You'll love it if:
- You place gameplay above story
- You’re a fan of classic FE gameplay
- You like playing mini-games for hours
- You want to play a visually-impressive Switch game
Not for you if:
- You’re looking for a story-driven experience
- You prefer action over tactical games
- You enjoyed the social features of FE: Three Houses
- You liked the multiple-story routes of FE: Three Houses
As one of Nintendo’s oldest and longest-running franchises, Fire Emblem, has seen its fair share of changes over the years. With titles like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia re-exploring the oldest entries in the series in the form of remakes, and Fire Emblem: Warriors delving into Dynasty Warriors-style gameplay, it has slowly moved the evolutionary needle forward. Fire Emblem: Three Houses marked a stark shift toward social elements found in titles like Persona 4 Golden, in which players could develop deep relationships with the characters they fought alongside of.
Fire Emblem Engage won’t “Wow” you with its story or relationship-building elements. However, it retains everything that made Fire Emblem such an addictive gaming experience in the first place – its moment-to-moment gameplay and tactical depth are a step above any other SRPG title in the past several years.
Now however, Intelligent Systems has decided to take a step back and re-examine its roots once again with Fire Emblem Engage, the latest in its flagship SRPG series. It marks a departure from the gameplay innovations found in Three Houses and instead delivers a more traditional, less story-heavy experience. So how does Fire Emblem Engage fair as a more classic SRPG, with titles like Square Enix’s The Diofield Chronicle introducing some much-needed innovation to the genre?
Story – A Tale as Old as Time
The story of Fire Emblem Engage can be summed up in as few as two or three sentences. You play as The Divine Dragon, a being that fought against the evil Fell Dragon a thousand years ago. Now, a thousand years later, you wake up in the land of Elyos along with the Fell Dragon and you are determined to defeat him once and for all. You’ll do this by collecting twelve Emblem Rings, artifacts containing the souls of the “heroes of the past”, which are essentially fan-favorite heroes from the past Fire Emblem games.
That’s pretty much what you can expect from Fire Emblem Engage in terms of its story, as there are very few twists or status quo changes throughout its 30-50-hour runtime. Whether that’s disappointing or exciting is entirely up to you, but the game makes up for this with a plethora of gameplay options and mini-games.
It’s a Linear, Single-Route Story – And That’s OK
Unlike Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Fire Emblem Engage features a single, straight road toward its ending. This may come as a surprise to the fans of the previous mainline title, as Three Houses featured multiple story routes which you could tackle in a non-linear fashion. The game currently offers no form of New Game+ either.
While you can replay the game as The Divine Dragon of the opposite gender to what you chose the first time around, as well as play around with different class and skill choices, it’s a pretty linear game overall. This isn’t to its detriment however, as plenty of DLC is still on the way, with extra story content being planned for the end of 2023 in the form of the game’s Expansion Pass (more on this later).
Gameplay – An In-Depth SRPG You Won’t Be Able to Put Down
The main gameplay pillar of a mainline Fire Emblem game lies in its strategic turn-based combat. Luckily, Fire Emblem Engage covers its bases in this department with flying colors. Whether you’re fighting in green pastures with little in terms of terrain variety, snowy mountains with icy fields, or night-time maps with torches you need to light to see anything, Fire Emblem Engage and its gameplay are plain fun.
You’ll never feel like you’re at a severe disadvantage or lack the tools to face the scenario you’re about to tackle. Your army will always likely consist of double the number of units you can take into the field, making the selection of your fighting units a game in itself. Fire Emblem Engage retains some of FE: Three Houses’ social features by enabling you to raise the relationship levels between different units to make them work better in the field. This will help raise their statistics when standing next to one another, or when chain-attacking enemies.
Variety is the Name of The Game Here
Fire Emblem Engage reintroduces the weapon triangle which was abandoned in FE: Three Houses which turns combat into a game of rock-paper-scissors. In short, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords, with ranged units standing apart from the triangle and following a different rule set. This makes it easy for you to plan which units will attack which enemies, and which ones you should steer clear of, letting archers or mages pick them off instead.
There is little in terms of gameplay “variety” here, but the core gameplay of Fire Emblem Engage is so deep and rewarding that you’ll want to come back to it again and again. Thanks to its turn-based nature, it’s a game that’s easy to pick up but hard to master, especially as you approach the end game.
The game also splits its battle scenarios into three groups: story chapters, paralogues (unlocking new heroes), and skirmishes (random battles). You can tackle different types of battles at any point to grind for levels, rewards, or heroes, or simply focus on story chapters to progress through the story.
Emblem Rings – The Game’s Way of Handling Nostalgia
The main selling point of Fire Emblem Engage lies in its Emblem Rings. Emblem Rings allow the player to summon heroes from various Fire Emblem games and pair them with individual units on the battlefield. These Emblem Rings are powerful tools that can put your enemies at a severe disadvantage whenever you activate them.
Throughout the game, you’ll always have access to at least a few of these rings, and you should make good use of them. The longer an Emblem Ring is paired with a single unit, the deeper their bond will become, unlocking new skills, weapons, and statistical buffs. Given that you’ll always have more units than Emblem Rings available, you’ll be able to unlock Bond Rings, which unlock minor statistical buffs for your units. Each unit can only have a single ring equipped at a time, leaving it up to you to decide how you’ll organize your army.
While Emblem Rings could have been a cheap way for Intelligent Systems to insert old characters into the new game, they’re more than that. They’re fully fleshed-out characters with their agency and goals, and it never feels like a trick that they’re around. Nintendo’s gambit to entice the players’ nostalgia has paid off, as Emblem Rings are extremely fun to play around with.
Mini-Games Galore Await on Somniel
Whenever you’re not fighting on the battlefield, you’ll spend your time on Somniel, a floating island that is the home of The Divine Dragon. Here, you’ll find plenty to occupy yourself with, ranging from buying and upgrading equipment, talking to the characters in your army, and playing mini-games.
That last part is particularly notable, as Fire Emblem Engage features a large variety of mini-games that bear small but significant bonuses for your units once they’re in combat. For example, you can do physical exercises in the form of quick-time events which will give you temporary stat bonuses for upcoming battles. Or, you can polish your Emblem Rings and thus improve the bond between the wearer and the Emblem inside it.
There is so much you can do here that you’ll likely spend just as much time on Somniel as you will on the battlefield, and that’s great. It means that both players who prefer the more social aspects of FE: Three Houses, as well as those who prefer to stick to combat, can have their way with Fire Emblem Engage and walk away happy.
Visuals – A Vibrant, Eye-Catching Presentation
The first thing that’ll catch your eye when you look at Fire Emblem Engage will undoubtedly be its color palette. Gone are the days of grim-dark games from the 7th generation of consoles where every game looked desaturated, washed out, and depressing. Fire Emblem Engage fully embraces its vibrant visuals and impresses with its art direction by the renowned Japanese illustrator Mika Pikazo.
Fire Emblem Engage is built in the Unity engine, which was a solid choice by Intelligent Systems given Nintendo Switch’s hardware capabilities. Thanks to very solid art direction, you’ll never be confused about how to navigate the battlefield, which units are facing which enemies, and what you should be doing next.
A Rich World to Travel Through
Likewise, the world map, as well as individual maps you’ll explore in third-person after each battle, are very pleasing to look at, even though in reality, they are tiny boxed spaces. Each character you recruit into your army looks distinct and unique from anyone else you’ve seen up to that point. You’ll easily learn to recognize units from the bird’s eye view during battle and you’ll pick up on your favorites quickly. The same cannot be said for filler NPCs and animals you’ll come across, as they’re copy-pasted throughout the map you’re in, with gender being the only variation among them.
Solid Technical Performance All-Around
Fire Emblem Engage is also a marvel on the technical front. With the Nintendo Switch lagging behind its contemporaries in terms of raw power, Nintendo has found creative ways to pair striking art styles with stable performance on its now 6-year-old hardware.
The game aims for 1080p resolution in docked mode, with 720p being the target in handheld mode. The keyword here is “target” because Fire Emblem Engage relies on the Unity engine and dynamic resolution scaling to maintain steady 30FPS. In most cases, it succeeds, with the only minor dips in frame rate happening when the battlefield gets too hectic. Or whenever the player speeds up their or the enemy’s move animations.
As an ode to its past, Fire Emblem Engage uses pixelated sprite models of your army’s characters, running from left to right, during loading screens. This is a fun little way to remind players, both old and new, where Fire Emblem Engage roots and inspiration truly lie.
Pushing Nintendo Switch to Its Limits
The game cleverly mixes prerendered cut-scenes with in-game ones, making them appear far cleaner and smoother than they could ever look if they were rendered in-engine on the Switch. Likewise, in-game cut-scenes use static 2D backgrounds which can trick your eye into thinking they’re 3D renders. Instead, they allow the engine to render the forefront characters more cleanly while retaining 30FPS.
This is one of the best-looking games on the system, and thanks to its vibrant art style, it looks even more gorgeous on the Nintendo Switch OLED. Likewise, and in stark contrast to the recently-released Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the game practically has no bugs or game-breaking glitches to speak of. It’s technically impressive just as it’s stunning to look at.
Saturday Morning Cartoon Voice Acting
The voice acting in Fire Emblem Engage isn’t its strongest element. Whether you choose English or Japanese voice acting, you’ll notice that the characters’ voices don’t often match their appearance. Given that the cast of characters is so vast, it’s no wonder that voice acting has taken a hit in this regard. Likewise, the game’s script doesn’t help, as most female characters swoon over The Divine Dragon, commenting on how cute or good-looking they are (after The Divine Dragon kills their friends, minutes before).
This can be attributed to the whiplash that Japanese media comes packed with when arriving in the West (the Yakuza series is famous for it). The English voice acting in particular is dodgy, with the core cast of characters sounding fine and secondary characters being of uneven quality. This has become something of an acquired taste with Japanese media being dubbed over into English, so your mileage may vary. Paired with the fact that Fire Emblem Engage doesn’t put the effort into its story department, this is a minor nitpick.
Post-Launch Content – Expansion Pass
Nintendo took a curious approach to deliver extra content to Fire Emblem Engage this time around. Intelligent Systems created a so-called “Expansion Pass”, which contains four separate pieces of DLC, each to be delivered throughout 2023.
The first DLC, creatively named “DLC Wave 1”, arrived on launch day (raising questions about why this content wasn’t included in the game in the first place). It contains several stat-boosting items, as well as two Emblem Rings containing Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, as well as Tiki, from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
Both of these Emblem Rings are extremely powerful and can each be paired with a single unit in your party, giving you an extra edge on the battlefield. In that sense, this Expansion Pass is best acquired early on in your playthrough when you can utilize these items the most. It’ll be up to the individual player to decide whether they’re ready to pay for the promise of more content on the way, with “DLC Wave 4” being the only one containing actual new story content.
Conclusion – Should you Play Fire Emblem Engage?
You should play Fire Emblem Engage, especially if you’re a fan of JRPGs or turn-based strategy games. If you are looking for a more story-oriented experience, you’ll have a better time playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses if you haven’t already. Or, you could branch out and try titles like Digimon Survive, which also features Fire Emblem-like gameplay but with a much heavier focus on storytelling and branching routes.
Fire Emblem Engage is an engaging (pun intended) ride that will take you anywhere from 30 to 50 hours to complete, depending on how diligent you are with its side content. You can stretch this out even further by grinding for mini-game rewards, buying costumes for your characters, or evolving them to advanced classes (again, through grinding).
With much of the DLC still on the way, we can’t say for certain whether the Expansion Pass will pay off for newcomers to the series, especially if they’re not familiar with the heroes from past games. However, purchasing it is a no-brainer for long-time fans who will enjoy pairing up with Marth, Tiki, Celica, and others once again. With 2023 starting so strong for the Switch, we couldn’t be more excited about what this year has in store for the console. Fire Emblem Engage is available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.
Thanks to CD Media for providing us with the review keys for both Fire Emblem Engage and its Expansion Pass.