The Joy Of Tending The Tactical RPG Garden

Or how Fire Emblem Engage reminded me that I still like moving little characters around maps.

The Joy Of Tending The Tactical RPG Garden
One of the last and more wholesome shots of Fire Emblem Engage, a love letter to...itself, really.

I've only really had mild experience with the idea of growing your own stuff. My experience, as a person exclusively raised in an urban environment, is limited to failed Chia Pet projects and somehow bearing witness to killing a cactus that I was given. Yep, it was that bad. Maybe not "black thumb" bad - I did tend to make flowers that I bought for those I was dating or for family members last at least a few days when following directions - but on the whole, it hasn't quite panned out for me.

But video games? There, I think I could grow 'em with the best of 'em.

I recently finished up Fire Emblem Engage (yes, I know, I'm severely late to the party), and it reminded me of one of the reasons I tend to like turn-based tactical RPGs almost as much as I do your normal JRPG romp. The right ones have the correct story beats - save the world as its only hope, kill god, and somehow, with no training or experience besides very contrived tutorials, learn to be a strategy master.

Most importantly, though, it allows me to recruit, cultivate, and watch my group of inexperienced n0vices grow into both themselves and their role in the game's plot. Certain tactical RPGs don't do it for me in this regard - if, for example, your units are mostly random soldiers with no real backstory (sorry Disgaea or XCom), or if the growing process is too complex or a pain in the ass, I can't be bothered to play it through.

But give me something compelling with enough individuality and character development for each unit, and put a nice, against-all-odds plotline? Well then - you have my attention.

I've had tactical RPGs riding shotgun to my JRPG appreciation for a very long time. Shining Force and its sequels were among some of the best purchases I made back in the day on the Sega Genesis, and with good reason. I may not have been any good at raising plants, but I was great at carefully building and cultivating a small team of sprout rookies into full-grown guardians of good. And I made sure each unit got enough leveling love to shine on their own. Yes, even the crappy ones. There were, of course, limits.

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Fire Emblem: Mystery Of The Emblem Review (SNES) | Nintendo Life
Nostalgia, you are SNES Fire Emblem games. Source: NintendoLife

When I finally got my hands on an SNES, discovering Fire Emblem pretty much sealed the deal for me for liking the growth factor of tactical RPGs. Though there've been some weaker entries in the series, by and large, Fire Emblem has achieved the right mix of interesting characterization, unit variety, and for me, the satisfaction of making normally terrible members of your army into beasts (I'm looking at you, clumsy-Villager-turned-master-Sniper Mozu).

I'd be remiss if I didn't cite one of the best (but perhaps one of the most challenging) classic tactical RPGs in Final Fantasy Tactics, which I finished despite many, many failures in the days before you couldn't Google or YouTube your way through a game with a guide. Yeah, it can seem like you can't grow a single unit into anything useful in the opening chapters where enemies seem to hit you like you're made of paper, but the payoff, in the end, is pretty satisfying, with a pretty mature (if not at times dark) story to go with it. Again, it's all about tending that tactical RPG garden, and in FFT's case, it's a slow, sometimes meticulous process. But it works for scratching that gaming cultivation itch I have .

And honestly, I think Fire Emblem's developers know their audience wants to satisfy that desire, too. Fire Emblem Engage does that while also essentially showing off that it's had a long history of multiple titles (with success, for the most part) with casts of characters that the players wants to play a part in making awesome. Don't get me wrong - Engage has its share of flaws here and there (anyone know why I have to run around my base after every map retrieving new shinies when I can't Hoover vacuum them up somehow?) but if they were doing something terribly wrong, they'd join the pile of forgettable tactical RPGs that I don't remember purchasing but certainly remember reselling at Gamestop.

As it is, Fire Emblem, and many of the tactical RPGs like it, do great making me feel like I'm setting something into motion and having it grow into something cool. Will that keep me from killing cacti out here in the real world? Probably not - but it's certainly a lot more fun.