The story of Fire Emblem Fates is built around a central choice — one you inadvertently make the moment you pick up a copy of the game.
[Note: This article spoils the first hour or two of the game.]
Fire Emblem Fates follows Corrin (who I will be referring to as female as that's the gender I chose in my playthrough), a princess of the Kingdom of Nohr.
Over the first few chapters of the game, you are introduced to her and her brothers and sisters — as well as their strict and plainly evil father, the King of Nohr. Yet, you soon learn that through their solidarity, the siblings manage to survive in the hostile environment of their father's court.
However, after a skirmish, Corrin is kidnapped by the neighbouring nation of Hoshido. There she discovers a shocking truth about her origins. She is not a princess of Nohr but rather a princess of Hoshido — kidnapped as a child and raised in the opposing nation. With this revelation, Corrin meets not only her real brothers and sisters but her birth mother as well.
Just as Corrin starts to fully grasp the situation, Nohr assassins attack and her mother is killed. In the midst of the chaos this causes, a Nohr army marches upon the city — but it's not an invasion. It's the princes and princesses of Nohr coming to rescue their sister, Corrin.
Thus, the stage for the choice is set: Corrin's birth family on one side and the only family she has ever known on the other. As her eldest brothers from both sides battle before her, you are forced to choose: who will Corrin go with?
This is an excellent dilemma built up over a few hours of gameplay. Who do you choose: The family that's supported Corrin her whole life — even though it's obvious the King is responsible not only for her kidnapping as a child but also her birth mother's death? Or, on the other hand, do you pick the family that are related by blood but are also strangers from an "enemy" nation?
Up until the choice, the plot is identical regardless of which version of the game you buy. However, there are three possible ways the story can go from this point in Fire Emblem Fates.
The first is the story found in Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright — where Corrin sides with her birth family and fights back against her former family and their corrupt kingdom.
In Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, Corrin and the only family she's ever known work to reform their country from the inside while at the same time trying to prevent a full blown war with Hoshido.
The third version of the story comes in the DLC "Invisible Kingdom." In this Corrin chooses neither side and finds herself hunted by both as she tries to somehow unite the two countries to take down the true villain lurking behind the scenes.
This choice feels massive and is well-handled with neither side being the obvious "correct" choice. It's too bad that you really make this choice before you even start playing and experience the dilemma firsthand — unless of course you buy the game on the Nintendo eshop instead of getting a physical copy.
When you buy the digital version of the game, you don't choose a version up front. Rather, when you pick your side, the game locks to that respective version — an interesting way of handling it that I wish could happen on the physical copies as well. In a world where decisions can be undone with the load of a save file, something like this would make for a weighty choice.
Because when it comes down to it, Fire Emblem Fates is a story of consequences. The game carefully sets up a dilemma with no easy solution and then forces you to deal with all that comes after such a pivotal choice. It's a great set-up for a game.
Fire Emblem Fates was released for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan on June 25, 2015. It will be released in the West sometime in 2016.