On the surface, Fire Emblem Warriors should be complete sacrilege. Here's a game that takes a considered, small scale, turn based strategy game, and essentially seems to turn it into a button mashing action game, which sees Fire Emblem staples like Chrom and Lucina slicing their way through thousands of enemies in battles of epic scale. And the weirdest thing? Somehow, it works.
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Developed as a partnership between Fire Emblem studio Intelligent Systems, Dead of Alive creators Team Ninja, and Warriors developers Omega Force (of Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, and most recently, Warriors All Stars fame, which we thought was pretty good when we took a look in our review), Fire Emblem Warriors is essentially a giant mash up, yet one that stays much more true to the original than you'd think possible. While you'll take direct control of a wide range of popular Fire Emblem characters from an over the shoulder perspective, there's more than enough Fire Emblem DNA in here to make fans of the strategy series feel at home - and a comprehensive tutorial to help those who've never played either series get in on all the action.
The basic story here is a traditional "when worlds collide" affair, as some mysterious force causes the protagonists of 3DS instalments Fire Emblem Awakening, Echoes, and Fates, along with DS outing Shadow Dragon, to be brought into the same world. With a bad guy set to try and awaken an ancient dragon for nefarious purposes, it's up to you, as original characters Rowan and Lianna to seek out heroes from other worlds, collect their "Gleamstones", and whack 'em into the titular Fire Emblem shield to save the day. Told through a great mix of visual novel style cutscenes with exposition galore, and polished, in-game cutscenes for added drama, it's a story that's basic enough, yet one that ticks all the boxes.
Of course, for those who've played a Fire Emblem before, it's how you actually go about doing battle that's the biggest change. Dropping you onto a battlefield that's divided up into a number of passages and bases, with all sorts of different types of soldier either in between you and them, or guarding the bases themselves, Fire Emblem Warriors is a strategy game of a different kind. After choosing your initial team, it's essentially up to you to figure out how to best make your way across the map, capturing the bases as you go. Capturing the bases will gradually weaken the enemy forces, until eventually you manage to take enough bases, and the door to the main fort will open, letting you go face to face with the level's boss character.
While each level follows a similar pattern, some levels throw in a few additional rules or obstacles to make things interesting. Some levels have parts of the field covered in lava, a poisonous mist, or a mysterious fog - and the only way to get through without being damaged is to find and defeat a certain character, or capture a certain base. Almost every level you play will also have a fail condition, where should a certain character fall in battle, you'll lose, forcing you to always think at least a little bit strategically - should some of the enemy get close to your important friendly unit, you'll need to be able to backtrack across the map post-haste to save them.
While each level's filled with thousands of soldiers (and you'll clock up thousands of kills as you play through each one), only a few enemies are "important". These units, which have a health bar above their head, accompanied by either a name or their class, are effectively the "leaders" of the huge squads of soldiers you'll see going around the battlefield - defeat them, and you'll essentially defeat their entire platoon. Rather than wasting your time cutting your way through the chaff, then, it makes sense to focus your attention on these big dogs - and do your best to cut through them fast.
In a nod to its namesake, Fire Emblem Warriors makes use of a "weapons triangle", where certain types of weapons are stronger against others - so swords are strong against lances, lances are strong against swords, etc, etc - meaning you'll need to think carefully about which characters you send to fight where. Things get even more complex when you realise the game also implements Fire Emblem's weakness system, whereby characters with flying mounts (like pegasuses or dragons) are incredibly weak against archers - to the point where only a few well placed arrows can easily top your flying characters. As such, you'll want to keep a close eye on their whereabouts as the battle commences - or make it a priority to deal with any archers first.
But luckily, you've got a few options at your fingertips to make your life that much easier. First off, a second player can join in, as the game has full support for split-screen co-op - even using only the one Joy-Con each. A really nice touch - and one that was sorely missing from the recent Warriors All Stars - bringing a friend along for the ride can make managing the often complex list of events, updates and happenings that much easier (even if it does come with a sadly dodgy framerate).
However, whether playing with a friend or on your own, you'll also have the ability to issue your team mates with orders. Pausing the game brings up a map, which in itself looks kind of like a Fire Emblem battlefield - and from here, you can issue orders to your troops, as you attempt to make sure they only face off against units they have an advantage over. Not only does having an advantage over an enemy let you deal more damage, but it also makes you more likely to "stun" them. Stunning an enemy is a little bit more complex as it sounds, as rather than being entirely related to chance, it's actually to do with a gauge that appears over an enemy's head - when you see it appear, deal enough damage to them before it vanishes, and you'll execute a special, mega damage dealing move. If you're at a weapons disadvantage, however, not only will you deal less damage, but the enemy will block more, and you won't be able to perform stun attacks.
But perhaps one of the biggest surprises about Fire Emblem Warriors is how much effort's gone into making it easier to pick up and play. Seemingly taking on board our criticisms of Warriors All Stars, Fire Emblem Warriors has several tricks designed to make keeping track of what's happening on the battlefield that much easier - even if it doesn't go quite as far as it should. When you first start playing, you can choose whether you want to play in "slow and steady" or "quick and efficient" mode, with the former pausing to tell you about characters levelling up, or important changes of mission objective, or sub missions. It may only sound like a little thing, but this makes a huge amount of difference on the battlefield, and at least gives you the heads up you need to pause the game, and send your troops to help.
Sticking true to its Fire Emblem roots, whilst fusing almost perfectly with the Warriors format, Fire Emblem Warriors is a great game in its own right, whether you're a fan of Fire Emblem, the Warriors games, or neither! With split-screen co-op play, some great light strategy, a huge amount of levels, and some nice role playing game elements on top (like levelling, and a friendship system that sees your characters get closer the more they help each other out in combat), this should be on any Switch owner's list of games to consider.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Switch