Let’s get the easy, sort of obvious thing out of the way first. Fire Emblem: Engage is a pretty good game when you take in everything. It’s plot is a bit basic, but it makes a decent attempt at putting a few twists in, though most of them take place later in the game. The new system of engaging with emblems of the past is interesting and adds a new dynamic to the game that’s interesting once you figure out how to properly abuse it.
Basically I spent 140+ hours playing through essentially the entire story of the game back to back.
There is a lot to analyze and talk about with regard to the game, but I want to focus in on one particular aspect: the Supports. Ever since I first played the “original” Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance in the early oughts, I’ve been a huge fan of the Support system, making it one of the main reasons I buy and play this series (and one of the main reasons I call this one of my favorite video game series overall, if not my outright favorite).
What the Support system does is add another layer to the various characters involved. The longer a pair of characters spends together, the tighter they become as a unit. This unlocks various conversations (like what I referenced in the ranking entry) as well as various bonuses. The idea is to flesh out the characters further, usually at least attempting to push them beyond their generic, service level appearance.
That first translated Fire Emblem game had at least two Supports that could be read as pretty darn queer. The first involved Lyn, who is actually the main “Emblem” summoned from that game for Engage. She’s a plainswoman of the Lorca tribe, who happens to have befriended this delicate pegasus knight, Florina. The two are obviously close, supporting one another emotionally. Lyn longs for the life she led prior to the events of chaos and war, and Florina supports that decision. If they have reached the highest support level with each other by the end of the game, Lyn and Florina run off to the plains to live a life of peace.
Similarly there were Raven and Lucius. These two are introduced almost alongside one another, with Raven being a young man very obsessed with revenge and death, while Lucius is the kindhearted wielder of holy magic that has been traveling with him. Lucius worries about Raven’s path of self-destruction, and does his best to talk him out of it. Much like with Lyn and Florina, we see the two grow closer together, as Raven discovers there may be something he cares about more than bloodshed and Lucius shows his admiration for the cranky young man.
To be clear, all four of these characters have potential heterosexual pairings as well (I think). Both Lyn and Florina can pair with the burly Hector, and Florina is almost his canonical bride (they’re introduced in the almost standard way that pegasus bride wives are introduced: she drops out of the sky into his arms), while Raven can find a handful of females that are willing to pull him back from the edge. But the fact remains that they have these paired endings together that can quite easily be read as queer. At the very least they’re homosocial relationships, which are those relationships built on a strong emotional core between two members of the same sex.
Fire Emblem has these paired endings in almost every iteration of the game. Another of the most famous ironically involves not just one, but two of the Emblems from Engage: Ike and Soren.
Ike is the burly leader of the Greil Mercenaries. What’s particularly interesting about him is that he almost seems to be asexual. Not only does he not seem to respond to any female’s romantic interest in him, but he doesn’t even seem aware that such a thing exists. However, he does show affection for people, including his tactician Soren (Fire Emblem games have a thing for tacticians and making them love interests of the protagonist).
Soren is a powerful mage (arguably the best in both the games he appears in) who just happens to be known as antisocial. I mean that in the actual definition: he’d not only rather be away from people, but tell people off. He’s notoriously rude, something that carries over into his Emblem in a pretty humorous way. Ike honors Soren’s opinion and ideas, however, and it becomes obvious that this gets through Soren’s defenses. The tactician swears to serve Ike and only Ike. They even have a cute scene in Engage where Soren confesses that he’d have just joined the group if he knew Ike was along.
Reams of fanfiction have been written about these two, and not simply because they have one of the best written relationships in their games (there’s another queer ship in Radiant Dawn, but if I went over all of them this would be a ridiculously long post). Most telling, they have one of the few actual paired endings in Radiant Dawn, with the two going off together, true sworn companions.
This is essentially the pattern we get for relationships in Fire Emblem games. Sometimes they’re more traditionally romantic, as we see in most of the games in the series where there are children involved, but quite frequently we’re left to read between lines and fill in the blanks. In some ways that makes sense: they want to leave the characters open for a few potential pairings. Part of the appeal of these games is playing matchmaker with your characters, setting up the various relationships that appeal most to you.
Most recent games have made romantic relationships a bit more overt. Some of this comes from the whole designed protagonist thing, which I’m not a huge fan of. Your designated stand in can romance most of the characters of the opposite gender, with drawn out romantic scenes. In more recent games, there have been a few queer choices, where gender doesn’t matter.
In what seems like a bold move, Engage elected to just remove the whole gender issue from the equation: everyone can romance everyone. Well, not exactly. While the main character, Alear, can have supports with absolutely everybody and their cat…
… only a few of those are outright romantic. Even that seems to be left a little open for interpretation. For example, the support with Ivy has her blurting out that she loves the Divine Dragon, only for her to backstep and clarify: she worships and reveres the Divine Dragon as her deity. It’s a bit more involved with that, but it’s sort of written like that. From what I gather, the translators are actually the ones who pulled back a bit on the romance.
I chose Ivy in my first playthrough, then Citrinne in the second. You do get a paired ending with whomever you choose:
As you can see, it’s not the most romantic ending in the game (and yes, I did use the previously mentioned gay Emblem for Citrinne; those are tactical choices though); in point of fact, it almost reads like they just put them together so I could get my screenshot.
This begs the question of the other characters involved. There are a lot of them, so you’d figure there’s at least a few romantic relationships, including a few that are should be able to be read as queer.
To be frank, there’s not a lot of romance going on among the characters at all, which is kinda disappointing. There’s some occasional flirting, but even the characters everyone berates as flirts seem downright tame compared to several others. Fogado is a bisexual playboy, according to what everyone says about him, but we really only see him being flirty with a handful of people (including absolutely adorable scenes with him and Celine that elevated both characters in my esteem). It just almost seems as if the game is avoiding romance altogether, leaning even more heavily into the whole reading between the lines thing.
There is a disappointment in the character of Rosado. Rosado looks, and in many ways acts, like he should be a transgender female character. He’s adorably cute, wears female clothing, preens and uses the same motions as most of the female characters, hangs out with the various females talking about fashion and other feminine pursuits, and has abilities that negatively effect males that would be enchanted by his beauty. As has been pointed out by others, his hair is even the color of the transgender flag.
There are some types like this in Japanese anime. The pretty male character who surprises everyone by being a boy is something of a trope. What may be surprising is that the whole idea of that character crossdressing and being a female isn’t exactly something new either. There are several manga and anime that include characters like this, who have embraced their beauty and cuteness in order to truly express who they are. Sometimes it’s done for the love of a boy, but sometimes it’s just because that character wants to be adorable. Rosado feels like he was originally designed to be like that, and the translators just decided that he wasn’t. It’s a baffling decision really.
See, most Fire Emblem fans are weaboo or otaku (a massive anime fan). These are people who love anime and the tropes, so they’re probably going to be more than down with having some queer representation, particularly if it adds to the amount of cute anime girls available. On top of that, Fire Emblem has plenty of fans that are very into the whole exercise of shipping characters together, particularly in slashing (writing homosexual romance into and onto characters). If anything, it would play to their various tastes. They even already partially did it with opening the various S bond pairings for Alear.
In case it wasn’t clear by the images, I’d argue there is most definitely one queer pairing in the game. I actually wasn’t all that interested in Chloe, despite her being a pegasus knight. However, I was looking up the potential romances for the various characters, and found https://www.inverse.com/gaming/fire-emblem-engage-queerbaiting that article by Robin Bea that drew my attention. She pointed out most of what I did with Rosado, though I had to take it a step further with my anime nonsense. But she also points out the lengthy dialogue between Marrin and Chloe.
That dialogue is one of the most flirty, romantic series of conversations I’ve ever seen in a Fire Emblem game. Right out of the gate, Marrin calls Chloe beautiful, talks about how she’d love to be a knight for such a princess, while Chloe responds by stating who cool Marrin is and how she’d love to spend more time. Then there’s the exchange I put above, where Marrin is upset about not looking cool in front of Chloe. Chloe responds by providing care, insisting that it’s impossible not to appreciate Marrin, who is obviously touched by this.
Marrin is also written a lot like a reoccurring character type in a lot of manga/anime: the female prince. This is a dashing female character that displays typically masculine traits, the most prevalent of which is a sort of “coolness” that’s often expressed by being excellent at a particular skill set, often fighting, that’s important to the narrative. They’ll often be a love interest for another female character, particularly one that displays feminine characteristics.
Marrin is also sworn to protect a queen above all else, though her relationship with Timerra is placed entirely in a very appealing knight/regent line (though the game blurs the line with that with nearly every royal member in the game).
But this isn’t dialogue you say to someone you don’t have feelings for. Even in incredibly slashed pairings like Sam and Frodo or Kirk and Spock, they don’t say things like “boy I’m sure glad I can care for you….” Oh wait, they often do.
If anything, this proves my point. It’s clear these two are at least romantically inclined, or designed to be read that way. Yet as Bea points out in her piece, the translators (and I’m convinced it’s the translators unless proven otherwise) pulled back. The last exchange doesn’t read nearly as romantically as the others, with Chloe insisting that everyone thinks that about Marrin (this is blatantly not true as other conversations entail). It isn’t nearly as flirty, and really tries to position the two as just friends. It’s as if the developers decided they didn’t want queerness in their game.
Their game with a character that’s essentially a pronoun from being trans.
Their game with the option to romantically hook up across genders for the main character.
Their game with a history of potential queer relationships, one of which is highlighted by the Emblems that are meant to honor the history of the franchise.
Personally, I think what Fire Emblem needs to do is just amp up the romance, period. Most of the people who play these games are going to be into that sort of thing, and most of the ones who aren’t will likely just ignore the supports for anything but the tactical bonuses anyway. Romance is something that we fans like to see in our media; it gets us attached to the characters, sometimes overly so. Various games that draw blatant and obvious inspiration from Fire Emblem have made their romances more overt. Dark Deity includes a handful of canonical romances: only certain characters fall for each other, but it’s referenced across the various bonding conversations (and it’s spread across both heterosexual and queer relationships in a pretty balanced way).
At the very least, not including paired endings for these characters is a shame. That wouldn’t have taken much more extra work, and it seems to hint toward either laziness or, again, shadiness on the part of the translators.
It’s also worth noting that Chloe actually has a romance built into her ending, and they left the gender of her partner purposefully ambiguous:
And it’s worth noting that nothing in Merrin’s ending would outright contradict the two of them getting together:
I’m just saying, my head canon is that these two are together in Merrin’s village, serving as matriarchs (which Chloe is pretty much built for). Also Amber and Diamant are a thing and there’s tons of other ships like Fogado and Celine or Yunaka and Seadall who totally have this…
(oh, right, a rating. I’d give the game an 8; not enough put into the supports and I’m not a huge fan of the setup that allows you to use all the characters, particularly when there’s as many as there is here)
(hey look, she read my blog!)