The Next Best Thing – “Fire Emblem Warriors” Review

There’s a variety of different franchises I would love to see Super Smash Bros-styled fighting games made of. Among these many franchises is the Fire Emblem franchise. With a huge variety of colorful characters, all with associated weapons and fighting types, as well as a dedicated and growing fanbase, it seems like it would be a great fit

And, well, we still don’t have that. But we do have “Fire Emblem Warriors”, and that’s kind of the next best thing.

I recently finished playing “Fire Emblem Warriors” after it was gifted to me by a friend for Christmas and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too sure about it. It felt like it was just going to be a reskinned version of the already quite popular Legend of Zelda version that was released not too long ago, “Hyrule Warriors”. And sure, it does resemble that game a lot in the “slash through hordes of enemies and feel powerful”-sort of way, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much “Fire Emblem Warriors” (Referred to as Warriors for the rest of this post) called back to the game it takes characters and settings from.

There were some flaws, don’t get me wrong, but overall the game did a great job of staying true to Fire Emblem’s roots while also providing a fun and unique experience separate from the main series games. So let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses of this game.

Gameplay

As to be expected from a Warriors game, the base idea of this game is hacking and slashing your way through hordes of minor enemies, every so often encountering stronger, more difficult enemies that take slightly more hacking and slashing to defeat. It’s perhaps a little shameful, but I found it deviously fun to mow down so many enemy soldiers. It really did make my character feel powerful and worthy of being a great hero.

The controls are pretty easy to master, although I’d be curious to see what someone a bit more experienced with these sorts of games would say about them. I’m not sure they have the capacity for complex combos or much flexibility beyond “mash mash mash mash mash a different button mash mash mash mash…” but for a beginner to these sorts of games like myself, the controls were pretty basic and never hindered my ability to play.

I will say that the camera controls are at times a bit wonky. I found it difficult sometimes to get the camera to focus on whatever enemy I was targeting, though I suspect that may be due in part to user error. I didn’t even realize that you could hit the L button to focus on certain enemies until the very last level of the game. (Oops!) I imagine if I had figured out this control sooner I probably wouldn’t have had such a difficult time.

What I do really want to praise is the level structure of the game. What seems to be a game focused on just defeating a bunch of enemies and feeling powerful actually becomes surprisingly strategy-based in the later levels. There are constantly new objectives to complete, and much of the difficulty of the game comes in balancing the many different objectives you’re given. Weighing which one of them is worth prioritizing over the others, which ones you can afford to wait on or assign the CPU-controlled characters to complete, all ties in to making the game surprisingly reliant on tactics.

This is also one of the biggest reasons this game still feels like a Fire Emblem game. Even as the basic combat mechanic is pretty fun, it’s the way you can direct even the characters you’re not currently playing as that really sells this game as more than just a reskin. While I do wish the map feature was more easily read (making your allied-but-unplayable units visible as more than just tiny blue dots, for example), the fact that it allows the player to control all the characters at once is helpful and adds a lot of depth to the game. This makes up for the normally pretty awful CPU (they just…….stand there a lot).

In addition, there’s a class-up function as well as lots of weapons and abilities taken straight from the games. Also the sound effects and music! I’m just a sucker for the menu noises from the Fire Emblem games, they just make me so happy. While it’s an obvious choice to put into this game, they’re a great touch regardless.

However, even as I loved the strategic aspects of the gameplay, I wish they were more utilized at big moments in the game. Especially the final boss fight. I had high hopes for the same sort of heart-pounding moments that Fire Emblem always seems to deliver in big bad boss fights, but there was no such thing here. Instead of requiring strategy to defeat the boss, really all you had to do was repeatedly hit the feet of the dragon and run out of the way every so often when he tried to attack you. It was clear they tried to put an element of strategy in with the “dragon wielding weapons” making some attacks do more or less damage depending on which “weapon” the dragon was “wielding”, but it was a weird part that seemed almost shoehorned in and didn’t end up actually mattering overall in the battle.

Characters and Plot

The two new main characters along with their handful of original supporting characters for this game left something to be desired. Sure, I know they’re meant to be a sort of connecting tissue to explain why all these characters from all these different Fire Emblem games all wound up in the same place and fighting for the same cause, but they are still rather bland. There’s a lot less time to flesh them out than usual, but I still wish they had been treated like Fire Emblem side characters, focusing more on memorable quirks, than Fire Emblem main characters, who tend to come off as bland when not given enough time and a strong enough story to operate in.

But was I really expecting the weird lemon twins to be great characters? No, not really. Was I expecting the plot they were the center of to be strong and interesting? No, not exactly. With limited time and a lot of random character appearances to explain, it makes sense that the story is a little flimsy, but it’s worth mentioning anyway.

I must commend the characterization of the classic Fire Emblem characters, though. The way each character is presented felt true to their personality in their respective games. I especially loved Camilla and Lissa (my two mains)’s battle animations. Camilla’s involve her absolutely demolishing her foes, sweeping in on her wyvern and cackling maniacally as she bashes foes around. Lissa, on the other hand… well, actually, also has some hilariously brutal animations. It does my soul good to watch the sweetest little ball of energy go total ham with an axe on a crowd on enemy soldiers. Look, I just love my axe girls, okay? Lay off.

But basically all the characters have great battle animations that I felt really fit their characters. I know some people took offense to the focus on the Awakening and Fates characters, which, I think, is a valid concern. Unfortunately, I’m not well-acquainted with any games besides Fates and Awakening, so I was personally pleased by the selection of characters. Even the characters available as DLC are at least a pretty reasonable price (You know I’m gonna get the Awakening pack for Owain).

I will say that I’m not sure how much the characters vary in playstyle. More or less all of the characters work just about the same way, they just may do more damage to certain enemies than others depending on which weapon they hold. I suppose healers and long range fighters do have a slightly different way to play, but they’re not enough to really call them unique.

As far as cutscenes go, I was pretty impressed by the animation quality of the Switch. While there certainly could have been improvement in hair physics (ESPECALLY with Camilla. Girl’s got a lot of hair, so it’s noticeable when its just sorta frozen behind her), this game mostly made me really excited for the main series Fire Emblem game we’re getting for the Switch. If Fates’s cutscenes took my breath away, imagine how beautiful they’re going to be on the improved graphics engine of the Switch. A+.

I also adored the interactions between characters. They certainly could have made this game without going too far outside the box as far as letting characters from entirely different worlds interact, but they still put in the support system and lots of fun interactions in the main story between characters. It just really makes the game feel even more like Fire Emblem, and gives it a lot of replay value. I know I want to go back and get all the supports I missed.

But even beyond supports I loved the interactions in the cutscenes. I may be biased because Owain got some adorable and hilarious conversations with Lissa, but it’s still worth commending.

Overall, Warriors was worth the time. I’m happy to see Fire Emblem get great spin-off games, especially when they’re commercial successes as well. This game is fun despite its flaws and really makes me look forward to the day we finally get our main series game for this system. I think it’s going to be excellent if it manages to translate as well as this game did.

 

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