So what happened was, after starting the game back in June, I got stuck on a certain chapter, life happened, and I put the game down until last month. Then I picked it up and started making real progress, and I'm a few chapters away from the end. So, impressions!
Note that I'm playing Conquest, on Hard/Classic.
- The gameplay is really really really really really really good. This is just such a perfect polish on Awakening's systems, with much improved map variety to help it along.
- Conquest on hard is hard. In a good way! Enemies will have the perfect skill loadouts to ruin your day if you aren't paying attention. Example: in one recent chapter, the boss was in a small room accompanied by an archer and two paired-up lancers. Your natural instinct might be to have someone go in, hug the wall, and draw the lancers towards them. But the lancers have a skill that lets them swap places with their enemy after a battle - meaning they'd attack you, then drop you right in front of the boss. Oh, and the archer? He had counter, just to keep things interesting.
- Also, Conquest doesn't let you grind at all. So there's that.
- The story, on the other hand, is basically this. Seriously, it's really dumb.
- The characters are all over the map. Some are pretty decent, some are one-note, some are eye-rolling, and one was so bad that Nintendo had to change one of her support convos in the English version.
- Following up on that last point, the Japanese version had some honestly kinda skeevy stuff in it. Again, it sounds like Nintendo's toning it down for the localization - which is probably for the best.
- The marriage/kids system returns! The biggest change this time is that the parents have much less influence on the kids' stats - instead, the kids automatically scale their level depending on where you are in the campaign. This is nice because it ensures the kids will be at a pace with your army when you recruit them - also, the enemies in their sidequests scale as well, so you don't get ridiculously easy/hard maps. That said, I haven't really used them on Nohr, since their support options are so limited if you haven't recruited a bunch of them.
- The rationale for the kids is pretty dumb, though. Also, if you take the one (1) male gay option, you lose two kids (and their associated sidequests), and if you take the one (1) female gay option, you lose one kid. So that's a bit of a kick in the teeth for players who wanted to pursue a non-straight romance.
- I don't know if I can entirely say "buying one version is a full game". Length-wise, there seems to be enough bang for your buck - I'm at 30 hours on my file, plus X hours spent on resets, and I've still got about five chapters to go. But the story is really clearly set up to encourage playing at least the two standard versions, and ideally the third (DLC/SE-only) route.
If you've got any questions - or if you've already played yourself - leave a comment!