January 20, 2023
I had always observed the Fire Emblem series from a distance, worried its strategy gameplay wouldn’t be for me or stressed determining where best to start and how to play through the franchise’s various entries. Fire Emblem Three Houses was the first I gave a good try and 80-plus hours later, it’s one of my favorite games on Switch and turned me into a Fire Emblem fan. Since its reveal, I’ve looked at Fire Emblem Engage as a test bed: am I actually a Fire Emblem fan, or did I just really like Three Houses and its engaging Hogwarts-like school mechanics? If the 10 hours I’ve put into Engage so far are any indication, I’m happy to say it’s the former.
Engage isn’t doing anything I haven’t seen before in the fantasy storytelling realm. There’s a hero who saved the world, then they were in a slumber for a long time, and now they’ve awakened to find the once peaceful realm they saved in potential disarray once more. They also can’t remember a thing, with memories of their past slowly mushing their way into the hero’s brain. That hero is the Divine Dragon and he, in my case, is the main protagonist of Engage. He holds an Emblem Ring that allows him to tap into the strength and battle intelligence of past Fire Emblem hero Marth. However, Marth isn’t just a tool to use on the battlefield, though, as I talk with him and strengthen the bond between us, just as I do for the various allies I’ve already recruited into my Divine Dragon team-up.
Since those opening introductory moments, I’ve met new allies wearing Emblem Rings and have seen how those past Fire Emblem heroes come into play, both as a battlefield tactic and as a personality to engage with outside of combat. Engage’s strategy gameplay isn’t reinventing the wheel – it’s Fire Emblem through and through – but the game’s namesake, Engage, is the mechanic that allows an ally or the Divine Dragon to summon their Emblem Ring hero, be it Marth for me or Celica for another. Each character with a ring has an Engage form that looks different, can typically move more spots on the battle map, and is significantly more powerful or, in some cases, more supportive with full-team healing abilities. I love turning the tides of a battle with the Engage mechanic, and in small skirmish battles, I can mop up enemies quickly by activating three Engage characters at once.
To that end, though, Engage is lacking in the difficulty department. Because of this Engage mechanic, I rarely feel threatened. If enemies are closing in on an ally for the kill, I can Engage and get there quickly to defend the allies. If enemies are swarming me, same thing. That said, I’m still enjoying every battle, be it story-related or more minor skirmishes. I’ve lost an ally here or there – I’ve opted to go the Casual playstyle where allies defeated in battle return after I’ve won because I want to learn more about the various characters I’ve met – but I haven’t yet lost a mission’s primary objective. I’m hoping the difficulty begins to ramp up here soon and based on where the story’s headed, I imagine it will.
When I’m not engaged in battle, I explore the game’s central hub, Somniel. It’s the Divine Dragon’s castle, and it’s where you can purchase new outfits, armor and weapons, general items, and more. It’s also where you can hang with the dogs, cats, sheep, and birds you’ve adopted out in the world of Elyos, and you can interact with everyone on your team to raise bonds, listen to support conversations, and train. When I’m not selecting my next mission on the Elyos world map, I’m at Somniel. Much like I did with the monastery in Three Houses, Somniel has become a check-in pit stop of sorts. After completing a chapter, I head there and run through my list of routine visits to the various shops, the dining cafe, the training facilities, and more. I could see Somniel becoming monotonous for some, but it’s scratching that checklist itch that empowers me to view my Divine Dragon as the one in charge.
Fire Emblem Engage hasn’t captivated my every waking thought, but everything I’ve encountered ranges from great to excellent thus far. The story has been exciting enough, but having not experienced any of the twists, turns, or true drama I know the Fire Emblem series is known for, it’s nothing remarkable at the moment. I fear (for my team) that those things are coming, and I can’t wait. But even if Engage’s story remains as by the books as it seems right now, it’s shaping up to be a fun Fire Emblem game, and that’s something I’m excited about for my Switch.