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Corrin has some choices ahead of them.

The customizable protagonist for Fire Emblem: Fates, Corrin is thrust into the middle of a brewing family conflict.The decisions you make will guide how you play through the most recent entry in the grid-based tactical-role-playing Fire Emblem series when it releases February 19 for $40 for the Nintendo 3DS (of course, you very well could end up paying $100 for the entire — as I’ll explain shortly). I played it at last week’s Nintendo RPG Showcase in San Francisco, and I also watched a break-out session that went over some other details that the demo didn’t cover.

But before I tell you about all the new features, Corrin must pick their fate.

Picking sides

Let’s get the confusing stuff out of the way. Fire Emblem: Fates has two versions: Conquest and Birthright. No matter which you pick up, the first five chapters are the same. After that, Corrin has to choose which side of the conflict to join. The options? You can enlist with the Nohrs, who are the more traditional “bad guys” but who also represent your adopted homeland. Picking this side means tougher battles and limited resources.

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Or you can fight on the side of Hoshido, where you were originally born, in Birthright. Here you join up with your blood relatives and turn your back on the Nohr family that raised you. Fates is rooted in this family drama, and it’s an interesting new hook into the already character-relationship heavy Fire Emblem formula.

Pretty anime cutscenes help tell Fire Emblem Fates' massive story.

Above: Pretty anime cutscenes help tell Fire Emblem Fates’ massive story.

Image Credit: Nintendo

However, you actually need to make this choice before you pick which version to buy. Both versions are $40 and if you, for example, picked up Birthright but then get to chapter six and decide that you actually wanted to fight for Nohr, not against them, you’ll be directed to the eShop, where you can buy the other story path for a discounted $20. It’s a weird way for it to work, so make sure to pick sides and then buy accordingly.

At the event, I played through a bit of chapter 13 — after you have already decided which family you are going to side with — where Corrin met up with his adopted sister, Camilla. The anime-style cutscenes look great, and Camilla was none too happy that I had turned my back on her and joined up with my family. In fact, she threatened to kill me and then to cradle my dead body in her arms, as she did with me when I was a child. Yeesh.

Point made, Camilla, point made.

Scenic scenery 

One really cool new feature is that, unlike most RPGs, Fire Emblem: Fates has actually gotten rid of generic battle backgrounds. When two characters engage in combat, the camera zooms in on that specific point on the map, and the background reflects the appropriate areas of where everybody was standing. No more generic forests or rivers or plains. No more fighting every battle against the same boring backdrop. If you’re fighting next to a building, the combat view will reflect this, which is a pretty awesome.

My Little Castle 

The battle backgrounds actually reflect where you are fighting, which is pretty cool.

Above: The battle backgrounds actually reflect where you are fighting, which is pretty cool.

Image Credit: Nintendo

The mode that I’m most excited about is the new My Castle feature. Think of it almost like Fire Emblem meets Animal Crossing, where you get a castle to deck out with all sorts of fun little goodies.

These fortresses have many building options: a smithy, an arena, a prison, a barista, shops, forts, a mess hall, gardens, fish ponds, and more. You can change the style of the castle and the music. It’s looks like a good addition to the series. It’s not just for fun, either: You can use My Castle to make food for your armies and enhance stats for the battles to come. A well-fed team is a winning team.

Fates also has a wireless multiplayer mode, both local and online, meaning you can test your teams against other players. You can even visit and battle in their My Castle area, so you might have to be a little strategic in how you set up your pretty fountains and give some thought to defense, too.

For Amiibo support, Fire Emblem Fates works with the pre-existing Marth, Ike, Lucina, and Robin figures (but no word on the upcoming Corrin, which seems odd, or Roy). The first time you scan one of the characters in, they will talk to you but only offer items. By the third time you scan them in, you’ll be able to convince them to battle and try to recruit them for your party.

A pricey adventure

The section of the game I played was much what you might expect from a new Fire Emblem. I do, however, think Nintendo is getting a little … high on the success of Fire Emblem: Awakening with how it’s handling the release. It has a third side to the story, Revelations, that it will release on March 10, which presents the story from the point of view of taking neither side. This path is also $20 (if you’e already purchased Birthright or Conquest, that is).

It’s an interesting idea to portray a story from all sides (even if it does bother me a tiny bit that means no one side is actual story canon), but it’s also asking for a a costly — and time-heavy — investment from the players. And that’s before you even get into map DLC; Map Pack 1 is $18 as well. If you add it all up, including just the first pack of DLC, that brings the total cost of Fire Emblem Fates so far to nearly $100.

Ouch.

I enjoyed Fire Emblem Awakening — don’t get me wrong — but Fire Emblem Fates needs to be really good if I’m going to essentially triple-dip and go through — and pay for — the story three times. Sure, after chapter six all the battles are different, and Nintendo is claiming that each game has enough content to justify everything, but that’s still a lot of Fire Emblem, no matter how you slice it.

Oh, but at least weapons don’t break this time around.

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