Fire Emblem Engage Review
Fire Emblem games can be revelatory experiences. Normally, this refers to like, an emotional revelation. This particular eureka moment was more mechanical in nature. It turns out I rely on level grinding in turn-based strategy RPGs. Truthfully, I rely on it in every RPG, but strategy RPGs are no exception. I say this because Fire Emblem Engage removes this element from the equation. It took me several days to sort out how I feel about this decision. And you know what? I’m totally on board. There are better ways to balance your difficulty curve after all. In fact, there’s a lot I’ve come to appreciate about Fire Emblem Engage.
Chief among these things is the balance system at work. You can’t do the sort of mindless grinding I’m used to in other Fire Emblem games. You’ve got training battles and skirmishes to fight, but they disappear after being completed. Paralogues and story stages aren’t repeatable. This means that the decisions you make, about who fights when, are important ones. I found this frustrating, at least at first. But it turns out that you’re getting a steady stream of stronger fighters in your stable. So even if you lean on a bare handful of favorites the whole time, you’ll still have enough bruisers to fill your team. It’s an interesting shift that improves the flow of gameplay overall.
Leave The Grind Behind
Engage is (kind of) harder than previous entries. Normal difficulty feels more serious than it used to, for sure. But this is balanced by the Time Crystal mechanic. If you’re playing on Classic mode, then every death is permanent. But scrubs like myself just skirted around this by restarting the fight immediately afterward. I just can’t stand to lose people, you know? So the Time Crystal makes this easier. Instead of scrubbing the whole fight, you wind back the clock to before that fatal mistake. Thankfully, even with these concessions, the battles feel rather intense.
Part of the difficulty spike is thanks to the Break mechanic. If you’re attacking with a weapon advantage, you can knock the opponent’s weapon from their hands. This way, they can’t counterstrike. Which of course, the enemy can do to you as well. This means you can’t send your strongest unit in alone to wipe out a whole squad. I mean, you can still do that. But it’s a much more dangerous proposition than it used to be. Which is exciting! Suddenly fights feel more fraught, more intense. Plus the Emblems themselves tend to shake things up.
Emblems are the heart of this game. The Emblem rings are so important that the entire story revolves around them. Mechanically, they’re not as essential, though they do come in handy. You can strike from a great distance, heal the entire party, and even let fighters act twice in one turn. There’s a significant operating cost though, which keeps things relatively balanced. The downside is that engaging with an emblem can change your weapon type. This means your strategies for certain fighters have to shift in a real hurry. I found myself not engaging for most of the battle, just to keep that extra complication at bay. At least you can choose which Emblem goes with which character.
All About Those Rings
I said the Emblems are the core of the narrative, and I absolutely meant it. Whereas previous games sucked you in with intrigue and betrayal, Engage has a different focus. There’s a Big Bad, the Fell Dragon, and you’ve got to stop him. And to do so, you need all Twelve of the Emblem Rings. While I know that there’s more to it than that, the story just feels like an elaborate fetch quest. ‘Get seven MacGuffins and save the world’ was played out before Fire Emblem Awakening was released for the 3DS. I won’t go into details, but the twists in this story feel pretty forced. Maybe I’ve just played too many games, read too many books, seen too many movies. I wasn’t invested in the narrative, but the tiny, player-driven stories were still terribly compelling.
Even with the Time Crystal at my side, every character death was a knife in my guts. I can’t let these people die! Not even if they outlive their usefulness, doomed to warm the bench for the rest of the campaign. Seeing someone blown off their feet in slight slow motion, uttering a last pithy line before their death, gets me every time. I’ve taken tea with these guys, gotten their backstories, picked out their clothes. We’ve exercised together, trained together, fought together. The bonds I’ve forged with Alear’s massive crew are stronger than anything whipped up by the plot. This has been true for the last several games, and it’s still true for Engage.
Gotta Save ’em All
That said, I wasn’t as plugged in to a lot of the side content. Not the missions, like the paralogues, the training battles, and the skirmishes. Those are tough, terrific fights that reward your curiosity. I’m talking about the little tasks you can do between missions to form stronger bonds with your team. The cafe section isn’t as fun, since you’re not the one doing the cooking. The exercises section seemed okay, but I never did it more than once. And you can polish your Emblem rings, which feels like a colossal waste of time. I love talking to my team and learning more about them, yes. But the little tasks, those all failed to grab me for some reason. It felt like they padded out the time between battles, but they didn’t achieve much else. Perhaps this stems from me blazing through the game as fast as possible, for review purposes. Your mileage, as I like to say, may vary.
While Engage didn’t win me over with its story, the mechanics are a different matter. I’m pleased that level grinding is being sidestepped in such a clever manner, though I still miss it. I loved how intense the battles are, every single time. Even with the Time Crystal, the stakes feel terribly high. Sure, the narrative feels more cliché than I’m used to. I wish it wasn’t a good vs evil fetch quest. But the character bonds still tell a compelling tale all on their own. And though I didn’t love the side content this time around, I’m still happy there’s so much of it available. Overall, Fire Emblem Engage is an excellent entry in the franchise. You won’t want to miss this one.
***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***
- Battles are intense
- No need to level grind
- Emblems keep things interesting
- Story is weak
- Sort of miss level grinding
- Side content is a drag