Yesterday, during its completely un-jokey Nintendo Direct, the publisher revealed more information about Fire Emblem IF for 3DS, the next title in Intelligent Systems' strategy series. IF takes place in a region with two great clans at war with each other: the noble Hoshido or the warlike Nohr. Players get to choose between a male or female character at the center of this great war: though you were born as a Hoshido, you were raised by the Nohr. The "IF" in the title refers to your ultimate choice: which side will you stand with?
The thing is, the protagonist isn't the only one making a choice. In Japan, Nintendo has announced four different versions of the title. The primary retail releases will be Fire Emblem IF: White Kingdom and Fire Emblem IF: Black Kingdom. White Kingdom covers the Hoshido path and stands as the easier of the two games. This path is similar to previous Fire Emblem games and is a bit more accessible; new players will probably stick with White Kingdom. Black Kingdom is the Nohr path, with more limited resources, requiring greater strategy on the part of the player.
According to Nintendo (via Siliconera), the turning point in-game is the choice the players makes at Chapter 6. If you've purchased the physical retail versions of the game, then at Chapter 6, the game will assume you've already made your choice. If you own White Kingdom, you'll go Hoshido automatically, if you own Black Kingdom, you'll do Nohr. If you went digital to get around this, making your choice at Chapter 6 will completely lock you out of the other side.
This is where Nintendo and Intelligent Systems get odd. If you want to play the other side, you can purchase it as DLC for the full game. The retail and digital versions cost 4,700 ($39.25, probably $39.99 in the US), and the DLC will set you back another 2,000 yen ($16.70, probably $19.99). Then there's the third storyline, which will be the same price as the DLC, but released at a later date. Finally, you can pick up the game's Special Edition, which nets you all three storylines, an art book, and a Fire Emblem 0 sample card for 9,250 yen ($77.26, maybe $79.99?). Got all that?
It's interesting, because up until the information about the actual Japanese launch was released, I think most people assumed you'd be able to freely make this choice without being locked out. Monumental decisions of the same calibre have been available in RPGs for some time now. Instead, Fire Emblem IF is presented like Nintendo's Pokemon series, you get the same basic title with two different types of content.
What Fire Emblem IF's presentation does show is that Nintendo's getting flexible in how it packages its games. Do you buy Black Kingdom or White Kingdom? And once you've made that choice, do you pay for the other side and the third plotline DLC? Or buy the Special Edition, which is essentially Fire Emblem IF plus a Season Pass, to use other publishers' terminology? Nintendo is a company trying to figure out what works in this brave new world of digital content. Fire Emblem IF is an experiment and the inclusion of a free Fire Emblem 0 card is a gateway into yet another experiment (free-to-play CCG?).
I'm not sure that Nintendo won't see some pushback if they decide to keep this business model for the Western releases. It's not completely new; there's the previous Pokemon games and Capcom/Flagship did the same with The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons, but once the DLC enters the picture, people get weird. I honestly think that if EA or Ubisoft tried this, there'd be hell to pay.
Why did Nintendo choose this business model? And it's not a size issue, as the digital version includes both paths, it just locks you out of one of them eventually. Was it a creative choice? Perhaps, as Black Kingdom is essentially Fire Emblem IF's Hard Mode. Will we see more of this in the future? Honestly, when it comes to something like Pokemon, I'm sure some players would love to pay $20 to get the exclusive Pokemon from the other version. Taken that way, this could be seen as a win, a great new model that let's players explore a completely different companion game at a discounted price. It all depends on how you frame it.
Part of me is unhappy with the separation and having to pay an extra $20 to experience the other half of the plot, but the other part realizes that I tend to pick one path and stick with it. Bioware's titles and the Fallout games are the only titles where I'll do a replay to experience the differences between good and evil. So, in practice, I'm getting what I would've gotten out of Fire Emblem IF anyways, had it been a single title.
Unfortunately, we don't know if the Western releases will share the same model. The press release Nintendo of America sent out doesn't have any information about seperate editions, but the US release is some ways away. Most Western players are hoping they get a single game, but if the New 3DS and its lack of AC adapter was any indication, the days of Nintendo treating the West radically different from Japan may be over. We'll see. Japan gets Fire Emblem IF for 3DS this June, while it's launching everywhere else in 2016.