Given that every other modern FE game ranges anywhere from bad to mediocre to this-game-didn’t-need-to-exist to why-the-hell-does-this-game-exist, and given that its source material was a rather frustrating game, FE15 is a game from which I wasn’t expecting too much.
I’m happy to say that FE15 exceeded my expectations. This is the only good FE game from the past 12 years.
Although I don’t usually place too much stock in surface-level appeal, I’ll mention that FE15 does all the surface-level stuff right:
- Unlike in FE13/14/16, the art style here is good and distinct. We even have full-blown cutscenes and voice acting for anyone who cares about that sort of stuff.
- The music in FE15 is some of the best in the series. Twilight of the Gods. NEED I SAY MORE?
- We have support conversations and an expanded story compared to what we saw in FE2: for instance, Mycen, Rudolf, Alm, and Celica are all characterized in greater depth.
- The QoL stuff is great. It’s damn great, in fact. Like in FE13/14, we can skip entire enemy phases, which drastically cuts down on FE2’s original tedium. We have an actual combat prediction panel, a “danger zone” toggle, and all the other bells and whistles that come with modern FE.
- Casual mode and a difficulty selector (normal/hard) are once again present. Contrary to what some misinformed people might believe, I’m not a purist who believes permadeath is the only proper way to play FE. I’m glad modern FE gives us the option to turn it off. Hardcore players can still play with permadeath as usual, while newcomers can ease into the series with a more forgiving difficulty. This freedom to choose is a good thing no matter how you cut it.
All of this is the good part of the modern FE influence: an emphasis on presentation and ease-of-access. None of this stuff compromises the integrity of Fire Emblem; rather, it enhances what was already a good series by tacking on some ancillary improvements.
Here’s the bad part of the modern FE influence, though: the gameplay. The sad truth about FE15 is that it makes no fundamental improvements over FE2’s map design and game balance.
Sure, you could argue that the existence of new “combat arts” makes the game slightly more interesting, but FE15 still suffers from the same major problem that plagued FE2, namely the garbage-tier map design. There were all of three maps in the entire game that I felt were strategically interesting which, to FE15’s credit, is still more than I could say of FE2. But when you compare this with the depth of games such as FE10, FE11, or FE12… FE15 is a huge letdown.
As another blight on the gameplay, FE15’s unit balance isn’t really any better than what we saw in FE2. Dread Fighters are ridiculously overpowered to the point that Gray is probably the best unit in the game. Armor knights still suck. Mages still suck. Cavaliers are still “meh” tier. At least Silk is much less overpowered here due to her warp being nerfed. It’s a given that in any FE game, units will not be perfectly balanced. But it seems like there was almost no effort spent on even attempting to improve balance from the original. Really, why are Dread Fighters so damn good at everything?
I understand trying to stay faithful to the original source material. That’s a very noble effort, and I think it’s the right approach when you’re remaking a classic and trying to do it justice. But I would point out that Intelligent Systems already made many deviations and changes from the original FE2 by adding in new characters, adding in casual mode, adding in support conversations, and changing characters’ artworks and names.
Given these changes, why not also improve the most important part of the game: the SRPG gameplay? That’s really the bread and butter of any FE game. The surface-level fluff is undeniably great, and I will credit FE15 for those improvements. But at the end of the day, I don’t care as much if FE15 made all these improvements in other areas; if the core gameplay is not exceptional, then FE15 is not exceptional – plain and simple.
Fortunately, FE15’s gameplay is actually improved in some other ways. Instead of exploring disappointingly bland villages and castles from a top-down perspective like in FE2, we now have point-and-click adventure segments.
The key thing to note is that the game doesn’t shove these segments down your throat. You’re not spending that much time with these parts, unlike with the dumb Monastery in FE16. I would also argue that the point-and-click parts aren’t coming out of left field or anything. The original FE2 was an effort to blend elements from other genres into the framework of Fire Emblem; FE15 adheres to that selfsame philosophy, so the point-and-click parts hardly feel surprising or unnatural here.
Here’s another thing the average FE fan probably wouldn’t expect: action-adventure dungeons. FE15 was basically FE Warriors before FE Warriors existed.
These dungeons don’t take too long and they help break up the tedium of FE15’s boring and bland battles. Just like with the point-and-click segments, the action-adventure parts don’t really feel out of place, nor do they consume too much time. Certainly, you can repeat dungeons several times and grind out your characters if you so desire, but the game doesn’t force you to spend so much time here…
…Unlike with FE16 and the dumb monastery. Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll stop making jabs at FE16 and I’ll make an attempt to conceal my hatred for that game.
Given this fusion of action-adventure, point-and-click, and SRPG gameplay, FE15 becomes sort of Sakura Wars-esque in that it does quite a few things and never feels tedious. FE15 doesn’t really excel at anything though, aside from its presentation. It’s more of a generalist – a jack of many trades, master of none. By contrast, Sakura Wars managed to seamlessly blend several ideas together and executed them all extremely well.
Oh, also, I must mention that I’m disappointed with the localization effort. They had a golden opportunity to bring back the legend of Qulyf.
But instead, they went the limp-dick route and named him “Kliff.” COME ON, GUYS! Qulyf is obviously the best way to translate クリフ. On that note, why was クレーベ localized as “Clive” instead of “Krebbe?” Why was デューテ localized as “Delthea” instead of “Dyute?” I’ll have you know that “Dyute” is a perfectly fine name for young girls. If I had a daughter, I’d definitely name her “Dyute.” And if I had a son, I’d name him…
If it wasn’t obvious already, my “disappointment” with the localization is entirely facetious. Par for the course with modern FE, the localization here is fantastic… with the exception of one typo I found here:
FE15 also has some paid DLC. Fuck paid DLC.
As of now, I’ve beaten Gaiden three times and Shadows of Valentia once. I therefore harbor no desire to replay either of these games… I can only handle so much bland, uninspired map design and bad game balance. If I were forced to replay one of them though, I’d definitely go with FE15. Given that this game now exists, I don’t see any reason to ever touch FE2 again.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean FE15 is a great game. Perhaps compared to its contemporaries, it was great; however, when compared to the rich legacy that the first 12 FE games (sans FE2) left behind, it’s merely a good game.
I’m still glad it exists. FE15 feels like the experience that FE2 was supposed to be. Also importantly, I’m glad that there’s at least one decent modern FE game out there. Maybe if I had played this back in 2017, it would’ve filled me with hope for the series’ future. Currently though, given the existence of FE16 and how it dashed my hopes, I’m not optimistic.
This might be the last new FE I’ll ever play. If FE17 ends up being FE16 Part 2: Electric Boogaloo, then it’s a hard pass for me. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In the meantime, I have plenty of other SRPGs to cover, including most of the older FE games that I’ve completed several times but haven’t covered here yet.
Developers: Intelligent Systems