Review: Fire Emblem Warriors

 Hacking and slashing your way through armies alongside some Fire Emblem favourites.

Console: Nintendo Switch

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity might’ve been the first ‘Warriors’ game I played, but it isn’t the first Warriors game I bought. That honour goes to Fire Emblem Warriors. I  came across the collector’s edition on the 2nd hand market for just €20 and thought to myself ‘why not?’. I always wanted to see what those collector editions were about. Plus: it’s always nice that you can experience a genre of games you’ve never touched before when it’s coated in something you already know and love.

At the time that I bought it, I was neck-deep into Ever Oasis so I put the game up on the shelf, waiting for when a better opportunity to arrive. With the sequel Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, which is also a spin-off/alternate take on Fire Emblem: Three Houses, arriving later this month I think that opportunity is now!

Let´s dive in.

The Kingdom of Aytolis, ruled by Queen Yelena, finds itself under attack by a horde of monsters. While the Queen herself is trapped within the castle with her fate unclear, her children, the twins Rowan and Lianna, manage to escape thanks to the help of their friend/mentor Prince Darios of Gristonne. While on the road group learns that Darios' father Kings Oskar is seeking to revive the Chaos Dragon and that they must power up the Shield of Flames with Gleamstones created from the power of heroes who have been mysteriously transported to Aytolis to prevent this.

Thus, the royal twins set out to find and recruit these otherworldly heroes and stop King Oskar’s dastardly plan!

Story-wise, there’s not much to say. The narrative is rather flimsy, just there to give some single-player content. Yes, there’s a plot but it´s as basic as it can get. Introducing each character and all the little callbacks to their respective games is more important to the story than the actual narrative. I would’ve preferred a more focused and more important story, one with some actual character development, but oh well. It’s not a bad approach, just one I don’t care for that much personally but others might find more enjoyment in.

The twins Lianna and Rowan alongside their friend/mentor Darios and the Flame of Shield, a well-known artifact in the world of Fire Emblem.

If I had to sum up the story of Fire Emblem: Warriors, and the entire game really, in one word I’d go for ‘fanservice’. Just like Hyrule Warriors, the Legend of Zelda and Warriors crossover that came 3 years earlier, the focus of this game is on celebrating the IP the Warriors gameplay is paired up with.

Where Hyrule Warriors pulled from the entirety of Zelda’s history Fire Emblem: Warriors primarily focuses on Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, the two most recent games in the series when this game released. It’s an approach I understand, Fire Emblem really found its stride from Awakening onwards, but it takes away from the whole ‘fanservice/celebration of the series’ aspect when everything before is barely featured. Only the original gets some noteworthy representation. Older fans might find themselves feeling left out here and that is a shame.

I’m also disappointed in the character selection. More specifically, the sheer amount of characters. Fire Emblem Warriors has over 20 playable characters and many of them are clone characters. The three Pegasus Knights for example are all simple reskins of one another; same combos and such. Would’ve liked it if they were more different from each other, aside from looks and small stat changes.

For the gameplay, Fire Emblem Warriors features the Hack-and-Slash from the Dynasty Warriors series mixed in with Fire Emblem characters,

items and mechanics. The basic gameplay loop is jumping into large-scale battles against hundreds of enemies, hacking and slashing them away as a one-person army with a variety of attacks. Heavy, light and grand combos that you get from stringing your attacks together.

Basic enemies, you can just hack and slash without much thought while the stronger enemies, the Captains, require you to wear them down first before you can take them out. Using your special move, which you can use after filling a special meter, is a good strategy to take down a whole heap of enemies at once while also giving you an opening to deplete a Captain’s shield.

Aside from hacking and slashing to complete your objectives, capturing enemy basis and whatnot you also command troops. The latter of which is actually pretty darn handy. You command an army of four playable characters on each map as well as four characters from your roster that you can’t directly control but can still give orders to. Keeping a close eye on your goals and commanding your units where to go and what to attack or defend can turn the tide of the battle so I recommend you don’t sit on this aspect of the gameplay. 

The Fire Emblem influence on the gameplay rears its head in mechanics added to the Warriors formula and ones reworked to be more ‘Fire Emblem-y’. You can pair up characters and build up supports between them, the weapon triangle is present (a Rock, Paper, Scissors system with Axes, Swords and Lances) and there’s a permadeath mode.

Character progression is more like Fire Emblem, with reclassing options and the inclusion of seals. Defeating enemies gives you both weapons and items that you can use to create seals AKA more skills for your characters.

The gameplay is good. Beating down enemies with your combos is a satisfying little loop, one that’s fun and keeps you engaged even if it doesn´t have that much variety. The mission structure makes each battle feel different and keeps you busy and there are more than enough characters here that you can get a team of four together with a playstyle that’s to your liking even if there are plenty of clone characters. I was quite a partial to a team consisting of Rowan, Lissa, Corrin and Leo by the end.

Just a still of my girl Lissa unleashing her axe on a bunch of soldiers. And yes, it is a Japanese screenshot!

Where I think Fire Emblem Warriors strays from the path is with the integration of some Fire Emblem elements as well as with the overall presentation/user interface (U.I.) and the sheer amount of characters. If you look at it, many of the gameplay elements and content are the same as what I encountered in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. However, it’s all handled a lot less well here.

Unlocking more combos using items you gather on the battlefield is nothing new but it’s a lot more convoluted here. More items with icons that are very similar to each other, are used in a skill/crest tree that you need to put some work into to understand. Where Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has the missions and things like the training grounds accessible from the map aka the game’s hub, here, it’s all hidden away behind different menus. It makes for a choppy user experience, one that does a poor job of conveying everything the game has to offer to the player and makes navigation tedious.

Graphic wise, the game is fine. The visuals go for a cell-shaded look with a fair bit of detail on the characters with rather basic background textures. It’s a visual style that’s a bit anime-like, which fits well with the general aesthetic of Fire Emblem and this style does a good job of marrying all the different characters and their styles together under one banner. The same can be said for the music. Typical Fire Emblem tunes but nothing too striking.

Oh, and the performance is good. Even with all the character models, effects etc. on screen I didn’t run into any problems, unlike the already mentioned plenty of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Isn’t that something!

Conclusion

Fire Emblem Warriors is a good game, but one that fails to live up to its potential. It’s a solid Warriors game and a solid Fire Emblem spin-off but more so for the hardcore fans than the more casual ones. The core gameplay loop is fun and the celebratory element of the game is neat but the title got some problems that, to me at least, way down the experience. It’s not a game that resonated with me, partially because of my own preferences yes but also because the game just leaves something to be desired.

Fire Emblem Warriors is a game that I don’t recommend for full price, but if you are looking for a hack-and-slash and are a Fire Emblem fan if you see it on sale for a discount, it’s not a back pickup. 

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