Last year an anniversary took place that, for reasons that do not escape logic, went unnoticed; the tenth anniversary of the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening. The thirteenth installment of the franchise (its premiere on Nintendo 3DS) meant the rebirth of a brand that, like a phoenix, rose from its ashes and took flight until, a couple of years ago —thanks to the good work of Intelligent Systemsto the collaboration of Koei Tecmo and to the generous park of consoles established by Nintendo Switch— reached its commercial zenith with Three Houses.
The chapter of the three houses played a hard to ignore role in the current popularity of the franchise. As if it were a toning activity, it served to build muscle and raise the visual stakes of a saga that never pursued the technical avant-garde. Perhaps, for this reason, the result was questionable in those plots in which it is not usually lavished. Be that as it may, the illusion of three-dimensional exploration, with its awkwardness and its successes (in the form of insipid secondaries and significant relationships) was nothing more than a dressing that served to enhance the ingredients that have marked the character of Fire Emblem: the tactic and its relationship with the emotional side that derives from its characters. The result was a truly unique installment, which can even be classified as groundbreaking if we pay attention to the precepts established by the last chapter that established the chair; Awakening. Now it’s time to redeploy combat units with Fire Emblem Engage and, after a few hours of skirmishing, I think we can talk about a return to the fold or, at least, a refinement of the explored formula, which moves away from errands, exploration and calendars, to focus its attention on the board and its legacy.
I say this because there is no doubt that Engage picks up the gauntlet of Three Houses, but it also makes it abundantly clear (and moderately soon) that it does not intend to expand on the previous proposal. Quite the contrary, and it is that if we fix our gaze on everything that makes up and sweetens the management of our company —the ways chosen to cement relationships, raise statistics and shape classes— we can speak of an exercise in constriction, of a step back which may seem like a leap forward depending on the optics of the observer. What I’m going to is that in Fire Emblem Engage we once again have a three-dimensional space that performs the function of a meeting place, yes, but Neither their presence is so decisive for the development of the adventure, nor is their inclusion used to start the engine of the plot.. We are, rather, before an instantiated meeting space, a kind of Nexus without dark intrigues or dangers, in which to rest, train, chat and trade (among other activities that I cannot tell you about yet). The Somniel (as it is known) is separated from the continent in which the action takes place. Located in the skies, it is unreachable both for the enemies and for the events that weave the plot together, functioning as a fictional resort that organizes the different proposals that the title puts on the table, without meddling too much in what is expected of a Fire Emblem. or, at least, in what was expected before Three Houses.
Beyond the praise or criticism that this decision may generate, the truth is that it works as a filter against the most tedious design tics that accompanied the academy title. Forget the mess and the paquí pallá typical of the most absurd high schools, and say goodbye to lost glasses and irrigated crops. Well Somniel is little more than a diet menu that allows us, if we wish, to delve into the relationships between characters and attend to management systems. And I, as a faithful defender of the narrative economy, celebrate it.
Its existence, on the other hand, is justified by the presence of the Divine Dragon, the heir to the supreme throne of a continent, made up of several kingdoms, which is loyal to that sacred figure. Thus, the title begins to articulate a plot that, from the outset, seems to return to the Manichaean approaches classics: good and evil, black and white, light and dark… And, in between, a cast of characters to become fond of while we throw them onto the battlefield and expose them to the permamurte. Although, on this occasion, the latter is once again very relative, since together with the mode that disables the total withdrawal of units fallen in combat, the Chronogem returns. That is to say, that before the loss of a character (and as long as we have this object in our possession) we can undo the wrong by rewinding a few turns.
So far I would say that we have dealt with the framework or, if we go to sports, the pitch. Now, without a doubt, it’s time to talk about the true raison d’être of all Fire Emblem. In other words, its combat and, by extension, the rules and mechanics that define it and make it unique compared to its predecessors. On this occasion, the gimmick playful is given by the Emblem Rings: some jewels that contain the figures of great heroes from other times and other worlds, which can only be summoned by the Alear (the Divine Dragon), but which can be given to any member of our army. From the rings sprout such recognizable characters (Emblems they call them) such as Marth, Celica, Sigurd, Ike, Roy, Lucina or Lyn. Iconic protagonists and characters from previous installments that, in other circumstances, would give off a greater aroma of nostalgia than the one I have perceived so far. And I say this because Fire Emblem is a saga that did not reach the West until 2003, with The Blazing BladeTherefore, the Engage exercise, which in Japan can be understood as a fanservice from a manual, here it acquires an encyclopedic value; it is, rather, a door to a past not lived (by the majority), which in our territory will appeal to the nostalgia of a few and will instruct, in the history of the saga, many others.
Once on the board, the presence of these characters translates into pairs formed by them and the holders of the rings that were assigned to them, recalling the aforementioned Awakening. When the time comes, we can resort to the fusion, which will unite both bodies giving rise to a new being with moves, stats, abilities and special attacks of their own. But just as it happened to Goten and Trunks, this fusion is not permanent, and its effects are reduced to three turns. After that time, the duo returns to its original state, and we will not be able to carry out the fusion again until we have filled the corresponding bar —for this purpose we will find, for each of the maps, some glowing squares in which we will have to end the turn. The management of this mechanic is not seeming trivial to me, and from what I have seen so far (chapter 8) it can make the difference between losing, or not, a couple of units in the most complicated moments of the battle.
Like the rest of the systems that make an appearance in Engage, the depth of the fusion of the Crest Rings seems, at the moment, unfathomable. Like all Fire Emblem (especially those of the last decade) the game unfolds in a tree structure that does not stop at his eagerness to present new mechanics, rules and conditions that can be linked both to the different types of units, and to the maps. With the exception that, on this occasion, each ring (there are 12) substantially varies the way the wearer character fights. Their unique abilities can also be inherited as the unit gains a higher level of rapport with the summoned Emblem. In this way we can modify the attributes of each character by equipping these skills according to the demands of the occasion, which invites us to change the wearer according to our interests. But this, obviously, is something that I have not yet been able to delve too deeply into.
Beyond the Emblems, Engage puts back on the table the tremendous range of tactical options that the saga has accumulated. The classic triangle of sword, axe, and spear is accompanied by grimoires, staves, daggers, bows, and fists, with the usual variations in the form of cavalry, winged mounts, and armored units. All this arranged in maps that, as usual, have a multitude of modifiers that make each game have its own flavour. In this sense, the deployment, as usual, is carried out without too much haste, with the confidence of a saga that is aware that its experience is simmering, and that it requires the gradual assimilation of its different systems.
But, this time, the aforementioned development returns to the fold, ignoring the eccentricities of the previous installment to deploy a map and progress through the adventure that tastes like a classic. Forget the calendar, what we have here is a recognizable world map through which to move a chibi version of Alear, from point to point, through the different paths that we will unlock, including secondary missions —in the form of alternative paths— that allow us to , sometimes, recruit new troops for the cause. Even the sound effect reserved for the appearance of skirmishes, and its characteristic spritesremind us that we are before a Fire Emblem that is, indeed, very Fire Emblem.
For all these reasons, it seems right to me to speak of an experience that distances itself from its predecessor, embracing the customs and manners that have shaped the image that we all have of the saga. To sniff the scent of Three Houses we have the Somniel. And here, as I said before, the decisions made have seemed to me to be the most successful. Obviously, I still have a lot to discover, but in it I have already been able to glimpse the presence of a coliseum, the Hall of Emblems, the market, the cultivation area, the restaurant, the farm, the offices of the Divine Dragon, of the training area and some more secrets. A place where, in addition to interacting with our recruits (we can chat with them, give them gifts and, I think, later on, we can share a good snack) we have a series of mini-games that add variety to Engage’s playful offer. But for now, I can only talk about training, which allows us to improve Alear’s statistics through three repetition exercises such as sit-ups, squats, and push-ups. All of them interpreted in an arcade key, and with different levels of difficulty to unlock as we accumulate hours in the game.
This physical, and almost fictional, separation between the Somniel and the classic map means that Fire Emblem Engage inherits part of what was explored by Three Houseswithout ceasing to be a fully recognizable Fire Emblem if we look at its shape. Minigames, exploration and management of a three-dimensional space in which to interact with the members of our company are there, but They do not interfere decisively in the story proposed, nor in the development of the game. Or at least that is how it is presented until its eighth chapter; We already know that we are talking about a saga given twists that can turn the game upside down. the state in which in which we have moved for hours. There will be those who interpret this as a step backwards, and it is understandable. But it seems to me to be a successful way of polishing the content of a proposal, the Three Houseswhich found its lowest points in the excesses linked to the academy and, for example, its side missions.
Fire Emblem Engage it seems to me a hymn to the classic formula of the saga, to the ways of yesteryear and, especially, to the Fire Emblem that came to us since we Awakening raised the franchise. An exercise in classicism that is not exempt from novelties that also functions as a celebration of the long history that the franchise treasures. It remains to be seen how far everything that, for the moment, seems to me to be projected goes. But with what has been played to date, I can only say that Intelligent Systems remains in shape. And that, speaking of who we are talking about, is already saying a lot.