Fire Emblem titles have become some of the gold standards in multiple genres over recent years. With that said, these titles usually shine in gameplay, their narratives tend to fall short of spectacular storytelling. Fire Emblem Engage aims to rectify the narrative shortcomings of the franchise’s more fighty-type instalments, while still bringing the genre to a new set of fans through its third-person and isotropic gameplay design, often attributed to turn-based titles, but more importantly hearkens back to its prolific legacy. In this way, it mostly succeeds.
Fire Emblem gave the turn-based Role-playing game (TRPG) new life thanks to its “triangle weapon” system. In utilising three distinct class overarching classes: swords, magic, and melee, players could brainstorm the best strategies possible to defeat the enemy. The issue, however, comes by way of association: Fire Emblem Three Houses may be the most beloved Fire Emblem instalment at the moment. The title won a number of awards, and brought wonderfully fresh blood to the franchise, whether western or otherwise. Thus, it makes sense for new fans of the franchise to feel lost when they first boot up Fire Emblem Engage and experience its gameplay. Fire Emblem Engage truly hearkens backs to the franchise roots, complete with battlefield board and gameplay system. Thankfully, the traditional 30-house-long narrative will make gamers feel right at home.
As is usually the case with Fire Emblem titles, fans can expect to see an entire spate of new faces, backstories, and a whole new bucket of lore to sift through. The threat of war and civil unrest beckons, while a thousand-year-old Fell Dragon stirs from its ancient prison. The player assumes the role of Alear, an ancient and slumbering warrior, true hero, and chosen one prophesied to bring peace to Elyos. All is not as it seems, however, and Alear quickly finds themselves as the centrepiece of the coming war. Politics, dragons, and war-mongering fools; any veteran Fire Emblem fan will feel right at home here.
In essence, Fire Emblem Engage plays like any other traditional role-playing game. Players are tasked early on with collecting the iconic Emblem Rings, an adventure quickly evolving into an odyssey across Elyos. What sets it apart from more recent Fire Emblem titles, however, is its marked change in gameplay direction: Fire Emblem Engage returns to form as a turn-based role-playing game… except it has no grind for experience, or repeat battles to fight.
Chief amongst the changes comes by way of balancing. While simple at face value, Fire Emblem Engage offers quick training battles and skirmishes, then wipes them away from existence as soon as they are completed. Similarly, story stages and main campaign battles are single-play experiences with no way to return to them after the fact. As such, choosing which characters players go into battle with, and what important choices are made, carry a whole lot of additional weight. While this is an extremely welcome change, fans of the franchise will find it tedious (and quite stressful) at first.
What adds to the stress is old-school Fire Emblem’s perma-death mechanic, whereby a character really dies when their health reaches zero. Fire Emblem Engage remedies this issue by offering a new Time Crystal mechanic, which affords players the opportunity to thwart and do away with any kind of meddlesome actions that may have caused fatalities. It must be said, however, how battles still feel intense and frantic at times, regardless of this convenience. Enemies have moves players might never expect, and multiple enemies sometimes move much farther than anticipated, keeping players on their toes at all times during battles where tactics are much more of a necessity.
Another big addition to battles in Fire Emblem Engage comes by way of the Break mechanic, a system giving players the opportunity to knock weapons from opposing hands. Breaking an opponent ensures counter strikes cannot happen. Just like any good tactical game, however, enemies play by the same rules players do, so… watch out for enemy breaks and counter strikes as well! Thankfully, players have the titular Emblems to play and roll with, which aids in making life significantly easier.
Emblems, like the crystals in Final Fantasy, are the heart of the franchise, and even more so, this game. For the first time in many instalments, the story literally revolves around collecting all twelve (12) Emblem Rings. Mechanically, however, the Emblems act as magical weapon types during battle. Some can heal entire parties, while others let fighters act multiple times during a single turn in battle. There are even Emblems that allow players to attack from range where fighters otherwise are not able to!
Given the Nintendo Switch nature of the title, Fire Emblem Engage looks and feels like the latest instalment in its long-running franchise, but it is very clear how concessions have had to be made in order to keep the game running as smoothly as it admittedly does. It is challenging to put a finger on exactly why it looks worse, versus other titles in the franchise, but it does. Whereas Three Houses adopted an anime-like, visual-novel graphic style, Engage seems to attempt to keep both its characters and its world fully rendered at all times. Even with the cell-shaded aesthetic, rendering everything (particles included) is just too much for Nintendo’s portable system. As a result, the overworld feels empty most of the time, and battles are usually hosted in empty fields with few obstacles and complicated map pieces. For perspective: Final Fantasy Tactics managed more complicated maps and it was released in 1997; while Tactics was not a fully rendered title, it is obvious how the Nintendo Switch may not be the greatest match for games that do decide to go the 3D route.
Fire Emblem Engage is an enjoyable back-to-form romp from start to finish. While its narrative takes a massive departure from the familial drama and deep-rooted political unrest the franchise is known for, it still serves as a decent entry with enough intrigue to keep players hooked. Gameplay, more than anything, is what makes Fire Emblem Engage such a fun romp. Thanks to its emphasis on battlefield tactics more so than a tedious grindfest, players will stay engaged during all battles; even with the battle maps as boring and empty as they can be. Thankfully the game looks great, and runs as smooth as a first-party title rightfully should. Fire Emblem Engage may not be setting the bar the same way its predecessor did, but it remains a good experience worthy of being played.
|Fire Emblem Tactics||Battlefields seem sparse|
|Traditional story and gameplay work well together||Not the best looking Fire Emblem game|
|No real grind|
Title reviewed on Nintendo Switch with code supplied by Nintendo.
Junior Editor at Vamers. From Superman to Ironman; Bill Rizer to Sam Fisher and everything in-between, Edward loves it all. He is a Bachelor of Arts student and English Major specialising in Language and Literature. He is an avid writer and casual social networker with a flare for all things tech related.