You don’t usually see the plural version of the word “fate.” That’s because it is counterintuitive to claim one person’s life has multiple, inevitable endings. But that is the idea that the new Fire Emblem explores — only I’m betting your fate will lead to you choosing one game over the other.
Fire Emblem: Fates is out today for the Nintendo 3DS, and we love its branching narrative and difficult battles. But let me tell you what I didn’t like: choosing to play Conquest over Birthright. One of the big new spins on the classic Fire Emblem formula this time around is that Fates is two separate tales (with a third supplemental story coming next month). Birthright and Conquest, the subtitles for these versions of Fates, tell two sides of the same story. Birthright is simpler in terms of both difficulty and story. Conquest, however, is dark, complicated, and brutally tough — oh, and developer Intelligent Systems doesn’t hesitate to make it feel like the wrong choice.
While Nintendo is selling Birthright and Conquest as two separate games, you can get a Collector’s Edition that comes with both. That’s the version I played, and that runs you through six tutorial missions before giving you the option to side with the obvious good guys of Birthright or the explicitly evil clan of Conquest.
But this is hardly a choice.
The story positions Birthright as the morally correct path, and it is the one I would’ve chosen without thinking had I not agreed to play Conquest first as part of our review process. The issue here — and I’m going to start talking about some light spoilers — is that in order to play Conquest, you have to side with terrorists.
The king of the Nohr family, the protagonists of Conquest, kidnapped you as a baby. And as soon as the story introduces you to your real mother, the sword the King of Nohr gave you as a gift explodes. It’s obvious that he intended to kill her as well as you while making it look like a suicide attack.
Minutes later, you must choose between your real family, who are universally kind, or with the family that raised you after stealing you.
Clearly, Intelligent Systems is pushing players to choose Birthright. And after putting time into both quests, it is obvious that this isn’t just the morally correct path in terms of the fiction but also the best way to jump into Fates as a player. Conquest’s darker story and more challenging themes are a reward for players who overcome its arduous missions. But playing through that content first will likely make Birthright seem too easy and too black-and-white.
Ramping up from Birthright into Conquest is the natural path for Fire Emblem: Fates. Intelligent Systems clearly knows that, and that’s why it is channeling its inner mother to lay a guilt trip on you if you try to play Conquest first.