[Review] Fire Emblem Engage
Posted on February 13, 2023 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release Date: January 20, 2023
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Fire Emblem Engage comes just three years after the success of Three Houses, and though this seems like a quick turnaround for a series that has been known for its richness and depth, the new game streamlines a lot of mechanics and capabilities to make it much more intuitive and approachable without having to sacrifice any of the quality the franchise has seen with each new entry. It’s certainly a different flavor, tone, and direction, so those new to the series – or even long-time fans – may feel an odd sense of having to “relearn” Fire Emblem this time around. However, it’s yet another fantastic addition to a series that seems immune to any type of mediocrity.
Fire Emblem Engage is an evolutionary step in many ways both big and small, and this all begins right away with the presentation from the moment a new game begins. Incredible animations, cutscenes, and scenarios are front-and-center with a quality and finesse that exceeds that of Three Houses, which admittedly wasn’t the most technically impressive visually. Though it had an art direction that would stick with traditional Fire Emblem traits, Fire Emblem: Three Houses in a lot of ways technically and graphically felt like it had begun development on 3DS before opting to transition to what at the time would be Nintendo’s new hardware. Engage on the other hand immediately has a crispness to it that keeps it visually striking throughout, especially on an OLED. The game scales wonderfully to a 4K TV as well and has a smooth image that rarely feels muddy or blurred.
The narrative of Fire Emblem Engage is also a bit more focused, making it one of the many aspects of the game that have been streamlined this time around compared to other entries. While sidequests are present, they have less of an emphasis, and whenever they do present themselves it’s never in droves and done in a way that feels distracting, keeping the gameplay feeling cohesive and tight. As the last few titles have presented, two avatars for the Divine Dragon are present for the player to choose from, but what’s even better is that the days of a silent protagonist are over as they can finally have a bit of personality and speak. Seeing the main player as the Divine Dragon actually be able to express concern verbally and speak to support characters in a way that’s more intimate and involved is a hugely appreciated step, even if admittedly they tend to have a traditional tone that comes with a standard run-of-the-mill anime dub.
After waking from a one-thousand-year slumber, the Divine Dragon finds themselves rather confused and lost, but their presence is needed now more than ever as a powerful force in the form of the Fell Dragon has arisen once more and intends to raise war and calamity. In order to stop such formidable opponents, the Divine Dragon travels around kingdoms to unite and rekindle warriors of all kinds alongside characters from the past through specialized Emblem Rings that grant immense powers from the warriors of yesteryear such as Celica, Roy, and Lucina. While the story admittedly feels a bit shallow, the writing is well enough that the cliches that come from its overdone plot point of “bad thing is happening, hero must stop it” in a way mitigates most of the criticisms that could easily come from such an exhausted narrative. Even so, it’s one of the more elaborate ways to express this sort of story, and thanks to its linearity and focus, it keeps it from getting overly convoluted and loose. Lore-heavy worlds are fantastic, but sometimes it’s good to take a step back and simplify things to keep a goal in check all while keeping gameplay refined and captivating, as Fire Emblem Engage does.
Prior to the release of Fire Emblem Engage, the emblems and rings all felt like a bit of a gimmick and a way to bring in the Fire Emblem Heroes crowd into the console space much like Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee intended to do for Pokemon Go players, but, admittedly, after spending over 50 hours with the game, Fire Emblem Engage wonderfully – and respectfully – brings in a fantastic ensemble of the series’ most proud warriors and fan-favorites to provide an awesome fusion of new and old out on the battlefield. Though it’s difficult enough to choose a set amount of characters to fight alongside, the rings have an added layer of strategy that provides immense depth to the combat outside of just fusing for added stats and special attacks, and having to choose which ones to mix and match can be a time-consuming process in the best way possible. So many possibilities can be achieved, and what’s more impressive is that building bonds with each and every Emblem gives an opportunity to eventually inherit skills from them to use even while they’re not equipped.
Playing as the Divine Dragon has a huge sense of power behind them, however, and this is felt throughout the game even when the going gets tough. There’s a delicate balance that Intelligent Systems has performed here that perfectly gives the main protagonist and all of the supporting characters a sense of strength without making it a walk in the park, and the Engage mechanic helps tremendously with this. Animations for movement, combat, special attacks, and more are all wonderfully executed, and battles have a sense of flow to them that rarely feels like they’re being intentionally drawn out or overly scripted even with pre-determined segments of conflict. Everything about the battle system, weapons, and mechanics marries together beautifully and gives each character a chance to shine in a way that feels unique to them, even with Emblem Rings crossing over rather than having a dedicated partner.
Not everything in Fire Emblem Engage is a step in the right direction, however. While it’s streamlined many functionalities and ways the Fire Emblem series naturally progresses, its support scenarios and benefits have taken a bit of a hit for the worse compared to other areas. Romance is essentially gone this time around, and support scenarios, gifts, and bonds are done in ways that feel much less intimate and relatively shallow. Short conversations take place when going from C-Rank to A-Rank and beyond, and each one of these feels like it was written down during a bathroom break. There’s not much emotion or merit to anything going on in these conversations, and more often than not they feel arbitrary. Even the voice acting taking place between any two characters feels like they’re simply speaking aloud rather than carrying a conversation with another individual. It’s an unfortunate hit to the support system that many players and fans typically look forward to as there are myriad benefits beyond stat boosts, creating a more personal and tailored experience for the player looking to get to know one another a little better. It gives a sense of immersion and personality, but this time around with Fire Emblem Engage, those relationships don’t feel anywhere near as palpable and meaningful.
Fire Emblem Engage from beginning to end, however, with all that it streamlines and changes, is still an incredible experience through and through. While there will undoubtedly be some that prefer the format of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, this entry is a whole different beast (or dragon) on its own that still feels like a proper standalone experience, even if it’s been trimmed in more ways than expected or even feels necessary. The Switch has no shortage of RPGs, but Fire Emblem continues to remain among the best-in-class as Fire Emblem Engage enters as another fantastic entry in the series and a worthwhile follow-up to the much beloved Three Houses.
For the second time in a row on Switch, Fire Emblem Engage remains one of the best and finest strategy RPGs on the system, living up to its predecessor and in some ways even exceeding it. Having characters both old and new to create an all-star cast excites while simultaneously pleasing the rush of nostalgia, and the mechanics behind the Engage feature make it so they’re not an afterthought. It adds another layer of strategy to an already in-depth system of gameplay that gives off that sense of power to the player but keeps the game balanced in a delicate and smart way to not be a complete walk in the park no matter what difficulty level. Though Fire Emblem Engage has stripped and downsized more than it should have, it’s still a fantastic and meaty package worthwhile for any fan of the series and is also a very approachable (and fantastic) starting point for those wanting to delve into the world of Fire Emblem for the very first time. Gorgeous visuals, intuitive battle design, and many quality-of-life features to the combat and equipment systems make Fire Emblem Engage easily one of the better strategy RPGs ever made.
Fire Emblem Engage copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.