A lot has changed since I reviewed Hyrule Warriors three years ago. Back then, the Switch was little more than a twinkle in Satoru Iwata's eye, and the Wii U was coming off of a fantastic 2014 lineup with some small hope for a comeback. While Hyrule Warriors wasn't my favorite game to hit Nintendo's previous console, it was yet another great game in a year that really stood out as the Wii U's best.
Now it's 2017, and Nintendo just released Fire Emblem Warriors. Besides being yet another Warriors title crossing over with a Nintendo franchise, the title's release comes at the tail end of what many people have been calling Nintendo's best year of game releases in over a decade. You could say that the game has the fortune of being compared not just to Hyrule Warriors, but all of Nintendo's 2017 releases as well. In that case, I'm glad to report that it continues the year's trend.
If you've played any Dynasty Warriors title or spinoff, you've got a good idea what to expect from Fire Emblem's take on the formula. Players control different characters, rushing across the battlefield, capturing keeps and outposts while defeating literally dozens of enemy units at a time. Combat is fairly simple, revolving around players mashing light and strong attacks into combos, while occasionally letting loose a special attack or two. Objectives range from capturing every keep on the map, to defeating a specific enemy, and more. Any specific mission's objective can change halfway through a mission, and while in the middle of a fight the dynamics of a battle can change dramatically as various sub-missions and enemy reinforcements pop out and put a wrench into your plans.
Fire Emblem Warriors is the same, though the basic gameplay has a few twists up its sleeves. Much like how Hyrule Warriors introduced some new dynamics such as grass that can be cut on the battlefield and battle items that could be used to take out specific boss monsters, Fire Emblem Warriors introduces a few mechanics from its series as well. The weapon triangle system, a light form of the permadeath that Fire Emblem is known for, and the ability to pair up units are all accounted for.
Of these three changes, the weapon triangle system probably helps Fire Emblem Warriors stand out the most. Sword-wielding units are stronger against axe-wielding units, axe-wielding units are stronger against spear-wielding units, and spear-wielding units are stronger against sword-users. It's essentially Rock Paper Scissors, but there's a little bit more to it than that. Besides simply doing more damage to units that they're effective against on the weapon triangle, units that have an advantage are more easily able to break an enemies stun gauge. Since both Outpost Captains and Fort Commanders need to be defeated to take over their respective landmarks, the key to finishing a mission quickly requires players to know which units to send where on the battlefield at any given time. Sending a wrong unit to a location doesn't just mean that they might die (requiring you to spend money to revive them between missions), but also jeopardizes the mission as a whole, especially on harder difficulties.
Of course, there are units whose strengths reside outside of the standard weapon triangle as well. Archers are extremely effective against flying units, for example (you'll be shot out of the sky in one or two hits, so NEVER leave flying units within reach of ranged units!), but the core of the gameplay definitely revolves around the triangle. It makes combat more tactical, and giving your units orders becomes essential to your success. You can switch between up to 4 different characters on the battlefield in order to juggle the various keeps on your own, but you can only ever control one character at a time, unless you're playing in local co-op, so in order to keep battles going smoothly across the entire map, players absolutely must keep an eye on the map, and the movement of units relating to the weapon triangle.
While I'd say that I personally enjoyed Fire Emblem Warriors' story mode from a gameplay standpoint, the campaign itself doesn't compare to Hyrule Warriors. With the exception of a few missions, nothing comes close to some of the unique encounters in that game, and the story itself doesn't feel nearly as fleshed out either. Likewise, while History Mode is a great addition to the package, it didn't grip me as much as Adventure Mode in Hyrule Warriors. Instead of exploring a whole world map from the original Legend of Zelda, complete with puzzles and a whole bunch of challenges, History Mode tasks players with reliving various missions from Fire Emblem's history. There's still challenges and puzzles to be found, but nothing to the extent found in Hyrule Warriors' Adventure Mode. To History Mode's credit, it does come with a bunch of maps to tackle, compared to the one that Adventure Mode had at Hyrule Warriors' launch.
Much like in Hyrule Warriors, both the story and History Mode can be played over local co-op with two players. The game manages to run co-op better here than Hyrule Warriors did on the Wii U, though the experience is a bit lessened with players having to split a single screen versus the two that the Wii U afforded. It also stings that one player can't send orders to units on their half of the screen while the other is still actively playing, but I concede that it would've been hard to make that work to begin with. Either way, it's always nice to see local co-op in games these days, and while it might not be as seamless an experience as Hyrule Warriors' solution, it still works fairly well in the moment to moment gameplay.
On that note, Fire Emblem Warriors' is an overall better technical experience than Hyrule Warriors was. Docked mode lets players choose between playing at 1080p/30fps or 720p/60fps, while handheld mode plays at 720p/30fps. Performance stays solid no matter the mode you decide to play in, in comparison to the fairly noticeable, though not exactly drastic, performance issues that Hyrule Warriors had - especially in co-op. Fire Emblem Warriors has some slowdown while playing in co-op as well, but both image quality as well as performance takes less of a hit comparatively.
While Fire Emblem Warriors definitely feels like a step back from Hyrule Warriors in a lot of ways, by far the biggest downgrade comes to character variety. Fire Emblem Warriors has a much larger roster compared to Hyrule Warriors at launch, due to the nature of the game, However, despite a big part of the game being centered around the weapon triangle, roster balance has taken a huge hit. There are only 3 spear users in the game - all Pegasus Knights, and all with more or less the same moveset. While axe users are in a better position, the number of playable axe units pales in comparison to sword users all the same. Even among sword users, both protagonists share a moveset, and this inclusion of "clone characters" can be felt across a significant portion of the roster. This especially stings, since the roster in Hyrule Warriors was so interesting to begin with. Even among the unique movesets in Fire Emblem Warriors, nothing comes close to the interesting playstyles many of Hyrule's fighters brought to the table.
Despite my grievances, I still think Fire Emblem Warriors is a great game. It's strategic, it's fast-paced, it's frantic and fun. Even if it doesn't quite reach the heights that Hyrule Warriors left on the Wii U and the 3DS, Fire Emblem Warriors is still a title that Switch owners would be remiss to lose out on.
Our Fire Emblem Warriors review was conducted on Nintendo Switch with a review copy provided by the publisher.
Fire Emblem Warriors feels just as fresh as Hyrule Warriors did in some ways, though it never quite reaches the same highs. That doesn't mean it's not a great game, as the title is still a great addition to any Switch owner's library.
- Great Tactics
- Plenty of Content
- Weak Character Variety