The newest entry in Nintendo’s long running date-em-up with bonus tactical battles is back with new and returning waifus and husbandos!
Despite having one of the most generic sounding anime plots possible (the evil Fell Dragon has awakened after a thousand years, and you, the good Neon Joy-Con dragon have awakened to defeat him!) the earnestness and nigh on constant throwbacks to the Fire Emblems of the past kept me playing (I would say engaged here but that’s far too low hanging fruit even for me) even after a questionable mid story shift.
On starting Engage you’re given the choice of two versions of the Alear – the handsome Pepsi twink or the thickest tube of Aquafresh you’ve ever seen, this broadly doesn’t matter as everyone who is going to fawn over you/flirt mercilessly with you will do regardless of your “form” of choice. That said the female Alear form does get access to the flying classes, but with the number of classes you can choose from the loss of three of them shouldn’t matter hugely unless you’re an insane completionist!
The central gimmick to the game are the Engage Rings. Giving these to any of your playable characters allows them to summon heroes of Fire Emblems past and gain some of their skills and power. When Engaging with the spirit of the ring you gain access to their signature weapon(s), skills and gain a sizeable boost in traits depending on the hero. By using an Engage Ring more and more the character gains traits and the weapons proficiencies allowing them to level into more advanced classes outside their wheelhouse. It’s a great system that allows you to create some incredibly powerful (and, if you want, totally useless) characters. There are some great changes such as tomes now being a permanent item with unlimited uses, or the total removal of weapon durability, which for the hardcore crowd might be a massive drawback but for me personally is fantastic.
The game has a fairly long but involved tutorial getting you used to the main rock-paper-scissors combat that does a good job of introducing you to the various roles that each class fills. If you’re familiar with Fire Emblem, or any of the numerous games it has inspired, it’s something you’ll pick up quickly. The battles are divided into the Story chapters that move the story along, Paralogues that unlock new characters or Engage Rings, and skirmishes which respawn on a real time clock but can give bonuses for levelling up characters ahead of harder story chapters.
Between battles you return to the Pepsi Jesus floating sky castle to restock, chat/flirt with teammates, take part in multiple minigames for temporary and permanent stat boosts, items and increased bond levels with team mates and raise the abomination Sommie. My favourite among these is the training arena because it can produce some comedy gold. On getting the character Jean (a 10 year old boy with dreams/delusions of becoming a doctor) I took him to the arena to boost him up a bit, where he got put into a sparring match with a seven foot tall cavalry knight. Barely after he finished his introductory line he got smashed in the face with an axe and one hit killed screaming “WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED TO ME?”.
Venturing into spoiler territory, near the midpoint of the story you lose all the Engage Rings you’ve gathered so far. While you do get new ones almost immediately afterwards and get all of your original ones and more back over the course of the rest of the game, losing access to them made me irrationally angry. Looking back on it I can totally understand why it happened as it forced me to branch out my units and think more strategically, but at the time I was furious that some of the characters I was building to get different weapon skills were suddenly roadblocked until I got an Engage Ring that unlocked the same weapon I was previously working towards. Beyond that complaint the story is something I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s presented with just the right amount of heart on its sleeve to allow the generic trappings of the story to not hinder it and had plenty of touching moments between the characters.
The argument that the Switch is getting long in the tooth notwithstanding (the Switch is six this year!), Engage looks and sounds great. The continents and characters are all visually distinct from each other and the battle animations are great with some nice attention to detail on the individual battle tiles such as knocking an enemy back and through a fence will break the fence into pieces. The main theme/opening is perfect in letting you know exactly what to expect when you first start the game and Bright, Bold Sandstorm is one of the best game songs I’ve heard in decades.
Fire Emblem Engage is exactly the game I wanted it to be. It’s not perfect but it was a great reintroduction and celebration of a series with a 30+ year legacy.
8.5 / 10
Huge respect to Emblem Marth who was awake and conscious watching Alear sleep for 1000 years because they didn’t take Marth’s Emblem Ring before going to sleep. A truly patient king.
Written and edited by Drew.
Game code provided by publisher.