Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), 3DS
Hyrule Warriors was the surprise success of the Wii U’s early software lineup. Zelda mixed with Dynasty Warriors? How would that even work? Dynasty Warriors is about larger-than-life military commanders mowing down countless peons in large scale conflicts. Zelda, on the other hand, is about exploration and puzzle solving. Despite how strange the union of these two franchises was, Nintendo fans fell in love with its solid gameplay and its unique interpretation of iconic Zelda characters.
With the age of the Wii U over, the age of the Switch has come, and Nintendo is trying to make lightning strike twice with the recently released Fire Emblem Warriors. Fire Emblem has much more in common with Dynasty Warriors than The Legend of Zelda does. It is also about larger than life military generals commanding their armies to victory, even though it’s a turn-based strategy and Dynasty Warriors is a hack-and-slash musou action game. It seems like a perfect fit, and for the most part it is. The core gameplay mechanics of these two franchises complement each other fantastically to create a genuinely enjoyable action game. Sadly, a handful of flaws combined with the relative obscurity of both the Dynasty Warriors and Fire Emblem franchises, especially when compared to Zelda, prevent Fire Emblem Warriors from seeing the same success that Hyrule Warriors did.
If you played the mobile title Fire Emblem Heroes then you already basically know the story of FEW. It’s basically a straight repackaging with a few changed details. You take control of a prince and princess of a faraway kingdom when suddenly an interdimensional threat invades. Portals to another universe open and monsters pour out, slaughtering the kingdom and separating our protagonists from their mother, the queen. All it not lost, for with these interdimensional monsters come interdimensional heroes, the cast of prior Fire Emblem games. By rounding up these heroes, and also collecting some magic stones and putting them into a magic shield, you build an army to take your kingdom back from the Chaos Dragon.
The Tale of Fire Emblem Warriors
Being brutally honest, the story is pretty bad. This is one of FEW’s major flaws. Hyrule Warriors got by with minimal story because the Zelda franchise already utilizes minimalist story telling. Fire Emblem, on the other hand, is known for its epic fantasy narratives about great wars of greater kingdoms. This mediocre fanfiction just doesn’t measure up with the standards fans of the franchise expect.
Heck, countless battles in the campaign are fought because a would-be ally sees you, mistakes you for an enemy, and immediately challenges you to a fight to the death. While these misunderstandings are always eventually cleared up, adding new heroes to your party, they are only cleared up after you kill around 3000 frontline soldiers. Oops! Forget chaos dragons and dark mages, friendly misunderstandings claim more lives than anything else.
One of the things that makes up for the lackluster narrative is the cast. If you are a fan of recent Fire Emblem games then you are going to recognize many of these faces immediately. Characters like Chrom and his band of mercenaries from Fire Emblem: Awakening, the Hoshidan and Nohrian siblings from Fire Emblem: Fates, and of course Marth representing the classic Fire Emblem era, all ready and willing to join your army.
Fans that got into FE in the Gameboy Advance or Gamecube era are somewhat out of luck. Fan favorites like Ike, Roy, and Eliwood don’t show up at all. In fact, the majority of the cast is from Awakening and Fates. 17 characters from the 25 character roster are from those two games. Only three are from Marth’s Shadow Dragon continuity, two are original characters, and one is Anna, which is basically the FE mascot. That leaves only two other character slots, taken up by Lyn from The Blazing Blade, and Celica from Shadows of Valentia. DLC packs will expand the roster, but once again they only include characters from Awakening, Fates, and Shadow Dragon.
Let’s Get Down to Business
Fans of Dynasty Warriors know that it’s not story or characters that draw you to the game, its gameplay. FEW does have solid gameplay because it follows the DW formula, for the most part. A near infinite amount of ineffective enemy peons spawn and attack you, like a MOBA for anyone unfamiliar with musou style gameplay. Your goal is to cut through wave after wave of these enemies on your way to confronting the real threat, enemy generals. Along the way, you’ll clear out forts which then restore your HP and spawn your own ineffective peons, save NPCs, and kill optional bosses. And you need to do all of this while defending your own territory and pushing your way toward the final boss of the map.
Aside from the roster, Fire Emblem lends its RPG mechanics to the title. While leveling up is not new for the DW franchise, FE’s stats and percentage based level ups are. The FE team up system also makes an appearance here, allowing you to fight in pairs to increase your stats and grant new attacks. Heck, you can even choose to turn on permadeath for that classic FE stress that makes you replay missions over and over again. You can still resurrect characters, even in permadeath mode, but it still takes quite a few resources to do so.
Classic FE’s weapon triangle also comes into play here; with swords doing extra damage to axes, axes doing damage to lances, and lances doing damage to swords. Magic, flying, and archer classes are also thrown into the mix, with their standard strengths and weakness. Even clerics get in on the action, and their ability to heal greatly changes the way the otherwise straightforward conflicts play out.
It’s a fantastic blend of styles. The rhythmic mashing of attack buttons to pull off flashy combos can put you in an almost meditative state of flow. Meanwhile, the pleasant dings of a multi-stat level up, the endless customization involved in forging and upgrading weapons, the choices inherit in upgrading the individual tech tress of 25 different characters, all give you a pleasant sense of progress. Keep mashing those buttons and those numbers will keep going up. Before you know it you’ve played for ten hours straight without a break.
Epic soundtrack and visual styling
The soundtrack does a lot to keep you engaged. FEW has some of the best music of either the FE or DW series. The epic orchestral scores of FE mixed with the shredding electric guitars of DW create a score that is both unique and invigorating. It’s just something you can tap buttons to. By just letting yourself rock out and jam to the background beats, you’ll naturally find yourself attacking, dodging, and healing at the right time.
The graphics in Fire Emblem Warriors are pretty good, across the board, but there are some exceptions. The art-style is the same heavily anime-inspired art that we saw in Fire Emblem Fates, and while the 3D models replicate this style perfectly, hit-effects are very basic and character models constantly clip through the environment in awkward ways. Enemies and maps will flicker in and out at times, making you unable to tell what is around you. The framerate takes a gigantic dive whenever there is a lot on screen at once, even more so when playing in two player split screen. It’s a shame that the Switch’s low graphical power is already holding back otherwise fun games, especially since it’s less than a year old.
FEW is a game that you can easily lose yourself in for hours alone, but its best when experienced with a friend. Despite the graphical errors and framerate slowdown, multiplayer is where the strategy of FEW really shines through. You can issue unit orders in the pause menu, on a Fire Emblem style grid but, sadly, the A.I. is kind of dumb. Your A.I. teammates will routinely get stuck on corners while moving, stand around doing nothing once they capture a fort, or rush into a boss conflict they have no hope of winning. Real human players can cooperate and formulate strategies in ways the A.I. simply cannot. Unfortunately, there is no online play, a whopping missed opportunity for incredible multiplayer fun.
Fire Emblem Warriors isn’t going to change anyone’s world. If you weren’t a fan of Dynasty Warriors already, shoehorning in Fire Emblem characters isn’t going to change that. However, if you were only a casual fan of Dynasty Warriors or if you never gave the franchise a shot, the Fire Emblem elements are more than enough to make this an enjoyable experience. With intense competition from the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, I wouldn’t say that Fire Emblem Warriors is a must-buy. There are more original games to invest your time and money in. Yet, if you have a few extra bucks to blow, or if you can get Fire Emblem Warriors on sale, then it’s a game I would wholly recommend trying out. It’s good solid Dynasty Warriors fun with a shiny coat of Fire Emblem paint.