Fire Emblem has never been as popular as it is today, but despite its newfound fame, the series still finds itself at a crossroads. Its fanbase is divided by a generational gap, with fans of the older games disappointed in the series’ current direction and new fans who fell in love with Awakening and Fates invested in its current direction. Each of 2017’s three Fire Emblem releases has targeted a different chunk of the massive yet split community. Fire Emblem Warriors, Koei Tecmo’s second Nintendo Warriors game, opted to target the Fates/Awakening group while largely disregarding the older fans, and the game is weaker for it.
The approach does make some sense from Koei Tecmo’s perspective. Before Fire Emblem: Awakening, the franchise was on life support. Nintendo was planning on shutting the franchise down if Awakening didn’t sell over 250,000 units. It blew way past that figure, selling 1.79 million copies as of December 2014. Fire Emblem Fates enjoyed similar success, selling 300,000 copies in its opening weekend alone. Simply put, more people have played the games Koei Tecmo has chosen to highlight. Still, by focusing on new fans they’ve frustrated old ones.
In May, Intelligent Systems reached out to those veteran fans with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia on 3DS. It targeted older players by ditching just about every innovation found in the previous 3DS titles. Marriages were scrapped, there was no avatar, and Fates’ Phoenix mode was dropped. As a remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden, Shadows of Valentia brought players back to a different era. Instead of focusing on characters’ personal relationships and telling stories through support conversations, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia told a downright compelling story that pitted two philosophies against each other and made a profound point about the flaws of each in its bittersweet conclusion.
Upon release, veteran Fire Emblem fans lauded it as a return to a former glory. Critics and sales figures, however, weren’t so keen on it. Echoes did receive largely positive reviews, with a big emphasis on its fantastic story, but it didn’t review quite as well as Awakening and Fates. Its sales figures didn’t come close to touching what its 3DS predecessors hit. While Nintendo has highlighted it as a success in its quarterly reports, its week one sales in Japan fell more in line with 2008’s Shadow Dragon, one of the biggest flops in series history. Internationally, Echoes charted well, but both Awakening and Fates sold well over one million units. It doesn’t appear likely that Echoes will reach that milestone.
With Fire Emblem Warriors, Koei Tecmo took the opposite approach by focusing its roster on Fates, Awakening, and Shadow Dragon. Even beloved Smash Bros. characters Roy and Ike were left off the roster and don’t appear to be coming as DLC anytime soon. Instead, 17 of the game’s 23 characters are featured in Awakening and Fates, much to the chagrin of franchise veterans. These players have blasted Warriors for forgetting the franchise’s roots from the moment Koei Tecmo announced its roster would be filled with mostly new characters. Many modern fans, however, have no issues with the roster since they’ll be getting to play as all of their favorites.
While it wouldn’t be fair to compare Warriors to a mainline Fire Emblem entry – it is a spinoff after all – its sales have already been affected by its refusal to attempt to bridge the gap. Dialogue surrounding the game has been mixed at best, with its roster a huge point of contention even among critics at GameXplain, GameSpot, and plenty of others. No matter how much fan-service Koei Tecmo poured into it, Warriors will never feel like a true love letter to a big block of the Fire Emblem community because its roster only really acknowledges those who started following the 27-year-old franchise in 2013.
Warriors had the chance to be a celebration of everything Fire Emblem is and was, much like February’s Fire Emblem Heroes has. Heroes, despite being a mobile game, did a better job of bridging the gap than Echoes and Warriors. Although that effort isn’t the only reason for its astounding success, it certainly has played a factor. The game prominently stars characters from 1990s Japanese-exclusive games right alongside 2016’s Ryoma and is better for it. New players who never met beloved characters like Blazing Sword’s Hector have the chance to meet them and get to know them in Heroes, giving them knowledge and respect for the series’ past.
It’s a shame Fire Emblem Warriors didn’t follow in its footsteps. It would have been the perfect game to blend the two groups together. Because of their roster decisions, a large portion of the Fire Emblem market may never give it a chance regardless of its quality. That may not seem fair, but such is the state of the Fire Emblem community right now.
Personally, as someone whose first Fire Emblem game was Awakening, I think fans’ criticism of Warriors is entirely warranted. I’ve gone back and played the old Fire Emblem games, and while they are dated in some ways, they actually hold up well and in some ways surpass their modern iterations. One-dimensional characters like Camilla were few and far between, and I think newer fans would fall in love with heroes like Path of Radiance’s Titania just as easily as they did Chrom’s protector Frederick. At the very least, the buzz surrounding Warriors would have been way more positive leading up to launch. Koei Tecmo could have advanced the series and brought old and new fans together in an all-star get-together, but instead, they erred on the side of caution and just targeted the larger part of the market.
During this January’s Fire Emblem Direct, Fire Emblem Switch was said to be arriving sometime during 2018. Intelligent Systems finds itself in the same predicament as Corrin in Fire Emblem Fates, forced to choose between Hoshido and Nohr, guaranteed to let one side down. It will be interesting to see what path they take, and how they attempt to bring this split community together.