Fire Emblem Warriors – The Switch Island Review
I can say without reservation that Fire Emblem Warrior’s predecessor, Hyrule Warriors, was one of the best co-op games on the Wii U. Giving the second player their own screen meant that the experience was superior to normal split-screen play, even with frame-rate drops and the handheld screen having a low resolution. The gameplay was frenetic fun, and there was lots of it, with plenty of content drops and optional paid DLC to sate the thirst for hack n’ slash carnage. So it was much anticipation that my co-op partner and I dove into its Switch-bound follow-up.
Having completed the Story mode and some of the History mode, I’m sorry to say that Fire Emblem Warriors is a worse game in almost every respect, not even effectively utilising its most promising new features. To explain why, it’s important to understand what made (makes?) Hyrule Warriors great in the first place and what a Warriors game is anyway.
The Warriors games are hack n’ slash and loosely tactical, analogous to how Overcooked is tactical: you’re running around chopping things to pieces and putting out fires. You have to effectively manage your time and make sure you’re paying attention; it’s easy to get side-tracked engaged in combat that is less than optimally helpful for the main missions. The core goal of most missions is to make sure your team have control over the map, by taking over outposts and hub areas. You do this by killing enemies. Lots of them. Many are of the minion-type, but scattered throughout are more challenging combatants, which you have to approach more carefully. And there is all the usual RPG stuff – skill-trees, specials, weapon upgrades, potions etc.
Hyrule Warriors took all of that and overlaid it with Zelda stylings. There was a large selection of the characters, weapons and locations from the franchise’s history. It’s a little bit through-the-looking-glass Zelda but it’s serviceable nonetheless. And it’s the same with Fire Emblem Warriors: the stylings are there, including the interminable (to me) anime sequences before and after each battle, where the heroes and villains exchange flirts, gibes and such. Both games update the Warriors gameplay to match their respected franchises too, and it’s here that the differences between the games show, and Fire Emblem Warriors falls short.
Fire Emblem Warriors tries to incorporate some Fire Emblem-esque gameplay by letting you direct heroes from your team on the map. On the face of it, this seems like a good idea. In Hyrule Warriors you would sometimes find one of your team doing something unrelated to the main mission and we used to wish we could direct them. But, playing Fire Emblem Warriors it quickly becomes apparent that this severely undermines a central feature of the Warriors games: a lot of the fun is from running around against the clock, whilst new mission objectives pop up. Imagine if you could direct other characters to chop vegetables for you in Overcooked?! You might want to, but it would break the frenetic fun of that game. So, if you’re going to introduce that element then you’d need to ramp up the complexity and difficulty of the quests so you really need to direct heroes, right? Instead, the quests are less complex and easier than Hyrule Warriors.
Hyrule Warriors provided lots of interesting varieties of enemies that required tackling in unique and relevant ways, for example with the Dodongos you have to throw bombs into their mouths to disarm them, you know, like in Zelda. Fire Emblem Warriors has none of that; each enemy can be tackled head-on in exactly the same way. Even though it introduces the weapons triangle from the franchise, the game never penalises you enough for attacking the wrong enemy type, you can simply attack whomever you want to, even on the hardest difficulty mode.
Another introduction Fire Emblem Warriors makes is teaming-up in duos, which is another integral part of the franchise. Again, this seems like a good idea: being able to switch and combine heroes to tackle different enemies could be wonderful tool but it’s under-utilised again, you simply don’t need it. It is admittedly cool seeing the different attacks that a pair can utilise, but it quickly becomes boring because of how easy everything is.
Hyrule Warriors made imaginative and ludicrous use of all the weird and wonderful Zelda characters and locations. The characters in Fire Emblem Warriors have a much narrower range of types, and there isn’t much character to their fighting styles either. Everything comes across as more bland – the quests uninspired, the enemies are mostly all the same, and the levels also lack variety and colour. One nice feature though are the anime-style banners that show you’re character’s face when you’re doing a power move.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Fire Emblem just isn’t a good template for the Warriors gameplay, the main reason being that Fire Emblem is a turn-based tactics game, not a third-person action adventure game. The gameplay of fighting with weapons in real-time is the sort of thing you do in Zelda though, which is perhaps why Hyrule Warriors worked better. However, I still think there was a good game to be made here. If more thought and time had been spent establishing the new features and adjusting the complexity accordingly, it could’ve been very good if not great. As it is, it’s really hard to recommend. Luckily, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is out soon. We might not have the Wii U’s second screen for co-op but we’ll manage with split-screen and try to forget about Fire Emblem Warriors.