Fire Emblem Engage Lead

The Fire Emblem series is now as popular as ever. When Fire Emblem Awakening launched for the Nintendo 3DS in 2012, the game single-handedly saved the franchise from cancellation due to its overwhelming popularity. It expanded on the relationship simulation elements popularized by games like the Persona series while retaining the same chess-like tactical combat, and was later built on with well-received entries like Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

Fire Emblem Engage, which just launched for the Nintendo Switch, feels like a throwback to the older entries in the series. It emphasizes combat rather than focusing on the robust relationship simulation elements that permeate the more recent games. The minute-to-minute gameplay in Fire Emblem Engage is the best the franchise has offered so far, but at the expense of its generic story and somewhat forgettable characters. How does it rank among the best Nintendo Switch games, and the series in general? Here are my thoughts after spending two weeks taking down an evil lord.

If you're an old-school Fire Emblem fan — or care more about great tactical role-playing action than you do a great story — Engage is worth picking up.

What we liked about it

The combat is amazing

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The Fire Emblem series utilizes tactical strategy gameplay. You have different characters to deploy onto the battlefield and they all have their weaknesses. There is a ton of variety between all of the different weapons like swords, axes, magic and arrows to eliminate enemy units. There are so many ways to customize your characters as well. You can have them switch between classes, such as physically powerful Berserkers, mobile dragon riders and healing mages. No two battles play out the same way, and the different choices you have keeps the gameplay from getting stale.

Engage introduces two new mechanics that really elevate battles to the next level. The first one is the Break mechanic, where leveraging a weapon advantage can prevent an enemy from counterattacking. For example, swords are weak against lances. If one of my lance units hits an enemy sword unit, then inflicting Break status makes the enemy drop their weapon and prevents them from counterattacking until the end of the current turn. This mechanic feels incredibly rewarding as it incentivizes you to play smart so that your units don’t suffer unnecessary damage.

The second one is the game’s new core mechanic, Engage. Characters can equip Emblem Rings that summon protagonists from previous Fire Emblem games to combine with them, providing more attack options and skills to use. Battles can be quite challenging, and the Engage Rings give the extra push of power needed to take out a troublesome enemy. It’s a genius mechanic that embraces the franchise’s history while giving Engage its own identity among the other games.

Presentation is top-notch

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One of the aspects that stands out in Engage is its graphics. Character models look smooth both inside and outside of battle. The game’s vibrant and diverse color palette really pops out on the Switch OLED, especially the main protagonist’s red-and-blue hair. While some environments look a little low-textured, it’s not the biggest issue as you’ll be spending most of your time in combat anyway. The game’s dynamic camera angles when initiating combat show characters flying on their dragons, jumping up to hit enemies and firing off explosive magical spells that look both flashy and gorgeous. It really adds a high-quality cinematic flair to the experience.

Engage’s soundtrack is a highlight too. The electric guitars that play in the background during battles amp up the excitement, and there are other tunes that fit depending on the type of environment you’re in — beach and sand settings have a more Arabic-inspired track, for example. If one of your units suffers from a near-fatal blow, panic music occasionally plays to emphasize the gravity of the situation. The way the soundtrack dynamically changes to the current situation makes the fights even more intense.

The game’s performance is rock solid as well. It’s a stark contrast to last year’s Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, which had performance issues all around like graphics clipping and frame rate stutters. I experienced no issues with Engage and the game ran as smoothly as butter.

Tons of content

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Engage’s main story will take upward of 40 to 50 hours to complete, as there are 26 story chapters each with at least one battle lasting anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. In addition to the story chapters, there are practice skirmishes all over the overworld map that you can participate in to train your characters and earn items. There are also “Paralogues,” which are special battles where you face off against one of the Emblems as a boss. These provide small story benefits and a glimpse into the Emblem’s origins.

There are also minigames to play outside of battle in Somiel, the group’s home base, such as fishing, which earns you ingredients to cook meals. You can ride a wyvern and play an on-rails shooting game to win Bond points, which are needed to inherit new skills from Emblem Rings. Every single minigame has some sort of tangible benefit to help your crew get stronger, so they’re always worth tackling at some point.

What we didn’t like about it

A predictable story

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Fire Emblem Engage follows Alear, the child of a Divine Dragon. Alear must collect the 12 Emblem Rings across the continent of Elyous in order to stop the evil Fell Dragon, Lord Sombrone. While the story isn’t bad, the plot twists are rather predictable and the 12 Emblem Rings are glorified MacGuffins to push the plot forward.

The story doesn’t have the diversity of choice you’d get from Fire Emblem Fates or Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It’s rather straightforward and became a chore halfway in; I found myself just wanting to go straight into the next main battle.

Forgettable cast members

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This is Engage’s biggest fault. The game focuses entirely too much on the 12 Emblems and protagonists from the previous games, thus shoving the new cast of characters to the side. You can cook meals to increase bond levels between the new cast, but the bonding conversations are very one-note. For example, if there’s one character whose main personality trait is being overprotective, then most all of the conversations will revolve around it. There’s not enough depth to make the new characters multidimensional and that ultimately makes them forgettable.

With Fire Emblem Fates, there were two main branching paths. Choosing one for my first playthrough and then choosing the other on a second playthrough helped me focus on the respective sides and characters, making me more familiar with them. The same can be said with Three Houses, where there are three main groups to choose from and offer tons of replayability. There’s not much of that here in Engage.

Bottom line

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Fire Emblem Engage has incredible gameplay coupled with a gorgeous presentation. The new Break and Engage mechanics are welcome additions that add even more depth to its combat compared to previous entries. Where it takes a hit is with its by-the-numbers story and a paper-thin cast of characters. As a result, Engage feels more like fanfiction sometimes.

However, it’s important to come into the game with proper expectations. Fire Emblem fans who were introduced through Awakening, Fates and Three Houses, and subsequently enjoyed the relationship simulation mechanics, may not enjoy Engage as much. But if you’ve enjoyed the older entries that didn’t emphasize those mechanics as much, like Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, then Engage might be what you’re looking for.