Fire Emblem Engage Sounds Like A Battle Over The Soul Of The Franchise

Alear holds up a shining ring.
Alear holds up a shining ring.

Some things are constant in the world. Death, taxes, and arguing about whether or not Fire Emblem is too casual nowadays.

Previews for Fire Emblem Engage are out, and some critics say that with it, Nintendo’s tactical RPG series is shifting too much towards combat. Others say that Engage is a more casual game than older entries. I’m fascinated by how reviewers can’t seem to agree on what the new Fire Emblem means for the series.

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Fire Emblem Engage, out later this month, is the latest entry in the anime tactical RPG franchise for the Nintendo Switch. It features very VTuber-looking protagonists who use magic to summon classic Fire Emblem heroes to, ahem, engage in battle. Longtime fans were relieved to see the return to turn-based gameplay, while newer fans were eager for the visual novel storytelling that they’d enjoyed in 2019’s Three Houses. Whether Engage represents an even greater emphasis on social elements or a return to hardcore tactics, however, is up in the air in the wake of today’s previews.

Game Informer’s preview gently praises Engage’s social mechanics (while acknowledging they may be “monotonous for some”), but argues that the combat skews too easy, at least in the ten hours the writer played. VG247 similarly notes a slight shift in emphasis away from hardcore strategy, saying “it definitely feels like the scales have been tipped again just a touch” in favor of social elements. “Some of the strategy RPG hardcore felt this Persona-fication of Fire Emblem was diluting the series,” Alex Donaldson writes. “If you were one of those people, Engage isn’t going to cure those ills.”

Interestingly, though, other previews see Engage quite differently, with some arguing that it represents a step back from the series’ more modern forays into social links. NME’s preview says it “dials back the social elements of Three Houses to become a more combat-oriented offering,” and that the streamlined combat “feels clearer and more satisfying than ever.” Polygon’s preview similarly says the game is “almost entirely focused on the militaristic side of things.” “Three Houses now feels less like a blueprint for the series going forward, and more like an aberration from its previous trajectory,” senior editor Mike Mahardy writes.

I haven’t played the game yet, so I can’t tell you where I land on whether or not it’s more of an anime social simulator than a tactical combat game. But I do remember the days when the Fire Emblem community was tearing itself apart over whether Sacred Stones was too anime, or whether Awakening was a work of shameless weebery. Fire Emblem is an anime game, no matter how embarrassed you are about looking like a weeb.

I’m in the camp that wanted more of what Three Houses was doing. After reading the varied reactions in the previews, I’m not sure if this game is going to thrill me or disappoint me. Which actually makes me more excited about Engage than I was previously. Perhaps our reactions to the animfication of the series says more about who we are as gamers than what Engage is.

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