When I first saw the Fire Emblem Engage trailer, I wasn’t impressed. After liking the serious tone of Three Houses, Engage felt like a regression to the time when your choice didn’t matter in a Fire Emblem game. I almost wrote off even the idea of playing it, saving my $65 for another, more exciting JRPG that didn’t have the usual all-white party.
Then Nintendo released the trailer for Divine Dragon Awakens for Engage, and damn it, I changed my mind. After seeing not one but two new black characters, I was ready to shell out money for a pre-order.
Before you jump on me, let me explain. There are very few black characters in JRPGs; even fewer black women are party members. I’ve seen glimpses of a black female character in previous trailers, but here she was much more prominent and was accompanied by a black male character. Her manly attitude shines and his charisma oozes from the screen as he laments that there is an entire nation that could quite possibly be a kingdom of black people.
When I saw these two, my first thought was: “Oh hey, a Japanese game with a country that actually has black people. It’s wild, considering that Naoki Yoshida himself claims that our existence is historically incorrect.”
Am I releasing my pain and frustration from the parasocial relationship I created with a particular Final Fantasy 16 director, and putting my money into what I say by pre-ordering Engage? May be. But honestly, it’s the least I could do. Turns out the interest I lost in Final Fantasy 16 has switched to Fire Emblem Engage.
I want to clarify a few things because some people won’t understand that you have to give money to a game just because it has black characters. This is the power of presentation. You might think that I would never play another JRPG if it doesn’t have black characters, but that’s not the case. I’m not naive enough to take such a position, otherwise I would never be able to play the games of my favorite genre. I wouldn’t play many video games at all.
However, I am more than happy to support the developers who recognize that I exist in their fantasy worlds, and recognition through inclusion is a great start. We don’t have to be “different” all the time because of the color of our skin; sometimes it is enough to exist in a fantastic environment. That is why, despite the European peculiarities and their full representation unknown to us ahead, this is a step in the right direction, in which I am ready to invest.
You probably think that there were black characters in the Fire Emblem games, especially in Three Houses with Grandpa, Claude and Petra. Exploring these characters further, Dedouet is the servant of Dimitri, the son of a blacksmith, who is distrusted by those around him because of his appearance. Petra is from a vassal state, which means that her people are completely subject to what the Adrestian Empire says, and she is fair enough to pass for not black at all. Claude has the best of intentions and runs his Empire, but he is discriminated against due to his mixed heritage and has only marginal success in the game. None of these characters passed the brown paper bag test.
This does not mean that their inclusion is not worthy of attention. Claude, being black, convinced me to choose Three Houses in the first place. Despite these shortcomings, it was nice to see these characters in such a setting. However, it’s easy to get into a “be content with what we have” mentality, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask some of them not to be indebted to a predominantly white kingdom. Looks like Fire Emblem Engage will give me that.
I imagine the world the trailer hinted at, with black characters in their Solm kingdom flourishing and showing off their uniqueness and charisma. If Engage did indeed have a thriving kingdom of black characters, it would be nothing less than a miracle. One piece is enough to get a $65 deposit from me. We have two black, fun, flirtatious and outstanding characters with great designs that we are looking forward to. That’s two more than most other JRPGs in 2022.
Fortunately, no one has to justify how they spend their money. Is revealing two black characters enough for me to change my mind about Engage and pre-order the game? Yes. Are there still concerns about tokenism, colorism, black characters with predominantly white features, and the desire for diversity? Of course. Will I regret this purchase? Only time will tell, but until then all I have to look forward to is Forspoken and Pokemon and we all know how Forspoken is shaping up.
Next : Forspoken Preview: A great fight held back by a terrible personality