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Fire Emblem Engage: Rant or Review?

Is this a rant, review, or something between the two of Fire Emblem Engage? I’ll let you be the judge.

Fire Emblem Engage’s first three chapters introduce us to an amnesiac protagonist, kill a character without giving us much reason to care, and establish that the battles and story are going to feed into each other awkwardly. That is, everybody’s talking, and oh no! The bad guys are here!

It’s a far cry from the series’ best. And things don’t get much better as the game goes on. We watch the same character die again later, and we see plenty of other characters die in the same way: in the player character’s hands with lots to say. Ultimately, very little actually stirs the emotions, since, again, no reason to care.

The villains are goofy. The big bad’s mission (outlined at the very end) doesn’t really track thematically with the rest of the game. Oh, and the player character’s lack of engaging personality continues to put a hamper on the proceedings.

This isn’t just a bad story for the series, it’s a bad story. Which is disappointing, when so many of the recruitable characters are fun to listen to. In that way, it’s not too different from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Wonderfully enjoyable characters with plenty of personality, but a plot that fails to climb even to the foothills of its premise.

Fire Emblem Engage

Fire Emblem Engage’s titular mechanic sees you engaging with the ‘emblems’ of Fire Emblem heroes past. This isn’t the first Fire Emblem series celebration in recent memory, with Fire Emblem Heroes and Fire Emblem Warriors already bringing together lords and ladies of different games for their own dull plots. Thus the excitement is greatly diminished. It hurts more having each character reduced to those same caricatures of themselves. Believe it or not, in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, Ike was more than just a strongman who fought for his friends.

Anyway, engaging with the emblems provides your army with a myriad of skills. On the battlefield, they earn their place by adding powerful abilities (like warping, gaining damage based on how far you move, and attacks that can’t be countered) to your units. And as importantly, your enemies.

While the new characters on the other side of the conflict are jokes (I mean that: one of them is an over-the-top masochist; one is a pouty general with a bow motif), the way the opposing army makes use of your same powers makes for the most interesting engagements.

Fire Emblem Engage

No map makes better use of them than Retreat. The rings have been stolen, and the player’s army has no choice but to run following a catastrophic loss. To make matters worse, the foe not only has hold of every ring gathered thus far, but also the ability to control time (which was originally the player’s ability to redo turns). No matter how many ring bearers the player kills, they can never get the rings back. New units will take the rings, and their powers, to continue the hunt.

What makes it such an effective sequence is how it marries game mechanics, battlefield tactics, and plot so beautifully. This was the norm in the time of Radiant Dawn, but has become a rarity in the modern era of Fire Emblem. When we see the enemy equipped with Celica (capable of warping and dishing out heavy magic damage) and Sigurd (who greatly increases a unit’s movement), it doesn’t matter how far back the foe is. We know they’re going to catch up. Coming to understand our powers over the opening chapters serves to increase the tension of this map, because we know just what the enemy is capable of. And how much to fear it.

Retreat is a highlight, but it isn’t the only redeeming feature of Fire Emblem Engage. Because while the story is worth an eye roll and little else, the maps are excellent. Many have unique obstacles that present new tactical challenges, from changing tides to sand pits. An abundance of hammers, bows, and other weapons that endanger specific units on your team require attentive play, even if you do have a clock rewind on demand.

I had to use it liberally, thankful that the times of restarting entire 45-minute maps after one mistake are behind us. When they say 6% critical chance, what they really mean is 100% chance of having to abuse the clock. But I didn’t mind most runs with bad luck, because they created interesting puzzles that saw me attack the same turn and set of foes in different ways until I unlocked a future where everybody survived.

Yes, I could have gone back further to ease my advance, but where’s the fun in that?

And it bears repeating that while the main character, emblems, and villains are examples of questionable characterization, the many recruited personalities are engaging. Great voice acting brings fighters, artists, and fighting artists to life in heartwarming, funny, and sometimes intriguing support conversations.

They deserved a dramatic tale. But when there’s no sense of real war, danger, or drama because the bad guys are silly bosses and brainless zombies and castles are conquered instantaneously, without any semblance of strategy, tactics, or consequence, it’s hard to be concerned with their personal tribulations.

Add in the emblems and nothing about the world feels real. Each map is just another Saturday morning’s cartoon. Fun to play, but ultimately inconsequential.

It bears mentioning that the return of a handful of old maps (one for each emblem) is the most effective celebration at work in Fire Emblem Engage, not the least of which is because they also feature old tunes. The interplay of new mechanics on old stomping grounds keeps them from being simple drag-and-drops, too.

(And while I do think they did Ike’s character a little dirty, seeing him punch a hole through a fort from Path of Radiance was exhilarating.)

Fire Emblem Engage

The Somniel, a between-battles home base that lets you increase support levels, buy items, and pick up frivolous materials, is a cumbersome menu at best (and chore at worst). As it’s just a floating island in the sky, it feels removed from the world, again contributing to the feeling that none of it is real, none of it matters, and you might as well just enjoy the battles. The minigames are goofy, much of the fashion customization doesn’t track with the setting, and, frankly, what’s the point?

Fire Emblem Engage is a Fire Emblem best played by series veterans who can appreciate all of the nods to the past, but by no means is having played them required. If you’re new to the series, my advice is to wait on Fire Emblem, which is coming to the NSO+ GBA app sooner or later. Or you could try and grab one of the 3DS titles (like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia) before that eShop closes next month. But if you’re hankering for a newer experience, and one that’s more emblematic of where the franchise is now, where it’s headed, and in a way where it’s been, then you could do worse than giving Fire Emblem Engage a try.

You just couldn’t do a worse story.

About Michael

Brutal Gamer's Nintendo Editor spends an endless amount of time on his Switch (when he isn't lost in the mountains), dreaming of the return of 1080, F-Zero, and Custom Robo.

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