If you count all of Omega Force’s Warriors games—their Musou style of brawler that began with Dynasty Warriors 2 and will never end—you will come to over thirty titles in seventeen years. Critics bemoan the mindless hordes of enemies and repetitive game design while fans enjoy the mindless hordes of enemies and repetitive game design. It’s a beautiful paradox with an easy explanation; a lot people genuinely like these games.
Warriors crossovers were inevitable. Dynasty Warriors: Gundam raised eyebrows when it was released in 2007, but within the last few years Dragon Quest Heroes and Hyrule Warriors feel more like inevitable products than portentous curiosities. Fire Emblem Warriors pairs Omega Force back with one of Nintendo’s battle-friendly properties in an attempt to capture Fire Emblem’s late-blooming popularity. This move was easy to see coming but, as I began to discover, immune to many assumptions I had about its execution.
Fire Emblem Warriors’ statement of intentions is aimed directly at fans of Fire Emblem. Lianna and Rowan, two new characters, are joined by a two dozen favorites from Fire Emblem Fates, Awakening, Shadow Dragon, and Echoes. There’s something to do with time portals and potential paradoxes (one character, yanked out of time, tries to steer clear of his mother) and, to someone with only a cursory knowledge of the series (hello), none of this made any sense.
A lack of traditional coherence is fine because Fire Emblem Warriors isn’t on a mission to make sense. It exists to assemble favorite recent characters all in the same place working toward the same cause. Pre and post battle story injections feature nicely modeled characters spouting clichés and engaging in cheerful banter. There’s nothing to be found other than a pure indulgence paid for by a previous investment. Fire Emblem Warriors twelve hour story mode is the equivalent of closing your eyes and making a wish where there are no consequences. It’s there, and it’s easy to skip over if all you want to do is inflict genocide upon scores of people.
Warrior’s draw is Fire Emblem’s antithesis. An impulse friendly brawler must come to terms with a turn-based role-playing game. The former wins out, Fire Emblem Warriors is a Warrior’s game with influence from Fire Emblem, and makes its mission clear. In each of Story Mode’s twenty one structured levels, the player will be participating in some variation of taking over forts and neutralizing a hostile mark. For a majority of battles, your opponent will be a Fire Emblem hero that, upon defeat, realizes the error of his or her ways and joins your side. This happens almost every time.
This is how a typical battle unfolds. Rowan (or Lianna) travel across the large map, unbothered by roving hordes of fodder enemies. Thousands of them exist for no reason other than to act as idle fuel for a super meter. Certain titles—Outpost Caption, Fort Captain, Soldier, Mage, Shadow, Gatekeeper etc—will grace some roadblocks with significant health bars. Taking over forts is usually paramount to success, as is dealing with impromptu hazards like reinforcements arriving or monster portals opening. Generally, killing everything on screen is the safest way to accomplish both your actual mission and any spontaneous (and optional) sub missions.
Fire Emblem’s lineage introduces additional options. First, you’re not soloing it around the battlefield. Friends you acquire along the way can be assumed at any point. Before and during a battle you can provide them with rudimentary directions, like travelling to guard and attack. This doesn’t actually work that well, AI-driven friends are prone to suicidal adventures and/or impotent offense, but it’s a functional way to move them from A to B, and then take them over. Think of it as remote fast travel instead of autonomous function and Fire Emblem Warriors becomes easier to understand.
The Fire Emblem signature lies with the series’ trademark rock, paper, scissors battle mechanics. Axes beat spears, spears topple swords, and swords win over axes. Archers, mounted riders, and mages introduce additional complications. Fire Emblem Warriors’ embedded map makes it easy to see what you’re up against, but being at a disadvantage isn’t a game breaker. It just takes longer to beat down an enemy with a weapon advantage. In the name of efficiency and success, however, cutting through challenges as fast as possible is the smoothest way to run the game.
Fire Emblem Warriors can also literally combine both of its strengths. Playable and non-playable members of your party can be combined into a single unit. This helps mitigate weapon disadvantages, and they’ll even modify your meter attack to deal additional damage. These relationships level up, too, and fleshing one out grants the player a special dialogue sequence between both parties. In practice I would always take a non-player character because then they would be less likely to kill themselves, but there’s always a certain advantage to teaming up two high level player characters.
Battles only get tricky when Fire Emblem Warriors introduces additional objectives. Mages blocking entry ways, bridges being out, and collapsed buildings present navigational hazards. Most can be solved by murdering the mages (obviously) but others demand the player conquer a fort, which opens an access point, which magically removes the hazard. Again, this isn’t terribly deep stuff but it presents an opportunity to inject order upon what would otherwise be total chaos.
Sometimes it’s tough to keep track of potent information. Identical sound clips constantly remind you that someone is in need of help or needs healing. Forts you have taken over are always subject to being re-conquered by something. Whether you’re glancing at the mini-map in the corner or pausing the gaming to take a closer look, it’s tough to figure out what the hell is happening. It’s annoying when the death of a particular character requires a map failure. I often found it easier to solo most maps as Rowen and let my idiot compatriots spiral to their doom, but if you really like micromanaging stuff, Fire Emblem Warriors begs to be pampered.
Fire Emblem Warriors has a neat relationship with difficulty. Normal, hard, and lunatic are the opening offerings, and I made it through the story on normal without much fuss (one mission required me to balance two opposing sides with equal opposing fort domination, but the others were strictly about killing everything). Persistence was the only requirement. Additionally, Fire Emblem Warriors spins around Fire Emblem’s penchant for permadeath. On the classic setting, if a member of your squad perishes they can only be revived with rare loot and a serious chunk of gold.
Yes, Fire Emblem Warriors is also a loot grind. Each character has his or her own level based on experience. Further, each character can use various loot to unlock offense, defensive, and special crests that act as perks. Causing additional damage to different classes, filling the special meter more quickly, and changing the class of available weapons among them. I focused on Camilla, Rowen, Lissa, and Chrom—and by that I mean I used my scarce master seals to advance their classes—but if you have the time and wherewithal to replay levels, you could make an army worthy of taking on the hardest difficulty.
Story Mode’s rote performance is complimented by a robust History Mode. Legendary battles from Fire Emblem’s past can played in real time and in obsessive detail. Each battle has its own map with dozens of challenges that break from the traditional “kill everything” model. Time battles are the most popular, but there are a bunch of different objectives ready to go. History Mode, generally, is a grinding paradise for sparse assets and upgrades but, again for fans of the series there’s a little something extra in imagining these battles taking place in real time.
Fire Emblem Warriors, like every Warriors game, has this weird trick where it’s immune to traditional criticism. Somewhere around 75% of this feels like the same game every time out, and yet here I am sincerely enjoying greater than 75% of my time with it. On a raw lizard brain level it’s fun to swing a big sword at an endless amount of bad guys. It’s the most repetitive thing I can think of and yet it never gets old. It shouldn’t work. And yet it works. I can’t think of another long-running series of games that would get this kind of free pass.
Furthermore, I have zero interest in Fire Emblem as a brand. The closest thing I’ve played was Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, which also had a tenuous grasp on the series’ core mechanics. Fire Emblem Warriors probably won’t lead to an investment for newcomers or a divorce from longtime fans, but it’s a perfectly serviceable gaiden for both parties. Either swing a sword and kill a bunch of stuff for twelve hours in Story Mode or dump fifty through the History Mode and get everything. Against whatever odds you can think of, even the most cynical heart will find something to enjoy in Fire Emblem Warriors.
It comes down to the elements of its assembly. Fire Emblem Warriors is the scheduled consequence of Hyrule Warriors; a sword-friendly Nintendo treasure paired with Omega Force’s quantitatively indisputable knack for mowing down thousands of bad guys in the pursuit of an even worse guy. Somehow, in spite of the presumed absence of inspiration, Fire Emblem Warriors remains engaging. It will always be fun to destroy perpetuating hoards with only a modest commitment from your mind.