The Fire Emblem series is well known for its often complex, yet rewarding strategy gameplay and huge roster of memorable characters, so when Omega Force and Team Ninja announced a crossover between Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors and Intelligent System’s Fire Emblem, it appeared to be the perfect collaboration, especially given the praise Hyrule Warriors received, and because Fire Emblem’s characters feel tailor-made for the Warriors’ hack-and-slash genre, as anyone who has played the Super Smash Bros series will testify to. However, while the blend of the Warriors’ hack-and-slash and Fire Emblem’s strategy, role-play gameplay works surprisingly well, it’s not a faultless marriage.
It’s fair to say that the Warriors titles aren’t remembered for their stories, and it’s no different here. Fire Emblem Warriors sees you take control of two new characters, Rowan and Lianna, the royal twins of Aytolis, right before a monster attack. After fending off the monsters, Rowan, Lianna and their friend Prince Darios of Gristonne learn that Darios’ father is behind the attack and he intends to revive an evil dragon called Velezark. To stop him the twins must traverse dangerous lands and power up the Shield of Flames with Gleamstones held by heroes from other worlds.
The story is as simple as it is ludicrous, but its basic go here, find and recruit hero, collect Gleamstone and repeat structure is more than adequate to keep the plot moving forward. However, the lack of a focal enemy throughout is a disappointment, while dialogue between the protagonists is questionable at best. Where Warriors takes place within the wider Fire Emblem universe is anyone’s guess, but the crazy story allows for characters from previous titles such as Fates and Awakening to be included with some justification, and while the roster of playable characters is significant, there were some noticeable absentees.
As you would expect from a Warriors title, the core hack-and-slash gameplay mechanics are all present, and are just as smooth as they were in Hyrule Warriors; each playable character has a selection of combos which you can pull off by utilising button combinations of their light and heavy attacks, and once you’ve defeated enough enemies, you can fill your stun gauge and unleash a special attack to devastate your enemies. Fire Emblem Warriors also allows you to pair up characters in similar way to that in Awakening and Fates, resulting in spectacular finishers, but it also allows you to pair up weapon combinations to ensure weaknesses are nullified, and boost characters’ stats, at the expense of one less unit on the battlefield.
Fans of the more traditional strategy role-playing Fire Emblem games will also find joy here as these elements have been retained for the most part. Before each battle, you can analyse the battlefield and send your units to attack enemies and capture forts, although you’ll need to be aware of what the strengths and weaknesses of each character are, or they’ll ultimately fall in battle. The weapons triangle of previous Fire Emblem titles returns, so swords beat axes, axes beat lances and lances topple swords, while additional weapons such as bows are also present. The actual strategy element here is deep, rewarding and essential; if you think you’ll be able to just hack-and-slash your way through battles, you’ll struggle, especially later on. Moving units around the battlefield mid-game and keeping an eye on their health is vital and a deeply satisfying experience, although you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of icons on the mini-map, which makes surveying the battlefield very confusing in the early parts. What’s more, while the AI characters are pretty good at completing tasks with little assistance, there were times when we found them idle, and occasionally initiating battles with bosses well above their level, which can be very irritating, especially as characters remain dead if you’re playing in classic mode, but there is also a casual mode where fallen units return after battle.
Outside of battle you can upgrade your characters’ weapons and attack and defence sets, and we often found ourselves spending longer buying, upgrading and modifying our characters then we did actually using them in battle. This is especially important on the harder difficulty levels, where knowing the skills of each unit is essential. Thankfully, while you can free play completed stages to level units up, or simply use the gold you acquire to purchase levels, the game includes a Hero Mode where you can partake in historic battles from previous Fire Emblem titles, each with different success requirements. This makes grinding less of a chore, and the battles are a genuinely enjoyable experience, especially for Fire Emblem veterans.
In a year when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey pushed the graphical capabilities of the Switch, Fire Emblem Warriors feels like it’s lacking that extra level of polish. The character models look great in the animated cutscenes and are rendered well in game, but the battlefields, while not terrible, aren’t particularly memorable. Thankfully, you’ll seldom notice the visuals as you hack-and-slash your way through the enemies to a backdrop of brilliant tunes from the Fire Emblem universe; we absolutely loved the soundtrack here, and it’ll certainly give fans that nostalgic feel. Take the Switch out of its dock and the game runs just as smoothly as it does in TV mode - the visuals do drop a little, but it’s barely noticeable, although the game struggles in two player co-op, with noticeable framerate drops.
Fire Emblem Warriors is a particularly difficult game to assign a score to; for newcomers, the first few hours are difficult to grasp due to the sheer number of units on the minimap and the wealth of different weapons, skills and upgrades you need to learn. However, once you’ve mastered the mixture of strategy and hack-and-slash gameplay, it soon becomes an enjoyable, but occasionally stale experience. The level-based structure along with the same hack-and-slash gameplay means it becomes rather monotonous during long sessions, and is therefore best played in small chunks - this is exemplified by the fact that the story never really grips you. Fire Emblem Warriors is perfect for your commute, or for a few hours here and there, but it isn’t stimulating or rewarding enough to binge on over a weekend. What’s more, there isn’t much here that we hadn’t already experienced in Hyrule Warriors. Nevertheless, Fire Emblem Warriors perfectly blends hack-and-slash fighting with deep strategic role-playing elements in a package that fans of both series will enjoy.