The Fire Emblem series is a great, long-standing tactical RPG series that has been prevalent for many years. The latest entry earlier this year, Fire Emblem Engage, marked a return to more combat-centric gameplay familiar to fans of earlier installments like Blazing Blade and Sacred Stones. For some players, this was a return to form; for others, it felt like a step backwards.
In Engage, you spend limited time outside of battles. You begin each chapter at the hub world, talk with your companions, and head out to the next battle. Compare the gameplay cadence to Three Houses, where you play as a mercenary-turned-teacher who can roam the grounds of Garreg Mach and spend time with and instruct your students to help them reach their greatest potential in between battles. The shift in focus from character interaction and growth to predominantly combat was jarring.
While the combat in Engage is quick, flashy, and streamlined, the story and character writing is absolutely dreadful. It’s among some of the worst writing I’ve seen in the series, and that’s saying something considering that Fire Emblem Fates and its three branches are very weak as well. The protagonist beginning the game with amnesia is already not a good start, but while Awakening leaned into this trope to create an interesting narrative of uncertainty, Engage does not. Its blatant attempts to tug at the player’s heartstrings through the extremely predictable death of a character very early on is completely unearned and manipulative.
In addition, the characters in Engage are incredibly generic and uninteresting, and it’s a shame, because the characters in Three Houses are arguably the most compelling we’ve seen. Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude are morally gray and incredibly fleshed out. Many of the characters share that ambiguity, and few are defined by a single trait and nothing else. But in Engage, Alear is given absolutely nothing to work with. They’re a milquetoast protagonist who brings no personality or meaningful contributions to the story or characters around them. The rest of the characters are similarly characterized by a single quirk or trait and that’s it.
I felt challenged at every turn by Three Houses, particularly after the timeskip and war that follows where you’re forced to fight your former friends and allies. It’s gut wrenching, and it doesn’t pull its punches. Engage’s story was anything but. It was safe at best and uninspired at worst. Its thinly veiled attempts to disguise the gacha mechanics of Hero summoning from Fire Emblem Heroes in the form of “Emblem Rings” in Engage were transparently unsuccessful. The villains are evil for the sake of it, and their motivation and “development” doesn’t work at all.
Needless to say, I struggled with Engage immensely to the point that I lost the motivation to finish the game and returned it. For all of these reasons, Fire Emblem Engage is, by far, my least favorite entry in the series.
Which Fire Emblem installment is your least favorite in the franchise? Let us know in the comments, or join us at the Boss Rush Discord!
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