From the combined force of developers Team Ninja, Intelligent Systems, and Omega Force, hack-and-slash gameplay has attempted to blend with the tactical role-playing genre in Fire Emblem Warriors. Attempted is the operative word in this mashup, as the marriage between the two is messy, complicated, and skewed to one side. While many Fire Emblem fans will be overjoyed to see their favorite characters from the franchise smashed together in an all-out 3D war, the fan service begins and ends there. Dynasty Warrior diehards looking to try out Nintendo’s next Hyrule Warriors will undoubtedly enjoy the fight for fort control with new characters, but little of what makes Fire Emblem interesting has been interpreted correctly.
The story for Warriors is equally complicated and straightforward, as we’re introduced to two siblings born into royalty: Rowan and Lianna. After their mother dies in a crumbling dungeon, it’s up to the twins to travel across the land and collect unique gems that control a shield, which will bring an end to the reign of a demon. Along the way, Rowan and Lianna encounter plenty of Fire Emblem heroes and villains, including Marth, Lucina, Frederick, Leo, Takumi, Corrin, and many more. Apart from the strange and sloppy introductions for new fighters, the story doesn’t delve too much past the primary objective of finding the mystical stones.
It’s tough to know if the plot is attempting to have fun with Fire Emblem’s past soap operas, or if the entire story was thrown together to make the musou gameplay work. A majority of the character introductions involve misunderstandings that lead to a fight, which are then resolved once the battle ends. In one instance, when the group meets Fire Emblem Fates’ Camilla, she immediately believes Elise has been forced into slavery by the player’s army, causing her to not even listen to Elise and attack the group anyway. Of course, once Camilla loses she listens to Elise and joins the team.
Fans of Fire Emblem will recognize this nod to Fates’ heavy focus on epic family drama, which could mean Warriors was attempting to poke fun at the series’ heavy-handed stories, but there’s not enough humor to justify it as fact. Also, similar scenarios occur with a majority of the characters that end up becoming playable, so in the end it’s easier to believe the writing team was more concerned with jamming in as many fan-favorite characters as possible, instead of creating a fleshed out story that could match the quality of the Fire Emblem series. Sadly, the missed opportunities to inject what works about the series into Warriors doesn’t end there.
A significant component of the Fire Emblem series is how it approaches its characters and their development through strategic combat. On a story level, each character typically receives an excellent and engaging reason for participating in battle, whether it’s through bloodlines or revenge. Over the years, Intelligent Systems has been able to inject in-depth characterization into its gameplay by offering customization options for skills and in-battle stats for playable characters, which is what makes the “strategy” aspect of the mainline games come to life. Not only does each character have a unique part to play in their story, but they also fulfill a specific role in battle that can’t be overlooked. With Warriors, it’s as if the magic that made each character special has been sucked out and replaced with general archetypal traits. While there are sword, axe, lance, magic, and many different types of wielders available to use, they all blend together in their category. Here, what makes Lucina different from Marth as a sword wielder, for example, comes down to how often the player has used them to level up their stats, not about inherent differences in their skills.
Each character does have a skill tree divided into three categories: attack, defense, and skill. Players can use materials found in battle to unlock different branches of the trees to raise stats, add more combos, and boost drop rates for items on the field. At first, this system seems to be the precursor to a balanced progression formula for each warrior, giving customization with the various unlockable emblems. But like many other moments in the game, it becomes increasingly clear as the skill trees fill up that most of the unlocked traits are just stat boosts, and each fighter essentially undergoes the same growth once the skill trees are finished. Instead of offering different paths that compliment, let’s say a magic user over an archer, everyone gets the same defense, attack, and in-game healing boosts to a point. There are slight differences, but not enough to make one character more viable over another.
What makes the experience that much more frustrating is there are apparent attempts to put trademarks of the franchise into the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay, but none of them reach their full potential. The battle system used in most Fire Emblem games, the “triangle of effectiveness,” has been brought into the button mashing genre by giving specific weapons advantages over others. Players learn early on that swords are strong against axes, axes are strong against lances, and lances are strong against swords. Other weapons, like bows and tomes, have their own effectiveness, but the core of the gameplay revolves around the three main melee weapons. The idea that strategy could come from picking a well-balanced team of sword, axe, and lance users is welcome, as giving differentiation to characters outside of their names is critical. However, even when a sword wielder takes on a mounted lance user, they can still defeat the lancer with just a little extra button mashing. Sure, it takes longer to defeat an enemy with a weapon disadvantage, but the constant string of combos that come from the musou gameplay makes it nearly impossible for a character to fall in battle when controlled by the player.
Adding to the idea of death, hardcore Fire Emblem fans will be disappointed to see the importance of permadeath is absent here. When starting Fire Emblem Warriors, you have a choice between “Classic” mode, which says it features the telltale permanent death mechanic from the mainline games, or the more forgiving “Casual” mode, where characters don’t leave the game forever after dying in battle, just like the option from the more recent 3DS Fire Emblem games. Traditionally, the permadeath consequence affected the growing narrative in the main Fire Emblem games, adding more complexity and severity when approaching a battle. In Warriors, even when playing with the supposed permadeath option, fallen characters still participate in the thin plot, and what’s more, they can be healed between missions.
The interplay between characters, which again, is a huge staple of the main franchise, also loses its weight in battle. The support system allows for each fighter to grow closer on the battlefield, eventually developing a strong enough bond to share special cutscenes and have combined special attacks against enemies. Again, the idea is more compelling than the execution, as the interactions fall short narratively, and the in-battle combos don’t feel necessary to use.
It’s not imperative that this jaunt into a new genre revolutionize the Dynasty Warriors formula, but there has to be something that makes the choice to use Fire Emblem characters feel worthwhile. Yes, fan service is important in small doses, but only packing the game with as many favorite characters as possible, instead of filling it with new takes on the Fire Emblem gameplay mechanics feels like a waste of creativity.
What’s tricky about the culmination of every facet of Fire Emblem Warriors is that it amounts to something that is trying to battle for the attention of multiple audiences. The repetitive hack-and-slash gameplay works well and is easy enough for any player to pick up and understand, but it doesn’t offer enough strategy to pull in players familiar with the Fire Emblem series to be a worthwhile experience. On the inverse, the story fails at offering anything worthwhile to potential newbies to Fire Emblem, just throwing character after character into an unnecessary plot that only diehard fans of the series will chuckle over. In turn, it feels as if both types of players will end up feeling disappointed.
While the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay appropriately sits front and center in Fire Emblem Warriors, the lack of genre melding with an RPG is disappointing. Players will enter into each battle with plenty of chances to smash buttons and oggle at Fire Emblem characters destroying one another, but the heart of the tactical RPG franchise doesn’t make a proper appearance. Too bad, too, because this might have been a wasted opportunity to really experiment with the musou genre.
Team Ninja, Intelligent Systems, Omega Force
T - Teen
|Fire Emblem Warriors is available on Nintendo Switch and 3DS. Primary version played was for Switch. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.