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When Friends Become Foes in Fire Emblem Fates

Jenni Lada | 15 Sep 2015 19:00
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Winners tell the tales when it comes to war. Stories will be clouded. One side is always going to come across as the hero, with the other the villain. I mean, if you conquered the world, you wouldn't paint yourself as some sort of overlord. You'd be a savior! It makes things easier. Sticking to sides like light and dark, good and evil, lets people to feel justified. This is especially true in games. Yet with Fire Emblem Fates, Intelligent Systems' strategic 3DS game, the developer challenges established mores. People can't rely on their side being good and just, because the next playthrough, they could be the opposing team's MVP. By showing that things are never clear cut, you come away feeling like, "Hey! This could have happened!" Well, maybe not, since people don't transform into dragons every day, but you get the idea. I've been playing Fire Emblem Fates since its Japanese launch on June 25, seeing the repercussions of choosing a side firsthand.

Fire Emblem Fates tells the tale of two countries with Hoshido and Nohr. As is common, when peoples with differing means of lifestyles, backgrounds, and cultures come together, there are clashes. The player character is a victim of the conflict. The two factions have been fighting since he or she was a child. When the birth father, Sumeragi of Hoshido, falls in battle, Garon, King of Nohr, takes the player character and raises the child as his own. Thus the player is a child of two worlds, with access to both sides of the stories. Bonds are formed with people in each region.

As a result, the Fire Emblem Fates player character is able to make an important decision when the time comes. The game's storyline is divided into three parts. The first two storylines, Birthright and Conquest, were immediately available. Birthright allowed someone to rejoin with their blood siblings and fight to defend Hoshido. Conquest relies upon the bonds formed with the adopted siblings of Nohr as they attempt to start a revolution from within. A third Invisible Kingdom tale, added as DLC, acts as an idealized scenario where it's possible to bring everyone under one banner. It's a pleasant option for people who want it all, but the Birthright and Conquest scenarios encourage critical thinking.

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Hoshido, the side starring in the Birthright scenario of Fire Emblem Fates, comes across as stereotypically heroic. The characters of the kingdom are the underdogs. You root for them. After all, their kingdom is the one under attack. It's the side that saw massive damage done to one city. Their actions performed are performed in self defense. The color white is even attributed to that side, one people often associate with purity. There's an innocence to Hoshido, when following the Birthright route. This makes your actions feel righteous.

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The contrast makes it easier to see members of the Nohr faction as a ruthless force. These are invaders. They're on the attack, have a record of causing trouble for the nation, and seem to be beyond reason. The members of the army are clad in black, appearing dark and untrustworthy, like their alleged motivations. With one look, a person going through the Fire Emblem Fates Birthright storyline can look at Nohr and know they're in the wrong.

Yet, it isn't as simple as that. Flip sides, follow the Conquest characters, and it's easy to see more virtuous elements in Nohr's story. Yes, the country is overrunning Hoshido as Fire Emblem Fates begins. However, we learn that Nohr isn't a very fertile or profitable country. While there is a malicious tone to the assault on Hoshido, not all of the intentions are bad. Even the character designs have noble trappings, with gold and purple used in the royal family's attire. These more righteous colors, combined with the tone of reform in this side of the story, can lend merit to its motivations.

It's harder to see Hoshido as an enemy when siding as Nohr, but there are overtones that can still make them appear as worthy opponents. The kingdom is made up of samurai, and the allusions to early Japan and such warriors can come across as imperious. Consider that Hoshido's secondary color is red, that of blood. The player character may be working on the inside to see what's happening within Nohr, thus making the home country an opponent, but Hoshido still represents itself as a force to be feared.

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