Fire Emblem Engage feels like a love letter to loyal fans of the series, providing pangs of nostalgia with recognisable characters, as well as an even deeper combat system that builds upon already solid foundations. Engage isn’t the best entry point into the series, and is rather shallow in terms of story and character development, but the combat is enjoyable enough alone to keep players engrossed until the end.
- Emblem Rings adds new tactical layer to combat
- Great fan service through classic Fire Emblem heroes
- Cuts straight to the action, with less padding
- Optional Permadeath setting offers good accessibility
- Could be initmidating for series newcomers
- Little focus on characters
- Simple story
- Platforms:Nintendo Switch
- Release date:20th January 2023
- Genre:Turn-based tactical RPG
Recent entries to the Fire Emblem series have seemingly been designed with newcomers in mind, with a gentle difficulty curb and more emphasis on the story rather than further complicating the strategy-based combat system.
Fire Emblem Engage takes a different approach. It retains the same grid-based RPG gameplay as before, but also raises the difficulty level by adding an extra tactical element on top in the form of the Emblem Rings.
Engage also sees the return of several fan-favourite characters from the franchise, from Marth who made his debut in 1990’s original, to Byleth who starred in 2019’s Three Houses. Such characters may not have a huge impact on the story itself, but it’s still great to see one of the biggest Fire Emblem ensembles in the series’ history.
As a result, Engage feels like an ode to long-term Fire Emblem loyalists with spades of fan service. It’s still a rewarding game for series newbies too, although previous instalments such as Warriors and Three Houses offer less intimidating onboarding.
- Simple story compared to previous entries
- Lots of nostalgia with classic Fire Emblem heroes
- Only a few characters get much screen time in cutscenes
Fire Emblem Engage has a simple story. Main protagonist, Alear, wakes from a thousand-year slumber and is immediately ushered into war to save the continent of Elyos.
It soon becomes clear that collecting all 12 Emblem Rings is essential for victory, and so ensues a tug of war between Alear and new villain Sombron.
Both characters are able to use the rings to summon the spiritual forms of classic Fire Emblem heroes, including the likes of Marth, Byleth, Roy, Ike and plenty more. Not only do these provide a welcome jolt of nostalgia, but also provide the ring’s wearer with immense power.
Aside from a couple of surprise character revelations along the way, there really isn’t much more depth to the story. That’s not to say there aren’t countless cutscenes to sit through, but they’re usually made up of hefty exposition and generic dialogue – you won’t miss much by hitting the skip button.
You’ll encounter various characters along the way to broaden your army, but the vast majority of them are unfortunately limited to a couple of cutscenes before being shunted to the background.
As a result, I could count the number of characters I felt a connection to with one hand, which is a great shame compared to the excellent character development and diverse cast of Three Houses.
Fire Emblem Engage prefers to dive headfirst into combat, which may well be good news to those who felt that the previous Fire Emblem instalment had too much padding. But if you want a JRPG with an engrossing story and compelling cast of characters, Engage probably isn’t for you.
- Tactic combat still just as fun as ever
- Emblem Rings makes combat feel even deeper
- Lots of difficulty settings to play around with
Fire Emblem Engage doesn’t stray too far from the series’ iconic combat system, playing out like an elaborate game of chess with a grid-based arena and a great variety of unit and class types.
There’s a captivating rock-paper-scissors system at play here, with spear units weak to axes, axes vulnerable to swords, and swords ineffective against spears. There are numerous other unit types too, including mages, dragon riders, archers, heavy armour and more.
A successful strategy requires you to remember each unit’s strengths and weaknesses, and to pit them against the correct enemy units in order to gain an advantage. I found this out the hard way after seeing my highly levelled dragon rider felled by a single arrow.
This combat blueprint is still so engaging and rewarding that it would likely still be an enjoyable experience if left untouched. And yet, Fire Emblem Engage has deepened the tactics even further by introducing the Emblem Rings.
These rings can be equipped by any character, allowing you to summon powerful allies that should be recognisable if you’re a longtime fan of the series. By doing so, you’ll unlock new abilities and weapons, turning the tables on an enemy that may have otherwise boasted the upperhand.
There’s a fantastic variety of Emblem Ring abilities on offer, such as being able to shoot an arrow at an enemy on the other side of the map, or to charge through a line of grunt while on horseback. The Emblem Rings provide a huge advantage, making early enemy confrontations a cakewalk. But once you start encountering higher level grunts, as well as foes who also wield an Emblem Ring, using these high-powered weapons becomes a necessity rather than a luxury.
With 12 Emblem Rings to collect, it can be very intimidating trying to remember all of the different abilities on offer – I had trouble even 20 hours into the adventure. With Fire Emblem already asking you to remember a great deal of information for combat, this may be a step too far for newcomers, although I can see strategy experts relishing the opportunity to take on a fresh challenge.
Fortunately, Fire Emblem Engage provides a huge level of accessibility via its difficulty tiers. Keeping to an easy or normal difficulty level will provide you with the ability to reverse time an unlimited number of times during battle – make a fatal mistake, and you can just undo a couple of turns rather than restarting the entire battle.
You’re also able to decide whether you want to have Permadeath (aka Permanent Death) activated or not. Enabling it will see you lose a character from your roster if they’re ever killed in battle. It’s extremely punishing and can be frustrating when seeing all the time spent levelling up a character goes down the drain. But I still recommend at least trying out Permadeath, as it provides consequences to your actions, adding more tension to every battle, even if you’re on the verge of victory.
Upgrades and bonding
- Explorable 3D maps feel needless
- Lots of weapons and items to unlock
- Can swap character classes if needed
After each combat encounter in Fire Emblem Engage, you’ll enter a 3D recreation of the map. Here you’ll be able to speak to your squadmates and hunt for items, or even adopt animals for your home base.
I personally feel like these zones are needless, adding very little enjoyment to my playthrough and slowing down the momentum of combat. You are able to quickly skip these areas and head straight into the next battle, but this will see you miss out on valuable resources that are required to upgrade weapons.
Fortunately, your home bases – of which you have the option to enter anytime between missions – offers far more interactive elements. Here, you’re able to stock up on health-replenishing items and purchase new weapons, be it a magic sword or skull-crushing hammer.
You can also increase your bond with other characters that will provide you with stat-boosting buffs in battle. Increasing a support level with a character will treat you to a brief cutscene, although the lack of interactions in the main story make these conversations feel forced. This mechanic worked extremely well in Three Houses, but it misses its mark in Engage.
Every character has their own preassigned class, although I really appreciate having the option to swap to another class whenever I fancy. This allowed me to tweak the balance of units in my squad, especially when numerous units in the same class met an untimely end.
Should you buy it?
You’re already a big Fire Emblem fan:
With lots of fan service and a great focus on combat, Engage clearly caters to players who have been fans of the series for several years.
You’re a newcomer to the series:
I’d recommend playing Three Houses or Awakening first instead if you’ve never played Fire Emblem before, as they have a gentler difficulty curve and are easier to understand.
Fire Emblem Engage is a great entry in the strategy series, with a specific focus on pleasing long-term series loyalists thanks to the classic Fire Emblem heroes, as well as a more nuanced combat system.
Newcomers to the series may well be intimidated by the added combat mechanics, while the story and cast of characters lacks the same level of depth as seen in Three Houses. But thanks to the excellent variety of difficulty levels and features, this is still a fantastic option for those craving a turn-based RPG.
How we test
We play every game we review through to the end, outside of certain exceptions where getting 100% completion, like Skyrim, is close to impossible to do. When we don’t fully finish a game before reviewing it we will always alert the reader.
Tested on Nintendo Switch OLED
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Fire Emblem Engage is a turn-based tactical RPG.