After putting in some major study sessions and passing its tests in 2019’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Fire Emblem Engage makes the potentially surprising decision to take a purposeful step away from that focus on time management and teaching. Many base activities and socializing aspects with your team are still here, but Engage makes the smart move to adjust its sights back toward the roots of the series by putting engaging tactical combat first and foremost. There’s a reverence for Fire Emblems past that is clear in every aspect of it, even including the spirits of legendary heroes from previous games that power up your team, which match the strategic depth they bring with an exciting visual flair every time they’re unleashed. Its classic good vs. evil story may not reach those same heights of its predecessor, but the Divine Dragon’s adventure still stands tall among its peers – both on its own merits and as a wonderful tribute to Fire Emblem’s legacy.
When Fire Emblem Engage first introduced the idea that twelve rings housed the spirits of protagonists of Fire Emblem’s past, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. (According to the story, they aren’t actually the exact same heroes from other worlds – more like incorporeal manifestations that retain the knowledge and abilities of their hero’s journey… or something). From Marth to Ike, Celica to Byleth, and plenty more, these legends will advise you, spar with you, and become your battle companions as you try to collect all 12 rings and defeat the big bad Fell Dragon who wants to corrupt them for nefarious purposes. While it’s fun to see familiar faces, there were also plenty I didn’t recognize, which had me worried about how much of the backstory of these heroes were going to be lost on me. Three come from games never officially released outside Japan, and several more have only been featured on the GameBoy Advance or similar decades-old Nintendo consoles — unless you count their inclusion in Smash Bros. or the mobile gacha game Fire Emblem Heroes.
And yet, over the course of my 60+ hour adventure, I found my worries to be unfounded. Fire Emblem Engage manages to celebrate its long history of compelling characters without making you feel left out if you’ve never played through their stories firsthand. Your own character (a Divine Dragon whose name defaults to Alear) has a story that is still the driving force behind your journey in Engage, and while the Emblem Rings play an important role, it’s one that does its best to stay within the context of your current adventure. Did I freak out a little when meeting Ike, the hero from Path of Radiance, since it was the Fire Emblem that really got me interested in the series? Yes, very much so. But even Emblems like Sigurd and Leif were a joy to fight alongside despite me knowing next to nothing about their respective stories. Whether it was offering helpful anecdotes to my character about the trials they faced, or granting me their power and skills to inherit in combat, they became the backbone of my army, and each new Emblem Ring I collected gave me new strategies to work with.
The true talents of these Emblem Rings shine when taken into battle. Just having one equipped provides a host of passive bonuses and skills. Watching both my unit and their spectral Emblem Ring counterpart slice into foes at the same time was always great to see, even if the animations didn’t actually translate to increased damage. Depending on which rings you use, the skills your team inherits abilities that range from the more mundane stat boosts to incredibly useful skills like attacking twice before opponents can respond, repositioning allies, or altering terrain effects to control the battlefield. All of this culminates in the ability to “engage” their true power for a short period, as your unit essentially fuses with the Emblem hero, gleaming with new shining white armor and inheriting that hero’s hair color or style. These fused characters also sport wild neon blue wings and other crazy effects that felt straight out of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Sheikah tech, making them unmissable standouts on the battlefield.
Engaging also lets you temporarily equip extremely powerful or unique weapons — often giving units access to attacks they would normally never be able to use. Coupled with special “Engage Skills” that are only available for this brief period, it became a huge game changer for how I approached each mission. By engaging with the Emblem Lyn, my lance-wielding pegasus knight could suddenly become winged Death incarnate; able to launch an extremely powerful ranged salvo of arrows to out-snipe otherwise lethal archers, then fly in close to slice and dice with Lyn’s signature katana, and even create illusory doubles to distract foes and counter with their own attacks. Engaging my units with their Emblem Rings became the highlight of every encounter, and the flashy ultimate attack animations were always worth watching. Since it can often take awhile to recharge this power, finding the perfect time to have one more more units engage to turn the tides always had me trying to plan my moves out in advance, as even the most powerful attacks could still leave my characters in danger if they got surrounded or overwhelmed without backup.
Each Emblem Ring is unique enough that no two ultimate abilities feel the same: Some rely on single target or area-of-effect damage, while others work in support roles like sacrificing health to heal the rest of the team. Many of these abilities also have small but interesting modifiers depending on which unit type has the Emblem Ring equipped, adding even more layers of strategy and customization that I absolutely loved to experiment with. Because of this, there was no wrong answer for pairing up my teammates with different Emblem Rings — only a wealth of possibilities. My thief ended up becoming my natural choice for pairing with Emblem Corrin from Fire Emblem Fates, as her Dragon Vein ability added mist cover to the surrounding terrain when used by covert-type units, and the debilitating effects of Corrin’s draconic aura skill was further bolstered by poisoning daggers.
Rock, Paper, Fist
In addition to the larger changes Emblems introduce, Fire Emblem Engage has refined almost every aspect of its turn-based battles in smaller ways, too. Enhanced visuals have made each mission more pleasing to look at, UI improvements mean the action is easier to follow, and subtle new spins have been introduced to cornerstone combat mechanics. The classic weapon triangle has made its triumphant return after disappearing from Fire Emblem: Three Houses but its not content to simply return to the status quo: this time, using the right weapon like a lance against swords won’t just translate into better accuracy and damage, as the new “break” mechanic can also disarm that opponent for the rest of the turn. Of course, your enemies can do the same to you, making the weapon triangle even more fearsome this time around. Even when certain defensive spaces let units become “unbreakable,” Engage provides an answer with a new heavy weapon type that can shove defenders backwards – of course, the smart trade-off for this powerful effect is that heavy weapons hit dead last regardless of how fast the other opponent is.
Fire Emblem Engage Screens (Nintendo Direct – Sept 2022)
These new features are brought to life in a fun way thanks to Engage’s expansive maps, which are quite similar to Three Houses. Battles zoom right down to the action (wonderfully transitioning the music to be more energetic) and look way more dynamic than they have in the past, as mighty attacks can send fighters flying backwards, even breaking apart fences or crates in the process. Watching someone miss an attack no longer feels like a pathetic whiff, as combatants will cleanly translate the numbers game into seamless parries and counter-attacks that feel way more like an active battle than two opponents just rolling the dice one at a time.
My favorite new battlefield addition, by far, is the massive overhaul to the healer class, which has melded them with martial artists to become “Qi Adepts”. Healers in Fire Emblem have historically always been the weakest link, often requiring the most baby-sitting or being shunted to the back of the army – but no longer! While they still might not always be able to face down a knight or axe-wielding berserker, they can break the weapons of archers, mages, and thieves using punches and kicks. They can also guard another unit from the first incoming attack so long as the healer has full health. This became a recurring theme as enemy bosses would often have an entourage of Qi Adepts just waiting to take one for the team, requiring me to strategically wound them first before I could unleash my full force on the enemy leader.
Where Fire Emblem: Three Houses thrust you into dramatic conflict between rival nations and eventually forced you to fight against the very friends you’d bonded with, Fire Emblem Engage dials things back a bit, for better and for worse. Its story is a classic tale of ancient evils re-awakening, amnesiac protagonists, and various nations uniting under a common banner for good. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sold on Alear and their Aquafresh toothpaste hair design, but I got over that fairly quickly – perhaps when you’re stacked against the various blue-haired guys and gals of Fire Emblems past, you gotta stand out any way you can. In truth, what really turned me around was finally having a fully voiced Fire Emblem protagonist (and allowing the past heroes to be voiced as well). The three-pronged story of the last Fire Emblem is a tough act to follow, but having a main character who does more than stare blankly at people during cutscenes and conversations went a long way. It helps sell many of Engage’s plot points, from the growing bonds between Alear and their friends to some insidious plans enacted by the Fell Dragon and his minions. While not every twist or reveal hit its mark, I was generally surprised by some very late game developments that affected more than just the immediate story.
You’ll gain a host of quirky allies at a reasonable pace along your journey to collect all the Dragon Ba… I mean Emblem Rings. Normally I’d be a bit skeptical at how almost everyone is all too eager to pledge their service to Alear’s quest, but I guess when you’ve been worshiped as divinity during your centuries-long slumber, people are just happy to see you awake and slaying evil at last. I also found myself impressed at how Engage handled padding out the acquisition of the rings. Some clever ideas kept me from getting too overpowered too fast, while giving me just enough Emblem Rings to respect the power they added to my army. Even more humbling was learning what could happen when the enemy used the power of Emblem Rings against me. Boss fights in Fire Emblem have usually been tense standoffs where a wrong move could lead to one of your favorite characters getting demolished – but even in that context Engage had me double and triple-checking the skills and abilities of my adversaries before putting one foot into their lair. Using an Emblem’s power to teleport across the map and explode some poor sucker with the Ragnarok tome is a ton of fun — but when it happened to me it was downright terrifying.
The various missions and maps in Engage tested my strategic knowledge in different ways, and it was fairly common for battles to last more than half an hour as I carefully considered my path forward (or sometimes rewound time by a turn or two if I realized my path was leading to certain death for a few characters). Most chapters usually end with defeating a boss, and the way these bosses are handled has left me feeling a bit conflicted. Not far into your journey you’ll meet the main executors of the big bad’s will: The Four Hounds. They all have different personalities and reasons for being on Team Evil, and made for some challenging opponents, but problems arose when I found that they kept coming back for more. I can’t even count the number of times I’d have to fight these lackeys, beating them to a pulp only to have them laugh it off in the ensuing cutscene, swearing revenge for next time like a cartoon villain. And my army would just… watch them saunter off. Again, and again. I don’t even think they were bad characters, as some late game developments did a great job to make me understand them more – I just really wish Engage had at least tried to offer a passable excuse for why I let them get away so many times. I’d even be okay with an overly convenient teleportation spell!
Fire Emblem Engage – All the Emblem Ring Heroes
Even when facing the otherwise decently varied enemy commanders, I still found myself waiting for developer Intelligent Systems to get bold enough to stop relying on “defeat the enemy boss” as the main objective for the bulk of its 26 chapters. Thankfully, this isn’t too big of an issue, as the maps themselves would often involve some inventive hazards or features that I couldn’t just charge through – like changing tides on the beach limiting movement, or obstructions that I could have an easier time dealing with if I had the right Emblem Ring equipped on a unit nearby. When the missions did occasionally change their objectives, things would often get a little harrowing, and one tense chapter in particular that had me on the run did a superb job of making escape feel like it was truly my only option instead of recklessly standing my ground.
Some of my favorite missions didn’t even come from the main chapters, as Fire Emblem Engage offers some very interesting takes on paralogue side missions. These challenging encounters revolved around trials to defeat the heroic Emblems in combat, and within these trials are some of the best homages to Fire Emblem’s history. Each trial takes place on a map that’s almost directly lifted from a previous game in the series, and often includes hazards, ambushes, or mechanics from that exact mission. I still believe you won’t feel left out if you haven’t experienced the stories of past Fire Emblems, but those who have will be treated to some very faithfully adapted pivotal moments in time. Moments like Ike taking command of his father’s mercenary company, or Byleth defending the Throne of Knowledge from the theft of its relics. Missions like these, coupled with the care that went into creating skills and abilities for each Emblem Ring that are both fun to use and provide great callbacks, ring with the same reverent tone as when Nintendo expertly adapts fighters into the Super Smash Bros series. Even the music for these side missions are uniquely arranged medleys from previous soundtracks, providing new energetic or dramatic twists on some of my favorite Fire Emblem music. I’m doubly glad I was then able to set these music tracks to play during other side skirmishes, because honestly, even after spending more than 60 hours clearing the story and paralogue missions — I can’t get enough of them.
Up On Cloud Nine
Between fights, you can move around the world map at will, opening up new locations for main missions as you progress, while randomly backfilling previously completed maps with random encounters to gain more experience, money, and materials. This system is much more satisfying to navigate than simply looking at a list to pick my next task, and the option to fast travel directly to a map point or back to my base made things quick and easy. You can even explore the maps you beat in a neat post-battle exploration. It doesn’t really bring anything huge to the table as you have limited actions, but I appreciated being able to enjoy the scope and scale of certain locations I’d fought in – like vibrant palace throne rooms or viewing impossibly-sized statues guarding expansive bridges strewn with barricades. Plus, this activity gives you time to check in with your team for some quick chats, even letting some of the units you didn’t take with you into battle have their chance to add their thoughts, which made me feel like my entire army was still tagging along and not just stuck at home bored to tears.
Speaking of home, Engage has kept the concept of having a large, explorable hub base like in Three Houses, but has wisely dialed back the scope from the mammoth size of Garreg Mach Monastery. A special floating island called The Somniel instead focuses on both managing your team and keeping up with socializing and bonding, but in ways that aren’t as drawn out and time-consuming as those featured in Three Houses (though I am a bit surprised having tea with your friends didn’t make the cut here). You can still partake in fishing, cooking meals to enjoy with friends, and sparing for a bit of extra experience – plus a few new hit-or-miss activities like strength training exercises or petting this weird dopey cat thing that I immediately put sunglasses on, though all are completely optional.
Having my character go to sleep also became super optional once I realized random allies would just wander into my bedroom to wake me up in really weird sequences – it’d be cool if we could establish some boundaries on The Somniel! Still, it was nice to see my team enjoy their downtime, whether working out, swimming, dining, or just generally relaxing, rather than having everyone awkwardly stand around until we left for the next mission. Although, I do wish there were a few more direct ways to bond with another teammate besides eating a meal or getting the same old gifts to give en masse. When I found some horse manure on the ground to give away as a joke gift, I thought it was a little funny. Finding more and more poop that was added to my inventory each time I came back to explore my base… not as much.
The Somniel is also where you can manage the Emblem Rings you’ve collected, and there’s a surprising amount to do with them – perhaps even too much. In addition to utilizing skills from an active Emblem Ring, you can also spend points to inherit skills from other rings. This encourages lots of customization and passing rings around so everyone can make use of them, and I had a lot of fun planning out the perfect set of skills for everyone to eventually inherit, though the sheer number of skills and point values can sometimes become a bit of a headache. You can also create smaller stat-boosting rings for your units who don’t have their own Emblem Ring yet through a system that strongly resembles the Fire Emblem Heroes gacha game, with an assortment of tiers for each ring and the ability to meld duplicates into better versions. Certain rings may even have a really useful skill at their highest tier – but only if you get really lucky creating a bunch of rings, or you’re prepared to shell out a lot of in-game currency. (Never fear, though, as there is no option for real-money microtransactions or anything like that here.)
Every IGN Fire Emblem Review Ever
Together We Ride
Perhaps the most surprising addition to The Somniel is a combat tower that lets you take on a variety of challenge missions – two of which feature neat asynchronous multiplayer options. Given how long people can take to move their units in a single turn, this might be the most well-realized multiplayer Fire Emblem can have, but it’s not without a few hiccups. One mode allows you to fully customize one half of a map to either challenge another player’s computer controlled team on their half of the map, or have your AI team defend against other opponents with the base you’ve built. You can place everything from ballistas to breakable walls and healing tiles, and even give units a variety of orders to follow, though if you want to hit the upper limit for tiles to customize, you’ll end up with a mish-mash of random objects that don’t really let you set a theme for your base.
The second mode is a clever attempt at Fire Emblem co-op: Relay Trials. One player starts a trial that must be completed in 10 turns, picking a small group of units to go up against a horde of enemies. The twist is that the initial player only has two turns to move their team before their time is up, at which point the data is uploaded and another player can then download that trial and pick up where the first player left off, potentially adding a few reinforcements of their own. Players who join get a fun and quick recap of the battle so far, then need to do their best to forge ahead and put a plan in motion to clear the map, even if they won’t be around to finish it. I really love the idea of having to adapt to someone else’s strategy mid-battle, pick the right reinforcements to help bolster any lacking defenses, and decide whether to utilize as many Emblem Rings as possible or hold off in engaging in case the next player may need them to get out of a bad situation. Players who have beaten the story can unlock a sort of “post game” trial map which is a great way to keep the fun going — but it’s the earlier players I worry about, thanks to some very vague matchmaking. Unlike offline trials, you can’t really set a specific difficulty level, nor can you see one when Engage picks a random relay trial for you to join (aside from maps being listed simply as Normal or Hard). Whoever starts the trial seems to set the bar for the level of the enemies within, which means you may find your reinforcements either under or over-leveled for the task at hand. I would have loved for a way to at least get an idea of how challenging the multiplayer battles were going to be so I could decide whether it was worth my time, instead of being thrown into the first result without an easy way to back out. Worse yet, it’s possible to join a trial and find characters you haven’t yet encountered on the team, which may spoil you to later reveals.