Fire Emblem Engage review – Cute idiots out saving the world

Fire Emblem has a treasured history in gaming. It has had some of the highest heights Nintendo has seen, while also suffering some of the lowest lows in the company’s history. I was introduced to Fire Emblem originally with Super Smash Brothers. For a while I was a Marth main despite knowing nothing about the actual game he was a part of at all. When Fire Emblem: Three Houses released, I didn’t think anything of it. I wasn’t particularly a JRPG/Tactical RPG gamer. However, I watched a stream of a group playing it and immediately started falling in love with its cute characters and interesting, strategic planning for the combat. Thankfully, I was able to find a copy at my local game store and well, after 300+ hours and 11 playthroughs of Three Houses, you might say I became a fan. I then went back, based on the recommendation of my brother, to Fire Emblem Fates and played Birthright and Conquest. With Fire Emblem: Engage announced and the fact we were going to be seeing some of the heroes from the older games, I started my research. I ended up watching a 15 hour Fire Emblem retrospective on YouTube and read a few Wiki articles about the characters themselves. Finally, prepared for an entirely new experience than I had with Three Houses, I jumped into Fire Emblem: Engage.

I’ll go ahead and start with this, since this was a point of contention for some of the fans who have played Fire Emblem longer: Engage is MUCH harder than Three Houses. For my first foray into Engage, I played on the lower difficulties just so I was able to see everything the game had to offer, and I can tell you this game takes things to an entirely new level compared to what I was used to. No longer can I send 1-2 characters on their own to get a chest; you can get swarmed at any time and lose someone. You have to think much more strategically all the way around about the way you class people, the lineup of characters you use, and how you bond the characters together. Everything is there for a reason, and you’ll need to fully utilize everything for success. If I had the classic mode on with permadeath, I probably would have lost 6-10 characters that I liked, and 4-5 that I didn’t care about as much. This was a complete 180 from Three Houses, where after 300+ hours I only lost one character. This game also hosts a few different side games that will challenge you even farther that I’ll discuss a little later on. But I wanted to get the difficulty question out of the way first: Fire Emblem is back to being a hard game to beat, at least for me.

I really enjoyed the story as a whole, and don’t want to spoil too too much for people, but let’s talk about the premise. In Fire Emblem: Engage, you play as Alear, a “Divine Dragon” who has woken up from 1,000 years of slumber. You meet the loveable Clanne and Framme, alongside their guardian, Vander. They are the stewards of the Divine Dragon, and their families have been guarding Alear in their sleep for all this time. You then come up against The Corrupted, the main villains in the game. Along the way you meet the princes, princesses, guardians, and heroes of the four main Kingdoms: Firine, Brodia, Solm, and Elusia. Each time, your forces grow and change. Your goal? Defeat the Fell Dragon threatening the world. While some of the plot points you’ll see coming for chapters, I still had an emotional reaction when they happened, and that’s all that really matters to me. After chapter 20, the plot gets pretty world(s)-ending, which makes it a bit more intense, so there’s quite a few big story points that made me want to keep going even if I had been playing for hours. It’s a much more intense storyline than Three Houses or Fates through, which was what made taking a break after Chapter 20 even harder. While there is a slow burn from Chapters 10-20, the payoff for sticking with it and learning about all the characters is worth it once you reach Chapters 21-22. One of the reveals in Chapter 22 is pretty big and worth sticking through some of the slower moments. The ending is truly a satisfying ending for all the work you put into Engage.

Fire Emblem: Engage is more linear and less RPG than Three Houses. You are not responding to questions like you did with Byleth, you’re not choosing houses or who to recruit, and you’re not deciding to join with one side or another in a grand combat. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, only something to keep in mind if you’re not used to playing a classic Fire Emblem game. You are the Divine Dragon, and you’re supposed to defeat the evil Fell Dragon, his offspring, and his Hounds (sort of like horsemen of the apocalypse). On top of that, you really don’t choose who you bring along either. When you meet allies, 9/10 times you’re recruiting them there and then, and you have them for the majority of the game. While a more linear story isn’t a bad thing, it will be a big change for those players who started their Fire Emblem with Three Houses and might be expecting the same choice abilities.

Let’s discuss the namesake of this game: the Emblems. This area of the Fire Emblem world has Emblem Rings entrusted to the Divine Dragon (and their mother who you meet at the start of the game) and one (or two) to each of the kingdoms for there to be balance. At the start of the game, nobody from the kingdoms can actually tap into the power of the Emblem Rings, they just have them. Once Alear comes into the picture they can summon the iconic characters within and we meet the heroes one or two at a time starting with the iconic Marth. Each Emblem Ring serves multiple purposes in and out of combat. Out of combat they’re used as a guide throughout the game, helping the character make decisions on the best course of action. In combat, well, that’s a whole new level.

The Emblem Rings give the user the ability to change forms and “Engage” with the Hero. The big thing in combat is they get a special move that is normally a one shot kill. However, they’re only active in the Engaged form for three turns (some less) and then have to recharge, so if you panic Engage, it can be bad. The rings will add stat boosts, weapons the character can use, and all along the way, the character wearing the ring is forming a bond that gives them anything from new abilities to new proficiencies. Each ring is different and has different abilities based on the hero. For instance, Byleth gives the user proficiency in swords and arts (the grappler type weapons). This is where everything changes with classes.

You can truly reclass any character to anything you want. Need another healer? Team up an Axe user with Micaiah to give them Staff proficiency after just three levels of bonding. I did this multiple times because healers are not a common occurrence and I was getting hit a LOT. Another Emblem type are Emblem bracelets (received in the DLC). When Nintendo sent us the base game, I went ahead and purchased the DLC myself. It’s not necessary, but it does help a lot. These bracelets available as of right now include Edelgard/Dimitri/Claude in one and Tiki in the other. These are massively helpful especially at a certain point in the game where the Emblem Rings are stolen from Alear (tricky tricky, we still had the bracelets.). The bracelets give the user the same advantages as the rings allowing them to learn proficiencies they wouldn’t otherwise.

Let’s move along to the graphics. While the game is a slightly different art style, the graphics are as good or better than Three Houses. There was never a moment of lag or stuttering of any sort in or out of combat. The backdrops look beautiful and the maps are all unique and quite interesting to explore. I really appreciated how Fire Emblem: Engage took its time really showcasing the differences between each country from an aesthetic point of view. I was simply impressed overall with how it looks both handheld (on the OLED) and docked on my TV. While there is some minor clipping of items depending on what costumes or accessories you might be wearing during cutscenes on Somniel, the only issue I had with it was when the clipping happened in a major cutscene with the character’s normal costume like in Chapter 25. Small thing, but something worth mentioning.

The characters are truly where this game shines. Alear is basically a god and really doesn’t do anything wrong throughout the game. Even after a big reveal in Chapter 20, they kind of get over the reveal quickly; no moping around for the Divine Dragon. So their relationship with the side characters is truly where the story shines. You have the stereotypical Fire Emblem type characters such as Diamant the Prince of Brodia, who is all about honor and respect, and his brother Alcryst, who thinks he’ll never live up to his brother and is always down on himself. But these common Fire Emblem type characters are still really fun especially when put with characters like Rosado, Clanne and Framme, and Pandreo, all of whom make the others come out of their shell a little bit. Some of my personal favorites were Lapis, Alfred, Rosado, Merrin, Fogado, and Alcryst!

The biggest task I had as a fan of all the characters was that playing this game on the casual mode led to me not using some at all, or some of them “Aging Out” so to say. While Vander is extremely helpful in the first parts of the game, he slowly loses his spot on my team as characters like Alfred, Lapis, Merrin, etc become more powerful and get their second class. While I’m aware this is a common trope, it wasn’t something we had in Three Houses due to them all being children, so newer players to the franchise may not know. During my next playthrough, I will probably be trying the permadeath option and see how that goes.

Three Houses had you spending your day to day at the church/school running around. In Engage, while there’s no time management, you get your own floating Island called The Somniel. There you can buy items, work out, earn XP in the arena, do fun mini games like fishing or Wyvern flying, and just hang out with the characters outside of combat. I truly enjoy this part of Fire Emblem a lot and found myself going back to Somniel after every battle to see if there were any upgrades I could do or people I could interact with there. You also meet a little weird pet friend (named Sommie originally) that gives you extra bond tokens (what you use to level up bonds quicker) as you keep his happiness up. Overall, a good middle ground of a hub world yet feels different than the church did in Three Houses.

Coming back around to the difficult events outside of the normal story is located in The Somniel. After chapter 11 you start to be able to see what’s available there. There is the Tower of Trials. This includes three different ways to play. Tempest Trials are PvE and three rounds back to back of combat. If someone dies, they’re done for the rest of the trial. My first time I was recommended to start on level 22 and got my butt handed to me. There are just so many enemies. Other than that are Relay Trials which is a relay-style cooperative mode online. Then Outrealm Trial which is battling against other players on selected maps. These are going to make replayability quite high given you can always play online like you did in Fates. Don’t worry, once you finish the final chapter, you can go back to your save and continue playing missions and relays.

Is The Somniel and hanging out with characters not your cup of tea? You just want combat? Well, no worries. Engage has a world map that allows you to go from mission to mission without missing a beat. On occasion I found myself not going to Somniel after skirmishes or side missions and simply going to the next area on the world map. It’s full of different maps, different event types, and simply a lot to do in the world. So if you weren’t a huge fan of having to talk to everyone every time, you can just go straight from one mission to the next!

The music for Fire Emblem: Engage is wonderful. There are so many highs and lows throughout the game and the music was right there alongside to make me feel the hurts even more and the joys the same. While some of the battle music might get repetitive, I still found myself keeping the volume all the way up for the majority of the playthrough.

The gameplay itself takes what they began in Three Houses and combines it with the more classic style of Fire Emblem. You have the weapon triangle of what is weak and strong to others. You have the grid based movement for your troops. You have different ways to interact with the environment if that be for safety or to break through a barrier. It all just felt smooth to me, even though I had played Fates, it still took me a few battles before I fully understood the weapon triangle. This definitely made me have to rethink how I classed people and which troops I brought with me from mission to mission. Simply the difficulty jump alone was enough for me to have to rethink the way I did things, but the triangle added just another thing that I had to think about. However, with all that said, I never felt overwhelmed by the gameplay.

A cool thing they added for after battles is the ability to explore the map you just fought on. You can talk to villagers you saved, adopt the animals in the area, find items that will help in Somniel, and talk with your companions! This was something I really wished was implemented in Three Houses, I’m glad they did it here. It really added to the stress of saving the villagers in the area.

A side note is that weapons don’t break in this game. The exceptions are the staff for healing, warping, etc. This did take a load off of my plate throughout the game. I gave the characters the weapons they needed or came with them at time of recruitment and they were able to be upgraded and added to, but never lost power. While I’ve had some friends who didn’t like that, I thought it made it easier to focus on more fun aspects of the strategy and not as much on the little stuff like if someone’s weapon will be destroyed mid-level.

Fire Emblem: Engage seems like a love letter to its long term players while also introducing newer players to some of the iconic characters from its past. I truly loved meeting characters like Marth, Lyn, Leif, Lucina, and the rest. If they were to ever remake some of the older games with this new engine, I feel like this game would set up fans to know who the characters are so that they’re excited to play through their adventure. The Paralogues including the ancient heroes give us a small look to their past, while still keeping Alear as the main character.

Engage is a wonderful combination of what fans seemed to like about Fire Emblem: Three Houses while also bringing in some of the more classic Fire Emblem systems and difficulty. I’ll be very excited to play this a second, third, fourth time while also getting to try out the new DLC as it comes out. For both newer players to Fire Emblem and ones who have been around a while, Fire Emblem: Engage seems like a home run for the franchise.

Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, Mass Effect, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.



Fire Emblem Engage

Review Guidelines

Fire Emblem: Engage is a return to the more linear Fire Emblem style of storytelling while continuing the path that Fire Emblem: Three Houses began with the graphics and combat upgrades. The game feels fresh and new while also paying homage to Fire Emblem’s storied past with the inclusion of iconic characters in the Emblem Rings such as Marth, Roy, Lyn, and more. With a collection of adorable characters you’re sure to cry when you lose them and a story that has its fair share of twists and turns; new and old Fire Emblem fans can find something to enjoy about this game. It’s a story of friendship, family, and doing whatever you can to save the ones you love; Fire Emblem.

Adam Moreno

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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