There’s something deeply satisfying about running across a crowded and chaotic battlefield, swinging your sword and tearing your way through huge chunks of enemy forces. I guess that’s why the Dynasty Warriors franchise has been so popular and why the team at Omega Force have managed to fuse their distinct formula with some of the biggest names in gaming over the last twenty years. Their latest release on the Nintendo Switch is Fire Emblem Warriors, a combination of high-octane hack ‘n’ slash and tactical battlefield coordination. Despite the seemingly polar opposite nature of these two franchises, fans of either will find a lot of love, with an interesting story, gorgeous anime-style visuals, intense combat gameplay and a foundation of JRPG progression systems.
The campaign mode of Fire Emblem Warriors tells the tale of Rowan and Lianna, twin siblings and heirs to the throne of Aytolis. They are forced to flee their kingdom after mysterious portals start appearing everywhere, spewing out countless monsters. In the escape, they are separated from their beloved mother, but not before she gives them an important artifact, The Shield of Flames, and begs them to look out for each other. The twins then discover that the fabric of reality has been torn and their world has merged with several others, causing absolute chaos to break out across the land. The story then follows their journey to restore balance to the world, where they meet up and join forces with fan-favourite heroes from previous Fire Emblem games such as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates.
This cosplay group means business
After playing through the beginning of the campaign, you also unlock the ability to play ‘History Mode’, a tribute to classic battles from past Fire Emblem games. Although it’s really just more of the same kind of gameplay, it’s a nice little homage to its predecessors and offers you different challenges like defeating as many enemies as you can within a limited time, surviving waves of enemies in an arena and rescuing an ally from enemy forces. As you conquer each challenge, you progress through the classic story beats and unlock rare, character specific materials for crafting high-level equipment.
The majority of the gameplay is structured around running across a huge map, slaughtering thousands of enemies (read: sword fodder) and capturing control points in classic Dynasty Warriors style. The combat is fairly simplistic, using a combination of light attacks, heavy attacks and super abilities to dominate the field. You can also switch characters at any time, which gives you the option of playing to your strengths such as healing allies or mounted combat. In true Fire Emblem fashion, there is a weapon advantage system where swords are more effective against enemies with axes, axe-wielders are strong against spears and spears dominate swords. This means that although you could take on the entire opposing army by yourself, you’re encouraged to utilise the other heroes on your team, which can be done in real time or by issuing orders via the tactical map screen. At any time during the battle, you can pause the game and give specific instructions to the other members in your line-up, such as assaulting a fortress, falling back to provide support for an escort or take on an enemy they hold an advantage over. It can be a little confusing at first and doesn’t have the tactical depth of previous Fire Emblem games, but it does become a crucial mechanic as you progress through the campaign and the skirmishes get harder. I sometimes went from feeling totally in control of the game to frantically trying to micro-manage my team in a matter of seconds, but once I got into the flow of a little fighting followed by a little tactics, it soon became second nature.
300 – 1? Good odds for any Aytolin
Between each battle, you have the opportunity to level up your characters, change their equipment and buy or craft new gear and skills. Most of the weapons in the game also have skill slots, which can be filled with various boosts to give your heroes even more of an advantage on the field. Sadly, this part of the game feels a little tacked on, lacking much depth and being full of boring menus that can be somewhat confusing. I also found it difficult to notice any difference that levelling up my characters made, other than that they could carry three healing potions instead of two. That being said, I never felt under-levelled at any time, it just feels little light in the RPG department, considering the source material.
The cut-scenes in the game are gorgeous, switching between fully rendered anime style action sequences to something closer to a digital novel for the exposition. It can seem a little jarring when the narrative moves from a high-octane battle to a slow and steady conversation about kingdoms and betrayal, but it’s nothing that fans of JRPGs in general are unfamiliar with. However, since the game was also structured to be able to run on the New Nintendo 3DS, gameplay doesn’t have the completely polished quality I’ve come to expect from the Switch. It still looks good and runs fairly well, it’s just a little sparse and bland with quite a few instances of enemies popping in out of nowhere.
That’s the way it’s gonna be, little darlin’
At first, Fire Emblem Warriors seemed to be a strange choice for a cross-over, and while it never feels entirely like a Fire Emblem or Dynasty Warriors game, it does do a marvellous job of combining the two to make something worth playing for fans of either. If you enjoyed Hyrule Warriors or Dragon Quest Heroes, you’ll definitely find something to love about this weird little fusion of tactical battlefield management and the sheer chaos of killing whole squads of enemies with a single swing of your sword.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch