XCOM 2 released earlier in February. Three versions of Fire Emblem recently released too. What a time to be a turn-based strategy fan!
Real talk, though; while the two franchises share a genre, they’re actually pretty different titles. It’s time to take a look at their key differences with an all-new Fanatical Five.
The Fire Emblem franchise is incredibly narrative driven, featuring characters you develop feelings for and build relationships with. This notion has been recently enhanced, thanks to improved cutscenes, additional dialogue between characters, and relationship building. With XCOM, your troops are as disposable as your burger wrapper. While it’s possible to customize your appearance (a common trend), they are completely replaceable. Which is a good thing because many of them will die; there’s no getting around it.
At first glance, this is far and away the most obvious difference. XCOM is a sci-fi based game where players are tasked with defending Earth from aliens. Fire Emblem is a fantasy based game featuring swords and sorcerers. There’s far more to it than that, though. As you’d expect with a sci-fi game, XCOM is more modern/futuristic in its setting. This allows the armor and weapons in the game to match its setting. By comparison, Fire Emblem eschews its guns and high-tech kevlar for swords, axes, maces, lances, and spells. This creates two different gameplay dynamics. XCOM requires players to play it safe and shoot from cover whereas in Fire Emblem you need to get up close and personal to deal with your foes.
Troops on the Battlefield
Both Fire Emblem and XCOM feature the player commanding the troops. A key difference is the amount of troops each game offers at their disposal. Fire Emblem not only offers far more troops, but also a far more diverse variety. This allows players to create multiple “teams,” if you will, traversing different areas of the map. XCOM, however, offers a smaller, more intimate affair. Each order is far more valuable due to the fact that you’re dealing with smaller numbers.
XCOM’s narratives, while both present and fully support, feels inconsequential compared to those of Fire Emblem. The release of 2012’s Fire Emblem: Awakening ushered Nintendo’s doubling down on a story-driven experience to co-exist with the strategic tactical gameplay. The result was a resounding success, so much to the point where the newly released Fire Emblem Fates is the combination of three games, each with their own spin on the game’s overarching story. While it’s possible to see the XCOM franchise double down on narrative as well, truth be told, its strength is in gameplay and planning, not its story.
While both franchises are well known in the gaming community, Fire Emblem undoubtedly has a more impactful legacy. Despite not arriving locally until 2003’s self-titled release, the franchise debuted in 1990. Characters were also featured in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, meaning American gamers were familiar when the game finally released stateside. Starting with that 2003 North American debut, Nintendo has released a total of six entries in the franchise. XCOM, meanwhile, only recently returned to the spotlight with the 2012 release of XCOM Enemy Unknown. The franchise debuted in 1994 with a release under the same title, but was dormant for 11 years between 2001 and 2012 when 2K brought it back full force, including 2013’s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. With that being said, the franchise is beloved by both its long-time fans as well as new ones who are just discovering the franchise thanks to its return.