So the long awaited Fire Emblem Fates is now set to hit North America on February 19th 2016, arriving in two distinct versions with different characters, combat and storylines: Birthright and Conquest.
When war breaks out you have to chose which side to take. If you're playing Birthright you're siding with the player character's blood family, the kingdom of Hoshido; for Conquest you pick the player character's adoptive family, the kingdom of Nohr.
At Chapter Six the narrative of the game completely splits dependent on which version you're playing, with different supporting characters being introduced as well as different maps, narratives and obtainable items/weapons. Each version has a distinct playing style too, which is perhaps the most important thing to know before you make your purchase...
Like Fire Emblem Awakening, Birthright is suitable for newbies. Fire Emblem as a series isn't exactly known for being easy to play, up until Awakening one of the defining features of the games was the permanent death of your player units should they fall in battle.
This feature still exists in Awakening and Fates, but you can toggle it on or off.
So gameplay wise Birthright is very similar to Fire Emblem Awakening as it employs pretty much the same combat mechanics. You earn XP from each conflict and have the ability to replay/revisit previous fights and battlegrounds to train up your characters and get them ready for the big narrative skirmishes.
Battle objectives are fairly straightforward too; the game ends when you either defeat all the enemy units and/or take out the troop leader. In this way the main campaign has been geared toward players unfamiliar with more complex objectives and the higher difficulty setting of previous iterations in the series.
So if you want something more focused on fun than a tactical challenge (or you just really want to side with Hoshido) Birthright is the one for you.
With Conquest things are a bit more difficult, much like the earlier games in the series. Conquest limits you to 28 playable missions only, there's no free battles available to bulk up your character's XP. No replayable missions means that you have to be more tactical in how you build up your ranks, with a focus more on your stronger, central fighters.
So players of Conquest will have to step much more carefully, planning out every level up, every kill, and every class change. Fail and you could end up trapping yourself in a corner and having to restart the whole game.
The way you achieve your mission objectives differs too between the games. With Birthright you achieve victory the usual way; by defeating all the enemy units. With Conquest the scope is wider, with each mission having a different set of objectives needing met before you can complete the battle such as capturing specific units, defending specific locations or breaking through enemy lines.
So Conquest lends itself to more difficult battle encounters, with more enemies and poorer tactical advantage. Both difficulty and tactic wise Conquest feels closer to earlier games in the series than the well received but slightly diluted Awakening.
Narrative aside, the main differences between the two versions of Fire Emblem Fates are their playability. Whilst Birthright is seemingly more accessible for new players to the franchise (as Awakening was) Conquest is likely the more difficult of the two, so pick that one up if you're a Fire Emblem veteran or just fancy more of a challenge.