A number of you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting for the last couple weeks. An astute few of you might also notice that my absence coincides with the release of Fire Emblem: Fates. I don’t know why you would jump immediately to that connection but in this particular instance you’re correct. My free time has been basically dominated by the new installment(s) of one of my favorite video game series.
I’m currently working my way through Conquest, the so-called “darker half” of a two part story that’s sold as separate games, Conquest and Birthright. And honestly? I don’t know how I feel.
Conquest is a good game, and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from playing it or buying it. And I would say in the grand scheme of things that I like it, but for the sake of argument, I’m going to list some of the things about it that have begun, after 19 hours of gameplay, to annoy me.
- The Dragon Vein mechanic
In addition to being the darker story, Conquest is a return to form after 2013’s slightly different Fire Emblem: Awakening. Namely, it’s a shitload harder. Now, normally I don’t balk at a challenge, but as those of you who read my article on how to crank up the difficulty in a game without irritating players will know, I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to make a game hard. Most of the stages in this game do it the right way.
And then there’s the Dragon Vein mechanic.
“Dragon Veins” are little tiles on the board that when you step on them and activate them, stuff happens. After a Dragon Vein is used once, it disappears; however, there are usually multiple Dragon Veins on the board. In most stages this ability is something like draining a river or breaking down a wall. However, every couple stages you’ll end up in what I’m starting to call a “race” stage. This is a stage that has a static effect on it that can be turned off for one turn by activating Dragon Veins on the map, one by one. The Dragon Veins form a loose path through the stage that you need to follow at maximum speed or else the static effect can and absolutely will kill you.
For example: Chapter 20 of Conquest pits you against the Wind Tribe. They’re relatively weak and very manageable on their own. However, the stage is dominated by large winds that at the end of every turn will split your team up. Why is this bad? Because your fragile units are supposed to be behind your bulky units providing support, and if they take one hit they’ll die. Death is permanent in Fire Emblem games and I’m going to make it through with every single person intact goddammit. So you’re minding your own business beating up on some weak-ass Wind Tribe folks and all of a sudden your healer is alone on the other side of the map surrounded by bullshit, and then she dies and you have to start the whole map over. Each map takes about 20 minutes.
- The main character is a little bitch
Fire Emblem: Awakening had a main character named Robin. Robin was extremely intelligent, calm under pressure, and an extremely competent fighter. The main character in Conquest, Corrin, is someone’s little brother.
And maybe it’s because I’m a little brother as well, but I find it really annoying that he spends the entire game second guessing himself, being worse at stuff than his older brother, and crying. Oh my God Corrin won’t stop crying. Like every five seconds his older, cooler brother Xander has to come in and pat him on the back and go “It’s okay buddy, everything is alright.” and Corrin is like, “Wow big brother, you really opened my eyes. I will be more resolute from now – WAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
I understand that dynamic characters have chinks in their emotional armor. And the plot to Conquest justifies some waterworks. But it’ seriously every five minutes with this guy. And I loved Robin, so I’m comparing the two all the time, and I keep finding myself going “Robin could have done this better.”
- The main bad guy is cartoonishly evil
The main bad guy, and I promise this isn’t a spoiler because there’s no mystery about it, is King Garon, Corrin’s father. Garon wants to rule the kingdoms of Nohr and Hoshido, and currently only rules Nohr. That’s all there is to him. He’s as deep as a rain puddle.
Garon’s companion is a guy named Iago, which if you know anything about either Shakespeare or Aladdin should tell you that he’s a totally stand-up guy.
There’s no motivation for either Garon or Iago beyond “I don’t rule and I want to.” which is annoying as a writer but not all that bad I suppose. What is bad is King Garon himself: His skin is grey, he walks around all the time with a giant axe, and he occasionally – mid-scene, mind you, – will step off to the side to laugh maniacally. In front of everyone. And it’s not like a soliloquy thing where nobody else can hear him or anything. Literally everyone in the room will stare at him and go, “What the fuck are you doing?” And Garon’s like, “Nothing, I just remembered a really funny joke.” And fucking everyone goes “Alright, sounds good.” And that’s the end of it.
Later on in the game Conquest makes some concessions as to why Garon is so clearly evil, and why despite having such a close relationship with him you as the main character can’t just cut his head off. But it still bugs me every time him or Iago is onscreen, and not in a “I hate this guy because he’s a well-written villain” sort of way.
I’ll leave it at that for now, but I’ll probably do a second article on Conquest once I’ve beaten the game (which will be soon. I’m almost done). In all likelihood that’ll be followed by an article or two on Birthright. And an article or two on the “true” path, called Revelations. Basically I have three games’ worth of Fire Emblem to play in the next little while and I’ve played almost one of them. Strap yourselves in kids, we’re talking video games for the next little while.