Fire Emblem Warriors Aged Really Well
This early Nintendo Switch release is still fun to play
During last week’s Nintendo Direct stream, the company announced a new collaboration with Koei Tecmo and its Omega Force team called Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. This surprise-sequel is due out in June, and it’s the follow-up to 2017’s Fire Emblem Warriors. This will be the fourth development collaboration between the two companies, and it’s a partnership that usually turns out great games.
The first Fire Emblem Warriors was the first video game I bought for the Switch once I was finally able to find one. It came out in September of 2017, about six months after the launch of the console — which still technically counts as the “launch window” in the weird world of video game marketing. It also hit the 3DS, but it was clear even at the time that it was a significantly pared-back version meant to access the still-active 3DS audience.
I was just as eager for this game as for some of the bigger marquee Nintendo titles because I’m a huge fan of the Warriors franchise, and it didn’t disappoint me. However, it came out in a really busy time of year. So while I spent a few aggressive days playing much of its campaign…I then put it down and didn’t finish it until six months later, when I wrote this effusive review.
To celebrate the announcement of the sequel, I decided to re-buy a copy of the original game and play it again. It’s easy to find physical cart copies on sale now, and that’s probably the better way to go since Nintendo rarely discounts their first party digital games.
Surprisingly, the game still holds up rather well. It packs in dozens of hours of Warriors-style hack and slash fun, a competent loot and character upgrade system, and a silly fun story that’s got lots of references for Fire Emblem fans and enough original material to be a good entry point for newcomers. It also has genuinely impressive graphics performance on the Switch, something that’s hard to say about a lot of Switch games these days.
The Nvidia-based mobile hardware inside Nintendo’s console may have impressed me five years ago…but it’s getting old. There’s no denying it. More and more modern games have to cut down their resolution and their graphics features just to get running on the machine, and even then you’ll sometimes see framerate dips and jagged edges. Many teams do still pull off impressive feats on the hardware, but performance isn’t always a guarantee. As the rest of the market moves on to newer consoles and upgraded PCs, Nintendo sometimes gets left behind on the graphics front.
Fire Emblem Warriors has no such visual problems. It’s shockingly rock-solid performance-wise compared to many other Koei-developed games on the system, and an impressive early game for showing off the hardware. The graphics were clearly scoped just right for Nintendo’s hybrid home console, and although the environments aren’t all that detailed, the animations, lighting, and number of characters on-screen more than make up for it.
The game offers players the choice of a 720p or 1080p mode when playing docked, with the lower resolution mode targeting — and mostly achieving — full sixty frames per second gameplay. In handheld mode it’s limited to 720p at 30 frames, but even there it looks great. I’m playing through the just-released Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires for review right now, and the performance gap between it and this five year old Fire Emblem game is horrifying. Yes, DW9E is a multi-platform release on a newer iteration of Koei’s in-house engine tech and its open world environment is much larger — but the older Fire Emblem game runs circles around it in terms of speed and overall playability on the Switch.
The music lives up to the graphical presentation, with high quality remixes of several Fire Emblem themes alongside new material. It has the same grungy rock sound as a lot of other Warriors games, and its main themes are very catchy in the best possible way.
I like the goofy story in Fire Emblem Warriors but I’m also not a huge fan of the core franchise, so I don’t mind that it reads a little bit like fanfiction. The game casts you as one of two new sibling characters alongside a whole host of popular Fire Emblem heroes. They’ve all been smooshed together into a new world thanks to some evil time travel business, and you have to journey across the land to find several orbs and kill some monsters. It’s great pulpy light fantasy fare.
Although the core gameplay is mostly hack-and-slash character action, it also has some light strategy and RPG elements befitting the license. Levelling up characters and equipping them smartly is more important than in some other Warriors games, as is positioning them on the map against the right unit types. This becomes critical as you try the harder difficulties. You can even choose a classic permadeath mode, or a casual mode where characters don’t ever leave your game. It is possible to resurrect characters in the more punishing mode, but it requires very rare materials that you might want to use for upgrades instead.
In addition to a fifteen hour campaign, the game has tons of bonus content you can quest through to max out your characters and flex your strategic muscles. It’s extended even further by the season pass. This expansion DLC adds content based on three classic Fire Emblem games, and it only costs twenty dollars. It’s worth picking up if you’re a fan of the game, and its price is much less exploitative than other Koei DLC.
The breathtaking, energetic combat and fast-performing graphics make Fire Emblem Warriors just as fun to play now as it was five years ago. It is both a great first Warriors game and a great introduction to the Fire Emblem universe. And the two graphics modes put a lot of newer Switch games to shame. The world isn’t as detailed, but the smart overall optimization makes me wish that third party developers had more time and money to spend working on Nintendo’s hardware as it clearly makes a difference when something is correctly scoped for it.
I hope that the sequel is great, and although it probably won’t have a 60FPS mode, it looks like it’ll deliver the same addictive blend of character action, melodrama, and gentle strategic complexity that I love about the series. I look forward to finding out this summer.