By Josh Speer / February 22nd, 2023
|Title||Fire Emblem Engage|
|Release Date||January 20th, 2023|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Languages|
As a longtime fan of the Fire Emblem series, I had a couple prominent reasons I wanted to review Fire Emblem Engage. Firstly, I had been excited to play it for a while now. For another, I was more than a little frustrated seeing the online consensus that it was utterly inferior to the last entry, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. While it’s true I had a lot of fun with Three Houses, I’m also of a mindset that there’s been very few total stinkers in the storied history of the Fire Emblem franchise. And while I wouldn’t say Engage is the very best of the series, it’s also a far step away from being close to the worst.
Story-wise, Engage reminded me a lot of Awakening right out of the gate. The whole amnesiac hero thing is more than a little overplayed in RPGs, but I could mostly tolerate it here. That said, Alear is somewhat of an interchangeable avatar, despite having his own hopes and fears. It’s clear he’s driven to do the right thing, even if he’s not entirely sure why. I mean, sure, his title is the Divine Dragon Alear, so you’d hope he’d want to accomplish noble endeavors. But that’s far from a guarantee, both in fiction as in real life. I enjoyed how they played with Alear’s amnesia in the first dozen or so chapters, and then gradually start to fill in the gaps. Honestly, my biggest complaint about Engage’s story was that I saw the biggest twists coming a mile away.
Like any good Fire Emblem, Engage has a vast roster of allies you can commit to your cause. You’ll acquire allies from all the countries of Elyos over the course of the game, even those that are clearly demarcated as villains early on. There’s a really satisfying and dramatic arc in the first portion of the game, though I’d be lying if I didn’t say the back half underwhelmed me somewhat. Not for lack of ambition, just for what I’d call somewhat clumsy plotting. By the final battle, I found myself wishing the big bad was less chatty so I could just rush into the battle.
Thankfully, you don’t necessarily play any Fire Emblem for masterful storytelling. The series is good at being twisty and occasionally unpredictable, but pretty much every game’s core plot falls apart under intense scrutiny. There’s always small details that remain unresolved and forgotten in the rush to the climax. There’s also plenty of engaging (see what I did there?) characters you’ll interact with as you strengthen your respective bonds. My favorites were the quirkier, darker ones (AKA Tharja 3.0), like a cheerful yet murderous thief named Yunaka, as well as a gorgeous magician that defies the odds and becomes a staunch ally midway through the adventure.
The game also keeps a weird tradition going and gives us yet another Anna, though this one is remarkably small, if no less ruthless. While I enjoyed the variety of characters that join your quest, I did feel many had pretty one-note personalities that didn’t get enough definition. That isn’t to say all of them by any means, but more than I was comfortable with. Engage also keeps the tradition of being able to marry any unit that you have a close enough bond with. Admittedly there was a bit of a censorship issue here, and some of the younger options were turned into close friends rather than partners for life. You can also marry either a man or a woman, depending on your preferences. For what it’s worth, I believe Engage has the most LGBTQ+ characters of any entry, and some really badass ones at that. But to the surprise of nobody, I married the most superficial woman in the entire game. In my defense, she’s gorgeous and also a total valkyrie, so I feel justified in my choice.
Now that we’ve covered some of the setting of Engage, it’s time to talk about the reason most fans get excited for Fire Emblem games – the combat. I admit, this was the part that got me the most hyped to play, and I wasn’t disappointed. Three Houses took a step into the Persona universe by introducing the school elements. Engage takes it further, and essentially has warrior spirits you can summon and fuse with during battle. Assuming you don’t touch the DLC, there’s 12 different Emblem spirits you’ll acquire over the course of the game, and which can be summoned with magical rings they reside in, not unlike genies and lamps. Each Emblem is an iconic Fire Emblem hero, including Roy, Corrin and of course Marth.
Any character can be equipped with any Emblem. By doing so, you’ll gain access to their passive abilities during battle. These can range from blocking allies from attack to moving again after combat, and much more besides. Each Emblem is totally unique, and their class determines the buffs and skills they provide to your units. You’ll also automatically Sync with the Emblems, having them join the attack. As a quick example, I bonded Framme and Sigurd early on, and turned a middling healer into a hard hitting fighter that can also use a lance when not helping her allies.
When your meter is full from attacking, you can Engage, fusing your unit with their Emblem. Not only does this further boost the stats of your character, but it allows you to unleash incredibly powerful Engage attacks. Though most of these deal damage, there’s a couple that are totally game changing, such as the Goddess Dance, which lets all adjacent allies act again. The only thing that keeps this from getting totally out of hand is that you can only be Engaged for a few turns, and can only use one Engage attack during that period. However, there’s nothing stopping you from powering up, so you can Engage again afterwards, opening up further uses.
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