Fire Emblem Engage on Switch
Fire Emblem Engage is a party. It’s a gathering, a celebration of the series’ most iconic characters. They’ve all been brought back together for one big shebang, and it’s meant to be glorious and fun and enjoyable. I’m also ducking out of the party long before it ends, because while the drinks and food are decent, ultimately it lacks soul.
In my early preview of the game, I’d mentioned that the story felt very by-the-book, with familiar beats greeting you at every step of the way. By the time I beat Engage, my feelings remained largely the same: this game is a decent enough romp through a medieval fantasy story with fun tactical combat, but rarely any surprises or truly compelling character arcs to keep you properly invested.
The problem starts and ends with the new characters. New faces like Alear, Framme, and Vander simply fail to inspire any sort of awe or camaraderie when they interact with each other. Alear’s weird choice of hair color notwithstanding, their character arc seems to exist as a flat line, with mild bumps here and there. But we all know that the real heart of Fire Emblem lies in the support conversations, not the main story, so how do those fare?
Not so well, either. It was extremely noticeable that the support conversations seemed much shorter than you’d normally expect from a Fire Emblem game. Even Three Hopes, the latest Warriors-style spin-off, had much deeper supports that helped to show off your favorite characters from Three Houses in a different light. The disappointing support conversations in Engage probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, though, considering that most of the main cast barely has any depth to them. The main exception to this rule is Diamant, Engage’s edgiest character, who steals almost every scene he’s in, but even that isn’t quite enough to save the game.
The rest of Engage’s cast is often reduced to one-dimensional tropes and awkward slapstick physical comedy that only served to make me cringe. It doesn’t matter if they’re a hero or a villain, Fire Emblem Engage seemed content to only present its characters as either overdramatic and absurdly clumsy fools, or forgettable milquetoast faces whose names you won’t remember as soon as you put the game down.
It really doesn’t help that the bond conversations you have with the series favorites are so shallow, either. It’s crucial to increase your bond levels with them, as this will allow them to aid you better in battle, but the conversations are only ever surface-level, with words of mild encouragement or very light banter. It’s somewhat cute, but again, there’s little substance there.
As usual, the gameplay is what saves Fire Emblem Engage here. The tactical combat that Fire Emblem fans know and love makes a return, with one new twist: Engage. As you progress through the story, you’ll gain access to Emblem Rings, which allow your characters to Engage with Emblem characters to power them up and make use of some truly ridiculously powerful abilities. Celica continues to be my personal favorite, as her Warp Ragnarok skill lets you teleport halfway across the map before bombarding your foes with devastating magic. When built correctly, she’s almost unstoppable.
Other Emblem characters have more synergistic abilities, like Lucina, who specializes in strengthening and enhancing other skills when Engaged. These are the main highlights of Fire Emblem Engage; it’s not just fun to see them all come together in one epic battle, it’s also fantastic to see all their character models get reworked and updated in a modern way.
As mentioned in my preview, the strength of the Engage abilities can throw the balance off at times, as the game definitely felt rather breezy for the most part. That being said, the challenge of the Fire Emblem games has always come in the form of trying to make it through an entire level without losing a single unit. Fire Emblem Engage features permadeath mode –if you so choose– and while you can undo moves in a pinch with the Time Crystal, you’ll quickly find that you do need to tread carefully to avoid costly mistakes that will last the rest of the playthrough.
Outside of the Engage mechanic, the rest of the gameplay should feel instantly familiar. The weapon triangle system is still intact here, you’re still moving units around a grid and trying to find an advantageous position. The combat is solid, I just wish I’d actually felt something –anything– for the characters I was moving around.
Support conversations are still a thing in Fire Emblem Engage, where units can deepen their relationships with each other as they fight on the battlefield. You can strengthen your bond with Emblem characters too, but even as I’ve seen the entirety of Engage’s story, I still found the support conversations to be disappointingly lacklustre. The conversations were only ever skin-deep, and only seemed to lean into the already trope-y presentations of each character.
Had the focus been more on the already established characters of the series, I’d imagine Engage would’ve ended up being a more compelling story. But sadly, that just isn’t the case here.
In-between battles, you’ll be exploring the world map for paralogues and skirmish battles to level up, while also wandering around the Somniel, which serves as your main hub. The Somniel actually looks rather aesthetically pleasing, and it’s split into a few different sections that all serve a different purpose. The cafe terrace is a nice, chill little spot where you get to cook and hang out with your party members, there are workout areas, there’s a pasture where you get to visit the animals you’ve adopted, the list goes on.
Graphically, Fire Emblem Engage looks pretty darn good. It’s certainly a step up from Three Houses, and I found myself looking forward to walking around the Somniel between each chapter. The character customization options also surprisingly ended up being fun to play around with, as the game offers you a plethora of different outfits and little accessories to play around with. The appearance changes are only reflected in the Somniel and not in battle or cutscenes, which is a shame, but I’ll take what I can get.
At the end of the day, Fire Emblem Engage ends up being a rather middling experience that wasn’t afraid to try a few new things as far as combat is concerned, but couldn’t come close to the heights that its predecessors have set for the series. I don’t necessarily see myself revisiting Engage anytime soon, but if you just want an excuse to see your favorite icons from the series again, or if you’re craving more tactical RPG goodness, you could do a lot worse.
- Character customization options are nice.
- The Engage mechanic is genuinely fun.
- The Somniel looks beautiful, and is enjoyable to explore.
- The updated character models for series icons look great.
- The new characters are dullards.
- The support conversations are shallow.
- The main story is ultimately predictable and uninspiring.
Jan. 20, 2023
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