Fire Emblem: Engage Is Anything But

While I did not manage to finish my most recent Fire Emblem: Three Houses play-through, I decided to go ahead and start playing Fire Emblem: Engage anyway. It had just come out, after all, and I needed something new and exciting after the week I’d had. I needed something to keep me engaged and, well, it was right there in the title. Unfortunately for me, my first evening of playing the game was marked by multiple restarts, no ability to shift the difficult up mid-game (which accounts for one of the restarts), and a whole lot of trying to figure out if the mouth movements were bad and making everything else seem good by comparison or if I just couldn’t see anything because the mouth movements for the English dub prevented me from noticing anything else happening during the dialogue and cut-scenes.

As it turned out, the mouth movements were bad for the English voices and switching to Japanese audio fixed them. There are still a few characters whose body language is distracting (which is especially bad now since I tend to leave the dialogue on auto-advance and don’t understand Japanese at all), but swapping the voice language really helped me get back to enjoying the game. Unfortunately, my relief was short-lived because the early drama and tepid writing kept me from getting invested. There’s a very emotional scene early on and my entire impression of it was just that it was trying to evoke an emotional response it hadn’t earned. Sure, a lot of stories can kill off people early-on and sweep you up in the emotion of it all, but they earn it. They set the scene so, even if you’re not sad to see a character fall out of the narrative, you’re at least bearing witness to another character’s sadness. In this one, the sadness felt out of place, given how the characters had been acting not that long ago, and the sort of extreme emotional flipflopping hasn’t stopped since.

A lot of the characters’ emotions and reactions just feel out of place or like everyone involved is reacting to cutscenes and character development I didn’t see. There’s jarring cuts from one scene to another, abrupt changes in who is visible on-screen, and odd absenses of characters who were just present in the last scene which even had the same background. It’s difficult to follow the movement and pacing of the story since it seems to leap around even within a single chapter. The only thing I’ll praise the story and writing for is that, finally, they had a wounded character pass away while a healer was standing right next to them with an actually reasonable answer for why the magical healing didn’t work (beyond the usual and somewhat lackluster “they were too far gone”).

All that said, the combat of Fire Emblem: Engage is very satisfying. I wound up sticking with Hard difficulty because the battles felt so much more impactful and difficult. While I think that it might thumb the scales a bit more than the difficulty settings claim to (the difficulty description claims the only real change is smarter tactics from the computer and a couple extra enemies), it is still much more satisfying to play since it doesn’t seem to impact the growth of characters or the amount of experience points earned. Battles are just tougher because the computer will absolutely throw all available units at one specific target in order to take one person down. It forced me to shift my thinking since, on anything but the Maddening difficulty of previous games, most of the strategy from the computer amounted to focusing on more advantageous weapon match-ups and not having units rush to their deaths. I’ve really been enjoying it and have actually been forced to make use of the ability to rewind time when I’ve lost my focus and made a dumb mistake or when a unit dies because of some mechanic I missed (there’s a lot of hints and help stuff that isn’t brought immediately to your attention).

The Emblem system is a lot of fun to tinker with, as well, but it means that I’m spending more time between battles doing maintenance and character advancement work than I’m spending on actual battles and plot advancement. You have to actually travel to each of the shops if you want to buy stuff, which frequently means navigating several long loading screens if you realized you forgot to improve a weapon when you were on your floating sky island base. There’s no hub you can use to access everything, which means that maybe a third of the time I’m spending between chapters in the game is spend on loading screens. It’s frustrating to navigate through the layers upon layers of menus as well, frequently requiring me to click through stuff almost as much as Animal Crossing does. And sure, Fire Emblem: Three Houses had you running around a lot in the one hub location between missions, but at least you had new and interesting conversations with the other characters to look forward to. This one doesn’t even deliver that.

Which kind of makes sense, given how stripped-down the inter-character relationships are. There’s hints of romance and burgeoning friendship, but that’s pretty much it. Some implied stuff, but very little actual relationship building. Sure, you can still pursue a bunch of support ranks between all the characters, but even then a lot of it feels less like establishing or building relationships and more like showing off odd and discomforting power dynamics. I mean, your character is a “Divine Dragon” and is at least mildly worshipped by pretty much every other character so far, which leads to some very odd and not great moments where they’re either being worshipped, being allowed to do something someone finds unpleasant because it’s flattering from them for some reason, or asking to be allowed to do things themselves while someone else shoves good intentions under their fingernails. Sure, there are a few that are just genuinely warm and pleasant (one of the characters I really like notices the protagonist is not taking care of themselves and offers to help them relieve their stress by inviting them on a fishing trip), but they’re vastly outnumbered by the weird and kinda uncomfortable ones.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for how solid and enjoyable the actual strategy parts of the game are, I think I’d have stopped within a few hours. It’s such a weird and uncomfortable game. Even the visuals are difficult to enjoy since half the outfit and hairstyle/color combos remind me of stuff I saw the time I accidentally stumbled into Clown Twitter. Which, you know, is fine for the people who want to live that lifestyle, but it’s not really a great look to land on accidentally with overly complex character designs. It’s distracting.

I think my final answer on this game is maybe don’t buy it. There’s a lot of other great Fire Emblem games out there that you can enjoy, so maybe pass on this one unless you’re into the Clown thing. If you are, then this is definitely the game for you, though they’re all missing the face paint and noses, so maybe not exactly. I guess it’s also fine if, like me, you’re a bit desperate for some fun strategy gaming content and don’t mind clicking through all the other stuff as it passes. I will emphasize that this is the only positive part of the game in my eyes, so there’s probably still better strategy gameplay experiences out there. I’m only continuing with it since I’ve already spent the money and want to get my money’s worth out of it.

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