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03rd Feb 2023 | 1,471 views
Since its debut in 1990 on the Japanese Famicom, and its 2003 Western debut on the GBA, Nintendo's Fire Emblem series has been one of the preeminent codifiers of the tactical RPG. This distinguished history is celebrated in the newest FE release, Fire Emblem Engage for the Switch.
Set on the continent of Elyos a thousand years after the Fell Dragon was sealed away, Alear, the player character and child of the Divine Dragon Lumera, is awakened after being critically wounded in the battle. Your memories are mostly gone, though Lumera, a loving mother, does her best to restore them. The reunion between mother and child is short-lived as the Elusians, who seek to resurrect the Fell Dragon, attack Lumera's stronghold and steal the Emblem rings, which contain the spirits of the heroes of the Fire Emblem series. Mortally wounded, Lumera charges you with raising an army to stop the return of the Fell Dragon.
For those who played Three Houses for the story and the Persona-style time management and social links, Engage may be a bit of a disappointment. The story is much simpler than Three Houses. The Somniel, the sanctuary that housed Alear while they recovered from the battle with the Fell Dragon, serves as the party's base. Furthermore, Alear is considered to be a messiah to most of the people in Elyos, including your soldiers, so get ready for dialogue that constantly fawns over you, particularly from your stewards (personal servants). With that said, there are plenty of support conversations for you to improve bonds with your allies, but don't go into this game expecting a story with the gravity of The Last of Us.
The combat in this game, on the other hand, is beefier than that of Three Houses. This is one of the most fun SRPGs I have every played. The weapon wheels return for Engage, where certain weapons and classes are designed to target certain enemies (sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword, for example). The combat is more intense and requires heavier strategy, while challenging you to pick the best fighters for the job and carve your own path through the battle. You can adjust your Fire Emblem experience in terms of difficulty as well as the option to have permadeath, where making the wrong decisions during battle may result in the death of a favorite party member. However, Engage does feature the return of the time-turning mechanism, allowing you to redo bad decisions. The combat is brutal and satisfying. Fire Emblem Engage may not have an award-winning story, but it has amazing gameplay. Unlike Three Houses, there isn't a calendar and schedule that you must live by. In fact, you are given a world map to explore mostly at your own pace as you open it up by completing the story. Paralogues, or side stories, make a return, and you can also engage in skirmishes, which are random (and optional) enemy encounters. At the end of each battle, you can scrounge the battlefield on foot for loot, as well as to talk to your part members to collect items needed for crafting.
The heroes of past Fire Emblem games, from Marth, to Ike, all the way to Byleth, appear as summonable through Emblem rings, which are acquired through the story and can be assigned to your party members. Each Fire Emblem hero imparts differing abilities onto the hero he or she is equipped with, through a command called "Engage." This admittedly fanservice feature will appeal to long-time Fire Emblem veterans. As your fighters boss with the Emblems, they can permanently inherit the power of the Emblems. In addition, bond rings can be created in the Ring Chamber at Somniel. These bond rings boost stats, but despite being associated with Fire Emblem characters, they are not summonable.
Graphically, Engage is a huge improvement over Three Houses. The character models are much more detailed and better animated, and the environments are likewise more fleshed out and detailed. Best of all, there is minimal, if any, slowdown. It's notable that Engage is one of the rare instances where Nintendo employed a well-known game engine, Unity, rather than using proprietary technology. While the Internet has made memes out of Alear's red-and-blue hair scheme, with names like Pepsiman and Toothpaste, I enjoyed the character designs overall.
Overall, Fire Emblem Engage is well worth your time, with plenty of side content. Players who were expecting a follow up to Three Houses may be disappointed by the lack of social links or calendars, but long-time series veterans will enjoy the beefier battles and the multiverse aspect. Fire Emblem is one of the best SRPG packages to come out in recent years, and is a worthy successor to the Fire Emblem name.