Fire Emblem Engage review: tactical genius with plenty of spirit
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Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
Scenarios play out in my mind as I survey the battleground. Archers, lancers, wyverns and more adorn the miasmic field of war. The enemy boss is all that keeps victory out of reach, but only the correct order of commands will give me the win without losing any allies. I analyse each of my units with an intensity that I didn't know I was capable of before settling on the best possible course of action. And yet, a part of me hopes this battle never ends because it's just too fun.
See the trailer for Fire Emblem Engage here
Fire Emblem Engage offers some of the most thrilling strategy gameplay I’ve ever experienced. The mechanics are easy to learn without ever feeling overly simple, and provide plenty of different ways to clear each stage, largely thanks to the variety of available units to choose from. As the campaign progresses, the stakes get higher, leading to some epic showdowns between our heroes and the forces of evil.
After covering much of the game’s initial eight chapters in our preview, I’m mindful of not repeating myself here but I have to bring up the Emblems again. After starting with Marth, Fire Emblem Engage continues to up the ante in this game of fan service by adding more beloved characters from the Franchise. From Lucina and Lyn to Roy and Ike, it’s like playing Smash Bros. with all these familiar faces. The particular highlight for me was the inclusion of Three Houses’ Byleth, who is a real boon on the battlefield.
Each Emblem has their own special ability, and these power plays can make all the difference. Byleth’s Goddess Dance attack, for example, not only increases the stats of allies around them, but also grants additional moves to characters who have already acted, essentially doubling the usefulness of your heroes in a given turn.
Although each Emblem initially enters your squad already equipped to a character, you’re able to reassign them as you please. As well as adding a greater sense of control over your team, it also means you can keep the same allies without missing out on a specific Emblem’s skill set.
The more you battle with an Emblem, the higher your bond rank grows, but there’s another way. The Somniel, Engage’s hub, has a training facility where your heroes can battle against one another to earn experience. You can also hold bouts against Emblems by paying Bond Fragments - one of the game’s currencies you earn throughout gameplay - as a way of levelling up relationships.
There’s plenty more to do at the Somniel, too. You can chat with allies, give gifts, share meals and initiate support conversations. As well, you can keep animals, work out to gain temporary buffs and play a minigame where you fly a wyvern through the sky while shooting targets. There’s even multiplayer options in the Tower of Trials.
Multiplayer is made up of two distinct modes. In Outrealm Trial, you take on another player’s army. The opposing force is controlled by AI but still feels like a different kind of opponent from the AI-controlled foes in the campaign, at least based on the battles I’ve had so far.
Then there’s Relay Trial, where you play cooperatively with shared, human-controlled units. These battles give you a predetermined amount of turns and, once done, you pass the baton on to the next player. These can be fought randomly or by using a code to access a particular game.
Both of these modes flesh out the experience of Fire Emblem Engage by providing essentially endless gameplay options on top of an already enjoyable solo campaign. The ability to take on new battles outside of the main story and earn items for completing matches is a cherry sitting proudly atop an already sumptuous cake.
The main campaign really is exceptional in Fire Emblem Engage. Without spoiling anything, the narrative gets its hooks in early and continues to thrill throughout. Seeing protagonist Alear awake after 1000 years of slumber only to be thrust right into war is a pulsating opening, but the pace picks up as more characters - both good and bad - join the tale.
It isn’t just the presence of past characters that makes everything feel so grand. Sure, it’s fantastic to be able to fight alongside Corrin and others, but Fire Emblem Engage would be just as pleasurable if the Emblems were wholly new entities. The ability to change a hero’s fighting style by using the titular Engage feature is its own reward, regardless of whether you recognise the spectral body by their side.
Where Fire Emblem Engage shines most of all is in its modern touches. The core gameplay doesn’t feel too dissimilar to the franchise’s earlier titles, but there’s a sense of polish and efficiency that makes this latest instalment feel more user friendly. It’s still the same old turn-based, grid-based formula at heart, but small changes make the game feel more fluid on the whole. For instance, removing weapon durability, for the most part, frees up time to focus on more fun strategic ideas instead of having to repair and replace all the time.
Don’t worry Three Houses and Three Hopes fans, you’ve not been forgotten, as there is still plenty of opportunity to socialise with in-game characters. The Somniel is the perfect backdrop to any life sim exchanges, thanks to its gorgeous scenery and cafe area. There’s even a photo shoot mode where you can capture the perfect image for your profile card and show off to other players.
The combination of strategy battles and social sim gameplay is more than enough to make Fire Emblem Engage a standout in the already bustling catalogue of Nintendo Switch titles. But when you consider details like the Emblem characters, the multiplayer modes and the fact that it’s just a gorgeous game to look at, it’s hard to imagine this fantastical tale won’t be included in game of the year talks later in 2023.
Pros: gripping and varied gameplay, thrilling narrative, visually gorgeous
Cons: occasionally slow loading times, some visually rough edges
For fans of: Fire Emblem, strategy games, social sims
Fire Emblem Engage releases for Nintendo Switch on 20 January, 2023. Game tested with code supplied by Nintendo. Read a guide to our review scores here.
Topics: Nintendo Switch