The Warriors series from Koei Tecmo has been around for 20 years – in Japan, where it’s known as Musou – has never found the same audience in the West, but with the recent trend of adapting existing franchises into the Musou style of gaming; it’s hard to find fault in what usually ends up being a mindless game. The Legend of Zelda saw some success with Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U and 3DS, and of course, now with the Fire Emblem series, it’s a natural fit for the chaotic gameplay of the Warrior style gameplay.
I’m not the biggest fan of the Musou style of games, a lot of the previous titles I’ve tried have left me bored and disappointed in myself for playing mindless games that offer no more than a few button combinations to tackles hordes of enemies which offer no challenge. Koei Tecmo has proved they can go above their usual mindless hack and slash fests with Fire Emblem, a series known for it’s challenging and strategic gameplay, as well as a strong cast of characters.
Immediately after selecting your hero, either Rowan or Lianna, twin siblings who are heirs to the Aytolis Kingdom, your life is shaken up and the city is under siege. A portal opens from the sky and the city is in ruin, you and your sister escape the confusion. Fan favorites from Shadow Dragon, like Marth, and from Awakening, like Chrom appear with the monsters from the portal to assist the royal twins. There’s a lot of fan service if you’re a fan of the series with heroes and villains dropping in and out through the entire game, the problem is most of these appearances serve little purpose to the overall story.
For anyone who’s looking to find a story worthy of the Fire Emblem name, I can tell you this isn’t the coherent story you’re used to, and the lack of narrative may be because of the gameplay. You are, however, getting some fantastically cheesy beats about bonds being stronger than anything, a lot of it is typical, eye-rolling stereotypes.
With any Warriors game, you start at one point of a map, and fight your way across the battlefield hacking and slashing away at enemies while being as flashy as possible. Add in impressive combinations and Awakenings, you’re devastating the enemy and looking cool while doing it. Defending bases and coordinating attacks against enemy forces play a part of the gameplay, as well as ensuring your allies stay alive. There are also sub-missions that provide items to equip and use when setting up at camp and offer enough variety that it’s worth completing these missions.
Incorporating Fire Emblem’s game mechanics into Warriors does the game a bit of justice, for example, the support system returns, and allows characters to join and bond, the longer they bond on the battlefield, the better their efficiency in combat grows. Also borrowed is the ability to manage your allies around the map. Merely running around the map and taking on the hordes of monsters keeps the action going but taking the time to point your allies to strategic points across the map to pincer enemies opens up tactical opportunities.
Combat plays out in rock-paper-scissors fashion – axes are weak to swords, swords are weak to spears and spears are weak to axes. Managing your team is crucial to victory, and the added layer of strategizing how to proceed offers a variation on the battlefield. As the game chugs along, knowing the odds will benefit you more than simply charging in and wiping the enemy out.
The permadeath mode the Fire Emblem series is known for makes an appearance but the mechanics are not the same here. Instead of having your character die and be unavailable to use again, it’s much less permanent here. What happens here is when your character dies, they are removed from story battles but can be revived at a much larger cost to you.
History Mode comes as surprise, while I am not exclusively family with Fire Emblem lore, playing this over at a friend’s house, he ran me through the mode, which recreates battles from the long history of the series. Unlocking these battles are done by completing illustrations through Anna, a vendor who sets up shop on the map during battles.
Graphics-wise, I was surprised to see the game targeting 1080p docked on the Nintendo Switch, cutscenes look great and the game in motion is a beautiful thing. The framerate takes a hit for clocking in at 30 frames per second, but the developers added the ability to swap between resolution and framerate – dropping the resolution to 720p boosts the framerate to a steady 60 frames per second. I noticed during my review that choosing resolution over framerate was the better choice, albeit, it came with some choppiness during cutscenes. I was blown away by the amount going on at any one point during a story campaign; there are dozens of bodies flying around the area, and you have each character dazzling with their attacks and finishers – the game chugged along finely, but the framerate took a hit while I was joined by a friend playing with me on the couch.
I’m unsold on the Musou genre, the Warriors formula isn’t for everyone but with Nintendo’s help and properties, Koei Tecmo has been able to refine the experience into a different spin on the genre. Pairing Fire Emblem with the Warriors series is a no-brainer, finding the energy to set aside your grievances will allow you to enjoy the game for what it is, though, just don’t go in expecting an intricate story the Nintendo property is known for.