I’ve heard it said in several places, from fans of JRPGs, that Fire Emblem Fates’ story sucks. It’s a sentiment I understand.
In the grand scheme of things for me to get pissed about in Fire Emblem: Fates, it would be that your characters who clearly have romantic feelings for each other, of the same gender, can only form close friendships but not romantic relationships. There’s even a compartmentalized relationship rating (A+ instead of S) for achieving one of these friendships: let’s call it the Fire Emblem version of “Civil Unions.” But back to the story.
Fates is an odd experiment for Nintendo, almost like an attempt to replicate their success with Pokemon’s double title releases, but with a story-based game. Fire Emblem fates was released as two games, Birthright, and Conquest. At the beginning of Fates you start as a Prince(ss) of Nohr, but then discover later that the King, Garon, killed your father, the King of rival nation Hoshido, and kidnapped you to raise as his own. The story soon reaches a deciding point, where you must determine whether you will side with your birth family of Hoshido (Birthright) or your adopted family of Nohr (Conquest). If you’ve purchased just one of the titles (and not the $80 collectors edition which includes both) it was possible to buy the other game’s story and mission content as DLC for $20 (on top of the initial $40 for whichever version of the base game you purchased).
Honestly, neither Birthright or Conquest have a very good story. In both cases you end up murdering a good deal of characters from either side of the conflict who are sympathetic and/or clearly interesting but never expanded on. In fact whole sections of the story and background seem missing.
A third piece of DLC story and mission content, Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations, allows you to choose to align with neither group and take down the real enemy behind the conflict (for an additional $20) that fills in the missing pieces of the story. So if you’re keeping track, in order to get the whole story at launch, you’d be out $80 (the cost of the aforementioned special edition, which also included Revelations at the outset). Of course now you can get base game for cheaper.
I think it’s safe to say this is a precarious gamble in marketing the release of a story-based SRPG. I’d like to be clear here, I don’t think this is the bad release structure, necessarily, I think it’s a critically unexamined marketing and development structure. The problem is that neither of the base games are satisfying in and of themselves, but the games have been marketed as complete stories (when the whole story at the very least requires a $60 buy to get Revelations in addition to either base story).
This begs the question, is Revelations good? Well, mostly, Revelations, too, depends on you having played prior content to know certain facts about characters that could have easily been included in the game; while it’s clear this was done to make playing the other games a necessity; it too keeps Revelations from having a real sense of identity. The games, as single pieces don’t coalesce into anything like a real story, and taken together require a great deal of tedious repetition.
It’s an attempt to divide story in the way that the Pokemon games divide catchable critters, but story content isn’t like collectible content, a story has to work independently as a cohesive discreet unit. Since all three games take place during the same timeframe, it doesn’t make sense that so much would left vaguely unspoken in any one telling. In short, it feels like the game wasn’t planned this way during the writing phase; or if it was, there wasn’t much attention given to the concept of complete narrative arcs.
Where Fire Emblem Fates falters, is in the understanding that the different versions need to have value-added, not value diminished. Each version should tell a different but equally compelling story, rather than taking one single story, and removing parts from it.
That’s not a recipe for narrative success, though it may be one for potential audience disengagement. An unreliable narrative can be fun, but it has to have an individual worthwhile pay-off. Otherwise it’s just vague and frustrating.