Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest Nintendo 3DS Review: The Family You Choose

Intelligent Systems ramps up the difficulty in the other half of Fire Emblem Fates.

Review by Kat Bailey, .

When it came time to choose my path in Fire Emblem Fates, I hesitated for half a second. I had been assigned to Conquest, but my first inclination was to side with the Hoshido - the ostensible good guys. In the end, though, I held my nose and picked Nohr. I'm glad I did.

Conquest is the tough, old-school Fire Emblem that fans missed in its predecessor, Fire Emblem Awakening - a game that was widely praised, but also one of the easiest entries in the series. Conquest's maps are gauntlets that require careful planning to conquer without losing a character. And without random maps for experience point grinding, it's extremely difficult to over-level your party.

I'll admit that Conquest has been kind of kicking my ass, but in a way that's been refreshing. The latter portion of the game has some of the toughest maps that I've encountered in a Fire Emblem game to date. One of them has gusts of wind that blows enemies and heroes alike up and down the map, potentially separating out a weak character at a critical moment. Another is a race to the top of a mountain in which you must use Dragon Veins - hotspots that can change the map - to freeze enemies so you can sneak past.

Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics and its ilk, Fire Emblem has never been an especially deep tactics RPG - most of the min-maxing is found in picking a good class, pairing them up with the right character, and exploiting weaknesses via the rock-paper-scissors weapons triangle - so more pressure is put on the map design. Thankfully, Conquest steps up with a series of maps that make it very difficult to brute force your way through. Even a powerful hero like Xander - a horseback-riding Paladin with an insanely powerful sword - can be knocked out in relatively short order if you put him in a bad position.

If this all sounds a little intimidating, keep in mind that I've been playing on Classic mode - Fire Emblem's traditional perma-death mode. If you're really only interested in playing through the story, you can always pick Casual mode, which will bring your party members back to life when a mission is done. There's also Phoenix mode - essentially a cheat code that will bring your characters back to life immediately. Frankly, I don't understand the point of that last mode; but if that's how you want to play Fire Emblem, then that's your business.

Whichever mode you choose, you're admittedly in for a middling story at best. Fire Emblem has always leaned on certain tropes - heroes questing for peace, ancient sorcerers, and corrupt rulers leading otherwise good-hearted kingdoms - and Conquest is more of the same. Choosing the Nohr route puts you under the command of a rather surprised King Garon, who responds by setting out to make your life hell.

In these cirumstances, the protagonist comes off as the tiniest bit naive as he or she openly questions Garon's actions and is repeatedly saved from major faux pas by their savvier siblings. If this were Game of Thrones, the protagonist would lose their head in the first five minutes. Subtlety has never been one of Fire Emblem's strong suits, though, and that's fine. The protagonist's naivete doesn't dimish the tension of trying to balance Garon's deranged orders without being forced to kill everyone or enter outright rebellion. In that regard, Conquest has just a bit more nuance to it than what I imagine is the more straight-forward Birthright.

In keeping with the tension with the protagonist and her chosen kingdom, the cast of Conquest skews a bit darker than Birthright's. Royals like Xander and Leo pride themselves on their nobility, but their army includes shady outlaws like Niles and Beruka, and outright psychopaths like Peri. Depending on your tastes, it can be a pretty entertaining mix, especially when you start pairing them and getting them to have kids - a feature that makes its return from Awakening.

Between battles, you retire to a private castle in another dimension - one of Fates' newer and more interesting features. Here you can run into party members, buy weapons from shops, bet on fights in an arena, and make temporary stat boosting dishes in a mess hall. After each battle, you're given one to two points to invest in either building or upgrading your infrastructure, which can make a big difference in how you progress.

The Smithy in particular stood out to me. Between missions, you can mine sapphires, which can then be used to combine two weapons into a more powerful version. This is very useful for characters who have just undergone a class change and are limited to the most basic weapons. With the Smithy, you can buy four weapons, combine them into two upgraded versions, then combine them one more time for a final high-powered weapon - very useful for a class that might otherwise be stuck with a Bronze Sword.

By and large, I think Fire Emblem's castle hub works really well. Even buildings like the seemingly useless Hot Springs - basically an excuse to see your favorite characters in a bikini - add a bit of color to the adventure. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to make some interesting decisions regarding what to upgrade next.

With that said, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Nintendo has opted to cut one feature from the castle. When your protagonist builds up a strong enough relationship with a character on the field, they will get married and their partner will move in with them. Originally, this unlocked a series of minigames in which you interacted with your partner using the touchscreen. In the localized version, though, the minigames have been largely excised in favor of... well... nothing. You will get a quick first-person look at your partner, they'll say how devoted they are to you, and you'll earn a heart on a meter to no apparent effect. Honestly, I don't think it's a huge loss - the minigames are a bonus that don't seem to have any meaningful impact on the game as a whole - but I know that it's a notable omission for some.

The removal of the minigames mostly serve to highlight the tension between Fire Emblem's roots and where it is now. The series was originally conceived as a hardcore tactics RPG with an anime bent, with the Support mechanic being a fun footnote for the epilogue. Since Awakening, though, Fire Emblem has been putting more and more emphasis on character relationships as the series has first brought back children, and now introduced hot springs and petting mini-games. It's part of a bid to make the series more accessible to a broader audience; and if Awakening's success is any indication, it's been successful.

With Conquest, though, it appears that Intelligent Systems hasn't entirely forgotten what originally made Fire Emblem so great. Conquest's challenging maps and inability to grind XP are clearly aimed at the hardcore set, and they are very welcome. Add in new mechanics like the castle and Fire Emblem's traditionally excellent presentation, and the result is another high-quality tactics RPG from Intelligent Systems.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: Fire Emblem Fates has an attractive interface that is easy to use, which is useful in light of the various systems at play.
  • Lasting appeal: Most people will play Conquest once and move on to Birthright (or vice versa). However, there's replayability to be found in mixing and matching members of your roster and seeing which kids you get.
  • Sound: Conquest's soundtrack is generally understated; but when it needs to be, it can be very strong. I rarely played with the sound up, but that was more personal preference than a reflection of Conquest's quality
  • Visuals: Fire Emblem Fates is one of the best-looking games on the Nintendo 3DS. It cel-shaded cutscenes are particularly excellent.

Fire Emblem: Conquest is billed as the "hardcore" side of Fire Emblem Fates, and it doesn't disappoint with its intricate and challenging maps. On top of that, the core of Fire Emblem's relationship mechanics are strong as ever, and the castle hub is a very nice addition. Even if you opt to ignore Birthright, Conquest is a full-featured and satisfying RPG on its own.

4.5 /5

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest Nintendo 3DS Review: The Family You Choose Kat Bailey Intelligent Systems ramps up the difficulty in the other half of Fire Emblem Fates. 2016-02-17T20:30:00-05:00 4.5 5

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Comments 23

  • Avatar for Compeau #1 Compeau 2 years ago
    I'm still not sure how the saves work in this game. Are the saves for all three games completely separate, or does some progression carry over?
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @Compeau You carry progression from the first five missions, but once the routes split, it's permanent.
    @lonecow Fair point, but while I think the current support stuff is an extension of that approach, I also think it's also meant to pander to a broader audience.Edited February 2016 by Kat.Bailey
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  • Avatar for FTLMantis #3 FTLMantis 2 years ago
    Man, I'm exceptionally excited for this. Glad to see it's picking up positive reviews across the board. In response to the question, I've already read online that the game lets you use 9 save slots if you have all 3 games, 3 of which are on the cartridge while the rest are on your SD card.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #4 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    I'm confused at the intro here: I thought Conquest put you with Nohr, Birthright with Hoshido, and you had to buy the other to see the other side?

    What happens here if you choose Hoshido instead of Nohr?
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #5 MHWilliams 2 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn We have the Special Edition, so it's presented as a real choice. If you bought Birthright or Conquest, once you get to that point, the choice is made for you.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #6 Ralek 2 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey The game sounds splendid, basically like the best from FE:A matched with the series' roots, but I got a question. You make a point about the lack of grinding possibilites in Conquest, but I thought Fates was supposed to have paid-for DLC maps just as Awakening had. Did you mean, no grinding in the base game, or are there no paid-for DLC maps in Conquest, or only after you finished the main story (which is the only way those DLC maps make sense for me btw)?
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #7 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @Ralek Birthright has randomized maps that can be used for grinding as part of the base game, but Conquest does not. The DLC map packs are separate content
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  • Avatar for Ralek #8 Ralek 2 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey So basically, optional grinding is free in Birthright, but can be purchased in Conquest then ... I wish they would resist the temptation for that, or at least, offer it up only after the campaign is concluded, but well, what can you do other than ignore it yourself :-/
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  • Avatar for Jon-Snu #9 Jon-Snu 2 years ago
    “Subtlety has never been one of Fire Emblem's strong suits, though, and that's fine.”

    It’s kind of frustrating being a long time series fan and hearing the entire series being characterized like this time and time again, especially by people with little experience with the series pre-Awakening. Though I do somewhat understand where they’re coming from. Based on playing through just the first few chapters of one of the games, grouping it with other “typical anime games” is not an unreasonable first impression.

    But IMO a degree of subtlety, funnily enough, was what used to set Fire Emblem apart from your standard JRPG – that and the relative restraint they used to have when it came to otaku pandering. The duology of Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn especially were good at mixing a more straightforward young adult, “anime” type storytelling with some grim political realism here and there.

    To me, Awakening felt like the first time the storytelling in a Fire Emblem game actively insulted my intelligence, with warrior women so clumsy they couldn’t walk two steps without tripping. Not to mention the breeding with the 10 year old looking dragon girl bit.

    There’s no doubt the series needed a shot in the arm to survive. In that sense things like the casual mode, the modernized character designs as well as the significant boost in production values were a welcome improvement. But looking at just how well Awakening ended up doing, you have to wonder if they really had to go as far into otaku trope territory as they did. To my disappointment, if anything, Fates looks to have doubled down on “otakuisms” - look at the first person ‘bumping into breasts’ cut scene or the lesbian cure drug in the Japanese version.

    That said, I suppose I’m finally starting to come to terms with what the series has become. At least from what I’ve heard, Conquest really looks like a treat to old time fans in terms of level designs. And dem cinema scenes sure are perdy.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #10 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @Jon-Snu Ehhhh... I've played the series since the GBA versions. Fates is even broader than usual, but I wouldn't exactly say that this series is know for its nuanced characterization or political drama.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #11 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @Ralek What can I say? That's par for the course in games these days. People want to buy extra content, and IS is happy to provide
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #12 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    Thanks for sharing Kat. Have some nitpicks over how you explain the old support and pairing systems but that's just me being nitpicky. :) Two questions: what was your FAVORITE thing about Conquest, besides being pleasatly surprised by the package? And what was your LEAST favorite thing about Conquest? Edit:and a bonus third question, do you think that Birthright or Revelations would avoid that problem? Thanks!

    @Jon-Snu I'm afraid nostalgia's coloring your recollections. The Radiant duo wasn't subtle so much as sparse. I can't remember much of the Dawn Brigade beyond a lingering irritation with that thief who followed Micaiah around.

    I wouldn't say the anime story was "mixed" with anything, it's just that older Fire Emblems were flavored by Record of Lodoss War while Awakening/Fates took inspiration from modern anime trends. The old Fire Emblems had a better class of anime, but let's call a spade a spade.Edited 2 times. Last edited February 2016 by Tetragrammaton
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  • Avatar for Namevah #13 Namevah 2 years ago
    @Jon-Snu "But IMO a degree of subtlety, funnily enough, was what used to set Fire Emblem apart from your standard JRPG"

    Not enough subtlety, if you ask me. The antagonist of the third game (and its remake) is depicted as a pale man with red eyes and wearing nothing but red. There is zero subtlety in a character like that.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #14 Kadrom 2 years ago
    I had Conquest on preorder, but I'm just now getting around to playing Awakening (my first FE) on Hard Classic and have had to reset several times through the first 5 or 6 chapters. I'm starting to get the hang of it now, but it scared me into switching my preorder to Birthright. Maybe I need one more warm-up before I do Conquest as DLC... am I just bad at these games? :x
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  • Avatar for FTLMantis #15 FTLMantis 2 years ago
    @Jon-Snu I've played all of the games, bar 3 and 4, and definitely agree with that characterization. The stories have always been a little ham fisted at best. It's really the mechanics that have always made this series shine in my eyes.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #16 link6616 2 years ago
    On the story stuff, my experience with FE in that regard is "It's good/OK, but there is usually a small set of the story that is particularly good."

    My favourite story parts of FE7 for instance was the whole dynamic between Sonia, Nino and Jafar.

    These are also the only character I can remember clearly.

    And even then, while well executed, still is relatively tropey.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #17 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @Tetragrammaton Will try to answer these questions briefly:

    1. I'm a big fan of a lot of the maps in this game, as I discussed. There are some nasty timed challenges and intricate castles in there. I think it addresses a lot of the problems people had with Awakening.

    2. As I said, I think the story is pretty weak, mostly because of the lack of nuance in the characterization. The black hats and white hats are pretty clearly defined as such. That's fine - and par for the course in Fire Emblem - but maybe a little disappointing in a game that puts so much emphasis on picking a side.

    3. I don't think so. If anything, I imagine Birthright is an evil more straight-forward battle of good vs. evil.

    Hope that answers your questions :)
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  • Avatar for Jon-Snu #18 Jon-Snu 2 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey "Ehhhh... I've played the series since the GBA versions. Fates is even broader than usual, but I wouldn't exactly say that this series is know for its nuanced characterization or political drama. "

    Oh, sorry. I think I mixed you up with someone else.

    Anyway, it seems I'm in the minority here. For me, storywise the older games had just enough 'flavour' and nuance to be entertaining - that doesn't necessarily mean I would describe them as 'being nuanced'. In comparison, Awakening was just a collection of the laziest otaku tropes and one joke characters. But I guess it was pretty at least...

    Yes, Record of Lodoss War was probably an inspiration for older FE. But as a source of inspiration, it's a whole lot better than the worst anime we have these days.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #19 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey Does pretty well. Thanks again Kat!
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #20 CipherStone 2 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn I think if you're playing Conquest and choose Hoshido the game takes you to the eShop to buy the other campaign for $20.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #21 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    @Jon-Snu Ehhhhh... see, I don't think you're in the minority so much as you're looking at Awakening from the wrong perspective. Awakening is absolutely fanservice, but it's pound for pound it's less anime fanservice and more FIRE EMBLEM fanservice. The setting is Achanaea, the first and last thirds are equal parts the Marth games and Genealogy of the Holy War. The middle section is the most IS has done for Fire Emblem Gaiden since the game came out. Plus the support system is more flexible than ever, and the generation system makes its second ever appearance.

    And the characters? There's the usual Chistmas Knight combo, but they're joined by a shoutout to Tiki in the old FE games, Tiki herself, what's effectively a Laguz, a Marth clone that's invoking being a Marth clone, the first ever Ike clone (and Ike's descendant as a secret character), Anna as a playable character again, New Mystery of the Emblem's avatar character...

    Awakening has a lot of problems, but they're issues of breadth. I'd have stripped out the Valm section and written the time travel into the story proper. Play through once and create the bad future, then play as Lucina and company through much harder maps to change that history and create a happy ending.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #22 Kuni-Nino 2 years ago
    @Jon-Snu Great post. Although I'm more accepting of the anime tropes in the new games, I do miss the more poltically charged plots of Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Those games still had stories stuffed with anime tropes, but they presented themselves with a sense of dignity and restraint that felt kinda lost in Awakening. The only time Awakening ever came close to what PoR achieved was in those first opening missions. After the twist, it lost itself.

    You're right on the money regarding characters too. I like Chrom and Robin's crew quite a bit, but they ain't no Griel's Mercenaries. Characters like Mia and Nephenee feel like they couldn't exist in Awakening's world.

    All in all, while I think Kat did a great job with this review, I can't agree with her dismissal of the stories in the previous games. I haven't played all of them, but I hold Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn near the top of my SRPG list mostly because the gameplay and the stories were pretty damn good.

    It's disappointing that the series kinda lost that story aspect after Awakening. Now the conversations about the game are all about the social aspects and the relationships. I wish it were about the story instead.

    Oh well, I'll be getting both games anyway. I just wanted to acknowledge that post. Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn were awesome games. Maybe the best story you'll find in a Nintendo game.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #23 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    @lonecow Haha, someone downvoted everything in the comments. Just ignore the numbers, you'll be happier that way.
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