Fire Emblem Engage, like its duotone protagonist, is a game that splits itself down the middle. At certain moments, it’s a story of grief and loss. In others, it’s a slapstick treasure hunt through a conveniently divided country. But diving deeper proves there’s a spectrum of color hidden between those diametrically opposed ideas, from Engage’s plot to its gameplay.
A Familiar Story with New Faces
Fire Emblem Engage’s story is a familiar one. Long ago, an ancient evil threatened to destroy the world. And through the efforts of a brave hero, it was sealed away – but at great expense. That fabled hero fell into a 1,000 year slumber, only to awaken again on the same day the ancient evil begins to rouse itself.
That fabled hero is Alear, the Divine Dragon. She and her entourage of vassals, royals, and bewildering misfits must take on that ancient evil, the Fell Dragon, before it tries to destroy the world again. And to do so they’ll need the help of 12 Emblem Rings, carrying within them the essence and consciousness of familiar heroes from other worlds.
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It’s a story that doesn’t take many creative leaps, and it’s likely you can predict its twists and turns long before they happen. But as the story unravels, it grows progressively better. The first half-dozen chapters were almost painful to sit through. I cringed every time someone fell over themselves to fawn at the Divine Dragon’s feet. But as the story reached its third act, those painful moments were forgotten. In those final hours, the writing became excellent. Characters are given depth, conflict, and growth. They take on lives all their own. It felt like another game entirely, and it’s here that we see the full breadth of color that Fire Emblem Engage was hiding all along.
In those final hours, the writing became excellent. Characters are given depth, conflict, and growth. They take on lives all their own.
But that’s by and large what Fire Emblem Engage is. It’s a nuanced game that marries levity with moments of melancholy. And by the final chapters, I was absolutely immersed. But this story feels secondary to the true meat of the game: the combat system.
Combat That Inspires Experimentation
Fire Emblem Engage, like past games, is a turn-based strategy RPG that has you commanding a wide variety of units. Each unit has their own distinct stats and growth rates, with over four dozen potential class options and promotions. Your cheeky thief? They can wield a lance while astride a wyvern if you so choose, and that’s what makes this game so enthralling.
But Emblem Rings offer a new wrinkle. These relics offer their wearer a host of benefits, from stat boosts to unique, inheritable skills, and even familiar weapons from years long past. Using Emblem Rings requires a new mechanic called Engage, hence the game’s title. And once a unit is Engaged, a temporary status effect, they’ll have access to a special, single-use move that either does devastating damage or exceptional healing.
There are hundreds of ways you can choose to build each unit, from their equipped skills to their potential class promotions. And one of the best things about Fire Emblem Engage is almost every character you recruit is viable on the battlefield. That is, if you don’t let them slip behind your main team. Skirmishes and chapters you’ll encounter grow more difficult, making it harder to bring an underleveled unit into later chapters.
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And that leads me to where Fire Emblem Engage suffers. There are very mild and censored spoilers ahead, so feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. Almost midway through the game, you’ll lose access to one of the most significant components of class building. These components are directly tied to weapon proficiency, a core piece of class promotion.
You do regain these powerful resources, but they’re returned in an order that makes specific classes inaccessible until late in the game. This significantly hinders your ability to experiment with builds, cutting one of Fire Emblem Engage’s best parts for several chapters.
From a story standpoint, this handicap did everything it needed to do. The frustration and weakness I felt was mirrored perfectly by the Divine Dragon and her army. But that can’t take away from how fun and engaging most of the maps are. They’re well-balanced and well-crafted, with most chapters and skirmishes being challenging enough to keep you on your toes. After all, you don’t want your favorite characters to die.
Hiya Papaya! A cast of loveable weirdos
Fire Emblem Engage is absolutely rife with the most ridiculous characters, both in design and personality. At first glance, they can seem a little one-note. The princess of the peaceful floral kingdom loves tea. The wolf-riding knight is obsessed with everything cool.
But you can delve deeper into each character’s personality. The Support System offers a total of 4 potential cutscenes between each recruited character and the Divine Dragon. And you gain access to these cutscenes by either having the Divine Dragon fight while adjacent to a character or plying them with a variety of gifts, which they might like or dislike. Horse Manure, which you’ll have in abundance, is universally disliked for example. But almost no one will say no to a Spirit Gem.
Through these cutscenes, we get a real sense of who each character is. You can even offer one character a Pact Ring. This ring is essentially a symbol of eternal partnership, and it can be given to anyone in the Divine Dragon’s army. There is no gender lock! But that doesn’t mean all relationships are romantic. Some are firmly platonic, as they should be.
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Unfortunately, the Divine Dragon herself doesn’t offer much in terms of personality. She’s kind and considerate and… that’s about it. The support relationships between recruited characters are far more interesting. It’s through these interactions we see the most nuance and personality, and if you invest enough time you’ll likely grow fond of the strange cast of weirdos who have decided to live and die by your side.
Fire Emblem Engage has an exemplary combat system, a story that becomes more engaging as it goes, and a kooky cast that grows on you with each passing chapter. But beyond all of that, it’s a game that’s genuinely fun to play. I spent more than a few nights going, “One more chapter,” only to see that I’d played well into the early hours of the morning. And that’s the brightest gold star I can put on any title.
- A fun, experimental combat system that makes any character viable
- Dozens of characters, each with their own unique personality and unique growth (both in terms of personality and stats)
- A completionist’s paradise, with plenty of cozy and challenging things to do
- The main character has the personality of a piece of paper with a smile drawn on it
- The return of a major combat resource was done in a frustrating order
- One too many child soldiers
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.