Is there any series as misunderstood as the mighty Warriors games? Unfairly written off by many as mindless hack and slash adventures, for me these grandiose brawlers are more about mindfulness. There’s a wonderful rhythm to be found out on the battlefield, when you realise the theatrics of launching a hundred soldiers in the air with an overstated sweep of a sword are simply the flashy frame through which the real game happens. It’s about reading the map, and methodically cleaning it of enemy troops; of tidying up a battlefield until everything’s in order, and everything’s in your possession. It’s a gloriously relaxing game.
Which goes some way to explaining how I lost a dozen hours to Fire Emblem Warriors over the past few days, my Switch by my side to fill in the lulls of a weekend away. There’s something hypnotic and soothing to be found in the groove cut by Omega Force and Team Ninja’s take on Intelligent System’s series – as well as a Warriors game that smartly appropriates some of the quirks of the Fire Emblem games.
It’s a trick that’s been pulled off before, of course, with 2014’s Hyrule Warriors turning The Legend of Zelda into a winning hybrid of Nintendo’s beloved series and the musou genre’s own particular pleasures. Fire Emblem Warriors, in my mind, does an even better job – helped along by the fact that its fiction and universe fit so beautifully over the grand battles that musou games excel at portraying.
There’s not much of a leap of the imagination required to see the potential in riding Cordelia’s pegasus from fort to fort, or in pushing the bullish horsebound knight that is Frederick through thick mobs of soldiers, and Fire Emblem’s recent tales of warring empires map neatly over the Warriors template. It goes deeper than that, though – much, much deeper – which is what’s made Fire Emblem Warriors such an unexpected delight for me.
Some of the appropriations are fairly obvious; the weapon triangle, that backbone of Fire Emblem, is here in all its glory, with swords beating axes that beat lances that beat swords. It’s perhaps not as pronounced here as it is in mainline Fire Emblem games – you tend to push on through regardless when lost in the lulling rhythms of battle – but its presence is most certainly appreciated.
As is the Fire Emblem-shaped strategy that prefaces each stage, a familiar map with familiar pixelart used to shape your attacks as you deploy units and dictate their actions and movements. The support mechanic is intact, enabling you to pair up on the battlefield to see the relationship between characters bloom, and there’s even the option to enable Classic Mode and have permadeath be a part of the action, with fallen characters unable to return once they’ve been downed.
It’s compelling stuff that sits naturally in this new context and, in its own way, Fire Emblem Warriors feels like a more effective Fire Emblem game than this year’s watered down (but ludicrously successful) mobile spin-off Heroes. It’s hardly short of fan service, either, whether that’s the familiar level up chimes and screens or the whistlestop tour of characters and worlds its enjoyably nonsensical story excuses – and while we wait for next year’s Fire Emblem proper that’s due from Intelligent Systems, Warriors does more than enough to fill that hole.
But, even if you’ve no particular passion for Fire Emblem, I’d recommend giving Warriors a spin. What Nintendo’s series brings to the musou template is a wonderful additive, underlining the gentle strategy that’s been a part of every Warrior’s game’s core, while in turn Warriors gives the world of Fire Emblem a neat line in overstated action. It’s a fairly decent entry point for both series, in fact, and what’s set to be another fine game for the Switch that could help you bide your time before Mario’s release towards the end of the month. All that, and I can’t think of a better way of unwinding than working your way through this, an uncommonly relaxing brand of action game.