Fire Emblem Engage is loud. It’s got popcorn pop-art high-contrast character designs with niche archetypes and bold voice acting carrying a rote story through to its end. It’s also got some of the best tactical combat in the series to date. Yet, for some reason, it feels like there’s something missing.
It’s not obvious to me why I feel like this, so maybe we should go on a bit of a walk to try and see the wood for the trees. At the end of the day, it’s great fun, gorgeous to look at, and pretty nicely polished. But there’s a hole somewhere right in the centre.
After my first ten hours, I decided that Fire Emblem Engage is like a wedding cake. It’s the height of luxury, tasting familiar and sugary sweet. I was ready to chow down and pack on the pounds. Now I feel a little unwell, the sugar rush dying down.
What I mean is, Fire Emblem Engage is a confident, somewhat nonexperimental entry for the series, and its opening hours shine because of this. The fundamental mechanical tweaks are welcome and excellently tuned, leading to some of the tensest and trickiest battles I’ve experienced in the series to date.
With Fire Emblem Engage’s tactics, we see a sort of return to traditional FE combat. The weapon triangle is back – sword beats axe beats lance beats sword – while weapon durability is gone. The maps are wide and varied, the Fire Emblem Engage classes list is long and excellently finicky, and it’s all great fun to pick apart.
This leads to many tense battles. You could launch in with a varied and well-leveled party and find impenetrable walls, swathes of darkness, and various contraptions to make use of, before a villainous character one-shots your favourite wyvern rider. This game is tough, and that’s good.
To occasionally give you some overpowered ease, there’s Fire Emblem Engage’s emblem mechanic. Emblems are classic FE heroes – Marth, Corrin, Byleth etc. – who you can pair up with any party member for different abilities, bonuses, and engage attacks.
Engage attacks are particularly entertaining. One may let you fire a flurry of shots miles across the map, another may flood a section while damaging your foes, slowing them down in the process. This helps the battles feel far more dynamic than in previous iterations, as well as adding a good dose of fun in the process, thanks to their overblown animations.
Still, while in theory, you can pair an emblem with whichever character you like for a variety of different playstyles, this doesn’t really come to fruition in the game. Some characters pair well immediately, and the bonuses from increasing the bond between one of the many Fire Emblem Engage characters and an emblem are not something you want to pass by. So, you probably want to pick a pair and stick with it, helping the bond grow.
This leads to certain characters being left behind, too, which means they get a bit lost. Most of your party don’t interact with the story scenes, so without them by your side in battle, they sort of disappear. And this interaction, or rather lack of friction, between characters in gameplay and the story, is where things go a little awry, but we can talk about that a little later.
Alongside your main emblems, there are also bond rings. These are stat-boosting rings with classic FE character art that you get via Fire Emblem Engage’s gacha system. This might ring alarm bells for some, but don’t worry.
The bond rings are easy to acquire by using bond fragments you gain throughout the game just by playing. You choose an emblem, choose how many rings you want to make, and get a bunch at random, all from the game of your chosen hero. If you choose Byleth, for example, you get a load of rings with art from Three Houses. These bond rings can then also be combined together to make stronger rings.
Because Fire Emblem Engage’s rings are only a little bit helpful, and because the currency needed to make them is plentiful, the gacha doesn’t irritate. In fact, it’s quite a nice, chill way to get some bonus items, rather than scrolling through a shop menu and just picking ones to buy.
If you prefer that, shops offer a bevy of different weapons and items to help you on your way. You can also head to the blacksmith to improve any of Fire Emblem Engage’s weapons or go over to the clothes shop to choose different outfits for your team to wear in The Somniel.
Fire Emblem Engage’s Somniel is a hangout space, a floating island that looks like a Disney princess’ Mamma Mia-themed island getaway in Skyros. Everything’s shining white, simply structured, and luxuriously delivered. It’s prettier than the monastery of Three Houses and more fleshed out than anything before that.
Within this floating paradise there are things to do, too. You have Fire Emblem Engage’s arena to hone your and your allies’ skills, a bedroom which serves little purpose, a cafe to eat with your allies, a bunch of shops, an orchard, a fishing pond, an outdoor workout space, a farm full of sheep and dogs and donkeys, and a grotto. There’s even a swimming pool with sun loungers.
The Somniel is beautiful to be in, but it becomes a bit of a post-battle chore after a while. There are items to pick up off the floor, friends to talk to, and a handful of little games: fishing, exercise, and wyvern riding. While hanging out is chill and all, doing all of it isn’t that entertaining.
The fishing minigame is fine, but there’s little in the way of challenge. It’s easier than fishing in Animal Crossing. Exercising is three simple variations on ‘hit the button at the right time, please’ to get mini bonuses in the next battle. And then wyvern riding – a Panzer Dragoon-like – is clunky nonsense. It doesn’t really matter, it’s not why we play these games, but it is a bit odd to have them at all when they’re so limp.
So, unlike Three Houses before it, Engage’s hangout space feels a little less important, though this may not really matter to most (we come to these games for the combat, right?). To compensate Engage makes decisions matter more and helps battles feel more changeable. This adds weight to everything; if you become attached to these characters, you’re going to have to fight hard and smart to not lose anyone (assuming you play in classic mode). But, that hinges on one thing, of course – caring about these characters. And that’s where the game may stumble the most.
A thousand years ago, a war broke out between the people of Elyos and the Fell Dragon. Eventually, with the help of the emblems, they successfully imprisoned the Fell Dragon. But, uh oh, looks like the Fell Dragon may soon be resurrected. Hopefully, a sleeping hero can wake up soon!
So, we have a hero awoken after a thousand-year kip, a big bad enemy in the Fell Dragon and its lackeys, and a job to do. You need to collect up all the emblem rings to have any hope of taking down this villain, so you set off on a quest to hop around the land of Elyos to meet a wide variety of regal families holding these rings in palaces plagued by the Fell Dragons’ corrupted troops.
This classic storytelling device – a mysterious hero who saved the world years ago must do so again against the exact same threat – is in so many videogames, but at first, Engage seems to sidestep this with classic political spiderwebs. There are good folks, bad folks, in-between folks, and a smattering of more complicated things all over.
After the first few chapters, however, Engage sags. The usual process of finding a new place in Elyos, meeting some new characters that have a ring you need and a problem to solve, and completing it all, becomes pretty dull. Then, the characters you meet that join your merry band on the floating Greek island rarely have any backstory. This is fine if they intertwine into the story as it goes, but so many don’t. They’re just strangers with cool clothes.
The cast of characters is so broad it can leave a bit of a hole in the middle. Some textural quality that’s lacking, leading Engage to lose out when compared to Three Houses’ depth. Even if it wins in many other respects, it’s this hole in the middle that leaves me a little empty. It feels a bit soulless.
The overarching narrative does pick back up beyond this poor middle, however. Of course, there’s more story that happens after you’ve collected all the McGuffins, but I can’t talk about it. It’s a shame, considering it’s an improvement on the first sixteen chapters, but that’s just how it goes.
On the smaller scale, though, are your interactions with the various characters that join your team. Every Fire Emblem game has a roster that people become attached to, and the same goes here. There are a load of characters to meet, either through the story or through paralogue battles, and Fire Emblem Engage’s romance system throws in some extra sauce.
With various conversations, gift-giving, and arm-in-arm battling, you build your bond with your allies. This bond increases and offers new vignettes, revealing more about each of the characters. These conversations can range from trite and meaningless to a decent laugh but rarely go beyond that.
These vignettes are classic Fire Emblem fare, but one thing that differs this time is the returning characters, who you also have chats with, sort of. The emblems’ bond conversations are two lines, one from a party member, and the response from the hero of a previous game. That’s it. Sure, this increases their bond which helps in-game, but the conversation feels so pointless it makes me wonder why it’s there.
And the issue with everything said above is that the conversation will now turn into one about how Fire Emblem Engage is the FE game with a bad story, but it isn’t. It’s a decent story! Fire Emblem Engage’s ending is great! I had fun, liked certain characters, and enjoyed the ride. It’s just a bit less hefty or meaningful, at least to me, and really drags in its middle section.
Still, while there’s a lot to be disappointed in, there’s a lot to love too. And the question that any player needs to ask is what they come to Fire Emblem for. Because, if I only play for tricky tactical combat, I’d go play Tactics Ogre. But Fire Emblem has become about offering more. And while mechanically everything is sound, texturally something is missing.
Elyos, the land of FE Engage, is sort of shaped like a doughnut, leading me to want to follow through with a metaphor. Y’know, there’s a hole in the middle, right? Well, that’s not exactly it.
Sure, you could say there’s something missing at the heart of Fire Emblem Engage, but I might suggest it’s sort of just missing its heart. It’s a great videogame, with some of the best tactical combat in the series to date, but over its thirty-or-so hours, it all feels a bit empty. The denouement picks everything back up but doesn’t fully recover. Fire Emblem Engage brings loud character designs, tight tactical combat, and a rote story, and, overall, is a good game. But is it good enough?
Fire Emblem Engage review
Fire Emblem Engage has so much to love, yet feels a little empty. With tight and tricky combat, gorgeous graphics and art, and vibrant character designs, its first impression is a good one. But as the story progresses, things feel a little soulless. It’s good and it’s bad, and how much you like it just depends on what you want from it.