25 January 2023, 16:25
Improving on its classic features, this new entry in the Fire Emblem series – Engage – is sure to please fans and newcomers alike with its robust offerings and focus on combat.
The review is based on the Switch version.
Fire Emblem Three Houses tricked players new to the series into thinking that this turn-based strategy RPG was part relationship simulator. This game had the usual Fire Emblem brand of tactical battles and plethora of classes to explore, but a big chunk of it focused on building relationships with your fellow team members and really getting to know them. These offered enhancements on the battlefield, of course, but it also made the game feel more relaxed and casual despite the looming war around you.
Fast track to Fire Emblem Engage, and well, you get the opposite effect. Instead of focusing on your down time between battles, the game pummels you with new combat mechanics and plenty of action that kicks off within the first few minutes of your playthrough. While you won’t get the same amount of relationship-building conversations from before, Engage excels on the battlefield and highlights the strategic flair fans of the series know so well.
Emblem Ring Hunt
- Robust combat features and fun ring system;
- Detailed maps with plenty of charm and variety;
- Lots to do after you finish the game.
- Certain characters aren’t that interesting to get to know;
- Its hub world isn’t integrated into the story that well.
As soon as the game starts, you are thrown right into a battle that acts as both a tutorial for how to play but also serves to introduce you to some backstory before getting into the meat and bones of the plot. Engage lets you play as a Dragon child who wakes up after having been asleep for a thousand years. Not remembering who they are, the battles they fought, or even their own mother, your character slowly begins to remember their past and uncover their powers while journeying throughout the game’s regions. Your mission is to retrieve 12 sacred Emblem rings that have the power to call on powerful fighters from the past to put a stop to a menacing force that is trying to destroy the world.
Like most games, you will continuously get taught new things as you play, but the game does this in a way that progressively adds to the complexity of its features and keeps you in the loop of what you can eventually do. The game’s plot works in the same way and slowly introduces you to new allies, enemies, and various key plot points that flesh things out as you explore its various regions. While it’s not as intricate as the plot variations of Three Houses, Engage does what it can to give you a reason to get into fights—and you’ll be thankful you did considering how much fun combat is to master.
Your journey introduces you to unique characters and class-types that somehow end up joining your team, and picking them in battle is part of the fun. You see, like most Fire Emblem games, each new party member is sure to pique your interest. Their class will sometimes be a unique class you haven’t played with before, they may have a passive ability that is super helpful in a pinch, or they may simply just look or sound cool and draw you in. That’s the magic of Fire Emblem games and a feature that made Three Houses such a relationship-building experience. Though, the difference here is that while your party members will seem like people you will want to get to know, getting to know them isn’t the game’s priority.
After you finish a battle, you have the option to continue to the next one or travel to your base of operations known as the Somniel. Here is where you can run freely, cook dishes to get your party members to bond with you more, purchase weapons, or simply chat with your buddies to improve your relationship with them. These social interactions are beneficial in battle, and you can also find that one character you want to offer a pact ring to and become “engaged”—in a way—to them in the end. While past games limited you to only a handful of characters you could become romantically involved with, Engage lets you take your relationship to the next level with anyone—though, don’t expect every relationship to be romantic as some are merely platonic.
Focusing more on its traditional combat experience, Fire Emblem Engage is an impressive game that tries to give you a lot to play with and succeeds in feeling refreshing yet on brand. Its Emblem mechanic brings nostalgic elements to battle while introducing better ways to modify and customize your party, though its social aspects are more toned down than in previous installments.
The difference with how you build these relationships is a lot less complex than in Three Houses so you won’t have to worry about selecting the correct dialogue option or making the best use of your time. Here, you have no time restrictions and can freely visit the Somniel whenever you want. On the other hand, your conversations won’t feel as impactful or even as interesting as before. Some characters also don’t provide much interesting context or backstory so don’t expect inner turmoil, drama, or hidden ambitions every time.
In fact, this hub is separate from the rest of the world you can explore and sometimes feels unnecessary to visit after each battle. Sure, it’s where you can get to know your characters, but because it’s not fully integrated into the story as Garreg Mach was in Three Houses, you will often have to remind yourself it exists as you can practically do everything else—even purchasing weapons—from the main menu.
Integrated more seamlessly into the game are the plenty of battle and combat features that further give Engage a meaty feeling despite its simplistic storyline. Its unique draw this time is the use of Emblem rings that let you call on characters from past games such as Marth, Roy, Lucina, and others you may not have heard of. Each of these heroes have unique attacks, weapons, and skills that power-up the character who wears their ring and grants them additional buffs by “engaging” with them in battle. You can’t engage with them forever, so you will need to be smart when determining when to use their powers or when to find special spaces on the map to extend their duration.
Engaging with these series heroes is also how your character can inherit special skills that they would normally not learn. Sometimes pairing a specific Emblem with one of your units can provide a strategic boost to some battle as it can let your knights heal like mages or your archers take an extra turn as if they were on horseback. Engage gives you plenty of ways to build the team you want beyond the normal leveling up abilities your units learn from participating in battle—but how you use each Emblem ring and their boosts is ultimately up to you.
What’s also impressive are the various maps you will fight in that contain their own unique layouts, safety zones, and obstacles that can severely affect how you approach your enemies. What I also liked about these maps are that they contain so much detail from a bird’s eye view, but as soon as you initiate an attack on an enemy, the camera zooms right in and you see even more of what your characters were seeing right in front of them. What’s more, when the battle ends, you can then run around and freely explore this same map to talk to your team or search for items on the ground. The details are quite amazing.
This same attention to detail is shown during certain Paralogue missions that let you revisit battlefields from previous games alongside its appropriate hero. The game’s soundtrack is music to the ears already but hearing some nostalgic tunes during these battles is a really nice touch. It also goes without saying that Engage features aN expert cast of actors who give each character a unique personality. Of course, not every character is a winner, but you can’t say it’s because their voice actor lacked enthusiasm.
In addition to a storyline featuring plenty of battles, Engage also lets you endlessly fight skirmishes that reward you in treasure and plenty of experience points to continuously customize your party even after you beat it. Its online features are also fun ways to pass the time as you can pair up with another player and complete trials against the computer or upload your teams and newly created maps for others to clear. These robust features are a welcome addition to a game that already features an addictive combat system.
Focusing more on its traditional combat experience, Fire Emblem Engage is an impressive game that tries to give you a lot to play with and succeeds in feeling refreshing yet on brand. Its Emblem mechanic brings nostalgic elements to battle while introducing better ways to modify and customize your party, though its social aspects are more toned down than in previous installments. A great balance of fighting and chatting, Engage is a tactical treat newcomers and fans alike will love.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com