Back in April, Nintendo outlined the byzantine release system for Fire Emblem IF. The game, which releases tomorrow in Japan, is coming in two versions: Fire Emblem IF: White Kingdom and Fire Emblem IF: Black Kingdom. White Kingdom is the game you purchase if you want to follow the path of the regal Hoshido, while you'll buy Black Kingdom if you want to choose the contentious Nohr clan. The turning point in the game is at Chapter 6; if you have the physical versions, the choice is made for you. If you have the digital version, making your decision during Chapter 6 locks you out of the other side of the game.
In Japan, each version will cost 4,700 ($39.25, probably $39.99 in the US) and you can buy the other path as DLC for 2,000 yen ($16.70, probably $19.99). Finally, there's a third DLC storyline you can pick up at a later date. If you don't want to mess with the DLC, there's the Special Edition, which gives you all three paths and an art book for 9,250 yen ($77.26, maybe $79.99?).
When I dropped this information before, people weren't particularly happy about it. Many, including myself, hoped that the North American release would skip the DLC scheme and include the two primary paths. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
"Fire Emblem Fates comes in two different versions, called the Conquest and Birthright editions," Nintendo told Polygon. "In the U.S., Conquest and Birthright will both be sold separately, as is already the case in Japan. For those who have purchased either the Conquest or Birthright edition, a third edition will be made available as downloadable content at a later stage. Details on how the three storylines will be made available in other regions will be announced at a later date."
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is the Western title of Fire Emblem IF: Black Kingdom, featuring the Nohr path. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is the new title for Fire Emblem IF: White Kingdom, which is the Hoshido path. The Pokemon-style business model is being carried forward to Western audiences. If you're buying a physical copy, you should probably do your research beforehand. (My heart says Hoshido, my body says Nohr.)
The good news for some players is that Fire Emblem Fates will offer same-sex romance options this time around.
"In the Conquest edition of the game, there is a male character that the game's player may have his/her male main character marry after they bond in battle," Nintendo's statement to Polygon continued. "Similarly, the Birthright edition features a female character that a female main character may marry after bonding in battle. Both of the aforementioned characters can be encountered in the third edition of the game."
The Fire Emblem series has had the support/pairing mechanic for a long time, but Awakening was the first time that combat mechanic was backed up by a social dating-sim. While it was fun pairing up your team, the dating sim aspect had the additional benefit of making you care about your entire crew though repeated conversations. Like any bit of popular entertainment with a wide cast, the fans took what Nintendo and Intelligent Systems had given them and went to work pairing up the cast in all sorts of ways. (Seriously, current Fire Emblem fandom is super hyped about potential pairings.) Many of these pairings tended to be homosexual, despite that option not existing in the game; same-sex pairs could not achieve the S-rank needed for a romantic pairing.
As it stands, Fire Emblem Fates is looking to be one of Nintendo's more progressive titles. It's only two characters, and both characters are technically bisexual, but the fact that there are same-sex relationship options at all is a big step forward for Nintendo. On the Hoshido/Birthright side, the female option is this character, who is actually one of the children available in the title. (Yep, your married people can have kids.) On the Nohr/Conquest side, the male option is this guy, one of the game's primary supporting cast members. Both characters will also be available in the third DLC storyline. Fire Emblem Fates also features darker-skinned characters like Rinka and Benoit. It's a small inclusion, but for myself, it's a welcome one.
Nintendo's always been a very family-friendly company, creating games everyone can play, but it's also been a conservative one. Despite its commitment to creating inclusive experiences, there have been players who have felt left out and forgotten. Animal Crossing: New Leaf lacked the ability to choose skin color, despite having the technology available in the game's tanning feature. Around the same time, some Tomodachi Life fans who were unhappy when the company patched out a bug that allowed for same-sex relationships. In a game about life and relationships, those players felt that leaving homosexual options out of the mix was a disservice to the fanbase.
Nintendo later apologized for the removal, noting that it wasn't possible to change Tomodachi Life's design at that point.
"We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life," said the company at the time. "Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game's design, and such a significant development change can't be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players."
Now we have two bisexual characters in Fire Emblem. Yes, it's a small step, one that requires a bit of work to access. For many fans, it's still a step in the right direction. It's a step that can be built upon and improved in the future. And improvements should be lauded and celebrated, if only so developers and publishers will know that the community wants more.
So, good job Nintendo and Intelligent Systems.