Fire Emblem Engage

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Jan. 20, 2023


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Switch Review - 'Fire Emblem Engage'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 24, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Become the Divine Dragon and save the continent of Elyos as you summon valiant heroes like Marth & Celica alongside a new cast of characters and engage in turn-based, tactical combat against a great evil in this new Fire Emblem story.

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Fire Emblem Engage begins with the protagonist Alear awakening from a thousand-year slumber. They remember little except their name, and they're promptly told a few critical things: They are a Divine Dragon who fought an evil Fell Dragon long ago, and the Fell Dragon has returned. It is seeking out the 12 Emblem Rings, and if it gets all of them, it can return to its full force. It is up to Alear to stop the evil dragon once and for all.

The story is probably going to be the most make-or-break element for the title, especially for fans of Three Houses. The story is a very full retreat into the tone from Fire Emblem Awakening and some earlier Fire Emblem games. Instead of the complex interweaving of three rival nations, you effectively have the obvious good guys and the blatant bad guys. The characters are all brightly colored archetypes who tend to have one or two gimmicks and stick to them.

This isn't out of character for Fire Emblem, and it fits with the direction of the earlier games. There are still fun characters, good interactions and some great character moments, but the entire thing is more Saturday-morning cartoon than "Game of Thrones." If you were hoping for a story with the moral grays and potential complexity of Three Houses, you'll be disappointed. Fire Emblem Engage is about good guys fighting evil dragons.

I'm not sure I can call this a flaw so much as it isn't likely the direction that people were hoping for after Three Houses. It's a fun if rather shallow story, depending on your tolerance for characters with basic traits. Die-hard fans may be a bit disappointed with a return to the status quo after Three Houses showed us that the stories could do more. Alear is a much better protagonist than Byleth was, due to having their own character and personality instead of being dull as dishwater.

Thankfully, while the story might be a step back, the combat in Engage is better than ever. The Weapon Triangle is back in full force, and it's been made more important than ever before. The rules are largely the same: sword beats ax, ax beats spear, and spear beats sword. Hand-to-hand fighters (known as Arts fighters) are strong against mages, bow users and dagger-wielders. As in the previous games, having a type advantage gives you improved accuracy, better dodge and more damage. New to Engage is the Break system. If you have a type advantage over an enemy and attack them, you'll "break" them by knocking their weapon out of their hand. For the rest of the turn, the enemy can't counterattack, giving you the opportunity to pile on damage without risk. Of course, the same can happen in reverse . A strong unit can still hold out, but if they take a single hit from something they're weak against, they can go down.

Weapons have seen a lot of rework. Durability is once again completely removed. Aside from magic staves, nothing in the game has any sort of use limit. A lot more effort has been put into making each weapon distinctive, encouraging you to keep a wide lineup of tools, such as armor-breaking swords or magic-fueled axes. Daggers have also changed from being a subset of swords to being a throwing weapon that inflicts poison, with more stacks of poison meaning enemies take more damage. There are even new kinds of smash weapons that can't attack first (nor attack twice) but will knock enemies backward, allowing you to drag around enemies or slam them into walls for damage.

Another cool change to the combat system is that most classes have a subtype, which grant a passive bonus that's usually connected to the character's type of unit. Melee fighters tend to have backup, which means that if they are adjacent to an enemy when another unit attacks, they'll do a chain attack. Armored units are immune to break, and Magic units can ignore terrain bonuses. Covert units gain a hugely improved terrain bonus, while Flying and Calvary units can move further. Qi Adepts (unarmed fighters who specialize in healing) can spend their turn to defend nearby allies, eating one attack as long as the Qi Adept has full health.

Each unit has benefits and bonuses, and it's a nice way to encourage players to diversify units. Each one has a distinct use and place in the combat system, and it's not wise to go without. Backup units are extremely useful against foes who counterattack with deadly force; you can position them and have everyone go in at once. Covert units can be unstoppable dodge tanks except against magic.

You can't talk about the changes to Engage's combat system without mentioning Emblems, which are the personified spirits of past Fire Emblem heroes who stand next to the protagonist in battle and offer bonuses. Each Emblem requires you to acquire a special ring via the storyline (or DLC) and can only be equipped to one character a time. The bonuses they offer are through the roof.

Generally, the bonuses are passive bonus skills, increases to stats, special actions and the ability to engage with your Emblem. These skills are powerful and usually unit-defining. Lucina from Fire Emblem Awakening allows backup units to join in a chain attack as long as they are within walking distance, and they boost your ability to use bows and swords. Byleth from Three Houses allows you to give powerful buffs and increases experience gain to nearby allies. As you level up your bond with the character, you'll be able to permanently learn skills, so you can keep using the skills even if you change Emblems.

Engaging with an Emblem is the ultimate form of this. As long as a character's Engage meter is full (earned by fighting or finding glowing circles on the ground), they can fuse with their Emblem, giving them a new look and a new set of powers for three turns. Engaging unlocks special skills, improved stats, and perhaps most importantly gives access to Engage weapons and attacks, which tend to have sky-high stats and abilities. Leveling up your bond with your Emblem unlocks more weapons that they can use at once, further increasing the versatility of the character.

Picking the right moment to use special attacks is usually the difference between victory and defeat. Each special attack can only be used once per Engage, but that's about all you'll need. Lyn gets the ability to fire a powerful arrow attack almost anywhere on the map. Celica can teleport your character and shoot an powerful magic attack at the same time. Ike can tank all attacks for one round and then unleash a powerful AoE attack that also heals him.

The nice thing about Engage is that the level design is strong enough to make all of these cool gimmicks feel worthwhile. The basic design of stages has taken a huge step up from Three Houses, with interesting gimmicks on each one. Sometimes you have to deal with pits of quicksand, barriers that block your way, or dangerous oncoming enemies. Other times, you'll have to face enemies with Emblems of their own. The stages are longer than those in the other recent games, but they feel fun and action-packed.

On a mechanical level, Fire Emblem Engage is probably the best Fire Emblem has been. Everything fits together nice and sweet, and there are a lot of customization options. I constantly experimented with different setups. Certain Emblems work differently with certain subtypes, such as Byleth's stat boosts changing significantly based on the subtype of the character they're assigned to.

If I had one complaint, it is about the lesser rings. Once you acquire an Emblem Ring, you can spend in-game currency to effectively play a gacha for a chance at rings from other characters. Each ring comes in a rank from C to S. Unlike Emblem Rings, leser rings only grant a small stat boost or, if you're extremely lucky, you can get a rare S-Rank ring that grants a passive ability.

The problem is that this feels like a waste of time. The currency you use on getting these bond rings can also be spent to improve your relationship points with the important rings, which in turn means more skills and abilities. You can technically bond rings of lower ranks to get a higher-level ring, but it requires an absurd level of investment. I get the idea behind it, but it would work better if the bond rings had more intriguing attributes instead of adding 1-2 points to a stat.

I'm also iffy on the Somniel, which is kind of like the Academy in Three Houses. Between battles, you can go to the Somniel to buy gear or earn temporary stat boosts. It added what felt like a half-hour of busy work between each battle. Unlike the Academy, most of the Somniel is optional. You can run around to min-max a few extra stat points for a hard fight, but nothing you need to do there is very useful except for the arena and rings.

From an immersion perspective, it's neat. You can run around and talk to characters and play minigames. In general, it makes your army feel more coherent. It's also nice that it has far less required work than the Academy, so you can hop into the next battle if you feel like it. The downside is that it feels tacked-on. Yeah, it's a neat feature and all, but it effectively makes it a menu with loading times.

Fire Emblem Engage is the best-looking Fire Emblem to date. The graphics are a big step up from Three Houses, with brightly colored and well-animated character models. The weapons also have a pleasant impact, and combat scenes feel snappy. There are a few times when it got a touch laggy on huge maps, but it didn't really stand out. The audio is a delight. The music is fantastic, and the voice acting does a masterful job of fleshing out the thin characters. Several characters are carried almost exclusively by their voice performances, and I ended up choosing some characters for my final lineup because I liked how they read their lines.

Fire Emblem Engage is a mix of steps forward and back. On a gameplay level, it's pretty much the absolute best the franchise has ever been, with excellent level design, great new gimmicks and features, and a customization system that offers a ton of depth. The storyline feels too much like standard Fire Emblem to stand out, and the side content that isn't focused on combat feels tacked-on. It's still a delightful game to play, and despite my nitpicks, I had a fantastic time. Fire Emblem fans will find a lot to enjoy, even if the story might not be to their tastes.

Score: 8.5/10

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