Fire Emblem Engage Review – Engaging to the End
Title: Fire Emblem Engage
Release Date: January 20, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
I had fears going into Fire Emblem Engage. It looked like a goofy anniversary game. Given that production ended in 2021, according to the Australian classification board, there’s a good chance it was supposed to be a 30th-anniversary game if covid hadn’t been in the way.
But it wasn’t just some spinoff; it was the next mainline game and the first proper fire emblem game on the Nintendo Switch. And I saw inspiration drawn from Fire Emblem Three Houses, in which there was a more shallow base simulator than actual strategy RPG and Fire Emblem Heroes, a gacha game that would instead take your money than be a decent game. But there was some hope; the actual strategy looked solid enough, with some new experimental design choices. I didn’t expect Fire Emblem Engage to actually be this good, though.
In Fire Emblem Engage, you play as the renamable and gender-selectable Divine Dragon Alear. Why they’re renamable is anyone’s guess because having everyone refer to them as the Divine One-slash-Divine Dragon is much longer than just, Alear.
Anyway, Alear has woken up from a thousand-year-long sleep with a bit of amnesia, with their return highly anticipated. They have three stewards who sing their praises with every step, and after an overly long sequence where their mother gets killed (it’s not a fire emblem without dead parents), they have to ally with the various nations to stop the fell dragon from coming back. Unfortunately, the bad guys want to use the 12 magical emblem rings to bring him back with infinite power, and it’s your job to grab them to put him back in the ground.
Combat is simple to explain; it’s a tile and turn-based strategy game where you take it in phases to drag your units around the map to fight foes. The weapon triangle is back; swords are more effective against axes, axes are more effective against lances, and lances are more effective against swords…. But this time there are bonuses. New to Engage, having a weapon triangle advantage upon attacking will inflict a break upon the target, preventing them from making counterattacks until after their next battle (unless their phase ends).
Healers can now also punch things, and punching inflicts break on archers, concealed weapon carriers (back from fates), and mages. There’s also smash, in which you can use a heavy weapon that delays your attack to knock the opponent back a tile.
The biggest shake-up in terms of battle strategy comes in the form of Emblems. These rings have within them a protagonist from each mainline previous Fire Emblem game; they stand with you as a support character granting some bonus passives- until you fill up the meter and engage with them in a tokusatsu-like transformation sequence. Then, for three turns, you’ll be armed with new weapons, support skills, and powerful special attacks; it’s stuff never before seen in Fire Emblem gameplay.
Remember how in Three Houses, the crests were these super important bloodlines that were the subject of all sorts of arranged marriages and political conflict? And then in battle, they were like, ‘20% chance to deal an extra five damage’? You probably didn’t even notice the crests go off if you played Three Hopes.
In Fire Emblem Engage, the emblems are just as powerful as implied.
You might think these will just be busted, and you’ll break the game in two with them. But instead, you’re going to need them. Three turns are just enough time to be a big deal against a boss fight or to turn the tables when you’re about to be overrun; it’s immensely satisfying but never powerful to be an ‘I win’ button for an entire map.
Additionally, some enemies have access to emblems themselves, making for gripping showdowns as you try to bait out the guy who could warp ten tiles in to take out one of your party members with an extremely powerful magic attack. Enemies can do anything you can do. So while the story is nothing extraordinary, the stakes tie into the gameplay itself, and when it wants to make an excellent set piece, you better believe it can. It all looks exceptionally good, too, with fantastic attack and critical animations, dynamic music, and stylized costumes per character, so even if you swap someone’s class, that outfit still looks made for them.
Fire Emblem Engage does something I did not remotely expect going in, and that is to be perfectly balanced for classic mode. We haven’t had one of these since the days of the DS. Fans of complex strategy RPGs may find themselves baffled by the bright colors and more fantastical character designs, only for the game to throw incredibly challenging and interesting maps at you. Then constantly give you new characters throughout the game which are powerful enough to stand on their own two feet without investment, so you can either use them out the gate as you’d like or sub them in when one of your allies is tragically killed.
The casual mode still exists if you’d like to use that, and there is an undo-turn item that works like Mila’s turn wheel or divine pulse to give you proper leniency. Because unlike Three Houses and Echoes, Engage can be utterly brutal and rewards the players who go all in. I played this on Hard/Classic difficulty, with minimal undos, and had no complaints. I didn’t play maddening difficulty; I’m not that good. Yet.
There is a hub world called the Somniel, you can enter between maps with some Three Houses-esque busywork, but it’s largely optional. You can talk to your allies, take photos, run fitness minigames, buy and gift gifts, and order meals, but the meals are the only essential thing, and for it, you get support bonuses and chapter stat boosts. If you like the extra features, there are bonus battles in the form of ‘multi-round’ trials and some fun little multiplayer maps where you take turns using the same army or create defensive maps to send to other plays.
There are a bunch of support conversations between characters, and they’re decent enough; I think some characters lean a bit too hard into their particular gimmicks, like Alcryst or Etie, but then others, like Yunaka and Zelkov, really get to excel. The characters are varied and fun, and you’ll find your favorites to get needlessly attached to. And, of course, if you want to get rid of a good 70% of the dialogue worshipping the player character, do what I did and kill off the stewards.
What I spent most of my time in the Somniel doing, however, was working out my units for their next battle. Each emblem has a crest that can be applied to One weapon for customization. Using an Emblem in battle with a character will boost their bond, allowing that unit to inherit specific skills from the emblem for SP, gained from fighting enemies equipped with an emblem or bond ring.
You don’t start with a complete set of emblems, but you can use ‘bond fragments’ obtained after each map to boost the character’s bonds with Emblems further or to create bond rings. These rings with a minor stat boost associated with a character from another Fire Emblem game are obtained in a gacha-pull-like system.
This should have been an accessory store to get characters or skills you like because the gacha wastes your resources that you’d be better off spending to boost bond with your emblems. There are twelve of them, after all, and each has short back-and-forths with every single playable character. Single. Unit. Everyone gets to talk to my boy Lief.
Fire Emblem Engage is a solid entry in the franchise. It’s easily the best Fire Emblem game from the modern generation (awakening onwards). I enjoyed my time so much that I’m already returning for my second, more relaxed playthrough on maddening. It’ll take a while.
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