Fire Emblem Engage Review: Rebuilding the Foundations

Three days ago, Nintendo and Intelligent System released the seventeenth entry in their ever popular Fire Emblem franchise: Fire Emblem Engage. I had fallen off of Fire Emblem years ago as my interest in the franchise began to wane with the release of games like Three Houses, however something about Engage grabbed my interest so I decided to give the franchise one last shot.

I can’t particularly figure out what grabbed my interest. Perhaps it was the fabulous character designs by Mika Pikazo? Maybe it was because I thought the idea of monks punching book wielding mages was funny? Regardless of the reason, I pre-ordered the game and began to play it on release day. Also, since the game is less than a week old, I’m not going to be evil and throw random spoilers into the middle of this review. I’m solely looking at the gameplay of the game, so feel free to read if you haven’t bought the game yet or are just starting it.

Because this is going to be a spoiler free review released the same week of the game, let’s start things off by going over the most important part of a Fire Emblem game to me: gameplay. This is also the area where Fire Emblem Engage shines the best. I shall first clarify that I played the game on the normal difficulty setting and on Casual Mode. If this bothers you, please keep in mind that it is the year 2023, and no one cares about debating the merits of classic vs. casual mode anymore.

This game offers up so much experimentation with your units and their functions in battle. Immediately you are given a unit who seems like a typical Fire Emblem healer, but because they are the new Martial Monk class not only can they use staves to heal units they can also run up to enemies and punch them. I was able to turn this healer into one of my best early game offensive units, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg with this game’s diverse units.

Speaking of monks, their position on the new weapon triangle does wonders for this game’s maps. In the past few Fire Emblem games, magic users have been vastly overpowered. Now, though, not only are they weak to fist wielding units like monks, but once they get punched, the game’s new break mechanic will take effect. In addition Monks also have a drawback to balance them as armored units take no damage at all from monks. It’s almost as if you’re trying to punch steel armore with your fists.

Now you may have noticed I just mentioned a new “Break” mechanic, so let’s explain that. When a unit gets attacked by a weapon they’re weak to on the weapon triangle, they’ll enter a broken state for the duration of the enemy phase. When in this state, the unit will be completely unable to counterattack. This mechanic strikes fear into my heart and forces me to think more about my unit positions than I have in a long time. Thankfully, enemies aren’t the only ones with access to this mechanic as you can break them too so your units can keep whaling on an enemy with large HP without consequence.

With the basics of the gameplay out of the way, let’s transition into the game’s major gimmick: the Emblem Rings. This is the main mechanic that the game was marketed on; the ability to summon lords from the past Fire Emblem games. Pre-release I was very wary of this mechanic as it seemed like a way to squeeze nostalgia out of fans by making previous characters units, a concept that has lost all novelty in a world where Fire Emblem Heroes exists. Thankfully, though, the mechanic won me over in execution.

These past characters are treated less as units and more as pieces of equipment that any unit can use. The Emblem Rings can be activated for three turns in a map before they must be recharged. Each Emblem Ring has passive effects when activated, as well as an active skill that you can select and use. These vary from ring to ring and add a great amount of strategy to maps.

Having access to Celica’s ring which allows you to warp around or Micaiah’s ring which allows any unit to use staves are amazing gameplay mechanics and add a whole new layer to this game’s maps, especially when enemies begin to use them as well and you need to devise strategies to plan around the Emblem Rings. My personal favorite ring to use was Lyn’s, which could create clones of your character with 1HP. Not only could these clones help out with chain attacks, but they were an extra target for enemies, allowing you to hopefully survive an extra turn.

I personally would use Emblem Rings to make up for the weaknesses of certain units as opposed to increasing a unit’s expected capabilities. Sure, putting Roy’s ring, which guarantees a unit survives with 1HP when receiving a fatal blow, is a good strategy, but I preferred to put him on more fragile units like my dancer as a safety precaution. The very fact that there are multiple ways to use these things puts this game leagues above games like Awakening in terms of planning your turn.

The first few chapters of the game didn’t give me a good first impression as they were mostly tutorial, but as this section of the game went on I quickly realized that they were giving me access to almost every class I expect from a Fire Emblem game and everything those classes could do. Then, as I hit the seventh chapter of the game, it took the tutorial gloves off and began to give me amazing and challenging map design. The only thing I have to bemoan about the game’s design is that it lacks any endurance maps where you need to survive a certain amount of turns.

This is one of the best designed Fire Emblem games in years, and I think it comes down entirely to the map design as well as how much experimentation the game allows with your units. The world of variety opened by Emblem Rings, as well as the challenging maps, makes me very eager to watch how other players strategize and how their way of playing differs from my own.

Speaking of those maps, the music that plays on them is to die for. Fire Emblem Engage has a huge soundtrack of original tracks as well as remixes of older Fire Emblem songs. All of these remixes are absolutely fantastic, and some of them left me stunned. The game’s composers gave their A game for this title.

Now let’s talk about what is likely to be the most debated part of this game for years, while the actual strategy gameplay is some of the best we’ve had in years, the rest of the game is very back to basics for Fire Emblem. Over the past few entries Fire Emblem has taken influence from other game franchises like Persona and began putting a lot of focus on mechanics like supports or Three Houses’ entire school.

Engage has decided to reel these mechanics back a fair bit. Supports now have significantly less focus on pairing units together to marry them. There’s still plenty of support conversations in the game, but they’re more a backburner thing as opposed to a major mechanic. While I am disappointed that S supports and marriage are no longer a thing, I am satisfied with the supports the game does have.

While the game does have a home base to walk around in between battles like Three Houses Monastery, it is much less of a time sink and distraction than the Monastery. There is no teaching students here or a requirement to talk to every single unit you have. Instead, you have just a few shops, some exercise minigames, fishing, and a few other mechanics.

None of these mechanics take a long time to do. At most, they’ll take a minute, and most importantly, they have immediate effects on gameplay that make them feel like more than a distraction. Exercising increases your stats for the next stage. Cooking increases your support level with two of your units, the arena gives you EXP, and I could go on. Everything here has an actual, tangible effect on the game in a way that I think is executed much better than Three Houses’ Monastery.

Though there is one mechanic here that feels completely superfluous and unnecessary, the Ring Room. In this room, you can spend the bond points you earn in each battle to essentially gacha for lesser rings that have only minor passive skills. The game never directs you too this room so by the time I saw it halfway through the game it was completely worthless to me because why would I equip any of these lesser rings when I have the actual Emblem Rings to equip to most units I deploy. The only time I can see this mechanic being useful is in the early game, but even then you’re unlikely to have a lot of bond points to gacha for these rings so all in all it feels like a useless mechanic that stands out like a sore thumb compared to other rooms in your base.

Another thing I would like to praise about this game’s home base is the alternate outfits your characters wear here. There is an actual wide variety of costumes you can dress your units in as they walk around here. Most games would make stuff like this DLC. Heck, Three Houses did make that sort of thing DLC. It’s nice to see a modern game actually have costumes as a feature, I just wish I could wear them into battle.

Now, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room, the game’s plot. As I said in the beginning, this is a spoiler free review, and as such, I won’t discuss any plot details. However, I do feel the need to give you a warning of what to expect from the plot. This is nothing complex like Three Houses, Path of Radiance, or even Fire Emblem Awakening. Like supports and your home base, the franchise has decided to go back to basics with the plot. We’re once again on a quest to slay an evil dragon and run into misfits who join our army along the way. The entire plot feels like it was pulled straight out of a GBA era Fire Emblem game.

Straight out of the GBA era is how I would describe a lot of this game. Not only do we have much simpler characters and supports, but we’ve also got a lot of complex and quick battle animations that feel straight out of an anime. Map design also loves to call upon a lot of wyvern riders mid-battle like those games. As someone whose favorite era of Fire Emblem was the GBA era, I felt right at home with Engage.

Overall, I think Fire Emblem Engage was the breath of fresh air the franchise needed. Revitalizing the classic combat while taking every modern mechanic back to basics and focusing on giving players as much freedom in their strategy as possible was all the right ingredients for an amazing Fire Emblem game. It’s hard to guess what the future of Fire Emblem is after such a drastic change, but if it’s anything like this, I greatly look forward to it!

1 thought on “Fire Emblem Engage Review: Rebuilding the Foundations”

  1. I’d say balancing/alternating the two strains of Fire Emblem (story/social sim focused with light strategy flavour and the more strategy heavy flavour) would probably be the best way forward.

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