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Fire Emblem Engage (NS)

Fire Emblem Engage (NS) - Review

by Thomas Froehlicher , posted on 18 February 2023 / 6,138 Views

Fire Emblem has gained wide international recognition ever since Fire Emblem Awakening released in the west roughly ten years ago. But growing fame also means greater expectations that the series has to keep up after each successful installment; Fire Emblem is now at a point, thanks to the incredible success of Three Houses, where any misstep could seriously kill its momentum. So does Fire Emblem Engage stumble, or does it leave its mark on JRPG history like its direct predecessors?

While keeping in mind the novelties introduced since Fire Emblem Awakening in terms of narrative structure, it's fairly interesting to witness how Fire Emblem Engage feels much closer to older, classic Fire Emblem titles, especially Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. The protagonist you play as, called the Divine Dragon, is a godlike figure who wakes up from a long slumber to vanquish its evil alter ego, the Fell Dragon. You travel to every kingdom of the world, eventually persuading every prince and princess to join the fight. Ironically, that's pretty much the entirety of the plot. Fire Emblem Engage tends to remain a bit too much in a Manichean "Good versus Evil" comfort zone.

But this more traditional approach doesn't mean the story can't be enjoyed; it boasts a couple of surprising and impressive plot twists, illustrated by superb cut scenes revolving around strong feelings like revenge and sacrifice. There's just not that "something more" which made more recent entries particularly mind-blowing, like the second generation of characters in Awakening, or the full scale war in Fates or Three Houses. The scenario is also a bit flat and suffers from occasionally blunt writing and strangely soft antagonists. The pinnacle of incongruity happens when the final boss actually offers to pull back in order to explore other worlds and leave everyone in peace. This is surely the weirdest direction to take the closing challenge. Additionally, the relationship between the mysterious young girl Veyle and the protagonist, which turns out to shape the whole story, feels everything but natural.

What catches the eye when initially starting Fire Emblem Engage is the drastic change in character design; it's much more anime-oriented than its predecessor. Three Houses certainly wasn't bad in that department, but Engage is magnificent, especially as at the same time the character models have made a giant leap forwards in quality. It's like night and day compared to Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, which itself is just six months old. The characters' expressiveness has also improved a lot, most notably in terms of facial features, and a lot of care has clearly been put into designing great outfits (an area where Three Houses was quite timid). On thinking about it, Engage actually returns to the type of designs used in Fire Emblem Fates, save that Fates was a 3DS game with relatively bland graphics. So the combination of a strong anime inspiration and modern graphics is what's particularly impressive here. All that makes the women cuter and the men more handsome, which in turn makes this newest entry especially... engaging!

While Japanese RPGs are becoming increasingly action-oriented, Fire Emblem has stood firmly by its long-standing heritage as a turned-based SPRG. The gameplay takes place on a map with a grid, seen from above, and the player is given several units to move each turn to meet the current objective. The cornerstone of Fire Emblem gameplay are the advantages and disadvantages of unit types and the weapons they use in battle: lances best swords, swords best axes, bows slaughter flying enemies, and so on. There's also a big difference between using physical attacks and magic. Optimizing the use of your units to repel waves of enemies has always been pure joy, and Fire Emblem Engage provides this at its fullest, with even more complex and compelling strategy gameplay.

For example, you can now disarm opponents when using the correct weapon - this is called Breaking. The foe is then unable to counterattack for the turn, which makes it possible for other (maybe less advantaged) characters to face said foe without taking any damage. Engage also introduces a new type of unit: the Qi Adept. A monk class of sorts, the Qi Adept can heal but also breaks magic, dagger, and bow users with their kung-fu. Daggers poison characters, by the way, which is another interesting strategic factor because poisoned units take more damage. Of course, all this would cause chaos if the balance weren't good, so it's fortunate that Engage lives up to the series tradition of featuring a perfectly designed level of challenge and cleverly crafted maps.

While the first half of the game can seem a bit easy on normal mode, it becomes really tough around chapter 17. Boss characters have two, three, and sometimes even four HP bars, and even standard units aren't easily defeated. Enemy reinforcements are frequent and constantly harass your lines. I've been pushed to the edge quite a few times in this game, and that's what I love most about it, especially as if you choose Classic mode then any fallen character is gone forever. True, the time hourglass returns to revert a few turns in the case of an unexpected death (and its uses seem unlimited now), but permadeath still puts extra pressure on the player at every move. The maps are fairly varied and often force you to renew the way you plan out your strategy. You'll come across ballistas and canons with large reaches, huge lasers being fired at your army, avalanches, quicksand, and fog of war, all of which will hamper your progress. To top it all off the UI is prettier and the combat animations are also much more spectacular, partly thanks to improved camera work. 

Adding to the already significant changes noted above, Fire Emblem Engage introduces the "Engage" system. All of the previous main characters from the series, like Ike or Lyn, act as "Emblems" (some kind of lingering spirit) that can be paired to any character, which results in various benefits. Units can learn highly useful passive skills, such as the opportunity to move after acting (very important for the final stages), rod proficiency to heal others, increased defense or speed, extended range of healing, etc. Furthermore, characters can "Engage" during battle and fuse with their Emblem, which unlocks extremely powerful attacks that can't be countered, even by bosses. It's the ultimate trump card in uphill battles as well as a visually cool feature; the "Engaged" character takes on a beautiful angelic form and their attacks are really JRPG-esque in their dynamism. In short, Fire Emblem Engage allows for a vast array of strategic possibilities within a series framework that was already a reference point for most other SRPGs, making it more delightful to play than ever.   

Very lengthy in its own right (I'd estimate it takes at least 60 hours to beat all of the story chapters), Intelligent Systems packed the game with a lot of side content too. Your base, the floating island of Somniel, offers a nice range of activities to prepare for the next battle or simply unwind. You can play mini-games like workouts to raise your max HP, or a dragon-riding shoot 'em up. Cooking and combat training can boost several characters at once. You even find a photo mode with 135 poses for every ally, plus lots of outfits to unlock (but sadly these don't apply to battles). There's also plenty to do at the smith: weapons can be considerably upgraded, and can also receive an Emblem that modifies parameters like power, weight, or critical rate. Fine-tuning weapons is key to successful battles, but the game hits a snag here, for resources - gold and ore - are astonishingly scarce.

This is related to the absolutely horrible free battles on the world map. You can attempt Skirmishes, as they're called, to gain resources, but it's monstrously hard to clear them without losing anyone. Not only do enemies have a higher level than your party, but they surround you almost immediately. It's a nightmare in Classic mode and, to be honest, often an absolute waste of time. Fortunately, Paralogues are another type of extra battle that are more doable and generally reward you with new allies. The DLC also contains Paralogues that reward you with extra Emblems. Tiki, for example, is by far the strongest Emblem; she turns her partner into a mighty dragon capable of destroying waves of hostiles. She also boosts stat growth so greatly that even a frail mage princess can eventually become stronger and sturdier than your best armored units. 

As much I loved using Tiki, I'm more than skeptical about the DLC's overall value. Only Tiki and Edelgard made it for the game's release, and there's little use for new Emblems (which aren't playable characters, by the way) once you've beaten the game, which most fans will have done by now. The season pass costs €30, half the price of the game itself, which I find seriously excessive when you consider the (light and late) content that was unveiled during the latest Nintendo Direct. I do hope the promised story part that caps off the season pass will be compelling.
 
It might be much less exciting than other recent series entries in terms of narrative, but Fire Emblem Engage is the title that has brought most to the table in terms of gameplay since Fire Emblem Awakening. The impressive step up in visuals, as well as the wonderful anime-style design, makes it absolutely terrific to play. You'll also find plenty of solid side content and a lengthy campaign, making it astronomical value for money. With Engage, the series continues to be the ultimate jewel in the Japanese SRPG crown. 


After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57


VGChartz Verdict


8.5
Great

This review is based on a retail copy of Fire Emblem Engage for the NS

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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4 Comments
SanAndreasX (on 18 February 2023)

This is pretty much what I think of this game as well. I enjoyed the narrative structure of 3H and still consider that to be a classic, but this game looks and plays better on the battlefield.

  • +4
Kakadu18 (on 18 February 2023)

Much more positive than I expected.

  • +4
Garrus (on 19 February 2023)

I like the game play and visuals and music, but I had a hard time continuing because the story was meh. Dropped it.

  • 0
Red_Beard (on 18 February 2023)

Was curious about this since I've never played a Fire Emblem game, so I watched a streamer go through the opening couple hours. The game-play looks pretty good, but with JP voices you could tell the localization was just... really questionable.

  • 0