It was only a matter of time before I reviewed this game but I really wanted to see most of what it had to offer before I did so. Fire Emblem: Engage is the latest installment of the Fire Emblem series and stars the Divine Dragon Alear, or whoever you named him/her. Alear wakes up after a 1000-year sleep to a peaceful world; however, alone with Alear comes the return of the Fell Dragon who seeks to rule the world. It’s pretty standard for most Fire Emblem stories; however, fighting alongside Alear are Emblems, rings that contain the spirits of the main characters of previous Fire Emblem games. With Emblems you can borrow their powers and even fuse with them to gain the upper hand in the battle; however, when all 12 Emblems are together they have the power to change the world so Alear goes on a quest to unite the 12 rings.
So I’ll start with the story. It’s simple and really typical for a Fire Emblem game but I think it’s going to get a lot of comparison to Fire Emblem: Three Houses since that was the most popular game in the series. While Three Houses had a world full of lore that left a deep impact on the story and its characters Engage actually has a minimal approach to the lore. It does have it but it’s never seen as a huge driving force for the story it’s just there as part of the world itself and separate from what Alear’s doing. So for fans who fell in love with Fire Emblem for the story in Three Houses, you might be disappointed here; however, I was in awe of what I saw because it opted for something very different. Engage is clearly a celebration of the entire history of Fire Emblem so the story was made to pay tribute to all that came before it so you see a ton of easter eggs from previous games with a lot of locations taken directly from those entrees. Alear grows by collecting the Emblems and by learning the lessons those Emblems learned in their respective stories so the game takes a fair amount of time to explain what those stories were in paralogues and it was nice to revisit some of these iconic moments. So in my mind, it makes sense why the story and lore of the game would be simplified to make room for the massive character development that Alear goes through.
Because the story opts for more of a character-focused narrative than a lore-driven one it makes sense to move on to talking about the characters themselves. Much like the story, the characters don’t come into the game with a lot of lore to them so instead the characters have a focus that is uniquely theirs that makes them who they are and that focus is often referenced in their support conversations. For example, you meet a character who is focused on being cute so that is something they reference quite frequently in their conversations. It’s easy to see these characters as one-note because of that, but in place of characters with captivating stories, you have characters with really big personalities so often times the conversations are about the one thing about them that makes them who they are above anything else and with more exploration you get to see how these characters were shaped either by passion, trauma, curiosity, compassion, etc. So while these characters tend to have a singular fixation it’s a purpose that is really fleshed out and takes some work to really see just how deep the rabbit hole is for each character but it is well worth the effort. The acting in this game is also just top-tier. The emotions of the characters are conveyed very beautifully and it really helped to make their lovable personalities shine.
The Emblems all function as their own characters as well which at first worried me because we saw games that brought back previous Fire Emblem characters with mixed success. We have Tokyo Mirage Sessions which was fun but the returning characters had no interaction with each other at all and then you had Warriors that heavily had the returning characters talk to each other. This is more like Warriors as the Emblems like Marth and Sigurd actually play a notable role in the story and function as fully-fledged characters rather than cameos like I originally suspected they would be. It was wonderful to see some of the characters I came to know and love in their respective games and they get a lot of dialogue in the story and in the form of bond conversations with all of the playable characters.
The gameplay is pretty much exactly as you would expect with a Fire Emblem game. It’s a turn-based strategy game where you control all your units on a map and move them around to take on the enemies on the board till you meet the objective of the map. What Engage does to change the formula a bit is to add various powers from the Emblem rings for you and your enemies. Emboel rings give massive power boosts to your units to incredible movement, attack range, power and so much more. Each power is different and so it’s fun to play around to find which ring pairs well with which character. It also makes the maps harder when your enemies also use Emblem rings because you have to be wary of those powers. The second thing we see is the introduction of break. We’ve had the weapon triangle for a while where some weapons have an edge over another, but now when you strike someone who has a weapon weak to yours you have a chance to break which causes them to literally drop their weapon for a bit and make them unable to strike until their next turn which gives you plenty of opportunity to swarm in and take them out without fear of retaliation; however, the enemy has this option as well so it makes the weapon triangle a much more formidable force. The maps are really well designed too as there are a ton of maps where you can’t just go in and charge at the enemy even if you have a bunch of powerful characters because the map contains quirks to them that give your enemy an edge and forces you to really think of clever ways to get around these pitfalls on the map so the gameplay was really elevated here to a really fun degree.
Overall Fire Emblem: Engage actually became one of my favorite games in the series. This game opted to simplify the story and focus on very charismatic characters, improved gameplay mechanics, and plenty of references to previous games that fans of all levels of experience could find moments that they would recognize from any previous game they played. Rather than introducing a lot of new lore the game took us down memory lane and it made for a wonderful reminder of why the entire series is so amazing and I loved every bit of it. For long-time fans of Fire Emblem or for those who are very interested in seeing what the series as a whole has to offer Engage offers an experience that prioritizes some of the most lovable characters in the series, both new and old to really show us just how wonderful the history of Fire Emblem really is and I don’t think that could have been done any better than what we saw here.
Now normally I end my reviews with what I’ve just said but I’m honestly not done here. Fire Emblem is by far my favorite series so I speak now as someone who has an incredible amount of love and passion for the franchise. To see a story that united the characters and lore of the entire series is something that was truly an outstanding sight to behold and I just want to say thank you to all those who worked hard on this unbelievable project. You all have my utmost respect and appreciation.