‘Fire Emblem Engage’: Bipolar Bloodshed

The primary goal of a modern, Switch-era “Fire Emblem” (FE) game is to find a balance between strategy gameplay, where units clash in turn-based combat on a grid-like battlefield, and socialization, where the player spends time bonding with the members of their ragtag army. “Fire Emblem Engage” treats these two ideas — as well as all its tertiary ideas — with varying levels of seriousness, and the result is a highly polarized experience.

The Positives

The strategy gameplay is the most fun that I have ever had in a “Fire Emblem” game. The return of the Weapon Triangle, a system where different weapons are strong or weak to each other in a rock-paper-scissors configuration, adds a lot of depth to the game even though it seems like a limiting mechanic on the surface. With an abundance of weapons, stat-boosting items and power-enhancing Emblem Rings, I never got bored of a level halfway through.

The graphics, which lend themselves to the more colorful anime artstyle that Art Director Mika Pikazo is known for, are another highlight. In the four years that have passed since their last FE game, developers Intelligent Systems figured out how to make full use of the Switch’s hardware. The battle animations are all quite dynamic, and the 2D character portraits that were previously a staple of the series are barely missed in “Engage” thanks to the improved 3D character models. In order to show off the environment art, the player now has the option to run around the battlefield after a level is complete. This is a pretty shallow mechanic, but it adds a touch of immersion to a game that is sorely lacking it otherwise.

Support conversations are “Engage’s” way to learn more about the characters. When the player has raised the bond between two characters high enough, they are able to watch a cutscene where those two characters have a conversation, revealing more about their personality and backstory to each other. These support conversations tend to start off trivial, but as the game progresses, they become deeper and more compelling. Some characters get more focus than others, but they are all likable enough and reasonably well-written. However, the way that “Engage” handles its characters is unfortunately one of its flaws.

The Negatives

Although “Engage” has passable characters, it does not offer enough opportunities for the player to get to know them. The Somniel, a floating island which serves as the player’s home base, is an underwhelming hub world. All of the Somniel content is essentially optional, which is a double-edged sword: The voluntarism lets the player choose how to play, but it also gives the developers an excuse to give up on creating an experience that players would actually want to choose. Characters show up in the Somniel, but they will very rarely have anything relevant to say pertaining to the events of the game. This fact, in combination with the conspicuous lack of worldbuilding, removes a lot of the motivation for the player to connect with these characters.

“Engage’s” biggest flaw, though, is its impressively bad story. Not content with simply being boring, the writers seemingly attempted to sabotage the game’s plot at every turn. Characters sometimes have completely different personalities between cutscenes. Random lore with huge story implications is introduced in the final level of the game as an afterthought. Time travel, always a risky plot device, is used so poorly and inconsistently as to seem almost parodic. In short, there is very little enjoyment to be had from the main storyline, even in a so-bad-it’s-funny sort of way.

The Verdict

Is “Fire Emblem Engage” worth it for $60? If you are a hardcore fan of strategy role-playing games who cares about gameplay over everything, then absolutely. If you need the backdrop of a believable, intriguing fantasy world in order to get invested in the rest of what the game has to offer, then probably not.