I want to make one thing clear at the start of this review: Fire Emblem is my favourite video game series of all time. I love every title for different reasons, I’m active in the fandom, and I am shamelessly hooked on its mobile instalment, Heroes. That said, I have never sat down and seriously played a Warriors title. Dynasty Warriors has always been on the periphery of my gaming life, but even with Hyrule Warriors trying to lure me in with another beloved series, I was never sold on the hack-and-slash genre in general. I had no idea just how well it would mesh with my favourite series, but from my highly biased point of view, they mesh together pretty damn well.
Despite the chaos of its Musou style, Fire Emblem Warriors is easy to pick up. The learning curve for new players is aided by supportive tutorial windows, and though they inundate you from start to finish, they’re easy to turn off and generally provide information that is clear-cut and useful. Most of the general settings are customizable; the controller layout, notifications, and even system voice are all under the players control.
Amiibo functionality exists, but isn’t terribly influential on gameplay – they mostly provide common items and currency used for upgrading skills and weapons. There is a lot of quality of life options that makes Fire Emblem Warriors an excellent first foray into the Musou style, but it also allows more seasoned players to let go of its hand and navigate the game however they please.
Those who are used to this game style will find freshness in the addition of Fire Emblem gameplay functions, which seamlessly adapt to the Warriors universe. In a game where the on-screen minimap provides all the information you need about the mission at hand, players are given strategic options that influence the flow of battle in significant ways. Positioning units, ordering support points, and plotting out every strike is crucial to progression. Rarely can you go barreling into battle on strength alone, thanks in part to the Weapon Triangle system.
The rock-paper-scissors style of weapon dominance is a familiar aspect from regular Fire Emblem games that works flawlessly in Warriors. Axes beat lances, lances beat swords, and swords beat axes – but throw in magic, arrows, and dragonstones, and you’ve got the kind of variety that makes even the most mindless missions interesting. Map effects, enemy reinforcements, and character class just add even more depth to all this.
These systems feel tailor made for Warriors, but are so intrinsically “Fire Emblem” that the symbiosis is downright remarkable. I may have never played a Dynasty Warriors game, but I genuinely felt like I was playing a true Fire Emblem installment instead of just a spin-off. This isn’t a Dynasty Warriors game with a Fire Emblem paint job; the game is truly dedicated to its creative roots.
Generally, Fire Emblem’s story is heavily character-driven, and if you need evidence of this than I can point you to any of the 3DS installments. As a strategy RPG, story is a major game element, but the overall narratives are never spectacularly written. They’re rarely bad, but Fire Emblem stories tend to just get the job done – it’s job being a vessel for colorful characters and how they work on and off the battlefield.
Warriors’ Story Mode exemplifies this, which makes sense considering one of the games major selling points is its ensemble cast. Don’t go into Story Mode expecting the same level of depth as Awakening, Fates, or Shadow Dragon. The main story exists purely as a means of putting the series’ characters in one place, under the banner of Warriors’ original characters, Rowan and Lianna.
Rowan is every bit obnoxious as his design makes him out to be, but ultimately there’s a strange charisma that makes him more tolerable by endgame. Lianna is without question the blandest Lord in recent Fire Emblem history. That’s not to say she’s bad – her design is pleasant, she’s optimistic and driven despite dire circumstances – but in comparison to her overly chipper brother, Lianna’s subdued heroism is simply a different flavored trope. At the end of the day, both serve their purpose well, but in a game built around bright personalities, it’s hard to say they’re very memorable. As for secondary original characters – Darios, Oskar, and Yelena – same deal. Not bad, not spectacular.
If you could take every cliche from past Fire Emblem titles and jam them into the Musou formula, you’d have Story Mode. Royal heroes, evil dragons, legendary weapons, cackling villains – yet everything under the sun is in tune. It makes for such a hodgepodge of familiar fluff that it’s actually somewhat enjoyable. The story lives in a weird space that feels like a Fire Emblem parody.
If the game wasn’t so self-aware – proven through its Support system and various bits of dialogue – it might be too generic to stomach. But it isn’t. It knows what it’s about, and players will pick up on that quickly. Story Mode is unashamed of how craptacular its narrative is, and rolls with it, and because of that it’s kind of awesome. In a sense, Story Mode feels more like a tutorial to the more difficult and varied battles you’ll experience in History Mode.
The true fanservice lies in History Mode, where five unlockable maps detail events from previous Fire Emblem titles, through the new Warriors gameplay style. The voice acting and graphics give a certain polish to old nostalgia that superbly blends these two series even more. Every battle feels different and rewarding. Everything, in fact, feels rewarding. Whether you’re earning achievements, unlocking characters, or simply upgrading the ones you love, there’s a daunting amount of things to do.
The Support system is simplified compared to those in a core Fire Emblem title – characters only have one conversation between each other – but those conversations are so satisfying to watch that it makes unlocking each one a game in and of itself. All of this is done freely at the players leisure. If you want to focus on Marth, no problem. The game does encourage you to focus on a variety of characters, none of whom can switch weapon types or fighting style. It quickly becomes imperative that you pick a favorite sword, axe, and spear user.
The closest thing to change you do get is through upgraded versions of each units initial class type, via Master Seals, another holdover from the Fire Emblem series. Generally, this just tacks on a ton of stat boosts and changes their appearance, but even that is customizable. Each character has a variety of unlockable costumes. Each character can serve as the systems voice and narrator. Each character gets just as much love as the next.
The biggest criticism from the fan community leading up to Warriors’ release was its roster. The verdict? It’s actually not so bad after all.
Admittedly, I like most of the cast, even if they are mostly limited to characters from Awakening, Fates, and Shadow Dragon. There is a certain yearning for more variety, but when you play through Story Mode and History Mode, the cast comes together in a cohesive manner that just feels right. The vast majority of units play so uniquely, that the abundance of sword-wielders doesn’t matter quite as much as it may seem. Future DLC aside, what we are given is phenomenally well made. Everyone can fantasize about their dream character being added to the roster, but in terms of what works – what characters helped fuse Dynasty Warriors with Fire Emblem – we have the right cast for the job.
From a gameplay perspective, each character is perfectly designed to fit their role and personality. I have no problem with fans expecting more variety from the developers, but the Fire Emblem series has an enormous cast, and in order for this title to work, starting with these specific characters – characters who are fresh from a marketing standpoint – was necessary. That said, there are some glaring omissions that could easily be added into the game, but I really wouldn’t expect anything crazy. We’re not gonna see DLC for Dorcas, L’arachel, or Reinhardt anytime soon. But if we don’t eventually see Ike, Roy, or Alm… I might just have to eat my Switch button by button.
There are no masterpieces in the Fire Emblem series. Every game is wonderful, but has its problems. Warriors follows this tradition of excellent imperfection in a way that makes it feel wholly at home with the rest of the series. Beautiful sound design, a silly storyline that allows itself to have fun, and a plethora of unlockables makes Warriors one of the most entertaining and replayable games on the Switch to date. I am convinced that any Dynasty Warriors fan would absolutely embrace this new title. But to all my fellow Fire Emblem fans who are still unsure: don’t let your nitpicking about the roster keep you from experiencing a well-made, faithful addition to the series. It’s as good as anything else we’ve gotten so far.