Fire Emblem Engage: Your Mileage May Vary

Nik Chrissanthos, Assistant Arts & Entertaintment Editor

This review will contain spoilers for Fire Emblem Engage, as well as Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War.

The Fire Emblem series is on a bit of a high right now. Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the most recent game in the main series, broke series sales records with over 3.5 million copies sold worldwide. The mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes has grossed over a billion dollars and is now in its sixth year of support. Both of which inform the recent release of the newest mainline game, Fire Emblem Engage. With an influx of new series fans, Fire Emblem Engage seems to be catering to this crowd (especially those brought in through Fire Emblem Heroes). Disclaimer, to finish the game for this review in a somewhat reasonable amount of time, I played the game on Normal mode. So when gameplay is discussed, bear that in mind.

The story centers on Alear (who is either male or female based on the player’s choice), a Divine Dragon in the world of Ilyos. A thousand years ago, Alear fought in a war against the Fell Dragon Sombron alongside the Emblems, manifestations of past Fire Emblem protagonists. After the war ended, Alear was put to sleep for a thousand years. When they awake, Alear is thrust into a conflict with the Kingdom of Elusia who seeks to bring back the Fell Dragon. The story, while not without its moments, I found to be weak compared to other entries in the series. Fans of past entries will recognize familiar plot threads from the past basically taken wholesale with little to no variation. Take the Fell Dragon for example. While unique in design and personality, that doesn’t change the fact that he is somewhat derivative of Fire Emblem Awakening’s main antagonist, the Fell Dragon Grima. Grima was also defeated a thousand years ago, and is also revealed to be related to one of the protagonists. Robin is a sort of reincarnation of Grima, and Sombron is Alear’s father. Some of the highlights for me personally come from the Emblems, protagonists from series past. Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War’s Sigurd especially has a surprisingly major role in the story, despite his game never having been released outside of Japan. When he comforts Alear shortly after their mom dies, reminiscing on his own death and leaving behind his infant son, I thought it was a sweet little moment.

It also helps that the game’s story is fully voiced, including the Emblems. And while the voice direction is noticeably not on par with Three Houses which had a good cast with mostly good performances, Engage falls a bit short. This is probably due to the characters (for the most part) not being as complex in terms of personality. Engage’s characters can be effectively summarized in a sentence, like “Oh that’s the big dude who’s actually a big softie,” and “That’s the rich noble who likes to spoil her friends with gifts.” Your mileage with these tropes may vary. For me personally, I found most of the thirty six playable characters to be totally fine, and a small handful to be completely insufferable. But again I’ll reiterate, your mileage may vary depending on what kinds of characters you like.

And on the subject of polarizing, let’s talk about the presentation. The art style, with character designs drawn by Mika Pikazo (an artist who typically draws avatars for V-tubers), is a bit hit or miss for me. Some character designs I really enjoy, and some I thoroughly don’t enjoy. I totally get the appeal of some of the more bold design choices, but overall it just wasn’t too appealing to me in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, the rest of the presentation is a stellar improvement over Three Houses. The environments look nice, unlike the sometimes flat and drab environments of Three Houses. The combat animations are a nice mix of realistic and flashy when they need to be, taking inspiration from the franchise’s animations on the GameBoy Advance. The user interface is also drastically streamlined, with all relevant stats, skills, and other information present when necessary. Being able to see exactly where certain skills will benefit you is exceedingly helpful.

But where I think this game really shines is the gameplay, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The game has most of the series staples present and accounted for, the Sword, Lance, and Axe Rock Paper Scissors style weapon triangle is back with a twist. If you have advantage on the weapon triangle you can Break an enemy and knock their weapons out of their hands until their next action. This is helpful for safely attacking enemies with weaker units. There are also Smash weapons, which are powerful and knock back enemies at the cost of being able to attack twice. This was really helpful for slower units who likely wouldn’t be attacking twice anyways, while also breaking enemy formations. Fist weapons return from Three Houses, and have an advantage against bows, magic tomes, and staff users. It seems overpowered, but in practice it was barely an issue as those are units that typically don’t see the front lines.

The branching class trees have been majorly overhauled, equal parts simplified and diversified. Previously, classes could only wield certain weapons, with some exceptions. But in Engage, most classes have multiple options for wielding different weapon types. Take for example the Hero class. Traditionally Heroes only wield Swords and Axes, but in Engage a variant of the Hero class wields Swords and Lances. This is a great addition that helps the player further personalize their units, in addition to the return of mechanics to change your unit’s class completely. Each class also has an attribute that affects gameplay. Some of which are simple, such as units with mounts or heavy armor having certain strengths but also being weak to certain weapons. But there is also a “Backup” unit, which allows said unit to do a Chain Attack when an ally initiates combat to deal some additional damage. A “Covert” unit doubles terrain bonuses. A “Qi Adept” can use Chain Guard to take damage for allies. It grants each class extra utility in a generally helpful way.

The Emblems also play an essential role in gameplay. Each unit can equip one Emblem ring, and they grant some slight stat increases, proficiency in different weapons for changing classes, as well as powerful skills which can be inherited by playable units to use them without the corresponding ring. Units can also “Engage” with the rings to change forms and gain access to more skills and powerful special moves based on the Emblems themselves. Some are based on utility like Micaiah’s mass healing and Byleth’s ability to allow multiple units to act again, and the rest are powerful attacks. The Emblem’s skills are essential, especially for higher difficulties from what I can tell. There are also Bond Rings, which while being significantly weaker than Emblems, grant stat boosts and even unique skills. They also correspond to characters from the series, but aren’t fully realized Emblems, using art and portraits from their respective games to represent them akin to the Einherjar from Fire Emblem Awakening.

The map design is pretty standard for the series, with the usual assortment of gimmicks such as fog of war and differing map objectives like escape and defense maps. Some gimmicks are more intrusive than others, especially in the last couple chapters such as climbing up a mountain within a time limit and having to deal with avalanches that send you to the bottom of the map. But for my normal mode play through, I managed to get through it with moderate resistance.

Outside of battle, you return to a home base of sorts called the Somniel. There you can refresh weapons and supplies, bond with allies and Emblems through the series staple support conversations, and partake in a few minigames like fight in the arena, going fishing, and exercising to boost stats for a limited time. The Somniel obviously takes inspiration from Fire Emblem Fate’s My Castle and especially Three House’s Gareg Mach Monastery. But despite being drastically smaller and more traversable than the latter, I got bored of running around it pretty quickly. I stuck to the plaza where all the shops were, the arena for training, and the Ring Chamber to work with the Emblems. The character dialogue wasn’t even that interesting to read, unlike Three Houses where characters had much more to say about what was going on which better warrants seeking them out to talk to.

To conclude, all I can really say about Fire Emblem Engage is try it for yourself. It is very polarizing, with some aspects I really enjoyed and some I couldn’t stand. That being said, I’m still interested to play through the game again on higher difficulties because I enjoyed the gameplay, and being unburdened with expectations of the story will make me feel less guilty about skipping it to get to what I really enjoy. There is also a Season Pass available (with content available at launch which is a whole other can of worms we don’t have time to get into here) with more Emblems to acquire and a side story to cap it off. If it looks good to you, by all means go for it. If you’re on the fence, perhaps wait for a sale before picking it up. Your mileage with Fire Emblem Engage may vary.