(available only for Nintendo Switch)
Fire Emblem Engage is the latest in the Fire Emblem series and the second one to feature on Nintendo Switch, following on from the previous entry, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Don’t feel as though you have to play that one to play this, as usual, it’s not a direct sequel. In fact, Engage has been speculated that it was an anniversary game. It hasn’t been confirmed by Nintendo themselves, but reliable sources say that Nintendo has had this game finished for at least a year before they released it. If that’s true, it’s likely that finding a release space was a bit tricky for them since they missed the anniversary.
Fire Emblem Engage is trying to honour the history of the series. It was confirmed early on that the game will feature a lot of returning characters from previous entries, going from the first game up until the most recent release with Three Houses.
This review will be taking a lot of comparisons with Three Houses, not only because it’s the most recent Fire Emblem game that I have played but because it is the only other one developed with the Switch in mind. It’s also the only other one that you can buy now because the port of the original is no longer available in the E-Shop.
Like previous entries, this one is a tactical RPG and this time puts you in the role of Alear, a champion known as the Divine Dragon who has been asleep for a thousand years following a war to stop the evil Fell Dragon. The story involves the Divine Dragon waking up, forming a new army, and working to free the land with the aid of the nobles of the Four Kingdoms.
For me, this was a game that I was excited about. Three Houses is one of my favourite Switch games, and this one looked like it would have a lot of the same qualities but would only require one full playthrough to get the whole story. While that is true, I feel like one of my major concerns with this game was that it should have been positioned as an anniversary celebration for the series but was instead positioned as the next main entry. And in that sense, I have a few issues with the game. That’s not to say that the game is bad- far from it- this is a really good Fire Emblem game in most regards, but when it falters, it’s really noticeable. The main issues that I have with the game are more narrative concerns, so if you’re just in it for the gameplay, it won’t be an issue, but I’ll get to that.
The gameplay is actually really good in Engage. The mechanics are still here, you’re moving characters on a grid board, positioning for different fights to get good chain attacks and take advantage of weaknesses, you get the idea. If you’ve played a previous Fire Emblem game, this will be very familiar to you.
Not much is different here, but it all feels very refined. The Rock, Paper, Scissors mechanic has been brought back into the game, this is most notable from the start when it’s positioned in the Main Menu of every battle. Sword is strong against Axe, Axe is strong against Spear, and Spear is strong against Sword. There are a few other weapons that create variants, but that’s the main one that you are introduced to first. You’ll want to memorise that because you’ll be breaking enemies by hitting them with their weaknesses, preventing them from doing a counterattack. Believe me, that will come in handy.
The biggest new mechanic for this is the Engage mechanic. It’s one of several rings that are possessed by the Emblems (which basically act as Souls) of 12 of the Fire Emblem protagonists. The number has gone up in the time that I’ve purchased the DLC expansion pass since two of the waves have been released already, a third one featuring two more characters is due out later this year and a fourth one with a new story is also coming down the line.
The biggest strength of the game is the Emblems, they really do benefit you. A particular point about the DLC that I’ll come back to later, but so far the spirits that you get in that one have also been quite handy. The first wave included Tiki from the first Fire Emblem, and once you get her you can make a character frankly broken, you’ll also get the three house leaders from Three Houses sharing one bracelet. That’s the only big difference between them- the DLC Emblems come in bracelets rather than rings.
They initially provide Stat Boosts, but they also provide you with special attacks and legendary weapons when you Engage with them, though you can only be engaged for three turns. You’ll want to pick your time wisely with this since once it’s gone, you’ll need to recharge. I like this mechanic because it allows you to make up for a character’s weaknesses or improve on their strengths, depending on how you want to play the game and which emblems you want to equip to which character. For example, Alear is a swordfighter by default so I mainly stuck him with Sword Emblems like Marth and Roy to take advantage of his strengths. You can also get Micaiah from another game and she can be very useful because she can add an extra healer to your party for free. Considering that the game only has three dedicated healer characters, this can come in very handy.
Adding this mechanic to the game it adds another dimension to the gameplay, and if you’re not that familiar with your Fire Emblem history, you don’t need to read up on many of the characters, it’s mostly the characters that appear in Smash Brothers. Only two of the Smash Brother’s Fire Emblem characters aren’t in the game but are confirmed to be in the next wave of DLC.
Fire Emblem Engage looks really good, and it feels like a step up from Three Houses. Nothing against Three Houses, I think that that game looked really good, but it gives off the impression of a HD 3DS game rather than a game that was made entirely with the Switch in mind, this is particularly true with the cutscenes, which really varied in quality.
This game looks really good and was definitely built with the Switch in mind. I know some people complained about the character designs, particularly Alear, who has had a lot of jokes made about his resemblance to VTubers and his blue and red hair meaning he has been called the Pepsi Protagonist. But as a whole, I really like the designs. The nobles, for example, are real highlights and they feel like they have been improved.
There’s a lot more variety this time around in terms of gameplay and design compared to Three Houses which definitely felt like the maps were starting to get a bit samey after a point.
All I can say is that you’re going to stick with the story even if you tuned out. The storyline in Engage is very one-note when it starts, which isn’t untrue of Three Houses, which I thought had one of the best storylines in the series, but despite the fact that the story does pick up later on and does add dimension (particularly with the mysterious girl and Alear’s relationship), but as a whole, it doesn’t feel it has the substance that Three Houses did, which felt like a tragedy that you wanted to prevent.
In the case of Engage, it doesn’t quite reach those heights. In fact, if there’s something I think that this game does very well, it’s villains. They are probably some of the best parts of the final act.
There’s also the fact of the individual relationships between the various characters. As usual, you can improve their bond rank by making them fight alongside each other on the battlefield or do tasks together in the hub world, this time they can have a meal together, work in the orchard or stables, or have a swim in the pool. You are going to have to do a combination of all of these things to up the relationship. Let’s just say that this doesn’t really feel like a focus this time around.
But man, I kind of think that Engage is a bit of a weaker story, especially in recent memory since it’s coming off the heels of Awakening and Three Houses. I know Awakening was quite a while ago but it still feels very recent. Not all of the stories have hit, Fire Emblem Echoes is an example, but this one didn’t start to hit the right notes until the end portion.
- Side Content
The side content is fine in this one, but it doesn’t feel like it has that much interest this time around. You get a few mini-games, like a dragon riding game or the training exercises, which are perfectly fine, but they kind of felt unnecessary and I barely did them after the first few chapters.
The game does add the arena back in which is great considering that you can spend bond points in various ways, like using it to up the bond between certain characters and the emblems, which you want to do because then you can use points from various battles to give characters extra skills- for example, Marth can give you extra sword proficiency.
The biggest waste of bond points is the extra rings, this is where the gacha mechanics come into the game. You basically get special rings of various characters that don’t have EMblems in the game and you can meld multiple repeats to get upgrades. I didn’t really bother with this one, since once you get most of the Emblem Rings, it becomes pointless.
- Relationships with little substance
I think back to all of the various back-and-forths the characters had in Three Houses and how good they were because Engage doesn’t really have that, I don’t feel like there’s much substantial character growth with these interactions. There are some good ones in here, Alear and Ivy get a good subplot, but the rest are few and far between. None of them reaches the height of substance like anything that Three Houses gave you, and as a result, it feels like your bond with the characters isn’t quite there.
In Three Houses, I really worked hard to get all of the character’s relationships maxed by the end of the game. It also doesn’t help that it’s made even more pointless by the fact that there are not many restrictions on giving out gifts and the time it takes to do stuff, particularly considering you’re not running by the calendar. As a result, it meant that the whole bond between the characters felt rather hollow, especially since the romance options feel really unsubstantial this time.
- Amiibo Functionality
The amiibos work fine, it works for all of the Smash Brother and Fire Emblem ones, and it’s fine that you just get some music and costumes. But I think that there’s something wrong with them- when I used it, they just didn’t register. I registered the amiibo’s usage, but the tickets that I got for the music and clothes didn’t appear, so I was out of luck. This is something that I think they need to fix.
- It’s a bit too easy!
This might be down to the fact that I did a lot of side content so I was probably over-levelling my characters, but wow I really didn’t need to bother! As long as you’re using one character most of the time, they will do pretty well in battle. I should also stress that I was playing the game in normal difficulty, so I probably would have had more of a challenge playing in harder difficulty- but this wasn’t something that I could do. While you can change the difficulty to make it lower during your playthrough, you can’t make it higher. If you want to make the game harder, you have to start from scratch.
I also felt like the game wasn’t challenging me that much. I rarely had to upgrade weapons, and I didn’t really have to think about conserving money due to the fact that the game just gives out a ton of money towards the end, it was only in the middle that I had trouble raising funds. Weapons don’t have durability anymore, so they don’t break, so the only thing that you have to watch out for is the staffs that you use for healing and various other magic. Other spells that are in books also don’t have durability issues, so you can use them as much as you want.
If you want a more difficult Fire Emblem, you’ll have to pick the harder settings at the start. This one really didn’t challenge me, and it didn’t help that the Time Rewind mechanic from the last game is back and it didn’t have a limit on its uses.
I may have had a bit of trouble if permadeath was on, and I definitely didn’t want any characters to die, but right now, I would say that the game was too easy.
Fire Emblem: Engage is a pretty good game and I really enjoyed my time with ti, but I felt that it was a bit too easy and was lacking the substance that I enjoyed from Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
That being said, when the game hit, it hit really well. I think that this is a great celebratory game to the series, but I think that positioning it as the next main entry exposes some of the weaker parts of the game a lot more than if it was a companion piece. I think that will be quite noticeable if the rumoured remake of Genealogy of the Holy War turns out to be true.
Final Score: 8.4/10
Director of Axia ASD Ltd.
Self-proclaimed Nerd Consultant
and Head of Axia’s Film Society.
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