By Isaac Espinosa
As you rise after a millennium of sleep, shaking off a hazy dream, you become aware that your destiny is to save the world from ruin. Fire Emblem: Engage for the Switch is the newest title in the Fire Emblem franchise. As the 17th game in the series, Engage feels almost like a celebration of everything that the stories of Fire Emblem have built up until now. Does it do a good job at this, or does Fire Emblem: Engage betray the history of the franchise?
In terms of story, Fire Emblem: Engage plays it simple, focusing on solid execution rather than something more convoluted. Playing as the Divine Dragon, Alear, you awaken from your thousand-year slumber to learn the state of your world, and that the Fell Dragon, Sombron, has been revived as well. Alear doesn’t seem ready to fight Sombron yet, as hesitance to take on appearances of his minions shows inexperience in a fight. But with the guidance of their mother, Lumera, the Divine Dragon Monarch, they come to know more about their home world of Elyos. With special Rings, the Divine Dragon can summon Emblems, spirits of the legendary heroes from older Fire Emblem stories, to help them along their journey. Unfortunately, the reunion with Lumera is cut short as followers of the Fell Dragon invade her castle, stealing some of the Emblem Rings and killing Lumera in the process, which leaves Alear to go solo. As the sole Divine Dragon now left in existence, it’s up to Alear to travel around Elyos, collect all 12 Emblem Rings and defeat Sombron before he can realize his ambitions of destroying the peace of Elyos.
As noted, Engage’s story isn’t complex, but it’s still effective due to its world building and character nuance. Alear’s voyage teaches them more and more about the different countries of Elyos and all of the characters that reside within them. We meet Diamant, the Prince of Brodia, who wishes to wash away the darker history of his kingdom when he ascends the throne, and Ivy, the Elder Princess of Elusia, who had worshiped the Divine Dragon in secret (going against her kingdom, which is devoted to the Fell Dragon). Engage relies on its diverse cast and character interactions to make you more attached to the story as a whole. Even Alear, who starts off as an ambitious but naive leader of an army, has to grasp the sometimes deadly consequences of their actions, learning from their mistakes and striving to be better as the game goes on. Engage doesn’t try to overwhelm players with vast amounts of exposition, but rather plays it safer by allowing the characters and rich dynamics to carry the story. I was impressed with how invested I became in the narrative, especially during the game’s second half. There are tons of twists and emotional climaxes that keep you on the edge of your seat, which was something I didn’t expect.
Of course, the story wouldn’t count for much without the gameplay. And fortunately, Engage also delivers on that front. Much like the prior Fire Emblem games, Engage plays like a tactical RPG, where you control multiple units and move them around a grid based map. As always, the objective is to take down enemies and claim victory, hopefully with as few casualties as possible. And with Engage’s incredible soundtrack in the background, with tracks such as the quick-paced “Determined Journey” or the choral-heavy march of “Distorted Flash of Light,” each battle has a real impact.
But Engage introduces some elements that set it apart from its predecessors. The Weapon Triangle is back, and with it the Rock-Paper-Scissors style of combat in which Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Lances, and Lances beat Swords. However, it’s not quite the same as before. The new Breaking mechanic, for example, allows a unit that has the advantage to completely strip the enemy of their weapon. So even if they’re a bulky tank, they won’t be able to counterattack for another turn of combat. As in many of the newer Fire Emblem titles, most of your units can use an array of weapons, so there’s usually an option for any situation. But all of this applies to your enemy as well, so it’s important to understand how to properly avoid getting hit by some of these mechanics yourself. It’s a unique blend of the different styles that Fire Emblem has introduced in its gameplay loop, creating a new approach that I’d love to see as the basis for the series in the future.
Engage isn’t without its issues, though. And while none of them are deal breakers for me, they’re still flaws that I noticed early on. In terms of the story, the pacing is… quite fast, at least compared to other Fire Emblem titles. This wouldn’t be a bad thing on its own, but it ends up causing players to leave certain countries very quickly. This is especially noticeable in Chapters 7-9, where we visit the country of Brodia, meet a bunch of new faces, and are then instantly thrown into the country of Elusia by Chapter 10. The pacing improves after Chapter 11, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re being rushed to that point. And that’s a shame, because it would be great to spend more time with the characters we’ve been introduced to, like Diamant and his retainers, Amber and Jade, and to explore more of these countries’ lore and history.
At the end of the day, Fire Emblem: Engage is not a masterpiece. It doesn’t have an incredible story or award-winning gameplay. Which is okay! It still provides a potent experience that captures what I love about Fire Emblem, both from a gameplay perspective and a story perspective. And indeed, it does an incredible job of celebrating the Fire Emblem series and everything that it’s built up over the course of two decades. Just because it isn’t one of the best ever made doesn’t mean that players won’t enjoy most of it.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Along with being named the Circle’s first assistant mentor, Isaac also published his first story in The Verge.