Ever since Fire Emblem Awakening brought the series back to mainstream attention on the 3DS, there’s been no shortage of Fire Emblem content from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. The main games are trickling out at a decent clip, and let’s not forget all of the side games that release in-between as well. The latest side game in question is Fire Emblem Engage, which serves as a celebration of the series’ most iconic characters. I’ve gotten a chance to play a bunch of Engage over the holidays, and while it’s certainly an enjoyable romp in its own right, it’s also hard not to feel just a little fatigued.
Fire Emblem Engage takes place on a whole new continent with a cast of new characters. You’ll play as Alear, choose their gender, and off you go. The overarching story itself is kept pretty simple; Alear is referred to as the Divine Dragon as she awakes from a long coma, only to find out that the Fell Dragon has murdered her mother and is now threatening to ruin the entire world.
Fairly standard medieval fantasy stuff –it’s nothing to write home about, but it keeps the story moving along. Aside from Alear, you’re also quickly introduced to various other supporting characters like the chirpy siblings Framme and Clamme, and their stalwart protector Vander. This is, unfortunately, where Fire Emblem Engage (and all the other side games, really) start to fall short.
The new faces in Engage are woefully lackluster and uninspiring. Now I’m not saying that every character in the main games were compelling with deep backstories that could really suck you in, but they at least had more flavor and personality to them. That isn’t the case with Engage’s new characters, who often feel trope-y at best and cringey at worst. After sinking about ten or so hours into the game, I’ve gotten to meet several other new faces, and things haven’t really improved.
It’s also hard not to feel like the series’ mainstays like Marth, Celica, Ike, et al have just been shoehorned in for fun. Sure, Engage is meant to be a more fanservice-y game that just wants to bring everyone together, but when the series icons take a backseat to the less-than-impressive main cast, it just feels bad all around. At least in both Fire Emblem Warriors games, we were given the opportunity to learn about our favorites and see them in a new light, while the new characters were mostly just player stand-ins and supports.
A couple hours into the game, the usual plot beats had already surfaced. My mom’s dead, I wanna avenge her and save the world. My new friend’s family is in danger, let’s save them. I meet my mom’s murderer but I’m not strong enough to beat her. My mom’s murderer has a big bad boss whose identity shall remain a mystery for now. If the characters themselves had enough personality and charm to carry the experience, this wouldn’t be so egregious, but alas, they do not.
The good news is that Fire Emblem Engage is actually pretty fun gameplay-wise. If you’ve played any Fire Emblem title that’s released in the past decade, Engage should feel pretty familiar, even if it does add a few bells and whistles to the formula.
The basics remain the same: the weapon triangle is still here, archers still completely stomp flying units, and mages still crush armored units. What’s new here is the Engage mechanic, which makes combat a little more interesting. As you play through the game, you’ll unlock Rings, which can be used to summon spectres from the past. For instance, you’ll start the game with a Ring that summons Marth, who enhances your one-handed sword skills.
As you battle, the Engage meter will fill up, and once it’s full, you can activate Engage mode with whichever Ring you have equipped on that character. This makes you a little more powerful, enhances your stats, and also gives you access to unique abilities that your character otherwise wouldn’t be able to use. Sigurd lets you pierce through a row of enemies, Marth lets you unleash a flurry of powerful blows on a single enemy, while Celica straight up lets you teleport halfway across the map to deal magic damage.
Some of these moves are pretty insane, and it can trivialize the game in some aspects, but damn if it isn’t fun.
Outside of that, it’s worth mentioning that Fire Emblem Engage does feature support conversations as well, and yes, they do include supports between Ring characters and the main cast. That being said, from what I’ve played so far, the supports with the Ring characters seem woefully undercooked. This may change as I get further into the game, of course, but they’re certainly not as in-depth or entertaining as even the ones we got in Three Hopes.
Overall, my thoughts on Fire Emblem Engage are pretty lukewarm. I’m certainly having fun when I get to actually play the game, but having to sit through banal cutscenes and uninspired dialogue between battles gets tiring real quick. I’ll have more to say once the review embargo lifts, but for now, I’d say keep your expectations in check.