Capsule Review: Fire Emblem Warriors

(A note on platforms - although listed as a 3DS game, this game will not work on the original 3DS and requires a New 3DS.)

A Musou game set in a crossover Fire Emblem world, featuring a few original characters and many from previous games - mostly Awakening, Fates, and Shadow Dragon. As is standard for Musou crossover games, elements from the franchise have been incorporated into the standard large-scale hack-and-slash gameplay - and Fire Emblem turns out to be a shockingly good fit, resulting in easily the mechanically-best Musou gameplay I’ve ever experienced.

Musou games have always looked like action games but they’re more like single-player MOBAs than beat ‘em ups. They may have shallow combat and an indulgent-seeming power balance that has players mowing enemies down by the hundreds, but those things have never been the point. While it is important to perform well in individual combat encounters, that’s nowhere near enough to assure victory. The true focus is on reading the entire map, efficiently allocating resources to accomplish goals, and reacting quickly to new events to maintain control. As such, most of the interesting challenge is on the tactical level - and the tactical elements imported from Fire Emblem allow the Musou gameplay to lean into that in a very satisfying way.

The weapon triangle and similar rock-paper-scissors tradeoffs mean team composition is very important and you have to send the right heroes to deal with the right threats. The ability to issue orders to your own heroes means you can legitimately deal with multiple goals simultaneously - which enables the game to ramp up the speed and complexity of those goals, often forcing you to react on the fly to changing situations. The focus is very much on tactics - I always spent a couple of minutes planning on the map screen before each mission, picking my team and issuing initial orders.

There are two main gameplay modes - first is Story Mode, a traditional campaign punctuated by voiced cutscenes and which introduces (most of) the characters and gets you accustomed to the mechanics. It does a fine job, though the story itself is pretty generic and many of the combat scenarios are contrived (I got pretty sick of characters interpreting the fact that you are standing near their friend to mean you’ve abducted their friend and immediately attacking you). It’s satisfying enough to go through, but is a bit short and is clearly not supposed to be the only mode you play.

Next is the meatier but less polished History Mode. This mode features several maps (five in the base game, one added as a free update, and nine available in paid DLC) that act as themed mission select screens. Each map is based on a scenario from a previous Fire Emblem game and is populated with units that each represent a Musou battle. Completing key battles advances the scenario’s story (told through text dialog) and each battle also provides rewards to improve your characters. There are also three playable characters that can only be recruited by completing their particular History battles.

It’s a solid system, but not as strong as it should be due to a few key flaws. One is the relative lack of variety - while there are several different History mission types, all missions of a given type play near-identically. Many interesting mechanics that spiced things up in Story Mode never occur in History Mode, which feels like a missed opportunity. Worse is the incredibly uneven difficulty curve - rather than presenting each map as a story that can be completed before moving on to the next, maps have overlapping ranges of level requirements (prompting you to bounce around from map to map to find missions you can tackle and disrupting the already fairly thin storytelling on offer) and often block low-level missions with high-level ones (obliging you to grind before you can progress and then following up with a now too-easy mission, making things dull on both sides).

These frustrations do tarnish the late game but the adoption of tactical elements from Fire Emblem is such a boon to Musou gameplay that the game is still a strong experience overall. I’d love to see some of these elements get incorporated into other Musou titles and for a direct sequel to take things even further.

I Stopped Playing When: I completed all of the game objectives that I found interesting – clearing all Story Mode stages on all difficulties and S-ranking all History Mode stages (including DLC). I’d sunk a couple hundred hours into the game by this point, so I didn’t bother with the remaining objectives (maxing out all Support ranks, crafting every crest on every character) that struck me as pointless grinds.

Docprof's Rating:

Five Stars: Favorite. This is one of my all-time favorite games that made a significant impact on me or that I've returned to time and again.

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