The new Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Engage, seems to be something of an anniversary crossover game. Through the power of emblems, heroes of new can team up with the heroes of old (read: the lords of the past 15 games) on a grand new adventure to kill an evil dragon. The fact that it has my boy, my lad, Lief, is already a selling point to me.
But I’m just a bit concerned about the direction the game is taking.
I don’t want this piece just to be posturing about how “modern Fire Emblem is bad.” Although, since my favorite Fire Emblem game is Thracia 776, and I’m still complaining that we haven’t had a Fire Emblem game designed around classic mode since the DS, I’m going to have to fight hard to beat those allegations.
Anyway, to talk about Engage, we have to talk about a couple of previous games in the series. Namely, Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem Three Houses.
Fire Emblem Fates utilises a ‘my castle’ system. To avoid fleshing out the actual world of Fates, which infamously does not have a name or particular boundaries, you can take a break at your free real estate between dimensions between chapters. Wandering around your castle, you can talk to your allies, set up shops to buy items from between chapters, forge stronger weapons, buy accessories for your characters, participate in daily lotteries, obtain preset materials from farming tiles and a betting arena you can use your materials on.
You can go to other people’s castles via the online functionality to use their facilities and gain some extra materials, and when you do or complete a battle, it’ll reset your farming tiles, lotteries, and so forth, which creates a nice rhythm. You do one battle, and instead of going straight to the next map, you get a little base screen that’s more than just a menu before you jump off.
Truthfully, I hope that if they remake Genealogy of The Holy War, they make the castles or villages small explorable areas with similar mechanics to Fates or Echoes to help break up that game’s vast maps.
Fire Emblem Three Houses took this several steps further with the hub area of the monastery. Three Houses has you roam around the war school, able to talk to the students, have a meal with them, have tea with them, find and deliver lost items to them, and go fishing. This all seems quite fun at first. You have limited slots to do these things, so there’s a degree of time management, almost similar to a Persona game released in the last decade or a dating sim like Tokimeki Memorial.
But no, that would be an insult to actual good implementations of the mechanics because there’s no depth to it- maybe a unique line every here or there.
And then you start getting more time slots.
When you combine that with some of the most poorly balanced maps in the series, you end up spending more time at the monastery sitting down and eating food than you do playing Fire Emblem.
So how does Engage look?
Well, we’ve got a home base, and also, every single mechanic from Fire Emblem Three Houses is coming back. And more. Like fitness minigames and on-rail shooters. I don’t know about you, but when I play Fire Emblem, I’m here to play a strategy RPG, not a shallow base simulator.
Tonally, it all feels very similar to the Aether resorts from the gacha game Fire Emblem Heroes, which are even more shallow due to being connected to a poorly designed and highly exploitative mobile gacha game. I can explain why I despise it so much in another article. Still, I don’t think my disdain for games founded on taking advantage of vulnerable people is an invalid argument.
And speaking of gacha…
Fire Emblem Engage has this cool mechanic called ‘Emblem Rings,’ which allows you to summon the main characters of previous Fire Emblem games as support. But as it seems you won’t have enough to kit out your entire team from the get-go, you’ll be able to get additional accessories called ‘Bond Rings’ for stat boosters…
…through a gacha system.
Whilst the mechanic doesn’t allow you to pay actual money, this kind of mechanic could have been an accessory store where you use your assets to purchase and forge specific rings based upon what you think is best for your team instead of having it be something that ties into the exploitatory system of another active game.
Finally, in a much more personal gripe, the game seems to focus on being another casual-mode-oriented title. This isn’t meant to imply that casual is bad; merely that with mechanics like Emblems conferring permanent bonuses to characters who use them, rather than the abilities of the Emblem hero, combined with characters being able to learn skills from different classes via second seals, leads to a game more balanced around building up and grinding an army over time. Again, this isn’t bad; I’d just want it to be more oriented around permadeath, we haven’t had that for a while, and the longer we go on without it, the less likely it seems that we’ll ever get it again.
In spite of these points, I am still excited for Fire Emblem Engage. There are a bunch of new mechanics like Break and Smash and weapon types that could lead to a fun strategical experience. But since they are entirely new, we don’t know for sure how well they’ll work, and I don’t want these mechanics from Three Houses that have recurred in Engage to be the face of what Fire Emblem is perceived as.
The last thing I want is for more people to call Fire Emblem dating sim-like when some believe dating sims are just the social mechanics without any layers. It muddies the franchise’s identity, and I don’t think focusing on these superfluous social mechanics provides any real depth, or registers to the heart of the series.
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