Embark on an engaging conquest through Fire Emblem’s divine history in our Fire Emblem Engage review!
Since playing through the opening hours of Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS, which, like many, was my first Fire Emblem experience, I’ve smirked in sheer anticipation whenever a new entry is announced. With each subsequent release, like Fates on the 3DS and Three Houses on the Nintendo Switch, I excitedly pick up the sword, eager to tackle the fantastical challenges each game offers.
I’ve even been inspired to go back and play classic entries like The Blazing Blade and The Sacred Stones on the GBA. As for the entries I’ve missed, I still find myself attached to characters like Marth and Ike thanks to their inclusion in the Super Smash Bros franchise. All this is to say that I am a huge fan of Fire Emblem.
So, when it was revealed that the protagonists from each core title of this franchise would make a return in Fire Emblem Engage on the Nintendo Switch, I felt concerned, not excited. I wondered if this entry would stand on its own feet or if its reliance on nostalgia would be a double-edged sword that cuts off new players to the series and gets old after a while. Let’s find out in our spoiler-free Fire Emblem Engage review.
So many familiar faces!
Fire Emblem Engage is unabashedly a celebration of its franchise’s history. Series developer Intelligent Systems leans on their illustrious legacy with a new battle mechanic, the Emblem Rings. This system allows you to fight alongside the heroes of Fire Emblem’s past titles. As a franchise fan, seeing characters like Lucina, Lyn, Roy, and many others pop up through this 50-hour adventure kept me excited to see what would happen chapter after chapter, despite the occasional dialogue of questionable quality. While the returning heroes will excite even casual Fire Emblem fans, newcomers will still find plenty to enjoy as the plot doesn’t entirely rely on the Emblem Ring’s involvement and stars an interesting and entertaining core cast.
For what is an entertaining package, it isn’t without its flaws. Lacklustre downtime gameplay and frustrating menu design disrupt the exciting battles and detract from its engaging plot. That being said, with a well-balanced use of returning characters, gorgeous art direction, and an excellent battle system, Fire Emblem Engage is a satisfying entry to this storied franchise.
It wouldn’t be a Fire Emblem game without dragons!
Fire Emblem Engage Review – Plot
After a thousand years of slumber, you, the Divine Dragon, have awoken to save us once again. Fire Emblem Engage tells a memorable, albeit safe tale filled to the brim with likeable characters, thrilling cutscenes, and a handful of surprisingly tear-jerking moments. It also has scenes like this…
Well, it’s no Shakespeare.
While not all the writing in Engage is spot on, it tells a fun, familiar, and often dark tale that acts as a great backdrop for the excellent battle gameplay. The Fire Emblem trope of an amnesia-ridden protagonist waking up from a coma is back in Engage, this time following the story of Alear, the Divine Dragon. After selecting your name and gender, Alear is immediately thrust into action. The Fell Dragon has returned along with their minions and an insidious plot to bring ruin to all of Elyos.
It’s up to Alear to gather allies from across the continent and face the enemy forces, with the Emblem Rings the key to swift victory or utter defeat. This tale of good and evil has plenty of elements RPG fans would have seen time and time again, but thanks to a fantastic cast of heroes and villains, I enjoyed the entirety of the traditional fantasy.
The Emblem Rings
While the plot revolves around the Emblem Rings and their place in the world, Engage does a great job of highlighting their importance without completely overshadowing newly introduced characters. They’re utilised in such a way that they act as the steering force behind the narrative, while giving the cast breathing room to tell their own stories.
I was particularly drawn to the four royal families introduced early on in the game, thanks to their electric personalities and believable motivations for their actions. With the Emblem Rings playing a supporting role throughout, newcomers can still connect to this story, even if some moments aren’t as exciting without a nostalgic background.
The Cast of Fire Emblem Engage
Chapter after chapter, you are introduced to a plethora of characters, all of which are distinctly designed and wonderfully voiced. While players are unlikely to love every unit that joins their army, with over thirty unique personalities to choose from, there are bound to be a few favourites for everyone. I was surprised to see that, for the first time in the series, you play as a fully-voiced protagonist. It’s a change I hope to see in all future entries as Alear, despite the hair, is one of the best characters in the game. Alear‘s journey from clueless deity to fearless leader is enhanced by their reactiveness to the conflict around them.
Friend of foe, the royal families of Elyos are ready for war!
Further, Engage’s cast of core villains are absolute standouts. The Fell Dragon and their lead henchmen, the Four Hounds, receive the same quality design and voice acting as the game’s playable units. What’s more, they stick around for a while. It may annoy some players to defeat one of the Hounds only for them to get up, easily escape, and live to be a boss fight another day, but I found butting heads with the same core antagonists allowed the game enough time to build layers within these characters.
Can you romance characters in Fire Emblem Engage?
Fire Emblem’s support system makes a return, though with a disappointing caveat. While units can still increase their support of one another, which mechanically increases their base stats when fighting alongside each other, romance options are absent from this entry. Improving support ranks will unlock vignettes between units, ranging from heartwarming and hilarious to dull and cringeworthy, but players can no longer ship units together as they could in Three Houses or Awakening.
Are you flirting with me Alfred?
What’s more, I was disappointed to see that the support conversations with the Emblem heroes were not fleshed out. At certain bond levels, units and Emblems will exchange a few words but not engage in a traditional vignette. Despite the missed opportunity for those unfamiliar with these heroes to learn more about them, the support system succeeds in showing off each unit’s personality and the dynamic between them.
Fire Emblem Engage Review – Gameplay – To Battle!
Intelligent Systems has truly pushed the boundaries of the iconic turn-based battle system the Fire Emblem franchise is known for. The grid-based warfare has players selecting a mixture of units, equipping them with the best gear, and strategically moving them around the map to try and win the day. These fantasy-themed battles have soldiers swinging swords, shooting arrows, launching fireballs, and even flying a wyvern or two in hopes of surviving the fight. While most levels require the defeat of the enemy boss to progress, some ask players to traverse the map safely to an exit and make a daring escape.
You may choose to bring your favourite collection of characters into each battle, but with the reintroduction of the “Weapons Triangle” system, selecting a variety of unit types makes for a stronger strategy. Missing from 2019’s Fire Emblem Three Houses, the Weapons Triangle returns here with a new twist. Much like the fire, water, and grass triangle in the Pokemon franchise, swords, axes, and lances oppose each other in the same way. This time, however, when attacking a unit with the advantageous weapon pairing, you will Break the target enemy, removing their ability to counter-attack until their next turn.
It’s time to duel!
In addition, martial arts units, like the newly revised healer classes, are now more effective against ranged enemies, like archers and mages. Considering these matchups is crucial to victory, especially when enemy soldiers can use the same strategies against you. It’s become even easier to keep track of advantageous matchups thanks to a detailed overhaul of the battle UI. Not only are there now clearer icons showing enemy unit details at a glance, but it’s also even easier to check in with your unit’s abilities and equipped gear before making a move.
New Battle Mechanics in Fire Emblem Engage
The Break mechanic is not the only new inclusion to the battle system. New Smash weapons can push enemy units away from you, revival stones allow units to fully heal if dropped down to zero, and all units now come with a Battle Style along with their Class. While their Class determines unique traits, like their skills, weapon proficiencies and stats, Battle Styles provide a unique bonus or ability depending on the type of unit they are.
The Backup Battle Style allows units to chain attack enemies they’re close to regardless of who is attacking them, while Covert units deal increased damage when attacking from terrain, like forests or mountainsides. With the large selection of characters to choose from, bringing a diverse team of units into battle by mixing different combinations of weapons, skills, Battle Styles, and Classes adds a rewarding element of planning and strategic thinking to every encounter.
Using Emblem Rings in Combat
The most welcome new addition to this fantastic battle system comes in the form of the Emblem Rings. Once equipped, characters become Synced with and fight alongside a former Fire Emblem protagonist, increasing their base stats and granting them access to powerful skills and weapons. As the bonds between units and Emblems grow, unique Emblem skills can be inherited, allowing units to access these abilities even if they are not wearing a ring.
Units can also Engage with their Emblem Rings for a short time, granting deeper strategic mechanics and access to powerful Combat Art moves. These flashy abilities are as entertaining as they are satisfying and can dramatically shift the tide of a battle. As with the Break mechanic, some enemy bosses will have access to these Combat Arts and can quickly catch you off guard if you aren’t careful. You can also equip units with Bond Rings, a lesser accessory than the Engage Rings, which offers units a slight stat improvement.
What happens if a character falls in battle?
If one of your units is defeated, they flee the battle to fight another day. If, however, you’re playing in classic mode, once a unit dies, they’re gone forever. Even though I opted not to play with permadeath on, I felt a sense of loss when one of my units fell in battle, pushing me to restart the fight, learn from my mistake, and try a different strategy to achieve a flawless victory.
This is easily done thanks to the Draconic Time Crystal, a mechanic that allows you to reset back to an earlier point in the battle. Engage eases you into its battle system, and while the early chapters weren’t too much trouble, by the time I reached the final third of the game, I knew to make every move count.
What is a “Paralogue” in Fire Emblem Engage?
Along with the conflicts you encounter along the main campaign, Paralogue battles appear periodically throughout the game for you to take on. Most of these optional missions are thematically based on recognisable locations from past Fire Emblem entries and even boast some fan-favourite songs. While they are sure to be a delightful challenge for fans of the series, newcomers will still find a lot to love here.
Not only does completing paralogues improve the abilities of the Emblem Rings, but they also offer some of the most demanding yet rewarding battles in the game. You’ll also have the chance to revisit old locations for training matches and random enemy encounters. While they do not affect the story, they are a way to grind your low-level units or collect materials to use in the Somniel, but more on that later.
Tussle in the tundra.
While the early chapters won’t take very long to get through, later battles sometimes take over an hour to complete. A testament to how captivating the gameplay loop is in Fire Emblem Engage is in how these longer bouts never felt boring and would constantly evoke a determination within me to succeed.
As my units levelled up, changed classes, inherited new Emblem skills, and gained access to stronger weapons, I found myself in a rhythm of knowing who to bring into each battle. Leading my best soldiers, healers, or mages into each chapter, along with characters connected to the narrative arch we were on, ensured I had a balanced team and meant that each victory built upon the emotional beats the story was telling.
Engage offers the best combat system the series has seen yet. From its beautifully designed and challenging map layouts and an updated, user-friendly battle UI to brand-new combat strategies and skills that elevate the formula, Engage offers everything I could hope for from its moment-to-moment gameplay.
Well, hey there stranger…
Fire Emblem Engage Review – Downtime Gameplay
Once the final blow is struck, the dust settles, and silence befalls the battlefield, Fire Emblem Engage’s cracks begin to show. While roaming the Garreg Mach Monastery in Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a charming mixture of exploration and downtime activities, Engage’s take on a hub world, “The Somniel”, is a tired afterthought filled with padded-out minigames and unnecessary menus.
While it is thankfully a more compact space to explore than the Monastery, this floating island army base feels as unnecessary as it does cumbersome. Downtime activities, like the wyvern ride rail shooter and a fitness training exercise, grant a slight boost going into your next battle. However, the time it takes to complete these simplistic minigames is far too long and offers a poor incentive to do it more than once.
Cooking a meal will offer your units a more substantial temporary stat boost and increase the support bonus between them, but collecting the materials to make high-quality meals is tedious. From a fishing minigame to harvesting fruit around the Somniel, finding ingredients just feels like unnecessary busywork.
While you don’t have to run around to each location to partake in these activities thanks to a fast travel menu, for every moment spent in this gameplay loop, it became more apparent that I was wasting time better spent in a battle. I would have much preferred receiving cooking and crafting materials as a reward after a victory, but Engage strangely slows down the action and makes you collect the rewards yourself.
After each battle, you can explore the map you just fought on. You’ll talk to your units, collect a handful of items, and even adopt stray animals to join your farm. Although taking in the stunning 3D environments is a treat, this gameplay loop is just not worthwhile. Units rarely have anything interesting to say in these sequences and the items you find are underwhelming. While the animals you adopt are charming at first, they just fill space at the Somniel, occasionally spawning crafting materials like ore and cooking ingredients, which you have to go pick up manually. The quality of what you can find after each fight will improve in the later hours of the game, but by the time I got to that point, the frustration from slowing down the action had already turned me away from these systems altogether.
Shopping in the Somniel
The Somniel is not only a place for pointless minigames and tiresome chores but also for excessive menus. You can buy items and weapons in plaza shops, fortify gear at the blacksmith, and even buy outfits for your units. While the item and weapon shop menus are thankfully accessible from the overworld map and right before a battle, physically loading into the Somniel and going to the blacksmith to upgrade your weapons is as monotonous as it sounds.
The inclusion of the boutique was fascinating at first, but once I discovered that outfit changes are only visible when in the Somniel and have no mechanical benefits, I didn’t use it. So, as both the Blacksmith and the Boutique required crafting materials that were tedious to obtain and offered gameplay elements that I didn’t use, I was faced with systems that I couldn’t help but ignore.
The Arena and Ring Chamber
Two rooms I held a love-hate relationship with in the Somniel were the Arena and the Ring Chamber. The Arena allows you to train up low-level units and improve the bonds between units and Emblems, while in the Ring Chamber, you can polish the rings to strengthen bonds, forge Bond Rings, and inherit Emblem skills.
While I found both rooms incredibly useful, I also dreaded having to visit them. To inherit an Emblem skill, units must first achieve an improved bond with a specific Emblem hero. You can quickly increase the bond levels of your units in the Arena, but doing so requires you to sit through a sparring match which, regardless of if the unit wins or loses, will always increase the bond level. Not only are these duals pointless, but there is also no way to skip them like you can in actual battles.
To then inherit the desired skill, you must leave the Arena, go to the Ring Chamber, and unlock the skill you want to equip to the unit. Once you’ve done that, you must go into a third menu to actually equip the newly inherited skill. So, when you progress through the campaign far enough to unlock a new Emblem hero with powerful skills that you would like multiple units to inherit, you have to go through this entire process every single time.
While the concept of inheriting skills grants players more choice in how they optimise their units, the execution of how this process works wastes the player’s time. Worse still, it detracts from the pacing of the late-game narrative as taking the time to inherit skills remains a necessary mechanic to help excel in the later chapters of the game.
One of many menus…
Test Your Might in the Tower of Trials
A more interesting idea explored in the Somniel is at the Tower of Trials. Here, players can take on challenging skirmishes, some of which utilise asynchronous multiplayer. Relay Trials have you take over a battle started by another player, play a few rounds, and hand off the uploaded data to the next player in hopes you helped achieve victory. Outrealm Trials utilise a map builder to design your own battlefield for people to use online. These modes add some longevity to the game, though I found the aforementioned Paralogue missions to be a more exciting gameplay option when not doing story missions.
Welcome to the build-a-battle workshop.
While the elements within Somniel may have been intended as a relaxing and rewarding slice-of-life system, it is instead a boring affair with clunky gameplay loops that quickly becomes an afterthought after only a few hours. The one shining star, however, is with the introduction of Sommie, the Somniel’s guardian deity dog that follows you around, loves a good pat, and has eyebrows that look remarkably like my Dachshund Theodore’s.
It’s such a shame that Engage’s downtime gameplay between battles is a bore. Whether it’s having to slog through inconvenient menus and mucking about an uninteresting hub world to a disappointing change to the support system, the slice-of-life mechanics are a step back for the series, especially after the improvements found in 2019’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
The Sites and Sounds of War
Fire Emblem Engage Review – Visuals and Audio
While I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the characters from Three Houses, the school uniform aesthetic didn’t give them much of a unique visual flair. Engage, on the other hand, boasts some of the best character designs I’ve seen in the series since Awakening.
Most units hail from one of the four kingdoms of Elyos, and the colours, styles and attitudes of these characters reflect not only their homelands but also their unique personalities. The character models pop against the captivating landscapes of the dozens of battle maps found throughout Engage. From storming hills and rolling deserts to frozen dungeons and blooming fields of flowers, each battle is accentuated by the incredibly detailed terrain they take place on.
Who will win in this battle between good and evil?
With a noticeably brighter palette than Fire Emblem’s first entry on the Switch, the lively environments look absolutely awesome in both docked and handheld mode, especially on the Switch OLED. I was also pleasantly surprised that I didn’t once encounter any performance issues in my playthrough, especially considering the striking speed of the detailed battle animations against the populated surroundings.
The utterly impressive visual design of each battle was matched by the brilliant execution of the game’s soundtrack and audio design. With a bombastic score matching the stressful nature of the action and the stern sound of steel slamming into steel, every move comes to life.
This is especially true in some of the game’s bigger cutscenes, as they look and sound like they were pulled directly out of an intense anime fight scene. Experiencing remixes of classic tracks in the Paralogue battle is an absolute delight. Although some lines of dialogue are delivered much better than others, the performances of most characters are powerful, amusing, and distinct.
Have a listen to some of the heart-pumping orchestral battle themes below!
‘Trial of Awakening’ – A remix of ‘Reignite Us’ from Fire Emblem Awakening.
‘Full Bloom in the Breeze (Blossom)’ – A Battle Theme for the Fire Emblem Engage OST
‘Bright, Bold Sandstorm (Fiery)’ – A Battle Theme for the Fire Emblem Engage OST
Fire Emblem Engage Review – Conclusion
I was initially unsure if this tribute to the Fire Emblem series would be too reliant on nostalgia and gameplay gimmicks to stand out amongst the crowd. Fire Emblem Engage instead pleasantly shows restraint with its returning heroes and makes room for its fun narrative and genre-defining battle system to shine.
The Emblem Ring mechanic is an exciting element that enhances both the story and battle strategies, and improvements to the combat genuinely make it one of the best systems I’ve ever played in a strategy RPG. Its highest highs are unfortunately not enough to forgive its lowest lows. A hub world with limited purpose, cumbersome menus, some poor dialogue choices, and an underdeveloped social system, the excessive and unnecessary padding holds this title back from one of the best games in the series.
Still, with an addictive core gameplay loop, stunning visuals, a sweeping score, and an engrossing plot that will appeal to fans and newcomers alike, the tale of the Divine Dragon is one worth engaging with.
So, why should you play Fire Emblem Engage?
- You’re a fan of the Fire Emblem series.
- Tactical RPGs are your jam!
- You love layered and rewarding combat systems.
- You want a simple yet fantastical story with familiar tropes and charming characters.
But why shouldn’t you play Fire Emblem Engage?
- You want quality writing throughout an entire game.
- Tedious menus and obvious padding annoy you.
- You play Fire Emblem for the romance options.
- You don’t have 50+ hours to dedicate to a game.
A code was kindly provided by Nintendo Australia for the purpose of our Fire Emblem Engage review. To continue exploring the Fire Emblem series, check out our review of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes and join the chat over on the Official Qualbert Discord!
Author: James Grech
James is a writer and absolute dork who is as passionate about making puns as he is about video games. From Melbourne, Australia, when he’s not playing Dungeons and Dragons or rocking out at karaoke, you can usually find him engaged in some kind of story. Keep up with James on Twitter, or check out his Folio for more game reviews!