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Friday, January 20, 2023

Fire Emblem Engage Released (and some hesitation...)

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Waiting for the honeymoon to wear off and see what people think.

When I last wrote about Fire Emblem Engage two months ago based on then-recent trailers showing its story and gameplay, my first impressions was that the gameplay could be interesting with the Emblem Rings, but the story and characters were off-putting and low-quality, with the game relying on bringing back the franchise's past successes (and...some failures) to appeal there, rather than develop the game's own cast of characters to be beloved. And based on very initial feedback of its release-day players (and the game is out today exclusively for the Nintendo Switch) and the opinions of unqualified dimwits (so-called professional videogame journalist reviewers), it seems like I was onto something back then.

Here's the release day trailer, which is pretty whatever:

I have more insightful release materials to examine: the three-part Ask the Developer series on Nintendo's website, interviewing key players from Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems. I'll give my thoughts on what they have to say for this article and what makes me... hesitant.

Part 1 of the interview discusses what Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have done to try to make the game more accessible to attract new players. First of all, Intelligent Systems director Tsutomu Tei outright says that Fire Emblem Engage has “simplif[ied] the story structure by having one major goal, so that players can put their full focus into enjoying the tactical gameplay.” Now, it's been clear in the past that when Fire Emblem games try big route splits, something else usually suffers in that process (for example, in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the four different routes clearly did not all have equal development time and effort put into them, and they repeated a lot of maps between them and story bits, to the point of absurdity), so one linear storyline is a good idea and something I've wanted them to go back to following Three Houses... but for the sake of the developers putting more focus on making its one route better, not for the sake of the PLAYER focusing on the gameplay. As the player, I want to think about story and characters, too.

Tei went on to say that they want Fire Emblem Engage to appeal “to a broader audience so that even players who are not yet aware of the fun of turn-based tactical RPG games would find it interesting just by looking at its visuals.” And it's true that initial player feedback is that Fire Emblem Engage is quite flashy and visually engaging... but I'd rather have an interesting and ENGAGING story than a focus on graphics. ...And it's...interesting that the main new gimmick and selling point of Fire Emblem Engage are the Emblem Rings, which are about appealing to the nostalgia of long-time fans in seeing at least some fan favourites for the past many years play a big role in the game. But the game's goal is appealing to a broader audience who haven't played Fire Emblem or anything in its genre? So they won't care about the past Fire Emblem heroes, then?

Fire Emblem Engage Ike Lyn Micaiah Celica
I care greatly about Ike and Micaiah, especially Micaiah.
Perhaps my expectations of strong story, characters, AND gameplay in a Fire Emblem game have been too spoiled by
how great Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn are.

But as a gameplay mechanic, they made sure Engage was present from the start of the game in order to give a sense of “fun of tactical RPG games” that wouldn't be “as intuitive or immediate as that of action games.” That's according to Masahiro Higuchi, the Intelligent Systems producer. Basically, a power fantasy where you can “experience the unleashing of overwhelming power and special attacks.” I don't feel that tactical RPGs are the right genre to go to for a power high fantasy or mindlessly mauling things. Those action games—I suggest Splatoon 3's Salmon Run mode or beating up weaker players in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (which, compared to myself, is most of the population), since that's what I do—are much better conduits for that. Engage was also added to make the game easier to make it seem more accessible.

None of the above reads like a resounding endorsement of the gameplay as a tactical RPG (it sounds like they're resentful of the genre they have to work with and want to twist it into something else), but perhaps the Maddening difficulty mode is designed around using all of the tools you have available and requires some thoughtful actions.

The whole Part 2 of the interview is about Mika Pikazo, the game's character designer and illustrator. They talked about how they liked her focus on bright colours that distinguishes each member of the cast... and they actually liked her design of everyone's faces and especially eyes. (Observe the characters’ faces and especially their mouths to see my issue.) The whole interview, with the exception of the part where they said the flashy direction of the game's animation means they returned to how the Game Boy Advance sprite-based Fire Emblem approached combat animations (enabled by character individuality instead of being tied to the many-membered battalions of Fire Emblem: Three Houses), is nonsense. The characters do not look appealing to me. Maybe for people who like anime mobile gacha games. ...Which is fitting, because Mika Pikazo is an illustrator for one of the most popular anime mobile gacha games, Fate/Grand Order. That game has specifically gone and ruined some people's lives. More on gacha later. I found it amusing that she was nervous about having to draw characters that aren't “cool nobles and young girls”, the normal gacha game line-up.

In Part 3, the final part, they went back to discussing some gameplay. They recognised that the abilities associated with the Emblem Rings could be game-balance-breaking, but they wanted that to happen because they wanted to express the individuality and power of the past Fire Emblem heroes (that the newcomers they want to attract to the game wouldn't even recognise). They... described that they were to “somehow make everything work” without explaining to us what the “thin line” they walked actually is. The closest we got is that the difficulty level makes a difference and that players might get overconfident and make unthoughtful moves.

Fire Emblem Engage Somniel squats strength training minigame perfect Alear
All three parts of the interview failed to discuss the Somniel, which is the new Garreg Mach Monastery-esque base.
...All I can say to the squats depicted here is that you should buy and play Ring Fit Adventure without hesitation. (Unless you are physically injured right now.)

Genki Yokota, who works on the Nintendo side, decided that choices make Fire Emblem interesting and that the word “choice” “will continue to be an important keyword in our future development process.” This is portrayed as some profound statement, even though player choice and input is fundamental to just about every videogame out there that doesn't play itself. ...So...yeah, I'd hope you'd take player action into key consideration when you develop Fire Emblem or literally any other game.

Yokota's parting words was to advertise that everyone play Fire Emblem Heroes, another mobile gacha game that has ruined many people's lives, including people I care about. There are some game rewards for “linking the app with this title.” I'm sure corporate Nintendo is happy about that use of the Nintendo Account. I think it should be considered a stain on Nintendo's reputation.

Anyway, I'm about to (?) finish my first playthrough of Triangle Strategy, another turn-based tactical roleplaying game.. It has excellent gameplay and character interaction and an appealing story. It'd be difficult and possibly embarrassing and unflattering to Fire Emblem if I go from that to Fire Emblem Engage, because I don't think Fire Emblem Engage would compare well. So I believe it's best to play other things in the meantime. I have a number of, say, story-heavy adventure games I've purchased that I need to go through, after all.

Have you gotten Fire Emblem Engage yet? Will you? What do you think so far? Ludwig isn't saying no to Fire Emblem Engage... just no to buying and playing it right now.

Ludwig didn't hesitate to get the icon element for Micaiah based on her Fire Emblem Engage appearance.
Interacting with the Emblems in Bond Supports is far less enjoyable than Intelligent Systems promised.


  1. HOLD IT! Do mine eyes decieveith me? It appears that the Fire Emblem Trailer is actually a song from the Donkey Kong Country games. A good song, but out of place in regards to this articles topic.

    I wish i could get into Fire Emblem but i just can't. Hearing that many of the characters in this newer game keep that generic anime character look doesn't help. Although I've never been into medieval so i suppose the series just isn't my taste. Oh well.

      Kannon's Klaim is great, though.
      But the correct trailer does need to be there for you to see my complaints about the character design. >.>

  2. I got it, but I haven't started it yet.

    1. And given wot's in your backlog, could be 'til 2025 you start!


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