Fire Emblem Engage Review
Now that Fire Emblem Engage is on the cusp of being launched, I can finally give you my review of the game. You can check the preview here for the game’s early hours. Now let’s take an in-depth look at Fire Emblem Engage.
After a climactic battle against the Fell Dragon, Alear, the divine dragon awakens 1000 years later with no memory of what happened. Meanwhile, something else has awakened in the form of the corrupted, violent creatures that only know how to kill. If the Fell Dragon has returned, then Alear will need to collect the powerful Emblem Rings. These rings house Emblems from other worlds, taking the form of heroes from past Fire Emblem games, fighting alongside the new heroes.
Alear the divine dragon will travel around the world to gather up and awaken the Emblem rings and unite the nations against the old and deadly threat of the Fell Dragon. Engage feels like an old fantasy adventure road trip as your group travels across the kingdoms, making new friends and collecting more Rings. The chapters lead up to some really big moments. You’ll likely guess some twists hours before they pay off, but they managed to sneak some past me. Even when I had an inkling of what was coming up, it was a joy to experience with the growing team and see how the story tackles these character moments.
The overall story can swing wildly in tone. It can be presented as quite serious, but occasional swings into humour exist. It was also interesting to see how characters interact with Alear, as they associate you with being an eternally slumbering divine being that they would visit and talk to. It’s then there’s after Alear awakens, and everyone still reveres you even though you can’t remember a thing.
There are plenty of different types of characters that will join your group. Most become available as the story unfolds, and you’ll need to recruit a few in the field. Once you’ve got a unit onto Team Divine Dragon, you can build your support ranks. This not only helps out on the field but also unlocks support conversations back at the home base. This fleshes out the many backstories and gives some extra personality to the characters. I’m always a fan of seeing how the more clashing personalities talk and open up to their comrades.
You can build up support in the usual ways, fighting alongside and aiding your allies, presenting gifts or sitting down and sharing a meal. In the Somniel Cafe, you can share a meal with two of your units. This helps you build up your support ranking between all three characters. It’s better if you can select a meal both of the other units enjoy, but then you also need the ingredients and hope that luck has given you a good cook. Each day on Somniel, a different character will be the cook for the Cafe, each varying in skill, determining the quality of the meal and the temporary buffs the food provides.
The story is centred around the quest to collect the Emblem Rings, not only to awaken their power but to use it to stop the Fell Dragon. The hook is that each Emblem Ring represents a character from past Fire Emblem games. Starting with Marth, you’ll see several familiar faces if you’ve been playing since the 3DS days. There are 12 Emblems going back far into Fire Emblem history, but it never impacts the story if you don’t know who someone is. The Paralogues are also available if you would like to see them talk about the world they came from; also the benefits for completing them helps too.
After the Three Houses offering multiple schoolhouses and diverging story paths, Engage sticks to one main path as your heroic journey takes you across the land. By the time I cleared the story, I was looking at well over 40 hours of game time, and that way by doing minimal side content such as the Paralogues (side quests) and skirmishes. As you move across the continent, you’ll unlock the Paralogues mentioned above as offshoots from the main path. They’re worth checking out, the first one especially. The majority also serve as nods to the Emblems and the games they came from. An Emblem will challenge you to best them in combat, offering an increased Emblem Bond maximum level for your efforts.
When you’re not in a battle, the Somniel is the Divine Dragon’s sky island castle and home base for this game. Between chapters, you can walk around, hear what the other characters have to say, build on support levels and play the odd mini-game and collect resources. You can fish, do workouts, and there’s even a mini on-rails Wyvern riding game that has you shooting at as many floating targets as possible. You even have a farm where you can have your bunny and camel living together in harmony as all the different animals leave you with a variety of resources.
It’s a nice feeling to have the Somniel to walk around and see the team having their downtime as you prepare for the next chapter. It does take a few hours to get much extra happening in the Somniel, with some areas barren except for the sparkle of an item to collect. There is, fortunately, a dash to move about faster and even a fast travel option to get you around the island. By the 30-40 hour mark, it does wear thin, feeling more of a chore to collect resources and do the mini-games. Although outside of the review process, I may not feel so worn out running around the castle as I need to complete the story.
The adventure will see you travel across the different kingdoms to unite them. As you tackle each region, you’ll find your motley crew fast becoming an army. As always, with Fire Emblem there is a delicate balance of levelling up units you want to keep with you and having the new fancy powerful units. Unless you intend on endlessly completing skirmishes and training, you’ll struggle to have a wide team at a viable level. Let me be clear that at no point did I feel the game left me under-levelled. I wish I could’ve brought more of my favourite characters along into battles, especially to work on those support ranks and have been able to see more of their interactions. In Somniel, there is the opportunity to also give characters some extra EXP through the Arena. Here your chosen unit will auto-battle with a randomly chosen unit. You’ll get some EXP and some extra support points with your sparring partner.
Those expecting a further change to the series, like Three Houses may feel a little let down here. Battalions are gone, weapon durability is limited to staff usage, and tomes are needed to cast magic. There is no doubt plenty of changes that you’ll notice since the previous game, which isn’t unusual for a Fire Emblem game, either.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses added the time rewind mechanic when a battle doesn’t turn out the way you hoped, and it’s here in Engage too. This is especially in some of the later chapters where one wrong move could completely destroy over half an hour.
If you choose to turn off perma-death, any fallen allies will be available in the next chapter and ready to fight again. You can even turn on the auto-battle for your turn, leaving it up to the game to decide your fate. If you miss permadeath and want your strategy games to be brutal, you can still have that here. Any options that help make the game more manageable should be welcomed and definitely helped keep me motivated through the whole game. That’s not to say the game will be a cakewalk, far from it. If you don’t keep your team up to scratch, you’ll hit chapters where the boss units will wipe the floor with you. No amount of auto-battle will help if you don’t try to keep your team well-armed and up to a reasonable level. Chapters will give you a recommendation of what level your units should be at.
The new Engage system powered by the Emblem Rings can allow you to mix it up with your team. None of the rings are bound to one character, if you want to build up a bond with that Emblem and inherit some useful skills, you can just equip it to who you want. While you might find it easy to keep the ring with the unit it starts with, the game finds a way to mix things up.
Visually Engage looks excellent a lot of the time. Like with Three Houses, the characters have a 3D anime appearance, which works well. All the characters you’ll have join up along the way are all visually distinct in their own ways, and Alear’s Blue and Red colour scheme pops on the OLED screen if you have one. Locations don’t stand out so much as you won’t be looking at them close up in a 3D space often, and from a battlefield view, the majority of locations feel unique.
To go with the flashy anime-style scenes is the music; once the Fire Emblem Engage theme song hits your ears, it grabs you right away. It’s cheesy, and I never got tired of it. Even the instrumental version popping up in a chapter is enough to pump up the story. All of the characters are voice acted, and outside of post-battlefield chats and dialogue bubbles on Somniel, you’ll be hearing them say everything. I played with the English voices and found they all worked well, with a handful of lines of dialogue that don’t land well.
If you need a break from the story, skirmishes and training, then you can take on the Tower of Trials. Here you’ll find the Tempest Trial, Relay Trials and Outrealm Trials. The Tempest Trial is consecutive battles which offer a bigger payoff and exp if you can get your team through multiple battles. This one isn’t multiplayer, but it does offer a different challenge than the other non-story fights.
You might notice in the game that you’re collecting Relay Tickets, these are used with the Relay Trials. This is a Co-op relay battle where multiple players will take several turns of a battle before it is handed over for someone else to pick up. You can start your relay or pick up someone else’s, either through a code someone has offered or a random relay already in progress. I didn’t spend much time here, but it is an interesting mode. I felt weird being responsible for finishing a battle, a very sudden and heavy burden, as you have a set amount of turns to win, and you don’t want to get everyone wiped out either. I imagine it would be a fun puzzle for players to jump into a relay and see if they can help bring it back from the brink of ruin.
It’s hard not to think of Mortal Kombat every time I see the Outrealm Trials. This mode is PVP and allows you to make maps to fight across. I didn’t spend much time with the map maker, although it felt robust enough to allow you to build a good arena.
If you haven’t noticed the restock of the Fire Emblem Amiibos, there is a good reason for that, as they work with Engage in the Amiibo Gazebo. The Fire Emblem amiibo will provide you with tickets for purchasing music and outfits from other games. It’s a neat extra feature if you already have the figures. You probably shouldn’t buy them for anything other than completing your amiibo collection. If you scan other amiibo, you can get more relay tickets or other resources, which is alright, but chances are slim you’ll do it daily.
I do expect Engage to be polarising, especially after the last few entries in the series. Fire Emblem Fates was split across three games, Three Houses, with the three (four with the expansion) diverging story paths and even the Fire Emblem Echoes remake differs from the usual games in the series. Engage feels like a celebration of Fire Emblem as a series or Doctor Who episode where multiple incarnations of The Doctor work together to save the day. Long-term fans will likely know the backstory behind each of the heroes, no matter how long it’s been since their game has easily been available. There are plenty of faces for more recent fans, and this game might introduce people to those games.
Fire Emblem Engage is an adventure I wanted to keep going, with characters you want to get to know even while the land is becoming mired in war. Engage feels like a celebration of the series’ past combined with a whole new story. I recommend Fire Emblem to fans and anyone who likes a good strategy RPG.
+Celebration of Fire Emblem
+A fantasy adventure road trip where you want to keep going
-Running around the Somniel loses its fun 40 hours in
-Expectation players will know the older FE heroes