Fire Emblem Engage Review
Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have made the most of the raised profile of the Fire Emblem tactical RPG series since Fire Emblem Awakening. The latest title looks to celebrate its past while maintaining the additional options and flavourings brought in with its resurgence in popularity. However, Fire Emblem Engage ultimately feels a bit muddled in its direction, as it becomes a title that does a lot of things without doing any of them in a memorable way.
Fire Emblem Engage puts players in the role of a Divine Dragon, named Alear by default, on the land of Elyos. Alear wakes up after a thousand-year slumber with no memories, but is soon brought before their mother by their stewards. However, the reunion is short-lived, as the threat of the revival of the Fell Dragon Sombron — originally defeated a thousand years ago — and his Corrupted forces quickly follows suit. Alear is soon tasked with collecting the twelve Emblem rings, which house the spirits of heroes from other worlds and have been distributed across Elyos’s four kingdoms, in order to defeat Sombron once more.
While the narrative in Fire Emblem games has never been their primary focus, the story of Fire Emblem Engage is disappointingly lacklustre compared to other titles in the series, and especially coming off the back of the interesting political setup of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Engage really just amounts to the basest tale of good versus evil, with little more than a thin veneer of emotion on top of it. The Emblems, protagonists from other titles, have very little active impact in anything narratively, merely acting as talking MacGuffins. They do at least offer some enjoyable callbacks for series veterans, with each having their own side mission that calls back to their individual games. However, Engage’s world of Elyos is woefully underdeveloped and mostly defined by its idealised royal families, with very few characters who don’t have some form of direct connection to them. There are some events that aim to pack an emotional punch, but without any interesting support or depth to the story, they just don’t hit.
The overall story ends up wasting what is otherwise a largely entertaining cast. Many of the characters are a bit larger-than-life, but the best writing of the game easily comes in their interactions, notably the support conversations that show most of their characteristics. Unfortunately, actually building these supports requires an extra level of effort from players and there isn’t enough to them to justify that energy required. It also feels as though the game has far more characters than it really needs. A decent number will undoubtedly get sidelined by many players without contributing to gameplay or characterisation, although this is an understandable consequence of the traditional, but nowadays entirely optional, Fire Emblem permadeath necessitating having some spares available.
Saying all of that, Fire Emblem’s most important element is the gameplay and, on the combat front at least, Fire Emblem Engage succeeds. Each of its over-two-dozen main story battles is highly enjoyable, with a decent amount of variation to their maps and setup. Generally players are able to deploy around a dozen units of their choice in each mission, with the goal usually being to wipe out a specific enemy or defeat them all. Players will want to select units that are suited for handling the enemies on each map, but there’s always a need for a decent mixture, especially as reinforcements will show up in virtually every story mission.
Fire Emblem Engage keeps the series’ traditional weapon triangle effectiveness system, where sword beats axe, which beats spear, which beats sword. It also includes the ranged options of bows, which work well against flying enemies, and magic, which is useful against armour, as well as the recently-added body arts that are particularly effective against these ranged options. Weapon durability is not present in Engage, so players can freely use weapons as much as they wish, but staves — used for healing, support, and debilitating enemies — do have a limited number of charges and so are one of the few items players will need to restock on.
For fans of the series, Fire Emblem Engage’s combat hits all the right notes. It builds nicely on the series’ fundamentals and puts them together with some more recent, if minor, innovations, adding its own touch of freshness with the Emblems system. Each Emblem ring can be worn by a unit, which gives them the ability to Engage, effectively combining forms for a period of three turns and giving that unit access to extra abilities as well as a stat boost. The more a unit wears an Emblem’s ring, the closer their bond gets, giving them access to further abilities and boosts, as well as potentially unlocking permanent boosts as well. Choosing when to Engage can play a major part in battle, and can be vital for getting players out of potentially tricky situations. It’s highly satisfying to use them to lay waste to troublesome enemies without excessively overpowering the chess-like nature of the tactical combat.
Unfortunately, the gameplay outside of combat is much less engaging. After each battle, players can return to the Somniel, their floating castle-slash-base. Here they are largely met with various amounts of busywork as they can wander its grounds collecting ingredients, participating in mini-games, etc. Some of the activities available are more useful than others — an arena lets some units do a touch of catching-up and a post-launch patch adds much-needed extra opportunities to advance support bonds — but many of them require players do time-consuming and not at all exciting actions for little tangible benefit. The game’s stores and equipment upgrade options are also let down by its bizarre reluctance to hand out money, requiring players to spend many hours grinding in certain optional battles if they want to make any real use of them.
Fire Emblem Engage looks pleasingly sharp on the Switch, in both handheld and TV modes. The character designs match up with their slightly exaggerated personalities and definitely bring plenty of colour to the game. Even if many of the outfits are impractical, they at least make the characters and visuals stand out, working well with the UI to make everything easy to keep track of. Fire Emblem Engage’s music is decently catchy and enjoyable to have playing in the background, especially many of the tracks players can set to play in the Somniel. The game is fully voiced and its cast features many familiar names from numerous other localised anime and game releases, who put in the solid performances that have come to be expected. Even though the main script doesn’t give much depth to work with, the performers are still enjoyable to listen to and certainly help bolster the characterisations that their support conversations provide.
Fire Emblem Engage emerges as a decent but ultimately fairly forgettable entry in the series. It seems like a game undecided whether it wants to spend its time celebrating the past or leaving its own mark on the series, and doesn’t really do either. Combat is definitely its strongest point, and here tactical RPG fans will find much to appreciate, but other systems feel like they are there out of sense of obligation rather than being designed to fully complement it. It’s still a good and enjoyable game, but with a firmer direction it could’ve made more of an impact.
Highly enjoyable combat
Emblems add an interesting extra dimension
Sharp graphics and audio