Way back in 1990 the first Fire Emblem game released in Japan. It became a super popular RPG series and had many different installments in the series. While Fire Emblem proved to be a very successful series in Japan, it did not see North American shores until 2003. The first Fire Emblem game we ever saw in North America was Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade. Funny enough, it was a prequel to a game that North America never got to see – Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade. What would have been even more confusing for the North American gamer was that Marth and Roy were playable characters in Super Smash Bros Melee nearly two whole years before Fire Emblem even was playable anywhere outside of Japan.
Now things are different. Fire Emblem games are beloved around the world and many people argue which game is the best in the series. The last installment in the series was Fire Emblem: Three Houses and that game was a seriously enjoyable social sim with RPG tactics gameplay the series is known for. The social aspects were quite a left turn for the series, but the punishing difficulty remained. Now we have Fire Emblem Engage, a swift right turn back into the lane that classic FE fans will recognize. Engage may also wind up solidifying itself into the conversation of which FE game is the best. Spoiler alert: it’s my personal favourite.
For those of you who haven’t played a Fire Emblem game, allow me to explain the basics. Fire Emblem Engage much like the vast majority of the previous games is a tactics RPG. You have a bird’s eye view of the battlefield and can control up to 10 characters. There are many many more characters than 10, but you need to be able to build a squad that works best for each scenario. Combat in FE games typically use the Weapon Triangle system. Much like “rock paper scissors,” each main weapon choice has a strength and a weakness. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords.
Fire Emblem Engage keeps things fresh by changing how the original system works by adding extra options. Martial Arts (typically used by monks/healers) beat tomes, bows and knives, but are typically weak to most other weapon choices. Bows are great against airborne opponents, but weak to arts. There is also a ‘break’ mechanic that does what it implies. It breaks the opponent’s weapon and stops them from counterattacking your attack. It can be a great way to stop an enemy from killing your character.
Speaking of killing characters, Fire Emblem Engage also uses the series’ old perma-death. If a character in your party dies they die for good. You cannot take them to the next level with you because they DIED. Your characters will die often if you are not careful, and sometimes even when you are careful. Most FE games are punishing and brutal. I have been playing Engage on hard difficulty and I have been getting my ass kicked. Thankfully, if you’re like me and are too anxious about losing characters permanently, you can shut that off and play like any regular RPG. After the mission is completed or failed, your characters who have died will come back to life.
Engage also introduces an extremely helpful tool, the “Draconic Time Crystal.” The crystal can be used up to 10 times in a single mission and allow you to rewind to any turn in the game. If you made one mistake and lost a beloved character you can immediately rewind and move them out of danger. If you get far into a battle and realize it’s going nowhere you can rewind all the way back to the beginning and start it over. I have done exactly that multiple times. And you know what? I was never annoyed about starting over because I constantly had fun. I found every single turn and decision I made to be super engaging (pun very much intended) and most importantly… fun!
Another new system introduced in Fire Emblem Engage is… well… the ability to engage with your Emblem Rings. There is a literal line in a cutscene where the line “engage with your emblems” is said and it made me laugh my ass off. Each ring has the spirit of Fire Emblem’s past protagonists. Seeing familiar faces like Marth, Roy, Corrin, Lyn, Byleth, and many others was so cool. You can equip any ring to any of the many playable characters in the game and build bonds. When you engage with a ring, the playable character changes form and gains new abilities such as weapon types, spells, and passive bonuses. It’s a very fun system; giving a mage the ability to use an axe, or an archer the ability to ride on horseback. It allows for a lot of experimentation and even more ways to fine tune your party to your own preference.
Another place Fire Emblem Engage shines is in its bombastic design choices. Each character looks like they could be a protagonist for any other RPG. The main protagonist, Alear, has been named Colgate-Kun online due to their red and blue motif. I’ve always thought it was a super striking character design and made so much sense in the world of Fire Emblem that I didn’t even notice how wild of a design it is. But what I wasn’t expecting was how wildly designed nearly every character in Fire Emblem Engage is. Alear looks pretty tame next to a lot of the characters you get to join your crew.
You also get to hang out with all of the characters you recruit in the Somniel. The Somniel acts as the game’s main hub. There you can spend time with each party member. You can eat food or workout with them or train with them by sparring. This is also the area where you buy weapons and items. It is a much more simplified social system than what was in Three Houses. While that is a bit of a downer, it does not take away from how good this game’s combat is.
These ridiculous characters and bright colourful landscapes shine on the aging hardware of the Nintendo Switch. I never had any major frame drops or performance issues at all in the 26 hours I’ve played. I am not yet done with the game, so I haven’t seen every area or every character, but what I have seen has looked gorgeous. The folks at Intelligent Systems have really outdone themselves with the looks and performance Fire Emblem Engage achieves. It’s an absolutely beautiful game to look at and to play. I am dying for Nintendo to release a follow up to the Switch so we can see what a true next gen Fire Emblem can look like. I cannot praise this game enough, it is an absolute delight to look at.
If I haven’t already made it clear, let me state it out loud.
I LOVE FIRE EMBLEM ENGAGE.
Newcomers and OG fans alike will find so many things to love in this game. Whether it’s the memorable characters and boss fights, reuniting with old protagonists, hanging out with your party members, you’re bound to find something you enjoy. The combat is as punishing as ever and the newly added handicaps available for you to use make it an easier experience for those not too keen on getting their asses beat 24/7. Fire Emblem Engage is a perfect place to start for newcomers, and a warm embrace from an old friend for the series’ veterans.
There is a lot of DLC on the way, with some already out. Support for Fire Emblem Engage doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, so you have plenty of future content to look forward to. I’m not even finished with the main campaign yet, but I am already hungering for more characters to play and places to see. Fire Emblem Engage is an absolute winner and a must play in 2023. I’m calling it now, this will be a GOTY contender. Now quit reading this article and go buy the game!