As of today, I’ve gotten through quite a few Fire Emblem games, with varying degrees of completion. I’ve played the NES Switch port of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, and the subject of today’s review, Fire Emblem Engage, to completion. I’m halfway through both Three Houses and Sacred Stones, started Fates, but haven’t finished it yet. I originally wasn’t going to play Engage because the commercials for it made it seem like a console gacha game with monetary microtransactions, though that turned out to not be the case. What clinched the deal was finding out one of my favorite newer voice actors was going to play one of the characters, so…yeah. I know, I’m shallow like that. It turned out to be money well spent, as I found Fire Emblem Engage to be pretty fun, though not without its issues.
In the continent of Elyos, four kingdoms waged war against the nefarious Fell Dragon and sealed him away with the help of heroes from other worlds. However, a thousand years have since passed, and the seal is weakening. In the midst of all this, the Divine Dragon and main protagonist (Whose official name is Alear, but I named them Nilou in my playthrough), awakens without their memories. Now Alear must recruit allies and seek out the Emblem Rings needed to call forth the otherworldly warriors once again. If you’re thinking this is going to be anything like Three Houses, you’d best throw those expectations out the window, because Engage pretty much goes back to FE’s roots as being a rather rote Good VS Evil story complete with the power of friendship winning the day. Plus, Engage was clearly made as an anniversary title meant to celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary, which would’ve been in 2020, but…well, COVID happened, along with not wanting to clash with other games coming out—mainly Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes and Xenoblade Chronicles 3—so it wound up getting released in 2023, three years after its intended release year. Yes, I agree that Engage is VERY cheesy, very cliche, and a lot of stuff it’s done has been done before and better not just in other things, but even in other FE games that came out before it. Engage isn’t exactly original.
That being said, I honestly don’t think this makes Engage a bad game. For one, Engage wholly embraces its cheesiness and Saturday morning cartoon-like sensibilities, even in its darker moments, so it’s not like Engage is trying to be something it isn’t. Secondly, yes, I agree that Alear’s dual-colored hair is kind of ridiculous, but it’s not nearly as ridiculous as other stuff I’ve seen. Plus, Alear’s dual-colored hair actually has an in-story reason for being what it is, so it’s not like it’s thrown in there because the creators think it looks cool. Furthermore, while Engage’s characters aren’t nearly as fleshed out and three-dimensional as those from Awakening or Three Houses, I still found them to be fairly enjoyable, and many supports between certain characters are actually pretty sweet and genuine, going in directions I didn’t quite expect, but in a good way. I do agree that several characters could have received more development, but they’re better executed than other stuff I’ve seen that tackles the same character archetypes pretty poorly, especially in recent years. Looking at you, Tropical Rouge Pretty Cure. Yes, a lot of the supports and the overall tone of the game are lighter and more comedic, but some people might appreciate a return to form after Three Houses’ more dark and morally complex tone. They’re certainly not offensively bad, I can tell you that much.
From a gameplay standpoint, Engage really went all out. Basically, giving your characters Emblems allows them to acquire the abilities from said Emblem if you use them enough, and since there’s so many Emblems, the game encourages all sorts of experimentation by trying out different character-and-ring combinations, as units will perform significantly differently depending on which rings the player chooses to give them. While the whole Bond Fragments thing does make the game come off like a gacha game, they’re very easy to acquire and there’s lots of different ways to get them. The maps and their designs are a lot more diverse, and I especially liked the Somniel and all the activities you could unlock there, like the arena and gathering items from animals you adopt for your farm. I kind of wish they did more with stuff like the farm, like growing crops Harvest Moon style or actually raising the animals you adopt…and I will admit, I didn’t like the fishing mini game. It was way too tedious and annoying, and I prefer how Three Houses executed the fishing mechanic.
Speaking of tedious and annoying, why the hell is actual money so hard to get in this game?! The only good ways to get money are progressing through the story and receiving military funds from the four kingdoms when you clear their stories, and the game expects you to use it on stuff like donating to the four kingdoms, which, require a ludicrous amount of money if you want to get them to their highest levels. Plus, donating to the various countries isn’t really worth it because all it does is net you stuff that you can easily access later on anyway, barring some in-game costumes. The only other clear-cut ways to make money are to fight gold corrupted in the skirmishes and to beef up Anna’s luck stat and abuse her passive ability when using her in battle, and even that’s not a guarantee. And did I forget to mention that the skirmish levels scale as you level up Alear, making them a lot harder than needed? Good luck trying to level up your weaker units! Even on easy mode, Engage isn’t exactly merciful towards the newbies unless you know what you’re doing.
On the technical side of things, the graphics themselves are the best Fire Emblem has ever looked on the Switch. The in-game sprites are very expressive without ever leaning into uncanny valley territory, the backgrounds are well rendered, and the battle choreography is very fluid. The developers even said that they put special attention into showing the characters deflecting their enemies attacks, such as parrying and dodging. The only real issue with the graphics is that there’s a LOT of clipping. Seriously, characters’ hair or accessories phase through their bodies a lot. This isn’t an uncommon issue with a lot of similar games that came out previously, but it’s pretty prevalent in Engage, unfortunately. And no, I don’t consider the character designs to be that over-the-top, especially not Alear’s. I’ve seen a lot weirder character designs than Engage. Honestly, I have more of an issue with Hortensia’s character design than Alear’s. Then again, I don’t like Hortensia in general, mainly because she looks like the offspring of Pinkie Pie, Harley Quinn, and the clowns from Little Clowns of Happytown, and I think her outfit looks really stupid. Not only that, her voice is annoying AF to listen to, and I’m not solely referring to her English dub voice, her Japanese voice is just as grating! Granted, neither her English or Japanese voice reach the levels of the auditory nightmare that is Misaki Kuno, but borders dangerously close. I also don’t like Goldmary as a character, either. Seriously, game, why are you expecting me to like a super self-centered character who constantly demands that people praise her to the heavens just because she exists? Uh, no thanks.
Speaking of characters and their outfits, there is one feature that I wish Engage had retained from Three Houses, but for some reason limited to the Somniel: Changing the characters’ outfits. Engage does have this feature, yes, but for some reason, somebody decided to only let you customize their outfits in the Somniel. Even if you change their outfits, they keep their regular battle outfits whenever you’re on the world map or playing through cutscenes. This kinda pisses me off because I personally prefer some characters’ casual outfits over their regular battle attire (Again, Hortensia is one such example for me), and it sucks that the game doesn’t allow the characters to wear other costumes outside the Somniel. Three Houses actually lets you change the characters’ outfits and keeps them on when they’re in battle if you so choose! Granted, I learned that feature wasn’t implemented in 3H until later, but still! Yes, I know this is a petty thing to be salty about. But why even put character customization in your game if you’re only going to limit it to just one place?
Alright, better get off that soapbox. I don’t want to end this review on a negative note, so I’ll talk about some other positives. The soundtrack is a lot of fun, and contains some pretty nifty remixes of previous Fire Emblem themes, some of which you can access during the Paralogue battles. And yes, the opening theme song as cheesy as hell, both the English and Japanese versions, but I don’t care. They’re both awesomely sung and encapsulate what Engage is going for as a game. On the subject of audio, the English dub for Engage is absolutely fantastic. All the voices match the characters perfectly, and what little changes are made actually add to some characters’ personalities and overall characterization. Pandreo’s howling gimmick is a hoot. BTW, Megan Taylor Harvey absolutely needs to play more villain roles, because her take on evil Veyle absolutely knocked it out of the park. I love her cutesy uwu moe girl voice as much as the next guy (Especially since I mainly know her for Kamichu and Rune Factory 5), but her evil Veyle is on another level, and I’m so glad she’s coming into the limelight these days, and I’m sure Engage might have propelled her more into the public eye.
Overall, while Fire Emblem Engage is certainly no Three Houses, why should it be? It’s not going to bring the house down, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Engage knows what it is and is content to have fun with itself. I know I certainly had fun playing it, and I’m eagerly awaiting the Fell Xenologue, too. I certainly enjoy Engage a lot more than the mess that is Fire Emblem Fates, that’s for sure.
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