Fire Emblem is a turn-based battle strategy game series with a thirty year history, but most people in the United States know it from the collection of human proportioned anime weirdos that keep appearing in Super Smash Brothers. When the unknown sword fighters Marth and Roy appeared in Smash Bros Melee, the Nintendo team geniusly decided not to translate and localize the games those two guys starred in. Instead, they released a prequel to Roy’s game with a long tutorial for new players simply dubbed Fire Emblem in the United States that featured Roy’s dear old dad. This seventh entry (known as Blazing Blade internationally), was America’s first real brush with a Fire Emblem game. Tons of releases have come out since, but only Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a 2019 Switch release, has been a huge hit stateside. The latest entry, Fire Emblem Engage, is now out, with great new game mechanics that are fully willing to make use of that thirty year history, popularity in the US be damned.
Engage’s main new feature is the concept of your battle units equipping Emblem Rings. These very powerful accessories greatly expand what your unit can do beyond attacking, counter-attacking on enemy phase, and healing. These Rings, as your unit deepens their individual bond level with them through use, increase stats, provide passive abilities, and can be Engaged to fuse with the battle units to unleash even more powerful techniques. These Rings also serve to grow and customize your units, as they can spend a resource to permanently gain passive abilities even when not wearing that Emblem Ring, or get weapon proficiencies to change their character class or just generally expand their weapon arsenal. The real catch with these twelve Emblem Rings is that they are personified by the interdimensional spirits of previous lead characters from other Fire Emblem games. So Marth, Roy, Byleth from Three Houses and Lyn from Blazing Blade all join in the cast. However, even in DLC, Roy’s dear poor dad doesn’t appear to rep his own game.
Red headed bro in the front thinks he’s on the team
While the Emblem Rings greatly expand the power of your units and what they can pull off in general, the enemy characters in this game are strong and you will need them. Hell some of them even use their own Rings against you. Another mechanic to help you out is Break, which is a modified version of the weapon triangle from most old games that was absent in Three Houses (to it’s detriment). Usually, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. In other games the winning weapon gets a stat boost, but in Engage an attacking ally or enemy unit can disarm a defending unit using a weapon that loses that game of deadly rock-paper-scissors. A broken unit cannot counter attack during the attack it is broken, and cannot counter if another unit begins combat one more time, but after that (or its turn on enemy phase) it is good as new unless broken again.
This Break mechanic is only marginally useful against regular enemies and not the end of the world if an enemy does it to you. But it is basically required to tackle strong bosses without them outright killing your weaker units on counterattack. Bosses in this game are one of the best challenge level improvements. Most Fire Emblem games ran afoul of parking their bosses in one spot, never moving along the map, at best using extremely long range magic to threaten you throughout the level. In this game, bosses go aggro on you if you get in a certain range or wait too long. And not only do they have more than one health bar to fight through, it is common for there to be more than one boss. So in order for the bosses to not cleave through your more vulnerable units, you have to mob them with your whole army using Breaks and another valuable mechanic, Chain Attack. Chain Attacks are linked to Backup class units. Placing them next to an enemy unit in their attack range allows them to chip a percentage of hit points off that enemy when another one of your ally units attacks that same enemy. So placing one Backup unit (or more) close to a boss near the beginning of your Player Phase can allow them to chip a boss down as the rest of your team performs attacks from range, getting through their defense too if that happens to be very high.
Starting out with two Emblem Rings, also a look at the better looking UI
As far as appearances go, the Fire Emblems that use 3d rendering have had issues with art direction, causing them to feature half-assed battle animations against quarter-assed environments. Engage actually looks great, with a flair to the UI that makes it look like more than a bunch of nested menus. The character designs have gotten flack online, especially against the two-toned hair of the protagonist. And well, they are right. The protagonist isn’t even close to the most annoying design in this game either. But I can’t deny that all the decisions are bold and the color palette is too compared to the muddy tones of Three Houses. The story is tropey, and the character developing support conversations are unbearably saccharin. Thankfully, all of these cutscenes can be skipped so you can get to the meaty goodness of the gameplay.
The worst part is that this girl is way too good of a unit to just bench and ignore
Speaking of bold decisions, and this is a spoiler, once you get to Map 10 in the story, have collected 6 Emblem Rings and are seemingly on top of the world with broken abilities, the game steals the Rings away and turns them against you. Map 11 has you starting from zero, with the mid-game focusing on collecting the remaining six Rings in the wild. This is especially daring as the Rings are tied to how you were growing and customizing your characters earlier, and now that they are just gone, all of your immediate plans are in ashes. The paradigm shift is actually good for fresh gameplay, since you have time to get used to the new six mid-game Rings without an overload of options. Starting with the great Map 17, where you have six Rings and your enemies use your old six against you, you slowly begin to claw them back until you have a full set of twelve Rings
Engage not only provides great gameplay and a bold art direction, but 40ish maps to beat in the story mode, combined with online challenge and relay maps. For replayability you have a great deal of units to develop on new playthroughs and three difficulty settings. I’m currently banging my head against Map 17 in the Maddening difficulty after beating the game on the middle setting, Hard mode. Fire Emblem Engage is only available on Nintendo Switch, and due to the timing of the release in the States versus Japan, DLC is already coming out for it.
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