There are many ways to play "Fire Emblem Fates," a new set of video games from Nintendo, but we'd argue that there's one correct way.
As is custom for the "Fire Emblem" series, which launched way back in 1990 for the original Nintendo, there's a setting you can select when starting the game that will make character deaths permanent. It's called "Classic Mode," and it's all but guaranteed to transform how you experience the narrative in "Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright" and "Conquest," out Friday on the Nintendo 3DS.
You will become invested in the unique personalities that comprise your army, make a bad decision in a battle and then one of your favorite troops will die.
It's infuriating and liable to make you snap your 3DS in half, but it's the right thing to do.
Too often are death and mayhem treated as consequence-free in video games. Gunning down enemies in "Call of Duty" feels like pulling handfuls of grass out of the dirt. If a party member eats a few too many fireballs in "Final Fantasy," you know resurrection is a Phoenix Down away.
But "Fire Emblem" forces you to consider those precious digital lives behind the smiling anime faces. The series is at its best when it confronts you with gut-wrenching choices: If you've poured hours into training a particular unit but that unit dies at the end of a difficult mission, is it worth it to just move on and let bygones be bygones? Or should you reset the game and try to make it through the battle without casualties?
There isn't really a "right" answer, and the lessons you learn from considering each option may inspire emotions you haven't felt before when playing a video game.
And it's not just that the characters themselves are brimming with personality, though that's true. They can form relationships with one another depending on how you use them in battle. If you direct two characters to slaughter enemies side by side, they might fall in love, and they might even have children.
Imagine how much more wrenching the choices about life and death you make on the battlefield become when you watch your beloved get eviscerated by a drake-riding soldier at the end of a mission you really don't want to repeat.
"Fire Emblem Fates" presents a fascinating emotional dynamic, one that could really only occur in a video game. It's worth experiencing.
"Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright" and "Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest" launch Feb. 19 for $39.99 each.