When Three Houses was released back in 2019, it opted for a political setting with an array of pathways and social activities, gradually opening up into a large-scale conflict of warring nations. Fire Emblem Engage, on the other hand, is more of a focused celebration of the series’ 30-year-old history. An age-old tale of good versus evil, crossing over with the iconic (mostly) blue-haired protagonists of the series’ past.
Can The Gameplay Get Better Than This?
Charging with gusto from one battle to the next, the old-school weapon triangle makes a triumphant return, alongside an extra category for other weapon types as well. Couple that with a nifty Break function that stops a unit from attacking until their next turn, plus the capability for heavy units to knock enemies out of defensive positions, and these new additions slot effortlessly into the well-established Fire Emblem formula. The new Emblem ring mechanic also lets players summon classic heroes like Marth, Roy and Lyn into the fray. When activated, these characters grant special skills, weapons and buffs which can metaphorically flip the table and eventually imprint abilities onto a unit’s moveset, making for the most flexible progression system in the series to date.
It works well with the weapon triangle system they’ve brought back too. Because just say you have a swordfighter who’s going up against a lance-wielder (a type disadvantage) they can potentially bust a move that could strategically flip the situation back in your favour. However, since it only lasts for 3 turns before going into a cooldown, it adds this additional layer of strategy which is surprisingly fun to manage. There are also little recharge stations on certain spots of the map where you can wait for a full turn to re-unleash the chaos. Albeit, sometimes they’re placed in super awkward spots to stand. But again, they act as another clever little gambit to incorporate into a player’s overall strategy.
Weapon durability has been entirely removed from the equation, with only staves and items having a finite number of uses. This may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but personally, I think this is great. It’s almost like the developers want us to have fun—yes, I’m being sarcastic—using our favourite weapons on the regular. I’ve never enjoyed weapon durability in games of any kind because it always feels like artificial tension. So good riddance here, I say. The developers, Intelligent Systems have also made healers more of a balanced unit this time around. They’ll still go down easily if you’re not careful, but their offensive options can Break tome and archer units, while their guard abilities help to mitigate damage taken from nearby allies when at full health.
Rallying The Troops
Two gameplay areas that needed some clean-up were the unit upgrades and class-changing systems. There are just too many numbers and stats to manage, which makes it either unnecessarily confusing or tricky to know what the best path to take is. It’s not on the same level of annoying micro-management like in Tactics Ogre: Reborn, but it can still get mega tedious at times. On a more positive note, the Maddening difficulty is now available from the get-go. So if you want a definitive challenge, combine this with the traditional permadeath option and you’ll be second-guessing your every move. Players can still rewind back to a specific point in time if they wish, though they’ll only receive a handful of retries on the highest difficulty and won’t be able to save mid-battle.
The side missions called Paralogues are a great inclusion, especially for the long-time Fire Emblem faithful. It works well because they bring back iconic characters (which I won’t spoil) with remixed music and encounters that were prevalent in their respective games. This entry is a “Fire Emblem for all”—as Nintendo of America declared on their YouTube channel—hence these side missions both help to commemorate the series’ past and welcome newcomers and veterans alike. In turn, they reward players for participating in these unique battles while fleshing out the world of Fire Emblem Engage for those who are fully invested.
While there’s less emphasis on the social side of things, like wondering “Who should I ship Byleth with in my Three Houses fanfic?” Players can still engage—pun intended—in a few networking side hustles to deepen the bonds and effectiveness of their comrades over this 50+ hour journey. Support conversations, battles with ally units, gift-giving—they’re all here. Although, tea time didn’t make the cut… I can just picture the Three Houses fandom openly weeping tears of genuine sorrow.
Too Much To Bear
If they somehow didn’t cry before, they will now because the story and characters are so chock full of cliches, you could literally tick each and every anime trope on a bingo card. Get used to hearing “Oh, the Divine Dragon looked at me!” or “Wow! Isn’t the Divine Dragon so… divinely?”—stuff like that. It’s mind-numbing. The narrative does have a somewhat intriguing premise about the main character; said Divine Dragon, Alear lost their memories but the audience saw them as evil in the past! Gasp! Although, aside from a few comedic moments here and there, the peak, climactic story beats often miss their mark by a fair margin.
To further muddy the waters, when the main 4 big bads are introduced, they quickly turn into repeat boss encounters but don’t offer any actual reasons as to how or why they got away alive. They’ll say something like “Today’s not the day I die!” or “My orders don’t involve me dying, that’s what the script says!” but it’s so obviously just a ruse the writers used to keep their plot armour nice and thick. Thankfully, the game’s music alleviates these story woes somewhat, with some awesome new tunes and remixes of past tracks that we’ve never heard before, outside of their original 8-bit arrangements.
It’s been 4 years since Three Houses kicked the Fire Emblem hype train into overdrive and Engage has further iterated on the tried and true formula. Bringing back the series’ staple weapon triangle was a great move and the new Engage and Break mechanics are excellent new additions. Albeit, the micro-managing and trope-filled anime tomfoolery detract a touch too much from the rest of the experience. The new and remixed music from past Fire Emblems is also as well-polished as ever, and being able to choose Maddening difficulty from the start is a neat inclusion. But ultimately, Fire Emblem Engage is just a really great tactical RPG. Get around it, folks.
Fire Emblem Engage calls upon many renowned characters from the series 30 year history, with a battle system that features a highly flexible progression system and quality of life changes that make a noticeable difference in combat. The story is nothing to write home about and the anime cliche-ridden script is way too overbearing to take seriously, but this untraditionally shorter, 50+ hour entry is certainly worth checking out for the intense tactical gameplay alone.
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