-digging, axe-wielding ho when you meet her, touch on feminism and class struggle in this fantasy world. The dialogs with Peri are disturbing, reminding you that sometimes you have to work with psychopaths you would otherwise not associate with. The dialogs with Arthur had me in stitches. The support dialogs run the whole gamut of emotions and do a wonderful job fleshing out the characters.
This game does not obscure the fact you are simulating killing under rah-rah, kill-the-polygons dialog. I would feel relief after completing a level’s objectives by the skin of my teeth, and then would feel like shit after the games’ characters had me look past the victory to rub into my face the terrible thing I had just done. (Conquest Chapter 19 comes to mind. You survived the cute (but terribly vicious) fox people? Good. By the way, you just committed genocide you vile, selfish, self-righteous person, and the humanoids you killed who were just trying to defend their homeland from intrusion will never see or be able to protect their families again. Have a nice day. Maybe you can feel better by selling a pelt or two.) I was surprised that characters that are playable in the other two paths (essentially separate sister games due to disparities in gameplay and the amount of unshared content they contain) die terrible deaths in this one. Thumbs up to the original writers, and a big thumbs up to the people behind the translation and localization.
I have heard differently about the other paths, Birthright and Revelations, which makes me want to play them less after I am done with Conquest. I will certainly ultimately play Revelations. However, I am not certain I could ever stomach Birthright after having grown so fond of the Nohrian characters. I bought Birthright anyway just to reward Intelligent Systems for the masterpiece that is Conquest.
What an awesome piece of art. I hope Intelligent Systems intends to make sequel options that are as as polished and nuanced as Conquest was and is given the time to do so. Meanwhile, I will be savoring and replaying Conquest for some time. Leo, Charlotte, Benny, Elise, Kaze, Felicia, Xander, Selena, Arthur, Silas, Laslow and Azura — you guys (and the people who created you) rock.
PS, in addition to the levels themselves, another excruciatingly hard part of this game is choosing who to bring to the battlefield. Without fail, the number of characters I like always outnumber the number of characters allowed for a given battle.