Fire Emblem Engage feels more like the older titles, even with a lot of fluff - preview
Fire Emblem Engage, the latest entry in Nintendo’s premiere tactical franchise, will be out in just a few short weeks, and with it a whole new world of difficult battles and colorful characters await. I’ve had the chance over the holiday to sink a lot of time into the final build of the game, and as a fan of the older localized titles, I have to say that, to my pleasant surprise, Fire Emblem Engage feels far more like those older titles that any of the more recent entries have. If you're a fan of the older entries in the series, there might be more for you this time around.
That more traditional Fire Emblem feel is maintained even while this latest entry includes the brand new and borderline game-breaking mechanic that gives this new Fire Emblem its name, the Emblem system. That said, so far, during the early phases of my playthrough, there's also a lot of fluff and systems that I haven’t had any need or real desire to interact with, even while playing on Hard and Classic modes.
To briefly set the scene, Fire Emblem Engage’s story revolves around your hero (either male or female), who is the child of the Divine Dragon Lumenera. After awakening from a 1,000-year nap, things go downhill pretty fast for our hero as you get flung into a quickly escalating conflict that forces you away from your home and onto the battlefield against strange possessed beings known as the Corrupted.
To make matters worse, the Emblem Rings that were housed in your home have been stolen by the enemy. From there, it’s up to you and your friends and followers to gather the other rings that are under the protection of the surrounding countries and reclaim the ones that were stolen.
The big defining mechanic of Fire Emblem Engage comes from these Emblem Rings. Each of the 12 rings houses a spirit of a hero from the Fire Emblem franchise's past, which will grant the character equipped with their ring various bonus skills, stats, and even the weapons of the legendary hero.
By engaging with that ring’s Emblem, the pair will then merge together into a new form granting special skills and even more benefits! These unique attacks can be as simple as landing a flurry of attacks against an enemy or as overpowered as teleporting across the map to hit anyone with a strong magic attack or straight up fulling healing every allied unit on the map. This system has far and away been my favorite new addition to the Fire Emblem formula and quickly proved to be pivotal in finding success.
If Nintendo had stopped there with Engage, I would have been perfectly happy and content; instead, they crammed so many other miscellaneous minigames and activities it comes off more as unnecessarily bloated.
Whether it was the random workouts that provided slight stat buffs for the next map, polishing the emblem rings, or the gatcha mechanic to make lesser rings to throw on your other units, even on Hard Classic mode, I never felt like they were systems crucial to my success. They just came across as steps that kept me from jumping into the next chapter or side conflict that provided more bang for the buck with my time.
After a certain fashion, I made a decision to simply begin avoiding this content, given a lot of it is optional - and once I started doing that, I started having a much better time with the gameplay.
I freely admit that I was never the biggest fan of the more social and exploration aspects of Fire Emblem Three Houses along with its and Fire Emblem Fates' “choose your destiny” diverging narratives. Ever since I first played Fire Emblem on my GBA, I’ve always picked up the games to give me a challenging and quality tactical RPG experience with strong characters and stories. Opting out of the aspects I mentioned previously greatly enhanced that tactical RPG experience I look for, and is some of the best core gameplay of a Fire Emblem I’ve played in a long time.
When it comes to the story and characters, I’m going to reserve more judgment for when the credits roll, so I’m going to avoid diving too deep into this regard. What I will say, after eight chapters, none of the characters or moments have been particularly hard-hitting or memorable, but I will be happy if I never hear the terms “divine dragon” ever again. Take that as you will.
I have incredibly fond memories of excitedly rushing to my local game store to pick up Fire Emblem on the Gameboy Advance. With each new entry of this legendary tactical series, that youthful giddiness has persisted. So far, Engage hasn’t wowed me, but there is still enough that I have played so far to enjoy, and I look forward to seeing what I think when I strike that final blow and roll the credits.