Fire Emblem Engage Review - Awakening 2.0
Ever since the launch of Fire Emblem Awakening on the Nintendo 3DS, the long-running franchise has been the recipient of a level of attention that it has never before received. It feels like Fire Emblem is never far from the headlines, whether it be new core releases, spin-offs in the form of Fire Emblem Warriors or even the crossover with Shin Megami Tensei in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, or even remakes of classics like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow Of Valencia. Players always have a Fire Emblem game to look forward to these days, an abundance of riches to be sure, but the franchise has been constantly making small strides to shake things up with each entry – cue the newest entry, Fire Emblem Engage. Fire Emblem Engage initially confused players for a while due to its leaning upon classic Fire Emblem characters; was this a new core entry, or yet another spin-off? Now that it’s here though, I’m happy to confirm – Fire Emblem Engage is very much the real deal.
Fire Emblem Engage tells the story of Alear (or whatever you deem to name them) your avatar character who happens to be what is known as the Divine Dragon, an all-important entity capable of bringing peace to the world of Elyos through their own power as the Divine Dragon to summon all powerful Emblems from each of the worlds twelve Emblem Rings. The Emblem Rings each holds the power of a famed Fire Emblem protagonist from the past (hence the source of some of the pre-release confusion where the game was misrepresented as a spin-off), and the bearer of all twelve Emblem Rings possesses a power so great that it can destroy the forces of either good or evil. Alear was amidst a thousand-year-long slumber but awakens just in time for the evil forces of change to begin to sweep through Elyos.
The intense gravity of the situation quickly hits as Alear, and your party of the newest generation of those who’ve been residing over the sleeping Dragon for all of those years when you discover that a mysterious Corrupted threat is emerging across the land. The immediacy of the threat prompts the party to head to the capital, Lythos Castle, where Alear’s mother, Queen Lumera reigns, but a sudden attack by the Corrupted headed by a mysterious cloaked figure throws the world into further chaos, as Lumera, having barely begun to rekindle her relationship with her newly awakened child, is shockingly killed in the defense of her home. With a few sage pieces of advice from Lumera as her life fades, combined with some memories that have been repressed by a thousand years of slumber beginning to bubble to the surface, Alear journey’s out to reclaim each of the twelve Emblem Rings, utilising them to thwart the attempted return of the Fell Dragon, Sombron. Sombron’s growing army is helmed by the aforementioned mysterious hooded figure, as well as a quartet of dreadful warriors dubbed ‘The Four Hounds’, a team that will stop at nothing to intervene with Alear’s plans and ensure that Sombron returns at full strength. The methods implement by Sombron’s forces to meet their dark goals are putrid, stopping at nothing, and being willing to kill anyone to achieve their ends.
The plot is dark, and rarely are there moments of levity unlike the game’s predecessor, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but when those moments emerge in Fire Emblem Engage, and players can pop their heads up for oxygen, you’ll be met by Alear’s adoring fan club in Clanne and Framme who had been presiding over Alear while he/she slept, whose enthusiasm for the Divine Dragon spills over into creepy obsession, and unnecessary obsession at times. There are a select few other moments of humour throughout the journey, but for the most part, it’s all about business and the need to crush Sombron’s return. Naturally, things won’t play out perfectly for Alear and the party, with constant changes in momentum in a tug-of-war between good and evil taking place seemingly with each passing chapter. Rarely do you feel as though one side of the battle has a steady upper hand, but rather is teetering with a slight advantage at certain times – it is bound to keep the player hooked at all times.
While the Fire Emblem games are renowned for their fascinating, and quality storytelling, they’re equally revered for their depth of gameplay, and it’s in this regard where Fire Emblem Engage both embraces the franchise’s past but also makes new strides forward. The blatant error of removing the beloved weapon triangle from Fire Emblem: Three Houses has been corrected in Engage, but the variable of the Emblems is an important twist in the gameplay loop. The Emblems, from Marth, to Lyn, Lucina to Micaiah, and the eight others available to you each bring their own unique perks and strengths for the players to take full advantage of on top of your standard warrior’s abilities. Emblems can be engaged at will, and again after a cooldown period, with their abilities being utilised to change the flow of battle. Pairing the right Emblem with the right fighter on your team to extract the best of both is of increasing importance as the game plays out; a few careful selections will suddenly allow players to access corners of the map that were previously unreachable without several turns passing, being able to target enemies that would typically be well outside of your typical range, or a colossal spike in your damage output. Your bond with your Emblems can be grown over time, just as it is possible to do with your squadmates, and in doing so, your Emblems can produce a wider range of powerful attacks, while your fighters’ stats get buffed as well. Emblems can be swapped and changed at any time, just as your party members can be, allowing you to experiment with pairings as you see fit.
There are a range of other improvements and changes too. Players have free navigation within the space that their units can move, rather than the traditional and awkward path-plotting approach of previous titles. Poison abilities are present, although their impact has changed, with players taking additional damage when hit, as opposed to suffering from the poison effect at the beginning and end of each turn.
Beyond the standard chapter-based missions and the paralogue encounters, players have more to engage with. Between encounters players can explore the Somniel, Alear’s base where players can build the bonds forged with your squad, and the Emblems, train, exercise for some pre-encounter stat buffs, commit funding to the reconstruction of destroyed portions of Elyos for additional rewards when you fight there later, explore the shops to rearm or improve your gear, replenish consumables, or change up the cosmetic aspects of your characters. Following the completion of an encounter, you can scale the battlefield to collect dropped crafting resources, as well as chat to your comrades, and find new homes in the Somniel for abandoned or displaced animals – those animals between encounters will also collect resources that can go towards the pool of crafting resources that build up naturally. There’s a bit more restraint shown with Engage than its predecessor, something that I’m sure those who felt a little overwhelmed by the daily goings-on of Fire Emblem: Three Houses will most certainly appreciate.
The Somniel also serves as the base for all multiplayer ventures as well. Fire Emblem Engage. Relay Trials are a playable relay styled co-op outings where you and another player can partner up and take turns publicly or privately in the completion of an objective. The Tower Of Trials, which serves as the base for the Relay Trials unlocks relatively early on in the piece, becoming available for players after they complete Chapter 6 of the main game. The Outrealm Trials is a more competitive approach with players pitting armies against one another in PvP encounters through quick battles or custom battles. While quick battles are exactly what you’d expect them to be, the custom battles allow players to create their own maps to fight it out on. In typical Nintendo fashion, the unusual and poorly thought-out decision has been made to limit the number of creatable maps to one per Nintendo Account. Players can share their map IDs or randomly select from the pool that gradually builds over time. The multiplayer functionality is light but considering that the core Fire Emblem titles aren’t necessarily known for their multiplayer, it’s nice to see some effort has been made and that the creative and competitive juices of players can be harnessed through this selection of options.
Despite the technical handicaps of the Nintendo Switch in 2023, Fire Emblem Engage both runs smoothly and looks striking. The cutscenes shine brightly and have been wonderfully stylised, enduring they’ll instantly captivate, meanwhile the in-game action looks pretty great too, but it does have the advantage of perspective limiting the need for pixel-perfect good looks. The soundtrack, especially the game’s title screen theme which then creeps into the gameplay and cutscenes at certain times, and will undoubtedly get you thrashing your head as it plays, while all other tracks hit a powerful chord as well.
Fire Emblem Awakening set the stage for the reinvention and revitalisation of the Fire Emblem IP, and where the games since have slightly deviated from the formula that helped Awakening to explode a decade ago, Fire Emblem Engage is the truest sequel to the game brought in so many new or lapsed Fire Emblem fans. It both embraces the old foundational elements of the franchise and sprinkles on some cherries on top to freshen the cake up. If this ends up being the last new Fire Emblem that we’ll see on the Nintendo Switch, we’ll at least it’s departing with a bang.