Fire Emblem Engage Review: Lord of the Rings
In just 10 short years, the Fire Emblem franchise has gone from the brink of ruin to overwhelming success. It's a series with a rich and storied history, and Fire Emblem Engage is all about celebrating that legacy while also looking to the future. It strikes at the core of what makes Fire Emblem's gameplay so engaging after all this time.
Fire Emblem Engage takes place on the continent of Elyos, which is split up into a handful of different countries. You play as Alear, a deity also called the Divine Dragon. One thousand years ago, you sealed away the Fell Dragon, Sombron, but after slumbering for a millennium, you wake up with no memories whatsoever and are launched into the midst of war.
It's a pretty by-the-numbers setup of good versus evil, but that feels intentional, as if Engage is trying to harness the storytelling style of older Fire Emblem games.
To be clear, Engage has none of the social simulation elements that made Three Houses so unique; the "Support" system between your units is much more streamlined this time around. That being said, Engage still manages to spotlight a diverse group of weird and wonderful characters.
Just one look at Alear's Trident-toothpaste hair shows that character designs in Engage are wildly colorful, but many characters have a personality to match. From the thief Yunaka, who greets people by saying "Hiya Papaya", to a priest named Pandreo, who howls like a wolf during nearly every conversation, there's plenty of charm to go around.
Support conversations also add flair to the cast of characters and are generally more focused on humor than drama. Delightfully over-the-top voice acting only makes things more surreal and entertaining.
The big new gimmick for both Engage's story and gameplay comes in the form of Emblem Rings. These rings are relics inhabited by the spirits of ancient warriors from previous games, like Marth and Ike, and while they play a role in the story, they're also the key new gameplay mechanic.
Engage's gameplay uses the same tried-and-true style of past entries, with turn-based battles playing out on a tactical grid. Each unit falls into a distinct class, and the weapon triangle of past games returns (axes are weak to swords, swords are weak to lances, and lances are weak to axes.)
Emblem Rings come into the mix as unique items you can equip to any character. During battle, you can "Engage" with the ring to turn into a powerful new form that fuses your character with the one inside the ring. This not only powers up your character but opens access to unique skills and abilities.
For example, Engaging with Celica gives that character and the ability to warp across the battlefield to launch a surprise magical attack against a single enemy. Engaging can't be used willy-nilly, however, as it only lasts three turns and will have to be recharged after each use.
The Engage feature brings a fascinating new layer to Fire Emblem's strategy, as you suddenly have dozens of new build options at your fingertips. Using an Engage ability at the right time can also turn the tide of battle, though the scales never feel too tipped in your favor. Engage's maps do a great job of building unique challenges or giving the enemy army something to counter with, and sometimes it's their own Emblem Rings.
There are a host of other small changes that make Engage's combat more vibrant, like the ability to "break" an enemy if you take advantage of the weapon triangle, preventing them from using a counterattack, or the removal of degrading weapons. This is by far the most dynamic battle system the series has seen, and that's propped up more by phenomenal presentation.
Fire Emblem Engage's anime art style is utterly gorgeous, and the game makes great use of color and contrast. At the same time, combat animations are incredibly fluid and change over time in interesting ways. For example, as your units get more powerful, their dodge animations change; a unit may initially dodge an arrow but power up, and they'll knock it out of the air with a sword.
Aside from the core battle system, there's an almost overwhelming number of ways to customize your units. Between battles, you can visit a home base called the Somniel. There are shops to buy weapons and items, a smithy where you can improve weapons, a cafe where you can make meals to bond with characters, and more. There are even stat-boosting minigames to play.
It's clear the Somniel is meant to function a bit like Three Houses' Garreg Mach Monastery, but even with all those things to do, it ultimately feels more like an adorned, static environment that's mostly a static menu at its core. The activities you find in the Somniel are fine, but the foundation itself doesn't do much to expand or change as you progress through the game.
In terms of actually powering up your units, there's the standard level-up mechanic, and you can change classes with Master Seals. But a whole new system that allow you to inherit skills from Emblem Rings using SP adds a nice twist. From there, you can also inscribe weapons with rings to increase their stats, and you can enhance the rings themselves, making them more useful and powerful.
It's clearly a lot to keep track of, and it can take a while to get used, something a bit of additional streamlining would go a long way to fix.
Fire Emblem Engage Review — The Bottom Line
- The best combat system the series has seen, with meaningful changes like the Engage system.
- Vibrant characters filled with personality, backed up by some fun voice acting.
- Gorgeous presentation that makes Engage feel vibrant and unique.
- Uninteresting main story that fails to do anything unique.
- Overwrought customization systems that could be streamlined.
- The Somniel ultimately feels like a glorified menu and doesn't grow or change meaningfully.
Fire Emblem Engage is a bit of an odd beast; it doesn't feel like a true advancement of the franchise's formula as a whole, but it has some great elements that feel like meaningful changes. Combat and gameplay are highlights, along with some fun optional character interactions.
After Three Houses' gripping tale of political intrigue, it's certainly a little disappointing to see the series take a step backward narratively, but Fire Emblem Engage does enough well that it's not a huge drawback. Moving forward, if the franchise can combine the ideas of Three Houses and Engage, it could result in something truly special.
[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Fire Emblem Enage used for this review.]