Fire Emblem Engage
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Genre(s): JRPG, Tactical, Action
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 20/01/2023
A code was provided for review purposes
I did not play many of the Fire Emblem games growing up. In fact, my first true experience was with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game I loved and really really need to go back and play again. However, when the opportunity to play Fire Emblem Engage came along, I jumped at it.
There has already been much fanfare written about this game, so there is no need for me to pose whether or not this is a good game or if I enjoyed my time with it. The simple answer to both of these is a resounding yes.
However, there is so much more to this game than can be captured in a simple statement of ‘yes, it’s good.’ In fact, I would go so far as to say there is so much packed into this game it would be almost impossible to capture everything in a review. Sadly, at times, this does the game a disservice.
I feel it prudent to mention that I also had access to the expansion pass, which gave me access to extra paralogue battles and additional emblems. Emblem Tiki especially became an integral part of my team and undoubtedly one of the strongest characters in the game.
A Classic Story
Anybody who has played enough JRPG-style games will understand that there are heavy religious themes running through the game. I don’t know why, but religion seems to be the fuel for so many games of this style.
Without giving away any major plot points here, the story behind Fire Emblem is simple. Yet beneath it sits a complex and well-woven three-dimensional world that only serves to highlight the beauty of a simple story.
Good versus evil. You play as Alear – a character whose name you can change as you wish – and wake up from a 1000-year sleep. Strangely at the same time, a master villain, the Fell Dragon, has awoken. Your quest is to gather the different emblem rings, which have been scattered across the lands and defeat the Fell Dragon. That is the basic outline of the story. It is a tried and tested formula that works for most games.
Incredible World Building
What I enjoyed about Fire Emblem Engage was the storytelling that took place around the main storyline. The depth of the character interactions is, at times, overwhelmingly deep. There were several instances while playing the game when I had to stop and just take a second. There was always so much going on.
Every character that joins your party has its own individual storyline that weaves around you, the Divine Dragon. I will be honest, even now, after fifty hours in the game, there are things I have not yet done and things I would have done differently and will do should I be brave enough for a second playthrough.
Applause is warranted for the story depth and the level of interactions, and also, the hard work it takes to get each individual sub-story to unlock. One thing I really enjoyed about my time with Fire Emblem Engage was the dialogue.
It’s Hard Work Playing a Game
Anybody who has played a JRPG-style game will appreciate ‘the grind’; however, in Fire Emblem Engage, you face a grind of a very different nature. I remember from my earlier game of Three Houses that I made some very foolish decisions early on in how I played the game. I was conscious of this and worked hard to avoid the same in Engage.
Fire Emblem Engage is a game you cannot venture into lightly. Yes, it’s beautiful and imaginative and horrendously good fun, but it is hard work.
Playing the game two steps ahead
The first few rounds of Fire Emblem Engage lull you into a false sense of ease. The battles are simple; you meet some good friends along the way and are often faced with a selection headache when it comes to your battle party.
However, around the halfway mark, things change. Suddenly, or so it was for me at least, the enemy critical hit rate went through the roof, and I was forced to play the game a few rounds ahead. It was here that the game really came into its own and started earning the praise it’s been resoundingly given.
Another key consideration and reason for planning ahead are unit-type matchups. Most units have strengths and weaknesses against of unit-types. I really enjoyed this mechanic and happily spent some time both ahead of the battle and during my ‘player phase’ to move units into positions that allowed me to make the most of these matchups. After all, who doesn’t enjoy dealing extra damage when fighting to save your people?
Never Underestimate Unit Positioning
It took me a few rounds before I got the hang of unit positioning, but once I did, I was stringing together chain attacks for extra like there was no tomorrow. Having the right units working together helps turn the tide of battle in an instant.
My personal favourites were Boucheron (later given the Hector emblem ring) and Chloe, who was near unstoppable with emblem Tiki, and her dragon Engage form. I often had these flanking Alear for Chloe’s high crit rate and Boucheron’s power and chain attack forming ‘backup’ role.
Additionally, unit positioning is important for story progression; as your characters fight, they build bonds with one another. These bonds are milestones from nothing to C, B, A, and then S. These bonds are also formed by actions taken at ‘the Somniel’ – the game’s sanctuary between battles. Unlocking a new support level progresses that character’s story with Alear. These episodes are played out in the form of cutscene conversations and interactions.
It is during those cutscenes that you gain a true appreciation for the quality of this game.
Choose Your Favourite Champions
The game offers two different styles of play alongside the more traditional difficulties. Permadeath and, well, non-permadeath.
In permadeath mode, when a character dies in battle, they are exactly that. Dead. Never to return. I chose to play the second mode, whereby characters slain in battle merely depart the field and return to the Somniel. I chose this not because it was easier; if anything, it made things harder, but because I wanted to try and unlock as many character interactions as possible.
Unfortunately, this gave me quite a selection headache. New characters join your party regularly throughout the game. The problem was, after a while, knowing my characters could not truly die, I settled on a preferred grouping and largely forgot about the other characters. Progressing their stories and relationships very slowly as a result.
As I already mentioned, you need to pay attention when playing this game. Not just to battle strategy but to what your comrades tell you in conversation. Chloe, for example, talks about her love of fairy tales but dislikes tea, while Zelkov loves tea but hates playing cards. These sometimes subtle inferences serve you well in building relationships.
Once you unlock the Flea Market back in the Somniel, you can buy gifts to give your fellow warriors and boost your support levels that way. However, giving an incorrect gift means no support progress is gained.
Welcome to the Somniel
The Somniel is where I find the game begins to get a little too busy and loses track of itself just a tiny bit. The main storyline in Fire Emblem Engage is about winning battles, gathering emblem rings, and defeating the Fell Dragon. In my honest opinion, I feel the Somniel detracts from that and offers far too many distractions that break the game’s flow.
There are still a few parts of the Somniel I have either not touched or not explored fully. This includes the online battles, which I have just not had the time to investigate yet. I am not a big online or PvP gamer, as I rarely have the time to invest in playing with someone else.
The Somniel is the palace and grounds where you, the Divine Dragon, live when not battling. However, the game also throws a vast array of other activities your way. Don’t get me wrong, these were fun but so numerous; I found myself almost panicky when I re-visited the Somniel after each battle.
Character Conversations Drive Support Levels
While you can gain support by having allies fight side by side in battle, the results of this support and further advancements are all played out in the Somniel. Watch various character cut scenes between you and NPC, or even between NPCs and each other, and with the different Emblems.
Collect Scattered Items
Both on the field of successful battle and on each Somniel visit, glowing spots appear on the ground. These reward you with all manner of items that help you in the game. I got quite anxious about gathering these and not missing out on the chance to gain a new gift (pre the arrival of the flea market) .
Shopping Fun for All Occasions
Early on in the game, some of the NPCs you rescue move to the Somniel and set up shop. You soon have four traders, each selling something different.
- Weapons: Buy new weapons, staves, or hand-to-hand fighting skills.
- Blacksmith: Purchase upgrades for all of the existing weapons you have in your possession or convoy.
- Tailor: But new clothes and outfits for your characters – however, these can only be worn in the Somniel.
- General Supplies: Buy all of your ancillary items and stat boosters.
- Flea Market: My favourite shop where you can buy items that serve as gifts you can give your comrades.
Mini Games Aplenty
I found the mini-games to be more annoying than anything. The different non-battle and non-storyline-related activities really felt excessive. Fishing was simple and unchallenging. Flying the Wyvern was frantic but needless. Swimming, mucking out the stables and tending the orchard were actually cut scenes that helped build friendships but really felt like a waste of time.
Maybe it’s just me, but I still made sure to do them each time, just to make sure I got the stat boosts and rewards. However, I’d dread to think how much time doing so added to the game without actually aiding the game in any really noticeable way. Any stat bonuses were only temporary and didn’t stack.
Once per visit, an NPC is elected chef and cooks for you and two chosen members of your party. There was a wide range of menu items, and it was a challenge to match up the characters’ likes and the speciality dishes of the chosen chef. The rewards are a temporary stat boost for the next battle. How much these helped, I don’t know.
Quite frankly, I could go on and on about the things to do in the Somniel. From visiting the fortune teller to working out in the gym area and feeding the strange pet you find in a cave or even sleeping to be woken by a random character and conversation each time. Individually there was nothing wrong with them. However, I feel they flooded the game and, in many ways, weakened my overall thoughts on it.
I haven’t even mentioned the different customization options regarding weapons, character classes, and emblem configurations. There are countless ways to play the game, which is absolutely incredible. However, it is also very overwhelming, and sometimes, too much so.
I loved the look of this game. Each character was different, sometimes over the top, but never in a way that didn’t work. I soon grew fond of a smaller sub-group, and I’m glad I didn’t play with permadeath because I don’t think I would have handled it very well had Boucheron, Chloe, or Pandreo died.
I also loved the different battlefields and scenery on and around the battleground. Likewise, the Somniel and the floating islands around it were stunning. To imagine how good they would have looked had this game also been available on either PC, Xbox Series X, or PS5 makes the pulse race.
Additionally, the battle animations and the vibrancy of each impact, particularly the special engaged attacks, were breathtaking. They popped from the screen much like the iridescent shrine shards in BotW.
Final Thoughts on Fire Emblem Engage
I really enjoyed my time with Fire Emblem Engage. I’ve invested a lot of time into it and will certainly invest a lot more. Who knows, I might even attempt a permadeath run. I do feel it was slightly over-inflated with stuff. Almost as if it was trying too hard to tick the boxes and offer something for everybody. Crafting, fishing, cooking, character-driven, the list goes on.
Is Fire Emblem Engage a great game? Yes, it is. Does it deserve the praise it has received? Yes. However, I just found myself pulled out of things by too much faffing around chasing nothing. Sure, I could have just not done it, but I wanted to get those ‘S’ support ranks, and I wanted to get the best weapons. There is nothing wrong with anything this game does, but I feel they could have halved the extra-curricular activities and still had more than enough to keep people entertained.
I am certainly itching to get back into the world and try out some new class configurations and emblem assignments.
My only word of warning for those not accustomed to this world, brace yourself and know the heavy weight that you are taking on when you load it up. There is a lot to see and do in Fire Emblem Engage, and you will find yourself drawn into doing it all every single time.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can get your copy of Fire Emblem Engage from the Nintendo eShop today.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.