Game Reviewby Jean-Karlo Lemus,
Fire Emblem Engage
The land trembles under the shadow of the Fell Dragon, Sombron. With the awakening of the fated Divine Dragon, the power of the Emblems echoes across the land. March forth with your army, and reclaim the Emblems!
Fire Emblem Engage has had a rough time coming. The title was weird, the art style left a lot of people unconvinced, and it's coming on the heels of the widely-beloved Fire Emblem: Three Houses. How does Intelligent Systems' newest strategy RPG hold up?
The good news is Engage's systems and mechanics are up to Fire Emblem's standards. If anything, they're the best they've ever been. The Engagement system adds a fascinating wrinkle to the typical strategy formula by adding new skills and abilities to characters. In many cases, these abilities can completely change how a character works. Engaging with Marth's Emblem makes your character a better swordfighter, obviously, giving you a skill that lands an extra hit at the cost of a hit to your attack, for example. But then you have Micaiah's ring, which grants you expertise in using staves and abilities that facilitate fog-of-war maps. Best of all, bonding with Emblems grants your units skills they can inherit. Want to bump up your Thief's Avoid? Give them some time to bond with Marth. Do your healers need some extra oomph? Micaiah has what they need.
On top of the Emblems are the Bond Rings, born of the memories of each Emblem's allies. These cost Bond fragments (a new currency you earn by clearing maps and other minor actions) are a good way of giving minor boosts to other characters' stats while you lack extra Emblems for your whole retinue. Sadly, there is a gacha-like element to the whole system: it's possible to invest thousands of points and get nothing but weak rings with +1 to minor stats, but Bond Rings can be merged and upgraded on their own. Also, there's no actual monetization involved with Bond Rings: everything is handled in-game. And hey, it's a good way of celebrating the Fire Emblem franchise's historical roots, even if some of the older profiles for the more senior allies haven't aged as well. (Alas, the poor cast of Genealogy of the Holy War...)
Your Somnium, which serves as a base for your army between maps, has other fun areas and functions. It's probably not as massive or characterful as Garreg Mach Monastery, but it's a cozy little place where you can collect and raise animals, play exercise minigames to receive minor stat boosts for your next map, buy equipment, spar with party members, and change your outfits. Does it get old having to run around all over the map to pick up item spawns and handle all of your unit management? Yes, sometimes, but it's nevertheless a characterful area, breathing a great deal of life into the cast.
What about the battles? I'm happy to say Fire Emblem Engage doesn't disappoint. A wealth of new skills has been added to make each unit feel vital to the army, giving you a reason to reconsider your army composition more than ever. Some units can jump in with a Chain Attack with characters they're adjacent to, some units gain bonuses depending on who they're next to, and some units can even move again after taking an action. Fire Emblem Engage also adds a new wrinkle with its Break system: now, not only does taking advantage of the inherent rock-paper-scissors nature of the Weapons Triangle become vital due to dealing extra damage, but it's also essential to render enemy units incapable of counter-attacks once they've been struck with a weapon they're weak against—opening them up to death from a thousand cuts from your weaker teams who no longer need fear retribution. Bosses also have Revival Gems that restore their health once they've been defeated, making battles against them more than just a mad dash to one-shot them. The result is a system that further rewards aggression over defensive turtling while making blind bum-rushes a much riskier (though more rewarding) endeavor and requiring further strategy against boss units.
It's also worth considering the changes done to healer units. Now reclassed as Qi Adepts, these units not only have the option of using staves to heal (or whatever else staves do, like illuminate dark areas or set up impassable obstacles) but also use martial arts to defend themselves. Qi Adepts also can use Chain Defense, mitigating damage for units around them if their health is at maximum. This grants much more versatility (not to mention survivability) to your healers while making fights against any well-placed boss a much riskier endeavor.
So that's all the mechanical cruft, but what about the heart and soul of the game? Sadly, there are no two ways about it: Fire Emblem Engage is a lot lighter and softer than previous entries to the series. Protagonist Alear's two-toned hair is even a point of parody within the game itself, and the cast is more along the lines of Fire Emblem Awakening's troop of quirky recruits whose personalities revolve around one trait. Framme and Clanne love the Divine Dragon, Alfred and his hand servants are all about their muscular gains, and Chloe, the elegant Pegasus Rider, will eat anything for a laugh.
In isolation, this isn't a problem: the Fire Emblem series has had plenty of games that vary in their tone Three Houses was much darker and in-depth with its cast, but Fates was perfectly content in reveling with its trope-y cast. While Mika Pikazo's character designs are flashier and more colorful than the norm for Fire Emblem, this in and of itself does not detract from the game or the story. The tone of the game does seem much more along the lighthearted lines of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, but for anyone willing to explore Fire Emblem Engage's story, they're sure to find characters they'll love. This is less of the hard-hitting fantasy drama you might expect from Fire Emblem. But the quirky, memorable characters are the same goofballs you'll come to know and love. Their color palettes are just a lot more saturated this time around. And while it may seem somewhat silly to see Alfred with big turbines on his back after he engages with Sigurd, the Emblems are a fantastic tribute to Fire Emblem's extensive legacy. Whenever possible, each unit brings back their established voice actors from previous games. There's a degree of excitement to see your favorite Lord or Lady given that bit of pomp and circumstance when they dance across the screen.
And that's what it all boils down to this time around. Alear's and their hair is definitely going to be the poster child for this game, for better or worse, but this is nevertheless one of the better Fire Emblem games in recent history. The mechanics are there, the battles feel snappy and intelligent, there's a wealth of options for character growth and number-crunching, and you have plenty of opportunities for grabbing your two favorite weirdos and mashing them together while you make kissy noises. There's plenty of loving fanservice to Fire Emblem's extensive history, and best of all, it feels like a rock-solid strategy game. It's just a really, really bright and colorful one that doesn't take itself as seriously—which might not fit what some people expect out of a Fire Emblem.
Overall : B+
Graphics : A
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : A
Presentation : B
+ Fantastic mechanical options; great bits of Fire Emblem fanservice; strategy gameplay feels as good as everything
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