When picking up Fire Emblem Fates, I had two choices: the stereotypical "good guy" story in Birthright, or the far darker "good people forced to do bad things" story in Conquest. Even as I slaughtered the would-be Birthright heroes, I was glad with the choice I made.
Fire Emblem Fates is three games, not one — though each has the same set up. Kidnapped as a baby from the kingdom of Hoshido, your player character is raised as a member of rival nation Nohr's royal family.
All three versions are identical until the game's sixth chapter where you must choose to side with your birth family (Birthright), the only family you've ever known (Conquest), or neither (Invisible Kingdom). The remaining 22 chapters are completely different from one another in both gameplay and story.
The choice really is one of nature versus nurture. Do you side with strangers who share the same blood, or the brothers and sisters who you know and love — even though your "father" kidnapped you as a baby? Personally, I found the obvious choice to be "neither." However, as Invisible Kingdom is DLC — and thus requires a copy of either Birthright or Conquest to play it anyway — I chose to go with Conquest.
The story of Conquest is a sad one. You stay with the family who raised you and try to do good and prevent a war with Hoshido — even as your clearly evil adopted father orders you to do the opposite.
It is only through the love of your siblings that you are able to do any good at all. While each will do as the King commands in public, it's clear that the siblings' loyalty is first to each other and second to their abusive father.
However, if the story has one weakness, it's how the main conflict drags.
While all the siblings (your character included) believe the King to be wrong in pursuing war — and especially with the brutal acts he commands on the battlefield — none of them actively take a stand against him.
Time after time he orders atrocities, and time after time your characters reluctantly follow those orders. This continues long past the point of believability and makes the characters you have come to love seem so weak that they become evil simply by inaction. By the time your characters even discuss taking a stand against their father, the game is nearly over.
The other glaring plot problem with Conquest is one that it shares with Birthright: Both seem like the "bad endings" of the Fire Emblem Fates story. Characters — main and supporting — die throughout; and even if the endings are somewhat hopeful, they are far from happy given that there is clearly a greater, unchallenged evil that has been playing puppet master the whole time.
Of course, recruiting both sides — Nohr and Hoshido — and fighting against the true antagonist is the plot of Invisible Kingdom, which is why that version of the game feels like the "true" route of the story despite it being DLC.
At its most basic, Conquest is a SRPG where you pit an army of characters against an enemy army. Each character has a job class with its own role in battle — including strengths and weaknesses — and how you use them in combination with each other is the key to victory.
More specifically, Conquest plays like a mixture between Fire Emblem Awakening and old school Fire Emblem titles. On one hand, the game comes with the option of having dead characters return to life at the end of a chapter — as well as a new mode that returns them to life at the end of the turn.
On the other hand, it does not allow for levelling up on the world map by replaying old missions (while Birthright and Invisible Kingdom do). This, more than any other difference, makes Conquest the most difficult of the three versions of Fire Emblem Fates.
The other big difference among the versions is the battles themselves. While the battles in Birthright are straightforward — i.e., kill the general/kill everyone — Conquest has more varied objectives like catch enemies, win within a time limit, defend a location, or break through enemy lines.
Knowing that there is a finite amount of money and experience points to be had, mixed with the often difficult-to-complete objectives, keeps each battle tense and grants it a real sense of importance.
Outside of battle, you build your own castle, interact with the various characters you've recruited, and watch scenes in which they build relationships with each other — and sometimes, fall in love and have children. These scenes, in turn, unlock side missions which not only allow the child characters to join your army but allow you some much needed extra gold and experience points as well.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is a solid title. The character development of its massive cast and the theme of sibling loyalty make for an emotionally engaging story — though at times is does seem to drag its feet when it comes to getting to the resolution.
The battle system is well balanced and equally well refined — as you would expect of the latest in a series that's been around since the original Nintendo Entertainment System. If you are a veteran Fire Emblem (or SRPG) player or are looking for a darker than usual JRPG story, Conquest is the version of Fire Emblem Fates for you.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest was released for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan on June 25, 2015. It will be released in the West sometime in 2016.