REVIEW: ‘Fire Emblem: Engage’ Delivers A Robust Tactics Experience (Switch)

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Fire Emblem Engage — But Why Tho (1)

An ancient evil awakens to finish a war begun a thousand years ago. The only hope for the world is if the Divine Dragon can assemble the twelve emblem rings and use their power to lock away the evil once more in Fire Emblem: Engage from developer Intelligent Systems and publisher Nintendo. 2019’s Fire Emblem Three Houses didn’t just provide me with arguably the best tactics experience of my life, but one of the best gaming experiences period. The gameplay, characters, and the world came together so wonderfully that I happily put over 150 hours into the game to experience all it had to offer. Coming off of such a high as that, I was worried that Fire Emblem: Engage was doomed to disappoint. And while it never quite reaches the pinnacle set by its predecessor, it nevertheless delivers a worthy entry into this beloved franchise.

As with most games of this type, Fire Emblem: Engage splits its time into two major areas, fighting battles and interacting with your ever-growing list of compatriots. I want to start with the side of the game that delivers some great moments but ultimately struggles to find its footing, the characters, and how you interact with them.

Between the frequent battles, the player will return to their hub area to rest, train up, and spend time with their comrades. By the time the game comes to a close, there are close to a dozen different activities to take part in and keep track of. While all of them provide some benefits to participating in them, the importance will vary depending on how you want to approach the game, as well as the difficulty you are playing at.

As I did my playthrough on normal difficulty, with no permadeath on, and under a time crunch, there were numerous activities that fell by the wayside as I pursued my final objectives. While staples like training sessions to help characters level up and cooking meals for combat bonuses and social points never faded away, gym mini-games, an on-rails shooting game, and remember to polish my emblem rings were elements that frequently got forgotten about. Honestly, I think if I wanted to maximize my output in this game, I would need to keep notes so as not to forget anything. But, as I said, if you are playing it in normal mode, much can be done when and if you feel like it.

If you do decide to partake in the full spread of home base activities, Fire Emblem: Engage will deliver lots to do. While my playthrough came in at just under 40hrs, fully immersing yourself in all the side content will leave you with a far longer run time. And while they bring more bang for your buck playtime-wise, most of the activities range from watching a brief scene play out, to some mild interactivity. The moments that do have you playing through are competently implemented and work fine as side attractions, but never really grabbed my interest.

The other core element for the home base in Fire Emblem: Engage is getting to know your companions. Like previous entries in the series, fighting side by side or participating in social moments builds bonds that pay off with small cut scenes. These moments are, with only a handful of exceptions, the only major flaw of this game.

The big problem with Fire Emblem: Engage’s cast is how straightforward most of them are. Often times two-dimensional comedic elements, most of the cast has little to reveal and little interesting to say. While there are a couple of standouts, overall, I found the cast to be uninteresting and only worth an occasional chuckle. This is a bummer as having an engaging cast of characters makes decisions like who to bring to battle with you or who to give a powerful new item to all the more meaningful.

Another thing that makes the characters in this entry less engaging is how absent many of them are from the storyline. Most characters, once they have been introduced and have formally joined your army, are never seen again during the story moments. Not even chilling in the background just to assure you that they still exist. Only the lead characters from each of the world’s regions for the most part have any significant spot in the cutscenes. As few of these characters were my favorites, this left me feeling less invested in the larger story.

That larger story that players travel through is a well-executed tale in the classical high fantasy style overall. A great evil has returned and your character must travel the land, gathering Allie’s and items that will empower them to defeat the darkness threatening the land. Not the most original concept in fantasy. But while the broad strokes of Fire Emblem: Engage’s narrative clings to a tried and true formula for heroic narrative, it does spring a few surprising twists into its journey. Characters turn out to be things other than what you were originally led to believe and even some surprises about the main character left me moderately surprised by what the narrative delivers in the last third of the game.

Propelling the player to each new story beat is Fire Emblem: Engage’s strongest feature, its excellent battle system. The character roster in this game is sizeable, and each character brings something unique, while allowing enough overlap so no one character ever becomes indispensable. Trying out new units, working them into my roster, and making sure I had the right balance of weapon types and abilities to allow my army to achieve victory in the many turn-based encounters the game brings kept me engaged even when other elements of the game didn’t.

For those not familir, Fire Emblem: Engage plays out its battles in top-down, turn-based clashes that see the player moving their units around on a map. Alternating turns with the computer, the player tries to set up the best attacks they can to break the enemy’s troops. To do this they utilize a rock-paper-scissors style of combat where certain types of weapons are better or worse against others. This makes placement and pre-planning crucial to success. While there are some special win scenarios, the majority of the game’s missions fall into the category of slaying the enemy leader or simply routing all the enemy units.

Fire Emblem Engage — But Why Tho

But while the classic rock-paper-scissors of swords, axes, and lances return in this game, the new mechanic that sets this interaction to combat apart is the engage system. Given that it is in the title, one would expect this to be a game-changing element, and it definitely is. Each of the emblem rings that your party collects contains the spirit of a hero from another world. As one might suspect, these heroes are champions from previous Fire Emblem games. When worn, they imbue their bearer with improved stats and special attacks. And, for a limited time during battles, the wearer can activate the ring’s engage feature. This feature fuses the wearer with the heroic spirit, giving them a new look and even greater strengths. When one activates, this power is often key to success on the battlefield. Once spent, the ability can be recharged through actions and special spots on maps, so a misplay doesn’t spell doom for the player.

The game also goes out of its way to spice up several missions thanks to unique terrain elements that occupy some maps. Rising and falling tides can hinder movement, creepy miasmas can aid the monsters that attack you, and darkness can give enemies ample opportunities for ambushes. Every map element requires the player to rethink their strategy and adapt to the new conditions.

Along with the main story, there are numerous paralogues throughout the game that offers the player additional challenges to get extra rewards. These can be augments to their emblem rings, rare weapons, and even new characters. While these missions are optional, they grant enough strong additions to both gameplay and characters that I would highly recommend playing them. Just be ready, they are often quite challenging if tackled immediately upon their appearance.

When taken as a whole, Fire Emblem: Engage often succeeds, though where it falls,  it falls a bit hard. With a largely less-than-stellar cast keeping you company for the 40+ hours you may find yourself playing this game, there are many times when the game’s solid narrative and excellent gameplay aren’t able to carry it through to the finish it feels like it deserves.

Fire Emblem: Engage is available now on the Nintendo Switch.


Fire Emblem: Engage 
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

When taken as a whole, Fire Emblem: Engage often succeeds, though where it falls,  it falls a bit hard. With a largely less-than-stellar cast keeping you company for the 40+ hours you may find yourself playing this game, there are many times when the game’s solid narrative and excellent gameplay aren’t able to carry it through to the finish it feels like it deserves.

But Why Tho? A Geek Community
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