When the latest entry to Intelligent Systems’ iconic Fire Emblem series dropped earlier this year, it would prove exceptional in some areas, while feeling like a distinct downgrade in others. The eponymous Engage function was a tactical breath of fresh air, but its characterisation fell well short of the lofty mark set by its predecessor, Three Houses.
What fewer realise is that it would also play absolute havoc on the psyche of its most pedantic fans, by offering a seemingly insurmountable task that many would have already assumed to be a lost cause.
In Chapter 13, Alear’s army is pitted against a mob of ruthless bandits, intent on ransacking the nearby villages and just generally proving a nuisance. Following your first turn, the thugs will make their move, swiftly levelling a domicile to the ground.
They’ll laugh a cruel, throaty laugh, satisfied with their destruction before setting their eyes on the next target. For most players, this would assuredly be a scheduled loss: the fact that this terminated township is on the other side of the map, and is felled within the very first turn, suggests that its fate is written in stone.
Why, there’s even dialogue in accordance with this act — this is nothing more than a programmed event that cannot be prevented, right?
Out of a morbid sense of curiosity that I would regret in hindsight, I recently typed in a quick Google search of “Fire Emblem Engage Chapter 13 save house”. I had reasoned that others would have pondered this notion, too, and we could all revel in our disappointment that we were unable to prevent disaster.
What I ended up finding, however, were several convoluted strategies to manoeuvre your troops in such a way that you could actually spit in the eye of destiny itself. If you’re dedicated enough, you can rescue the villagers in time.
In-game, the reward for this momentous occasion is mediocre to the point of being offensive. The denizen within will express mild alarm over the notion that bandits were about to murder her and all she holds dear, before offering you an elixir. This is a healing item that restores 30 HP.
That’s it. That’s all. You’ve moved heaven and earth to manipulate your positioning in such a way as to defy the odds, and all you get in return is a piddly little tonic that is in fact less useful in Engage than it had ever been in the franchise’s history.
Outside of the realm of Elyos, the stakes are much greater, because the very idea that this is possible will prove endlessly vexing to those beleaguered completionists who must now deal with the fact that they failed to obtain this miserable Elixir.
For years, I have played Fire Emblem games in the most joyless manner possible; grinding all units to level 20 before promoting them — which, in Engage, is a bad idea — stockpiling stat-boosting items until the endgame when I can determine who is truly worthy of receiving them — which, in Engage, is a bad idea — and now, contemplating starting an entirely new save file to rectify the error I made in Chapter 13 — which, in general, is a bad idea.
Most strategy buffs will at least have some form of neurosis over the course of Fire Emblem Engage. Letting a single unit fall in battle, even if they are the weakest one with a personality as grating as a Kardashian marathon, is an absolute no-no. Dragging one’s feet and completing maps in an excessive amount of turns might prove triggering to some, when the end credits roll and it reminds you of your shameful lack of expedience.
There is no record of rescued villages. Were it not for that Elixir, which looks and operates exactly like any other Elixir, you wouldn’t have a single shred of evidence that it had existed in the first place.
“Third village?” Alear would murmur in a grizzled tone, a mouthful of chewing tobacco shifting from side to side. “No idea what you’re talking about. Get back to worshipping me endlessly like the rest of the peons in this game, heathen.”
Had you gone the extra mile, figuratively and literally, to venture across those bloodied sands in pursuit of perfection, things may have been different. You are supposedly acting as the conduit for the Divine Dragon, an altruistic being who ventures about the continent in pursuit of peace and justice. In cut-scenes, when a character of notoriety dies, the remaining cast members gasp and moan in shock. Why do we not similarly mourn the loss of Village #3?
In your memory alone, you’ll know how you betrayed their trust on that fated night. People will regale you for how you overcame the Fell Dragon, freed the kingdoms from plummeting into darkness, and [other third thing that is always a plot beat in Fire Emblem]. But deep down, you’ll know that at least one person wasn’t able to see your labours bear fruit.
You can justify it however you’d like. You might claim that their loss was in service of a greater good. That doubtlessly hundreds of other residents lost their lives in a similar way across the lands. Maybe you’ll even be spiteful enough to believe that someone who would only hand out Elixirs for such a Herculean effort deserves to die anyway. She was a facsimile for those stingy misers who think that pennies are a suitable Halloween treat.
But that guilt will eat away, bit by bit. Did you beat Fire Emblem Engage? Sure, the final boss was defeated and the subsequent screen confirmed this was “the end”. Did you 100% Fire Emblem Engage? No, you did not, and you can never make claims to the contrary, because there was one lonely Elixir fancier who perished in your presence.
You were Valjean, turning away when Fantine was dismissed from the factory. You were Kyo Sohma, allowing Kyoko Honda to walk into that deadly intersection. You were that guy who could’ve saved that other guy from drowning, but didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him.
Sometimes I wonder why I play video games at all. Ostensibly, it is an activity I am undertaking for fun, and yet, when put in situations such as this, I cannot help but feel as though this is anything but fun. This is the burden of responsibility, mandated only by my own conscience, and to err for even a moment is to condemn a theoretically innocent woman to her death.
Divine Dragon, indeed. Apparently the title is only a situational one, and can be callously ignored when someone makes the fatal mistake of living on the other side of town.
“Sorry kid,” Alear says with the vaguest hint of a sinister smile curling upon their lips. “Maybe in the next life you’ll remember to lock your doors at night.”