I’ll fully admit that I got into the Fire Emblem series a bit later than some. I was first brought in via Ike and the Tellius Saga, and have been hooked ever since. When the latest entry was announced and was revealed to be bringing back past characters to fuel the future, I was interested and knew I had to play it. Forty-one hours later, I have completed my quest, and will proudly state in this Fire Emblem Engage Review that it was worth the time…despite some flaws bringing it down a bit.
Game Name: Fire Emblem Engage Platform(s): Nintendo Switch Publisher(s): Nintendo
Developer(s): Intelligent Systems
Release Date: January 20, 2023
By this point, you know the story of the game. You play as the Divine Dragon Alear, who awakens after a 1000-year sleep to battle the Fell Dragon and his minions to save the land of Lythos. To do so, you need to collect the 12 Emblem Rings, and use their power to bolster Alear, and his allies. Those rings represent one Lord or Hero from past titles. From Marth to Byleth, “Everyone is Here!” Sakurai won’t mind me borrowing that line, right?
I want to start with the rings because they are the major gameplay hook here. If you haven’t heard the latest episode of the Nintendo Entertainment Podcast, I’m happy to say that the rings are game changers in the best way. Each Emblem Ring is different in how it works with the characters and the abilities it gives them. For example, Marth’s ring is about evasion, perfect for a character you don’t want to take damage. Micaiah can let any unit use a staff, giving you an extra healer in a pinch. Meanwhile, Leif’s ability to use all weapons makes him perfect for breaking an opponent’s defenses and ensuring you never get caught in a weapons disadvantage.
Who you put the rings on and how or when you use them in battle is paramount to your success or failure throughout each level. I’ve won battles and lost units because of good or poor use of an Emblem Ring. But just as important, they never feel overpowered. You can only use their “special move” once per level. If you use it in the first move of the match, you’ll regret it later. What’s more, after one use (which lasts a few turns), they need to recharge before being reactivated. That level of detail makes them vital parts of the strategy without being an unlimited trump card, which I am grateful for. When you ultimately have all 12 rings in your party? It’s a pretty cool feeling.
As for the story, I’ve seen many reviews citing how this is a more “classic-style tale” within the Fire Emblem series. That’s not inaccurate. Unlike Fates or Three Houses, there is no “branching storyline” or diverging paths you can choose to get a different ending. Like many past titles within the franchise, you have one story arc to follow. But as stated in a previous Nintendo Entertainment Podcast episode, that’s not a bad thing if you do it well. Thankfully, they do. The story has multiple twists that I liked, and the characters were too.
One of the immediate standouts was Alear. Whether you do the male or female version, Alear is not your typical Lord/Hero. Yes, they are a dragon, but they’re unaccustomed to being a leader, a symbol, or a warrior. Their first encounter with monsters makes them want to run away instead of fight. I even likened them to an Isekai protagonist because they’re in a “new world” and are “happy to be there” while also “fighting for their new friends.” It’s unique, and it works, and it makes their rise to being a fully-fledged hero very rewarding.
It also helps that we have a unique cast of characters that you can connect with. Some of my favorites included Edie, Jade, Timerra, Diamant, Timerra, Chloe, and Yunaka. It was fun seeing them interact with both Alear and each other. Plus, it was a blast to learn which of them to put in my “best team” and find strategies to use them with.
I also want to give props to how they used the Emblems as characters. In certain cutscenes and their Paralogue chapters, we get to see the Emblems act as they have in their own titles. Marth is kind and optimistic, Sigurd is wise and understands the feelings of others, Lyn is confident and wants to help everyone, etc. It would’ve been easy to make them “cookie cutter versions” of their “true selves,” but instead, they made them a true part of the team’s family.
Where shall we go next? Oh, the visuals? Well, they are a vital part of this Fire Emblem Engage Review, so why not? As stated by many gamers from the first trailer, the game takes a bold and more stylized approach than the past Fire Emblem games. You can see it in how the characters look in both animations within a battle and the cutscenes. When they do their big cinematic pieces, the scenes look near-flawless and shine even in handheld mode on the Switch. I honestly can say I didn’t have a framerate issue or a pixelation issue within the game throughout my 40+ hour experience.
You can also tell that they put a lot of extra effort into the little details in how the characters look and how they are animated. Many past game models skimped on one or the other, but here, both are given their due. The critical hit animations are fun to watch, the transformations/summonings of the Emblems are incredible, and even the little “reveal” animations when you select a character are fun. Sometimes, the little things can carry a game forward, which showed here. As I’ll explain later, not everything worked visually, but it was a mostly flawless visual experience, and some of the cutscenes were indeed something to behold.
I can’t help but praise the level design in this title. Between the main story and the paralogues, each map feels unique. It’s not as varied in goals as past titles, but it makes up for it by having levels that you have to think several moves ahead to clear with all your units intact. I played on the standard difficulty and am an experienced player in this series, and yet some levels took me anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to complete. I didn’t mind that one bit! Oh, and one time? During a paralogue chapter? A boss made a bad move and rushed out to me, so I beat the level in 3 minutes flat…it was funny.
The enemies also scale pretty well as you make it through the 26-chapter main campaign. Paralogues don’t count in that. By the end boss fight with Sombron, I thought I could easily mow through enemies, but I was wrong. I still had to strategically gang up on enemies to whittle them down while also ensuring my healers were doing their job. But it was never a chore. Even in the most challenging levels where I thought, “How am I supposed to beat this boss?” I could pull through after thinking things through and taking it one move at a time.
They also figured out a way to increase the challenge by having the main boss characters have multiple lives, not unlike the monsters in Three Houses. So you REALLY have to trust your strategy and your units to make it through.
Another thing I want to praise is the “little details” that helped make the game stand out to me. I already talked about the visual details, but those weren’t the only impressive elements. The Somniel is a place where you can easily lose 20-30 minutes a pop talking to everyone, collecting items, and more. Plus, there are things like the Arena where you can do battles for experience and build up support between units if they’re compatible. There’s also the “Ally Notebook,” which, to my knowledge, is a new feature, and they make every character feel like a storybook character, complete with history, likes, dislikes, and more.
When you cook a meal, it’s never guaranteed to turn out how you think, even if they’re “skilled” in making it. There are also fun mini-games, such as wyvern riding, fishing, and a tower to do special battles if you have the time. There’s even an online co-op feature, a first for the franchise! Even with the Emblems, they ensure their abilities and weapons are tied to their histories within past titles. The dev team clearly put a lot of effort into squeezing every possible detail into the title to make it feel robust and memorable.
Before I get to the negative parts of the review, I want to give a shoutout to the voice-acting crew for the game. It was only in recent entries (starting with Shadows of Valentia) that full voice acting was brought to the franchise. Three Houses expanded upon that, and Fire Emblem Engage carried that torch. They not only brought in heavy hitters (including the voice of Deku from My Hero Academia!) but also the voice actors who voiced the Emblems in their true forms from Fire Emblem Heroes. That consistency will no doubt resonate with players of both titles (such as myself), but the performances indeed are top-notch.
And now, it’s time for things to get a little…critique-y. Because while my Fire Emblem Engage Review will end with a positive score, it won’t tie my score for the past mainline entry.
I’ll start with the story on this one. While the classic-style storyline was fine, I felt it played into the franchise’s tropes a bit too much, including a key twist with Alear that was straight out of Awakening. Last chance to avoid major spoilers!
It turns out that Alear is the son/daughter of Sombron, and they were “blessed” by their new mother to be the next Divine Dragon. Naturally, they reject their father and team up to bring them down. You could see this twist coming, and while they did make it worth it overall (including explaining their multi-color hair and eyes as a result), it still felt like tread upon ground. That brings me to the Emblems. While gameplay-wise, they were magnificent, and in the Paralogues and certain cutscenes, we got to see them in full glory…that doesn’t apply to the support conversations.
Instead, you get two-sentence conversations that feel really disjointed, especially when it’s between two characters who likely have more to say with one another, or it feels like the conversation is at a cliffhanger. Yes, they do better in the paralogues, but it stands out.
Going to the Somniel, while I enjoyed much of my time there, it wasn’t without flaws. The “Trials Tower” was a function I barely tried, and I never felt compelled to do so after my first attempt. The Tempest Trials felt unnecessary and not worth the rewards that we got. Plus, I never needed those rewards to power up my characters to win the game. Furthermore, certain features eventually became superfluous or repetitive over time. For example, early in the game, you play a “gacha” minigame to get “Bond Rings.” These “lesser rings” can give your characters small stat boosts. At first, I liked getting it to see who I could get. But by the time I got most of the Emblem Rings, it was better to use the Bond Fragments to boost the Emblem Rings versus getting the other rings. You can actually hurt yourself by doing more Bond Rings than boosting the main ones, and that can hurt you later on.
Also, going around the battlefields after a fight or all over the Somniel to get the same items can be tedious, especially when the characters often say the same things repeatedly unless it’s a specific dialogue tied to a level. Even then, not all of them get new dialogue, which also stood out because some of them really should have. Speaking of the characters, the game falls into the trap of introducing many new characters in a short time span. I sometimes just got three new characters, and then in the next level got three more! It made it hard to give each a “thorough test,” and it was annoying when it kept happening.
Finally, the visuals. Yes, I praised the visuals, and I stand by that. Not unlike a certain 9th Generation of Pokemon title I reviewed, there are some flaws I can’t believe made it past testing. Specifically, at times the character models clip through themselves in the most visible way possible. One time, Marth’s cheek clipped through his collar, and it was during a prominent cutscene! Multiple long-haired characters had their lochs going through their clothes, and you can’t help but think, “How did they not catch that?”
Along those lines, you can tell when the cutscenes aren’t framed the best, and they often rely on still images instead of doing animated scenes when setting up a shot.
All that being said, I do want to reiterate that I loved this game. It was fun writing this Fire Emblem Engage Review and thinking of everything I enjoyed, and I didn’t get to touch on everything! This title represents everything great about the franchise and possibly teases its future of it, whether it be by DLC or the next mainline entry. With a fun story, great characters, addicting gameplay, and stylish visuals, you should absolutely try this game regardless of whether you’re a longtime fan or a new one.
Fire Emblem Engage Review
Fire Emblem Engage brings a lot to the table to entertain fans of past games while also welcoming new fans. Not everything works, and some things do fall flat, but overall, it’s a lot of fun.