Published on June 2nd, 2023 | by Gareth Newnham
Fire Emblem Engage Review
Summary: With streamlined social elements, Fire Emblem Engage is a back to basics sequel that does everything it can to get you back to fighting in epic battles as fast as it can.
Fire Emblem Engage is not a sequel to Three Houses in any way, shape or form, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
You would be remiss to think after the success of Three Houses, Intelligent Systems’ next entry in their storied series of turn-based tactical RPGs would be either a direct sequel or at the very least, play it safe, by doubling down on the social interaction side that people seemed to enjoy and maybe refine the combat a little. What we weren’t expecting was a cross between FE Heroes and a greatest-hits collection that strips out the fluff and takes the series right back to its roots.
Although the new hub town of Somniel still has plenty for you to do like sitting down to dinner with your troops, an adorable pet to look after, and its own training arena. Rather than spending hours having complex discussions and heart-to-hearts with every member of your squad, and running around completing side quests for them, in Engage, you might bond with a member of your band while picking apples and sparring in the arena, then have a quick conversation with a new recruit, do a couple of push-ups, go see if your chicken has laid any eggs and then it’s right back to the battlefield.
Though much skimmed back it’s well worth going back to Somneil in between each fight as you can only do most actions a couple of times so it’s worth heading back to base just to nab the extra XP up for grabs in the training area, if nothing else.
Likewise, the story is a lot less teen drama and a lot more fairytale than its predecessor. You take on the role of the Divine Dragon Alear, after taking a kip for a thousand years you awake to find that the evil Fell Dragon you thought you had sealed away forever, has also reawakened, thus it’s up to you to defeat the forces of darkness and bring peace back to the land. To do this Alear needs to unite the forces in the neighbouring countries and collect the Emblem rings that allow the bearer to call on the powers of great heroes from the past. ( In this case notable characters from past Fire Emblem games)
This being a Fire Emblem game though, it’s packed with surprisingly complex characters, some great dialogue and absolutely diabolical villains that would make your average Yu-Gi-Oh bad guy look reserved. Oh, and the stakes are sky-high. A thousand years of darkness, dogs and cats living together, you know the drill.
Although social interactions off the battlefield have been streamlined in Engage, it does a superb job of making you feel connected to your comrades through their actions during combat. Fighting back to back and overcoming overwhelming odds time again not only makes you incredibly attached to your band of warriors, but it makes the threat of permadeath all the more terrifying and crushing when it does happen.
Thankfully though, if you lose someone you really can’t go on without, you can always rewind a couple of moves and hopefully find a way to keep them from death’s door. This feels like cheating because it is. But Fire Emblem’s battles always felt just as much a puzzle as a brawl and this system is welcome because, you know you would be quitting and restarting the battle anyway, and it’s always nice to have a mulligan when you do something monumentally stupid.
Alternatively, you can turn permadeath off, but I found this makes the battles less tense and leads you to approach battles like a Soviet general, that is to say, throwing bodies at every situation until it goes away regardless of your own casualties.
With the social elements trimmed right back, Intelligent Systems has instead opted this time to pile its efforts into creating the slickest combat in the series’ history. The usual core rock paper scissors, sorry, axe, sword lance, remains the heart of each battle, but they’ve made the triumvirate all the more important as now if you attack with the stronger type of weapon you can Break your opponent, essentially disarming them and leaving them wide open to follow up attacks from weapons of all types.
It seems like a minor adjustment, but it can be devastating if utilised well, especially when you follow it up with the usual blocking manoeuvres that let you chain attacks from multiple characters, and toss a few ranged attacks in for good measure.
The biggest new addition though is the titular Engage system. Any of your party with one of the 12 Emblem Rings equipped, not only gains and inherits additional buffs from the spirit that now accompanies them around the battlefield, but they can also choose to Engage, this fuses your fighter with their emblem and turns them into an angelic warrior, powering them up, and giving them access to their ghostly buddies devastating weaponry and some abilities. For example, Celica will let you use Warp Ragnarok, This spell lets you warp across the battlefield and attack one enemy for tons of damage. It’s a great way to simply assassinate the enemy general and end a battle really quickly, or just put the cat among the pigeons as your chosen warrior counters and kill anyone that comes near them.
The maps also offer some great twists to the basic gameplay too including villagers to help and warm about the incoming marauding hordes, guard towers that heal your units, and all kinds of other treats and traps. If you go online you can also grab loot and bonus XP from spots on the map where other players did battle and either prevailed or died.
Pairing the different members of your party with Emblems is also beneficial as they can learn new skills as well as boost their stats as they bond with their spectral buddies. This is great because it allows you to come up with pairings that can make good characters, absolute units. Mixing one of the games healers with Sigurd, and his greatly expanded movement, instantly allows them to zip around the map to make sure no one snuffs it, and thanks to his incredibly useful canter ability they can then get out of the way before any counter-attack begins.
Other characters not paired with your emblems, can instead spar with them in the training area back at Somniel to gain access to a whole bevvy of abilities that can be swapped out between each battle, allowing you to further tailor each character to your playstyle, as well as amplify their strengths or shore up their weaknesses.
You can also forge bond rings for the members of your party that aren’t teamed up with an emblem. These are based on the mountain of characters from throughout the series history and provide characters with stat boosts and occasionally an extra ability. How good each ring initially is though is random as you acquire them via a Gacha mechanic that sees 10 random rings graded from C to S generated for a set amount of in-game currency. (don’t worry there aren’t any microtransactions here) Once you have a ring you can then improve it up to an S rank by combining doubles of the same ring. It’s a fun little mechanic and one that also helps your heroes get a slight edge in battle.
The UI is also concise, easy to read, and packed with information. Every detail you would ever want to know about the capabilities of your army, or the enemy for that matter, are at your fingertips from ranges to attack power and your chances of success are all displayed simply and effectively. This is a real feat considering how deep the game’s myriad of systems are and all the variables present in any one turn. But from surveying the broad strokes of the battlefield to being right in the heat of the action, the whole experience is seamless and thrilling from beginning to end. It’s especially tense and exhilarating when you’re sure an enemy character is about to finish a cherished comrade off only for them to dodge at the last minute and defeat the bastard with a devastating counter.
Alongside the campaign missions skirmishes and training missions regularly pop up as well as side missions called paralogues that boost your coffers and unlock new fighters to add to your slowly expanding roster. So it’s in your best interests to take the time to finish every one of them.
It’s a good thing that all the optional battles are also a lot of fun because they are all but essential if you want to make it to the end of the main campaign as the difficulty swiftly ramps up and what you thought was a pretty solid team can be easily ripped apart if it isn’t kept fighting fit by levelling up and upgrading their equipment, and the easiest way to do that is to play skirmishes between main missions.
All of this pulls together to create a game as Engaging as it is addictive. I can’t count the number of times I sat down for just a quick skirmish, or the next little part of a chapter before getting on with the business of the day, to then look at the clock and find it was now bedtime.
It’ll take you about 50 hours to romp through the main campaign, but if you want to do absolutely everything you can easily double that number, as theirs a wealth of animals to collect, bonds to build, and side missions to slay your way through.
On top of all that there’s the Tower of Trials which houses the online modes in Fire Emblem: Engage.
First up is the Relay Trials, an interesting cooperative mode that is sort of like postal chess, but with Fire Emblem. This mode is accessed using Relay Tickets earned for completing missions in the main campaign and sees you working cooperatively with other players to tackle a series of battles. In a nice twist, the maps don’t need to be completed in a single setting and instead, players can make their move then leave and wait for the next player to take their turn, in a system that has a very king-to-queen 5 feeling about it. Additional players can also jump into the fray mid-battle through Entryway Portals that open up on each map.
Then there’s the Outrealm Trials that let you test your mettle against other players’ armies on either a selection of maps from the main campaign or on custom maps you can create yourself using the handy map editor. Making your maps is as simple as laying down tiles with different types of terrain, obstacles and weapons and hitting go.
The presentation and performance are also first-rate. During my dozens of hours with the game, I didn’t see any bugs and absolutely no slowdown.
While the graphics themselves don’t have the same animated quality as Three Houses they do a superb job of making Mika Pikazo’s artwork shine while Yuka Tsujiyoko’s stellar soundtrack and solid performances from the main cast make for one of the slickest Switch productions to date. ( Even if they don’t know how to pronounce Celine.)
If you wanted another Three Houses you’re going to be a tad disappointed with Fire Emblem Engage. However, long-time Fire Emblem fans have come to expect each new entry to do something a little bit different, and evolve the basic formula in some way. As someone who has always been hooked on the series’ strategic elements and thrilling combat. Engage absolutely shines with some of the series’ best battles to date, while the simple yet profound tweaks to the basic sword, axe, and spear formula that has been a series staple for decades make each fight feel fresh and tenser than ever.
There may be less to do in the downtime between battles ( aside from polish your rings) but the core gameplay loop and the systems attached to it are so tight you’ll want to jump right into the next battle anyway.
Fire Emblem Engage is another superb entry in Nintendo’s storied strategy series. With a back-to-basics approach, to both the combat and narrative and some of the franchise’s grandest battles to date there’s a lot to love about Fire Emblem Engage. The social elements may be paired back, but what we’re left with is easily one of the best Tactical SRPGs to grace the Switch, or any other platform for that matter.