Fire Emblem Engage pays homage to a wide roster of returning characters and the refreshed take on the tactical turn-based battle system makes it the best in the series, however, a few missteps with character backstories leaves us feeling a little less Engaged than we’d hoped.
Welcome to Elyos
Fire Emblem Engage takes place in a land known as Elyos. A land split into various Kingdoms, each governed by their sovereign leaders and above it all, by the Divine Dragon herself; An individual with not only the ability to transform into a dragon of epic proportions but also an individual with unearthly divine powers. It is here we come to life as Alear; also a Divine Dragon (who surprisingly never turns into a dragon), awakening after a 1,000-year slumber with no recollection of our past. In a shocking surprise, we are tasked with taking up arms and collecting the twelve Emblem Rings. Should we fail, the Kingdoms of Elyos will experience great despair as they fall to a great evil known as the Fell Dragon.
The Fire Emblem series has always been a favourite of mine, allowing players to develop and grow alongside its characters as we travel across war-struck lands, picking up characters along the way who not only possess incredible tactical abilities but also colourful and whimsical personalities. Engage is no different. You’ll start off with just you, the protagonist and their retainers that have stood by you whilst you slept. But along the way, you’ll meet even more vibrant characters who have, in their time, inherited skills that’ll benefit your battle-ready team in ways you never thought you needed. For example, there are not many units that are able to go up against a fully armoured unit. My mage however was able to, and quite often did, one-hit-KO most of these armoured units.
Emblem brings back much of what we have always loved within its tactical turn-based battle system – but evolves it to an even better level.
What’s more is that when in possession of a seal that allows you to change your class, you’ll be able to upgrade classes to an even more formidable unit. My mage was eventually upgraded to a Mage Knight which allowed the mage to now travel across the battlefield faster making available to him a wider area of attack with even more destructive power. My Archer was also essential, as he was able to one-hit-KO most enemies that flew and rode Wyverns and Pegasus. All this, combined with the weapon triangle which allows some weapons to have an advantage over others, by breaking their defences and making the unit open to all attacks without the ability to attack back in that round, makes Engage the tactical game fans of the series have been craving.
Emblem brings back much of what we have always loved within its tactical turn-based battle system – but evolves it to an even better level. Alongside the player prepping their units before each battle, Engage grants us the ability to equip Emblem Rings. These rings which are in fact imbued/possessed by legendary heroes from another universe, grant the wielder an incredible stat boost as well as the ability to deal devastating attacks.
For example, the Emblem Ring which possesses the legendary hero Sigurd from Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, allows the unit to perform an attack that moves through multiple units in a row causing damage to said units. And because Sigurd is a cavalry unit and possesses a horse, the unit that possesses his ring will also have an increase in mobility across the battlefield. Another Emblem Ring actually grants the unit the ability to attack two different enemy units. However, unlike Sigurd’s attack, the two enemies do not need to be parallel to each other. With all these options one of my favourite strategies was to warp to another location and immediately unleash an overwhelming attack on enemy units.
There is a wide variety of Emblem Ring abilities such as healing, increasing stats and even the ability to change the terrain. The addition to Emblem Rings changes up the mechanics drastically in the series and allows the player even more strategic glory throughout each battle.
A cloud to cover the light
In order to use the Emblem powers within the ring, you’ll need to Engage with that Emblem. This is similar to a fusion process. Once engaged with that Emblem, you’ll then be able to use the Emblems skills and attacks as well as change colour and in some cases size as well. I really enjoyed this bit because I had the opportunity to equip different Emblem Rings to different units and really appreciate how the designers had decided to make them appear depending on the Emblem they engaged with. One Emblem even allowed my unit, no matter who it was, to transform into a Dragon. Considering that even the protagonist doesn’t do this, this was truly a nice surprise. The one limitation of using the Emblems is that you’ll only maintain this form for three rounds. Thereafter, you’ll have to build up the Emblem power by attacking enemy units or placing the unit on a tile that possesses a blue-coloured flame of sorts that’ll allow your unit to fully recover.
…the Emblem Rings now grant the player the ability to tweak their units even more.
However, one word of caution is that when changing a unit’s Emblem ring, the new unit that has just equipped the ring will now need to form a new bond with the ring and this bond whilst levelling up is what unlocks each stat and attack for that Emblem. In short, it means, that in my case you can only imagine my horror when I went up against a high-level enemy and engaged my unit with the Emblem only to realize that I could not yet use the Emblem’s ultimate attack. This could be considered a plus in that you now have more to do in the game – to increase all combinations. However, to me, everything just felt a little slower and dragged out with bond conversations feeling meaningless.
Fire Emblem Engage has incredible potential to be one of the most uh… ‘engaging’ games in the series. The tactical role-playing series has always put players into incredible positions to not only craft teams of heroes that each possess their own strengths and weaknesses on a battlefield and as discussed above the Emblem Rings now grant the player the ability to tweak their units even more. Unfortunately, where Engage falls short though, is in the ‘engaging’ bit. Throughout my years of playing the series, Fire Emblem has been an amazingly ‘engaging’ storyteller. My favourite game in the series, Fire Emblem Fates, did this excellently. With its intricately detailed story and dialogue, the game had me not only growing in affection for its characters but also feeling horribly betrayed and conflicted when going up against them. This is now the bar I measure all other FE games against.
…a few missteps with character backstories leaves us feeling a little less Engaged than we’d hoped
And sadly, Engage just did not create those same feelings. The game doesn’t really allow the player to develop a relationship with each new character you meet or their land/kingdom. Instead, you’re rushed off to the next Kingdom and the next set of characters. You’re never allowed to grasp the true extent of each character unless you retain them in your core team. Terribly rushed dialogue with two-sentence cutscenes between the Emblems, and its current wielder gives the player no sense of connection with the character. Sadly, even the Emblem that is to be the main protagonist’s direct partner had me feeling very little when not having him available to equip anymore. Engage truly suffers from a pacing issue in respect of its storyline. It never stops ‘coming at you’, except for brief moments to explore the characters you meet along the way where and then you’re suddenly forced to use that character in a battle placed within the main storyline. It feels fickle and it really shouldn’t be…
Our protagonist, Alear, is struggling to mature and grow into the fierce hero they should be. Throughout the game, character after character, become awe-struck at hearing that Alear is the Divine Dragon. This all-saving, all-powerful being should be special but at least in my playthrough was used the least amount in my battles. Engage also doesn’t completely allow the player to make their own decisions, and apart from doing side missions you’re quite literally just taken along for the speeding ride. The game doesn’t fully explore, or at least gives little to no information about some of the Emblem’s backstories either. Where they come from, what they fought for, or what makes them legendary heroes – just never gets explored enough. It is truly a missed opportunity for the fans that never got to play the previous Fire Emblem titles. Veterans of the series may appreciate that not everything is retread though and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when new rings are introduced. You’ll also be able to find Emblems that aren’t part of the core storyline, which I found myself doing a bit, just to spice things up.
A home away from home
The hub that you’ll find yourself in, is known as the Somniel. It is a floating island safe from all the corrupted (enemy zombies basically) and it is the home to our heroes while they find themselves away from the battlefield. Here you can run around chatting to the heroes that have joined you along the journey. Unfortunately, even this is pretty unengaging chatter. You can also do some strength training, clean the rings that house your emblems, and perhaps have a meal or two with some of the other heroes to build stronger bonds to grant a slight boost in battle if you’re fighting alongside that said hero on the battlefield. All these tasks don’t really affect the main game in a major fashion but attempt to add a bit more value to Engage. Perhaps these were substitutes for the lack of ‘engaging’ social simulation that the previous games possessed. You do also have a farm of sorts where you’ll be able to walk around and look at animals that you’ve adopted along the way (found after each battle, on the battlefield) but after some time, even this becomes monotonous, and you’ll find yourself moving on.
As fans know, Fire Emblem titles aren’t just about the tactical gameplay. In fact, for most, most enjoyment is wrapped up in the relationships you develop with the characters along the way. It isn’t just a game of chess. And this is especially the case if you’ve opted for the permadeath option. However, in Engage how can a player feel so attached to a character, to be heartbroken when they fall in battle never to return again, if we are never really given that chance to grow with the characters in the first place? This is my biggest complaint.
That being said Fire Emblem Engage’s tactical turn-based battle system has never shone this brightly before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, even with the poor bonding experience this battle system really kept me coming back. And if this is more or less why you play the Fire Emblem series, I would then be happy to recommend it. But if you’re there for the relationship building, I would say, manage your expectations going in. The fan service of adding in all the previous protagonists from the series was incredibly entertaining. It is, however sad, that unless you know these characters there’s just not much promotion being done for those previous games or much being said about them – so I suspect new players will not have as much fun. All-in-all. Fire Emblem Engage pays homage to a wide roster of returning characters and the refreshed take on the tactical turn-based battle system makes it the best in the series, however, a few missteps with character backstories leaves us feeling a little less Engaged than we’d hoped.
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