Engaging mechanics, nostalgia for fans, OK writing.
I have been playing Fire Emblem games since the Game Boy Advance days, which has given me enough time to pick up on the tropes of the series, which include blue-haired, noble protagonists; misunderstood manaketes; bizarre and unnecessary mini game mechanics; evil dragons; the “Fire Emblem,” a term that has a different meaning in every game, and a cast of archetypal soldiers
There’s a reason they have these tropes—they’ve worked. Fire Emblem has served as a relatively niche Nintendo franchise, gradually growing in interest with the release of Awakening in 2012 only to explode in popularity with Three Houses releasing in 2019. Fans tend to fall into two camps: those that are looking for “chess as a dating sim” and players looking for “Nintendo-hard” tactics. Engage caters toward the second category, and wears every Fire Emblem trope proudly on its sleeve.
Engage’s story is very typical Fire Emblem fare. There are warring nations, the threat of an evil dragon king set on taking over the world, and your noble protagonist, fighting to bring peace. After Three House’s unique and compelling narrative, I found this one a little lackluster, though I did enjoy travelling between the four nations and getting a bit more of the sense of cultures within this Fire Emblem world. There are also some surprising moments in the narrative that are made compelling with the reinforcement of game mechanics, which I would’ve loved to see even more often.
The longer I’ve played Engage, the more invested I’ve become with some of the characters, appreciating surprising nuances to them or bucking of traditional stereotypes (like Pandreo the party animal priest, Seadall the male dancer, Rosado’s cute aesthetic and Panette’s masking with nobility culture). While they largely fit into the Fire Emblem archetypes, I found myself getting attached to Kagetsu’s wholesome positivity, the free-spirited fun of Solm’s people, and Merrin’s “that was cool, was it not” vibe. The combination of characters with specific Emblems also became particularly satisfying for me, having my favorite pairings while also becoming pleasantly surprised with new discoveries as I obtained Paralogue bracelets.
Mechanics are where Engage really shines.
Engage is a beautiful game when it comes to visuals and sound design. The integration of familiar music from previous games on Emblem paralogue maps was a good nostalgia trip, and I felt a surge of dopamine at the gacha-esque arcade sounds from employing Emblem rings. The addition of character and Emblem ring animations was a nice touch for making the units come to life. The designs are even more anime, culturally ambiguous and over-the-top than usual Fire Emblem fare, but this didn’t bother me for very long and became more of a charm as I played on. While the voice acting is fantastic on some characters, others were a bit jarring (I’m looking at you, Tiki).
All that said, mechanics are where Engage really shines. I was skeptical of the addition of the Engage rings at first, but found they added an interesting dimension of complexity and individual approach to the tactics of each map. Additional terrain effects like poisonous geisers and volcanic cratars also add new levels of strategy to Engage’s maps. Engage’s character types also play with new combinations of abilities, which are further diversified when adding in type bonuses from Engage rings. The possibilities feel truly endless, making me eager to replay this game with different team compositions and bond strategies.
Additionally, recent Fire Emblem games also include worlds and mini tasks for in-between maps, and while Three House’s Garreg Mach Monsastery interludes largely felt enjoyable to me, Emblem’s Somniel felt like something I couldn’t ignore but didn’t exactly look forward to checking into. I loved being able to train individual characters with Emblems, inheriting bond effects from the rings, and some of the new forging possibilities, but felt annoyed at times, having to go between the Somniel and the maps to do these things. I also feel baffled by Fire Emblem’s need to always add some new, strange mechanic in these spaces. For Fates this was the “blow” support mechanic, and for Emblem, it’s the polishing of the rings. Why do I need to polish the rings? What will happen if I don’t do this? I had no idea, so I returned to polish in fear of awakening the wrath of the Emblems.
All in all, Engage is a fun game, particularly those who have a history with the franchise.
As I write this review, I realize I’m perhaps unfairly critical of Emblem in ways because of it following the success of Three Houses. It’s not a fair comparison because Engage has different priorities. Nintendo alternates between providing Fire Emblem games that prioritize the characters with those that serve long-time Fire Emblem fans who are most interested in challenging tactics. Engage is in the second camp. It’s much more interested in mechanics, tactics, maps, and nostalgia. So it’s not necessarily fair to judge it based on not being Three Houses. It’s a different game, with its own unique sense of fun. Despite my picky complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed this game and will likely come back and replay.
All in all, Engage is a fun game, particularly those who have a history with the franchise. Folks who have been with the series for a while will appreciate the inclusion of classic favorite characters, as well as the nods to past game soundtracks and maps on the Paralogue maps. Those who play for engaging maps and mechanics will not be disappointed, but if you’re wanting more dating-sim in your chess match, you may find this game’s characters lacking.
Engage rings, terrains, bond skills and new class types provide fun tactical possibilities
Characters like Kagetsu, Alcryst and Veyle are wholesome sweethearts that must be protected
Skirmish and training maps keep up the challenge
Nostalgic nods for long-time Fire Emblem fans
Fun combination of the old and new
Story and writing is mid-tier
Most characters are one-dimensional, making support conversations less motivating
Somniel is tedious and post-battle 3-D renderings are superfluous
Using pact ring risks being friend-zoned by your favorite character
Fire Emblem is now available exclusively on Nintendo Switch, which is what the reviewer played on. No key was provided by the publisher.