Fire Emblem Engage is a celebration of the rich history of my favorite video game franchise. While most new entries in the series focus on a fresh cast of characters, Fire Emblem Engage mixes its new characters with 12 protagonists from previous Fire Emblem games. Bringing back these old characters is appropriate, as Fire Emblem Engage feels like a return to Fire Emblem tradition in more ways than one.
Fire Emblem Engage follows Alear, a Divine Dragon tasked with collecting twelve Emblem Rings to defeat the Fell Dragon. The catch? Those Emblem Rings contain the spirits of previous Fire Emblem characters like Marth and Lucina, and your enemies can use them just as easily as you can. To collect the rings, you’ll have to travel to each kingdom on the continent, collecting their rings and building your armies until you are ready to take on the armies of the Fell Dragon.
Unfortunately, the story gives a bad first impression. It’s over-the-top campy and supported by an initial cast of characters ranging from dull to annoying. However, Fire Emblem Engage’s story does improve substantially once you’ve recruited a few more characters and started exploring other kingdoms. Each kingdom brings an exciting new cast, a new classic Fire Emblem hero, and a small subplot resolved by the time you move on to the next one.
Most kingdoms after the first are enjoyable, but my favorite arc of the game is when you venture into Brodia, the Kingdom of Might. Brodia is a country defined by its love for battle and, at times, aggressive military expansion. You meet the two princes of Brodia early on in this arc, and their relationship with each other, as well as with their father, is one of the more touching parts of the game. Additionally, Prince Diamant of Brodia’s conversations with other units about the impact of Brodia’s military activity made him one of the more interesting characters in my playthrough.
Most of those conversations take place in Fire Emblem Engage’s support system. As is Fire Emblem tradition, units that spend time in battle with each other can share short conversations, giving side characters a lot more screen time. Support conversations in Fire Emblem Engage are on the shorter side and, unfortunately, they often fail to develop the characters or the world in an interesting way.
One support conversation early in the game involved the Pegasus Knight Chloé discussing an odd folk food she had eaten. Throughout the entire conversation, I was wondering what the dish was and where it was from, but the support never elaborated. It only would have taken a sentence or two for Chloé to organically flesh out some of the world and tell us why she cares about it. This would have added substance to an otherwise boring support. Unfortunately, there are a lot of supports like this one, which fail to add much of interest to the game.
On the flip side, Fire Emblem Engage’s good supports do shine. Whether it be Prince Diamant and Princess Ivy discussing the relationship of their kingdoms or Etie and Goldmary fighting over the last potato, Fire Emblem Engage does have some truly interesting and funny support conversations. By the end of the game, there were several characters I loved, and it was a difficult decision when I had to pick just one character to achieve an S-rank support with and romance.
Overall, Fire Emblem Engage’s writing is a little below par for the series. The world is difficult to immerse yourself in, but a few memorable moments and lovable characters made the story worth my time. I never felt compelled to play more out of excitement for the story, but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the game either.
While the story wasn’t as compelling as I was hoping it would be, the gameplay in Fire Emblem Engage is the best in the series. As always, Fire Emblem’s core tactics gameplay is relatively intact, but Fire Emblem Engage includes a lot of unique wrinkles. Fights play out in a turn-based manner on a chess-like grid and require careful thinking, as any unit that dies in battle will be unusable for the remainder of the game (unless you play on casual mode).
Series veterans will immediately recognize the return of the weapon triangle, a rock-paper-scissors mechanic in which sword users beat axe users, axe users beat lance users, and lance users beat sword users. In past games, the weapon triangle simply gave bonuses to accuracy and damage, but in Fire Emblem Engage, it fuels the new break system. Anytime you have weapon triangle advantage when attacking an enemy unit, you break them, preventing them from counter-attacking your unit or the next unit that attacks them. You must be careful, though, as enemies can turn the break system against your units as well.
The break system is a brilliant evolution of the weapon triangle. Breaking enemies on the player phase allows you to dogpile strong enemies while avoiding their counter hits. Ignoring the weapon triangle will leave even your strongest units defenseless and at the mercy of any enemy that can reach them.
Another significant new feature is the Emblem Rings. As you collect the rings throughout the story, you can use them in battle by equipping them to characters. Each Emblem Ring provides several abilities, as well as a special attack. In order to access most of these abilities, the unit equipped with the ring must Engage with it, which is sort of like your unit fusing with character in the Emblem Ring.
Engaging with a ring lasts three turns and can provide some monstrous benefits. The Sigurd ring, for example, provides a unit with five additional spaces of movement and allows your unit to do more damage based on how many spaces they moved before attacking. Who you equip the Emblem Rings to greatly impacts how that unit performs in battle and allows for builds that weren’t possible in previous Fire Emblem games. If you want a staff-using general, for example, all you have to do is equip your general with Michaiah’s Emblem Ring.
The Emblem Ring system also supports the class and skill system. As units use a ring, they can bond with it, allowing them to learn some of the skills the ring provides. This way, the unit can still use those skills even if they have the ring unequipped or have a different ring entirely. Mixing and matching skills and rings allows you to make some potent units. I had many of my units learn Sigurd’s canter ability, which allows units to reposition after attacking. This made it much easier to maneuver around clumps of enemies and handle bosses that needed multiple hits to kill.
Using an Emblem Ring also allows units to learn new weapon proficiencies, which they can use to change classes. For example, the Hero class requires proficiency in axes. If you want Alear to become a hero, you may equip them with the Ike Emblem Ring so they can learn that axe proficiency. Since each ring can only be used by one unit at a time, there’s a lot of planning involved to get your units into the class you want with the skills you want.
Fire Emblem Engage also boasts some excellent map design. When I started the game, I was concerned that easy access to high-movement characters and mobility tools like warp would make it easy to trivialize maps, but the game has taken a few steps to avoid this. One is that many bosses have multiple health bars, so you can’t just warp one ally to the boss to kill them and end the map. Another is that many chapters have multiple bosses you need to kill. These are great changes. They encourage you to use warp and high movement ranges as captivating and fun tools, rather than as a means to skip a challenging map.
The gameplay is engaging and enhanced by good difficulty balancing. In most Fire Emblem games, enemies become much weaker than your army after the early game. Fire Emblem Engage does well keeping the enemies in line with your units. I did my playthrough on hard mode and found myself in trouble far more often than in previous entries. Despite this, the game rarely felt frustrating since a time travel mechanic allows you to go back a few turns and correct a mistake, rather than resetting an entire map.
Fire Emblem Engage hands the players some of the most powerful, fun-to-use tools in Fire Emblem history, and still manages to create challenging, fair gameplay. When I had access to all the game’s tools in late-game maps, I was having the most fun I’ve ever had with a Fire Emblem game.
Between battles, players can rest and hang out with their army at the Somniel. The Somniel is the hub world of Fire Emblem Engage and includes shops, pets, and minigames for players to enjoy. Most of the minigames provide small bonuses for the next battle, while pets provide items that can be used to upgrade your equipment. It’s fun to see your allies in casual clothing relaxing around the Somniel, and sometimes they even react to recent events in the story. I wish they did this a little more often, but it’s still a nice touch.
At times, the tasks in the Somniel, such as polishing rings, using the arena, cooking, and picking up materials from the orchard or animal pen can start to feel like chores. None of the tasks take a long time individually; I often found myself wondering why some of these features couldn’t just be in a menu rather than pulling me away from the excellent tactics gameplay for a few minutes each battle.
A common thread throughout the battles, story, and Somniel is Fire Emblem Engage’s presentation. The art style is a departure for Fire Emblem and includes lots of bombastic designs. I like the vast majority of them, though a couple are a little too over the top for me. The environments and battlefields are colorful and diverse, and the story is loaded with beautifully animated cutscenes. The game also sports the best combat animations Fire Emblem has had in decades. It’s a big step up visually, and if you’re into the art style, Fire Emblem Engage is a treat to look at.
The music, similarly, impresses. In addition to a suite of new tracks, the game includes new versions of songs from each of the previous Fire Emblem games, and I was ecstatic to hear all of them. Fire Emblem Engage’s soundtrack makes heavy use of electric guitar compared to previous games, and it never failed to hype me up when it kicked in during combat. Each kingdom also makes use of different instruments and motifs, helping add identity to each map depending on where it is located.
Despite weaker writing than I’ve come to expect from the series, Fire Emblem Engage’s gameplay is so good that the game is a blast from start to finish, and I’m already thinking of ideas for my third playthrough. If you like Fire Emblem’s gameplay at all, Fire Emblem Engage is a can’t-miss game.