Fire Emblem Engage Review (Switch)
Release Date: January 20, 2023
File Size: 13.8
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.2.0
Fire Emblem has certainly come a long way. From being a series that was up on the chopping block to being one of the best selling franchises on the Switch, it’s nice to see a tactics game get so much love. But with growing popularity comes some decisions that end up at the detriment of the games. Whether it’s a lackluster story or gameplay stuffed with a bunch of fluff, Fire Emblem has seen one, both, or a mixture of the two over the past decade. With the newest installment in the franchise, does Engage meld together a great story with engaging gameplay?
For those coming from Fire Emblem: Three Houses with the hope and desire for another interesting story that leaves you at the edge of your seat, Engage is not that game. The storytelling is simplistic, many of the characters that you recruit remain flat and one note in their personality, and the general story is almost laughably predictable. If you’ve played a Fire Emblem game at any point (or even just a JRPG), you’ll be able to see how the story unfolds from a mile away. For some people, it may be charming. For others, it may be boring.
You play as Alear, a Divine Dragon who has just woken up after 1000 years. However, you suffer from the curse that seems to capture most RPG protagonists: amnesia. Lumera, the Divine Dragon Monarch and your mother, is delighted to see that you’re awake. However, any feelings of happiness are quickly destroyed when the castle is suddenly attacked by the Kingdom of Elusia, who are looking to revive the Fell Dragon Sombron. From their attack, they are able to make off with several Emblem Rings and it then becomes your duty to retrieve them before the Fell Dragon has the chance to be revived.
The story is told in missions, where you can select to either continue with the main story, or do side content. Some side content allows you to recruit other characters that otherwise won’t show up in the main story while others will power up your Emblem Rings by allowing you to battle against the spirits inhabiting certain rings.
A staple in Fire Emblem games are support conversations, which happens when two units increase their bond level past a certain threshold. The quality of these conversations can vary between characters, with some just being endless fangirling over another character, to two characters detailing what actually makes a good leader for a kingdom. The conversations will show sides of characters that you otherwise won’t see during the main story, especially if they’re not front and center talking. It’s simple to grind out bond points by having units battle next to each other, or by cooking meals for your units. There are also support conversations between your units and the Emblem Ring heroes, but those are significantly less interesting.
Fire Emblem Engage is a grid-based tactics RPG where you control a team of units and must complete the objectives of a mission in order to win battles. There are several weapon types that you can make use of: axe, lance, sword, tome user, martial artist, dagger, and archer. Along with different weapons, there are also character classes that each character can use as well based on their base class and weapon proficiency.
Fire Emblem Engage also brings in a new gameplay functionality known as the Emblem Rings. With an Emblem Ring equipped, you can use special abilities to face against enemies and make use of emblem skills that are inherited the more that you use an Emblem Ring. Each ring has its own hero associated with it and each has their own unique skill that can easily change the tide of battle.
Outside of battle, you are able to explore your base at the Somniel, where you can talk to your units, play through side content such as the Arena and Tower of Trials, and cook dishes. This can be a nice reprieve from battle and can even result in some rewards, if you’re willing to dedicate time into this area.
Fire Emblem is known for its difficulty scales, allowing players to play the game to their liking. There are three difficulties (normal, hard, and maddening) and two modes which control whether permadeath is turned on or not (casual and classic). The difficulty can’t be raised, so it’s always better to try out the harder difficulty from the get go rather than start off too easy and then having to start over.
Before battle actually starts, you are able to select the units you want to use in battle, assign Emblem Rings to specific units, manage your equipment, and so forth. Afterwards, you are set loose into battle. All battles have their own objectives, most of the time being to defeat the main boss of the map. A new mechanic added to Engage is that all bosses have what are known as revival stones. What this means is that once you’ve depleted a boss’ HP, they will essentially revive themselves to full health. As you progress through the game, the amount of stones a boss can have will increase, meaning that you’ll need to essentially wipe through a boss’ entire HP multiple times before achieving a win. This does actually help deter the player from rushing straight to the boss with little strategy in order to knock out the boss instantly (because that is possible, especially with the Emblem Rings).
The gameplay and specifically, the map design and battles, do a lot of heavy lifting for Engage. While the actual locations do tend to blend together, there are quite a few standout battles that show how interesting Fire Emblem can make its battles. There are a few maps that will test your strategy (although they are by no means impossible to overcome), and there’s a nice variety between maps, objectives, and the overall flow of battle.
The weapon triangle is alive as ever in Engage, bringing with it the break system. If you hit an enemy’s weakness, you’ll cause them to enter break mode. What this means is that they will no longer counterattack for the rest of the turn, which can definitely be a game changer against the harder hitting enemies. Of course though, this also applies to you as well, so you’ll want to keep an eye out to make sure you aren’t being caught off guard.
With Fire Emblem Engage, there are quite a few new battle mechanics, classes, and class types. A new class type that has been added is Qi Adept, which acts as a martial arts type that makes use of a useful skill known as Chain Guard. They can protect adjacent allies from attacks, so long as their HP is full. A workaround for that, if you find that your enemies are making use of this, is to attack these units before focusing on the enemy you actually want to take down. A new class that has been added is the Wolf Knight, but while it does look cool to ride a wolf into battle, it doesn’t quite stand out much from the other mounted classes in terms of battle prowess.
Along with the new class and class type, the biggest new update to the series is the Emblem Rings. Heroes from past games are inhabiting rings and you can equip these rings to any character that you choose. Of course, you’ll want to pay attention to the weapon type to make sure that they match, otherwise you won’t be able to use that Emblem Ring’s Engage Attack. At default, you’ll be able to activate Engage mode. Once Engage mode has been activated, it remains active for three turns. Afterwards, it fades away and you’ll have to build your meter back up. You can build this meter up by either moving your unit to glowing blue spots on the map, or by having them battle.
The Emblem Rings are actually a fun mechanic to play around with, although some units are better than others. Lyn’s Engage Attack allows your archer to attack enemies from a large distance, Micaiah’s can heal all of your units at the price of the equipped unit’s HP, and Celica’s can teleport your magic user to any location on the map to attack any unit. Each ring has its advantages and disadvantages, but like any other item or skill that has a limited use, it’s very easy to end up going through an entire battle without making use of the rings on the basis of “saving it for the right time”. And during most trash mobs, the rings can end up being overkill. But overall, it’s a fun gimmick.
Early in Fire Emblem Engage, you’ll unlock a hub known as the Somniel, where you can do a variety of things to add to your experience. This area is completely optional, so if you’re just looking to play through the main story without any of the fluff, you can ignore this section of the game without taking away from that experience. But of course, the Somniel does offer facilities that can make other parts of the game easier to play through in the long run.
You can go through training regimes, which give you a temporary stat bonus, play through the Tower of Trials to earn rewards and experience, you can fish and gather items to cook in meals that have a chance of increasing your bond, you can donate to different regions to receive gifts and unlock rare monsters to fight, and much more. The Somniel also houses some settings and features that aren’t available in the regular settings menu, such as the ability to change the difficulty and the ability to propose to a unit of your choosing (once you unlock the ability to marry).
You are able to run around in the Somniel in Fire Emblem Engage and talk to all of the units that you’ve recruited. You also have access to the mascot of Engage, known as Sommie. Once you unlock the ability to interact with Sommie, you can pretty much treat them like a pet. You can feed, pet, or dress them up however you like. In exchange, Sommie will reward you with bond fragments and spirit gems, which can be given to your units to boost your bond levels.
Taking a page from Fire Emblem Fates and Awakening, Fire Emblem Engage brings back the world map where you can move your character to nodes to progress through the story. As you complete missions, more nodes will appear on the map. This gives more opportunities for random battles to appear, which gives more chances to gain experience. Pulling up the main menu on the map screen gives you many of the options that you can see before combat starts, allowing you to manage things in-between battles.
Classes and Emblem Rings
Every unit has their own class that they are assigned to by default in the game, but Fire Emblem does allow you to play around with character classes. However, in order to do so, you’ll need either a Master Seal or a Second Seal. Master Seals are primarily for changing from a base class to an advanced class while Second Seals are for changing classes completely. So if you find that you really want to change your swordsman into a dancer, you can have at it. Of course though, you’ll need to keep in mind that some classes will require you to have a specific weapon proficiency level.
You’ll be able to use Master Seals once you reach level 10, but whether you choose to actually use them at that moment is up to you. Some people prefer to wait until they reach the max level (20) before promoting while others go ahead and promote right away. Although, if you wait until later in the game, you may find that you’re struggling because the game does expect players to promote their units after a certain point.
As you progress through the game, you’ll find more Emblem Rings to play around with. As units use Emblem Rings, they will increase their bond with the heroes inhabiting these pieces of jewelry. But along with the bond points, they’ll also unlock new skills and stats, such as increasing the avoidance stat. You’ll find that you can mix and max skills from different Rings, so it’s cool to play around and see which skills match best with what units.
If there is one thing to say about the aesthetics for Fire Emblem Engage, it is that everything feels bright. The units are colorful and saturated, with everything being in 3D. The models look amazing and feel like a step up from Three Houses, both in how the models look and emote. The character designs, while contentious depending on who you’re talking to, do a great job at setting this game apart from Three Houses and personally, feel like a step up. While Alear’s two-toned hair is still silly to look at, it does grow on you as you play.
The music, while nice to listen to, doesn’t do a whole lot to set itself apart from other Fire Emblem titles in the past. That being said, the OST in general is still pretty good, with plenty of beautiful and hardhitting tracks. A lot of music that plays through the Somniel is actually very nice to listen to and overall, the songs feel familiar and almost nostalgic.
Overall Fire Emblem Engage feels like a title that takes two steps forward and one step back. The art and gameplay are fantastic, bringing a level of enjoyment that was desired from Three Houses. The map designs and objectives were a delight to play through, making this a title I could see myself coming back to simply for the tactics. And yet, the writing fumbles with both its main story beats as well as its characters. The main story is predictable and almost boring at parts, and while there are definitely some characters that keep the story interesting, they’re not enough to really save the writing.
For tactics fans, if you can sit through a generic JRPG story about saving the world from a destructive dragon with the power of friendship, then Engage is a great title to add to your list. Battles feel amazing, with a great variety in maps, tactics, and specific maps that will push you to your limits. But if you’re looking for Three Houses part two in terms of writing, you’ll need to look elsewhere.