The Musou genre has been kicking since the style of hack-n-slash first hit players in 1997. It was in that year that gamers were introduced to Dynasty Warriors 2 which brought a whole new level of weapon-based carnage. The genre’s name derived from the game’s Musou meter which would unleash a devastating move taking out way too many foes at once. It symbolised the essence of the genre thus why the name stuck.
More commonly known as Warriors games in the west, the Dynasty Warriors franchise is still going on today. Yet the genre was an ample opportunity for licensed properties to get publisher Koei Tecmo’s action treatment. It was three years ago when the weirdest one hit players in the form of Hyrule Warriors, a mix of Dynasty Warriors gameplay with prolific Legend of Zelda series. Now Nintendo and Koei Tecmo are collaborating again, this time with an even more bizarre mashup in Fire Emblem Warriors. Being handled by Dynasty Warriors developers Omega Force and Team Ninja with help from Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems, the teams collaborated to bring the odd couple to life. Considering one game is a strategic RPG while the other is hack-n-slash battle, do the two mash up well? In a surprising twist, they are a wondrous pairing.
With the Y, Y, Y, Y and the X, X, X, X
Fire Emblem Warriors is first and foremost a Musou game. If players have ever taken up a Warriors game before, they will feel right at home in the heat of battle. The objectives are quite simple: kill everything that stands in your way and rack up a kill count. While swiftly slaughtering the fodder on the battlefield, the player will need to take out more powerful units while taking over forts.
While players could very easily mash that Y and X buttons to high hell, there are deeper systems to take into consideration. There is also the key Musou gauge which charges to unleash a devastating attack and the Awakening meter which sends the player character into a super-powered mode. With over 20 characters to use all playing differently, there is a lot of depth in FE Warriors.
Fire Emblem Warriors does not really shake up the formula in the basic gameplay scheme. Players will still be doing what essentially every other Warriors game has done before in terms of combat. Since that is the case, the game is still an absolute bash to play. It can be a fun distraction that allows for some rampaging through helpless troops that never stood a chance.
While the basic Musou formula is there, this is anything but mindless hack-n-slash mayhem. Since this is the incorporation of two game franchises, the question comes in whether or not it is just Dynasty Warriors with a Fire Emblem skin or something more. Luckily for players, it is the latter. Fire Emblem Warriors goes a lot deeper than just a slapped on licence.
Strategy Hack-n-Slash Battle
With Fire Emblem being a distinct SRPG, how does one incorporate that level of planning and strategic thinking into something like a Warriors game? Well, the developer collaboration did something of an incredible magic trick by meeting within a beautiful sweet spot. Fire Emblem Warriors is an incredible mix of Fire Emblem’s strategic approach with the kind of down to the ground Musou madness.
Fire Emblem Warriors puts a very distinct focus on the player keeping tight control of the map. Players will have to go into the pause menu constantly to give specific instructions to units on the field. Units have to be given instructions to attack, guard or just move into position on the grid-based map. In later story missions, it becomes a key point of victory and a full-blown necessity. Players will be micromanaging the hell out of their squadron in the heat of battle.
While it might sound like hopping into a pause menu will stop the flow of combat, the chaotic nature of the fray will not make the battle map any kind of dull moment. While combat is unfolding, the player will face a barrage of messages of happenings around the map. From controlled forts about to be taken over, to allies stepping into the wrong place, players will have to keep control as anarchy unfolds.
Fire Emblem seemed like the greatest stretch but actually presents one of the freshest instalments of the Musou genre.
This generates what can only be called a wonderful level of stress in the midst of a combat encounter. Players will manically hop back and forth between characters while using the uncontrollable members of the team to pick up the slack. This only leads to even more considerations when looking at all the weaknesses and power-ups on the field.
Since this is Fire Emblem, all weapons and attacks have their advantages and disadvantages. From the weapon triangle to enemy types, these kinds of considerations that have to go into planning the next move. By looking at the pause menu map with a character selected, an ocean of upward and downward facing arrows along with exclamation points will bombard the player. It can be overwhelming getting the grips, but for those willing to learn, it can be the road to victory.
So many strengths, weaknesses and hazards to take into account.
It is truly a splendid surprise just how well these two games work together. Where some other Warriors collaborations were wacky, they could all fit in some way. Fire Emblem seemed like the greatest stretch but actually presents one of the freshest instalments of the Musou genre. While it will take some time before it really starts expecting more of the player, once that gradual learning curve is over, it will really come alive. The strategy of Fire Emblem with a Musou base gameplay brings an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience.
All the other Bells and Emblems
Warriors licensed games are always unabashed love letters. While the Musou combat stylings have definitely seen a more strategic shakeup, there is a lot more Fire Emblem incorporation. There are many systems that have been carried over from Nintendo’s popular handheld franchise to the Warriors action.
First off, we should deal with how the game handles death. Upon starting the game, players are greeted with a few options on how heavy they wish to lean into Fire Emblem. One of these brings the big question of Classic Mode or Casual Mode. In traditional Fire Emblems, classic mode refers to a permadeath mechanic.
In FE Warriors, classic mode does not equate to a character being gone for good. Characters can be revived following the combat encounter. Yet while possible, it is by no means easy. The requirements for a revival are harsh requests making players hoard gold and sacrificing the best materials in the game. While it doesn’t quite hold the same sting as permadeath, it does make a character’s demise a significant issue. This mode is highly recommended, even for newcomers, as it makes every decision on the field that much more meaningful.
We then get the return of another beloved Fire Emblem feature, Support Ranks. By fighting alongside another character or healing them, a small heart will indicate a growth in their relationship. At the end of the battle, two characters might have their support rank go up. While previous games would feature a scene between the characters, this game provides some important material for upgrades. By reaching S Rank (the highest possible), a small scene will play out. These are incredibly dull and lack the same sentimentality or humour as Fire Emblem games often do. It is a real shame support conversations do not make a real appearance and the feature is only incorporated on a gameplay level. What could have been a good way for fan service gets turned into a grinding mechanic.
Another way to grow a couple’s social rank is by having them pair up. On the field, characters in close proximity can pair together causing a powerful stat boost and new moves. This can be a saving move in battle when a character is on their last bit of health. Characters in both an active and support role can be part of the pairing. It works well here and does add to the strategy considerations of when it is best to team up.
FE Warriors has a big focus on levels.
Needless to say, Fire Emblem Warriors does not shy away from what has made Fire Emblem beloved. It goes beyond just strategy in an attempt to translate as much of the series over. While some have better integration than others, the fact the developers were willing to go so far really says a lot. The amount of care in bringing the two franchises together goes above and beyond expectation to really present something even a Fire Emblem lover would really enjoy. Yet like Fire Emblem, combat is not the only thing to concern yourself with. Sometimes, the character set-up is just as important.
A lot of upgrading through an awful menu system
While the Musou combat system is the main bread and butter of FE Warriors, the game is not lacking in the character building department. With levels already having a significant sway on combat, we move to the other furnishings with equipment and character upgrading. When outside of combat, there are two menu options the player will be spending their time in: the Camp and the Convoy. The former deals with character development as well as other big game features while the Convoy is where equipment is distributed.
Equipment stands as the usual Fire Emblem categories with a bit more to work with. Weapons are based on rank with higher ranks having stronger attack stats. Weapons also can have ability slots which add some nice bonuses including hidden abilities that need to be unlocked. Abilities can be transferred from weapon to weapon making some powerful horde slayers. Weapons can be earned through random drops, treasure chests in the field or as rewards for clearing certain sections.
In the camp, players can go to the Temple for revivals and blessings which provide bonuses in the next battle including item drops. There is also the training grounds where players can spend gold to very quickly level up another unit. The main reason to head to camp though is for developing crests. Crests serve as the character upgrade system broken down to attack, defence and boost. Each crest will require a certain amount of materials that are dropped from enemies and gold to develop. Players can get rarer materials from Support Rank growth with each character have a specific one based on the rank they achieve.
The crests are the most important part of character development. Levels matter but the crests are what really provide the meaningful growth. For example, the only way to get bigger and stronger combos is to develop those crests. There are passive boosts which increase charge rates as well as boost defence and offence. Getting the required materials can be a chore at times but it is not difficult to hop into a map and grind them out.
The crest system is also where another Fire Emblem staple returns: the Master Seal. While players won’t have a choice in what class their character can upgrade to, these unlock incredible power. Using the master seal opens up many new crests including bigger and more powerful combos alongside huge stat increases (almost dozens of levels worth). Master Seals are not common to come by meaning that like Fire Emblem, using one is a big decision.
The dull menus are a mess to use and just look incredibly mundane.
While this is all welcomed and adds to the characters’ depth of growth, everything outside of battle is marred by an awful menu system. The menus of Fire Emblem Warriors are an absolute pain to use and will cause endless frustrations. Equipping items takes much longer than it should with no sort options, having to back out and choose a new character each time and the position resetting when shifting. It doesn’t help that each action prompts a voice line to play which gets irksome. I found myself just optimising equipment to avoid going through any more menus. This is not touching on a lot of how the menus are just painfully boring with one grey tone used for all of them. It is a significant issue and extremely disappointing that more care was not taken to make the menus user-friendly.
Solving the Emblem mystery and going back in History
With the gameplay out of the way, it is time to look at how the game presents the slaughter of millions of grunt troops. The main mode of Fire Emblem Warriors is the Story Mode which acts as a tutorial for the greater mechanics.
The story takes place in the realm of Aytolis, a generic fantasy kingdom with two states ruled by different kings. Twins Rowan and Lianna are the prince and princess respectively of the land. One day, their castle is overrun with thousands of monsters forcing them to flee with the neighbouring country’s prince Darius. It seems evil is afoot and in order to prevent chaos from reigning, the two must seek the souls of “Legendary Heroes”. As a defence heroes have been summoned from other Fire Emblems to aid the twins in their reclaiming of the land. Along the way, they meet up with fan favourites who must put differences aside for the good of Aytolis.
Fire Emblem Warriors plot is fine. It follows all the tropes of a Fire Emblem plot without any of the political intrigue. At times it can feel like a parody with “rah-rah friendship!” sensibilities. It doesn’t do much meaning there isn’t really a lot to get mad at. The twins are as basic as Fire Emblem protagonists get so they just serve as very powerful units more than actual characters. The story cutscenes only serve to bring players to the next fray which is fine, but it would have been nice to have some depth.
FE Warriors definitely focuses on more modern Fire Emblem titles in terms of fan service. The majority of the cast comes from the 3DS games Awakening and Fates with some others from around the series. It is a shame that it is focused so heavily on modern titles as there is a lot of Fire Emblem history ignored. The Gameboy Advance titles for instance get very little love. It doesn’t help that the characters that are there have few to no interactions.
Story mode will take around a dozen hours to complete yet that is only the first step. Following the completion of story mode unlocks a new difficulty and new challenges. In story mode there will be the lovable trickster Anna’s Missions. On the first run, these will always be the boring “Kill a thousand enemies” but on a second run through, more interest objectives appear. It is a shame that it takes 12 hours before the game takes off the kiddie gloves.
This is just one of the five scenarios in History Mode that will test your mettle.
While going through story mode, the game will slowly unlock pieces of another mode to sink your teeth into: History Mode. This is just another means for doing some more missions although now there are more unique objectives to complete. There are mini-stories going on here but they are forgettable. The main draw of History Mode are harder battles, better loot and just more to play. The setup is charming with some classic Fire Emblem maps returning but like story mode, it is a means for more battles to pop up.
A little bit fantasy and a little bit rock ‘n roll
Fire Emblem Warriors is not the best looking product. Fire Emblem has at times played with 3D models but never to the level of something like Warriors. By no means bad looking, the models have not had a seamless transition to 3D. During combat, the frantic pace won’t give you the time to inspect but in cutscenes it has hard to ignore. The bubble design lacks a lot of depth and just hurts an already weak delivery of story.
Yet the sacrifice of looks leaves the game to run amazingly. Whether on handheld mode or docked, Fire Emblem Warriors is a delight to play. Over my time with the game, I cannot recount a moment where the performance dipped. It achieves solid output throughout the game which is the most important factor. This makes the less than stellar look much more forgivable.
The music also nails the atmosphere of both franchises by using both musical stylings effectively. Like the game systems, the two styles of Fire Emblem’s orchestral medieval fantasy and Warriors’ rushed heavy rock might seem too distant from one another to work. Yet the two merge to make this wonderful blood pumping mixture. In battle the game will dive right into the metal styling but when going to the pause menu, it will seamlessly switch to the orchestral version of the song. The soundtrack is outstanding and adds a great sense of enthusiasm to the combat.
The freshest Musou to come in some time
Despite what on paper seemed like an odd coupling, Fire Emblem Warriors proves that opposites can indeed make beautiful music together. If anything, FE Warriors demonstrates that the basic Musou formula can in fact be built upon in new ways while still keeping the spirit. On the other end, it shows Fire Emblem can take some steps outside of the SRPG comfort zone to a great outcome. Together, Team Ninja, Omega Force and Intelligent Systems have presented an amazing mash-up that deserves attention.
FE Warriors is the first time in a long time that a Musou game grabbed me and made me want to play more. If you are a Musou fan, Fire Emblem Warriors is a fantastic new addition to the genre. While it might be harder for Fire Emblem fans to take the step, Warriors still presents an appetising package with some great fan service. It also cannot be stated enough how well the Musou formula works on the Switch. With the handheld mode, it becomes and even better package. For Switch owners, Fire Emblem Warriors should be something to keep on your radar.