Fire Emblem Engage review: A step backward for the franchise

Nintendo /

Title: Fire Emblem Engage
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on)
Release Date: January 20, 2023

There are normally two types of Fire Emblem fans. First, there are the old-school purists who scoff at the recent anime-ification of modern games and long for a day when a character’s death meant they were gone for good. These types are normally easy to spot because they absolutely love gatekeeping people who claim to love Fire Emblem. Then there are the fans of the more recent games. They love the social interaction aspect, the relationships, and the side quests and stories. They can normally be found because they won’t gatekeep Fire Emblem but goddess help you if you talk anime with them.

And neither is necessarily wrong. The old ones, while heavily lacking in story and world-building, had some amazingly well-designed battles. They were masterful at creating some wonderful pixel art animations. The newer ones gave us deep insight into these worlds, allowed us to build interpersonal relationships with our squad and made the game far more accessible to a wider audience.

Despite being old and growing up with the older games, I like the newer ones more. It’s the kind of thing I wanted. Hell, when I was an angsty teen hiding in the basement listening to my Stabbing Westward CD on loop and playing Shining Force CD on my Sega CD (Shining Force had a VERY similar play style to Fire Emblem), I was pairing my squad up and making sure that people who were (in my headcanon) friends or in a relationship were paired off on the battlefield. It didn’t actually provide benefits in the game but I loved doing it regardless. So when Fire Emblem started doing this whole thing where soldiers that battled next to each other enough caught feelings I was up for it.

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This new Fire Emblem game though, Fire Emblem: Engage, I don’t know which one of these camps it’s supposed to be in. Right out the gate, you can choose how you want to play. You can choose the newer, more accessible style where if a character loses in battle, they retreat from the battle and are fine afterward. Or you can opt for the old school method where if a character loses in battle they’re ̶d̶e̶a̶d̶ sent to a form upstate where they can run around with other warriors.

There are also all the modern features of having a hub world and moments you can spend with your fellow battle folk, but it’s such a barebones feature that it almost feels like this came out BEFORE Fire Emblem Awakening years prior. The hub world your army lives in is a floating magic palace with shops and a farm and it’s about as detailed as a PS2 game. The lack of features and things to do in the hub world is even more driven home by the fact that you have to run a considerable distance to get from one area to the next because of long stretching paths of nothing.

If you notice in the picture below, yes, those bricks are literally just a static image of bricks lightly floating over the grass.

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The interactions with your squad are considerably lessened too. In the previous game, Fire Emblem Three Houses, you could get to know every single person at the school and find out their problems and help them work through it. You could watch them interact with each other and really flesh out who they were. Now, your character will build up their relationship and get a brief scene that plays out like this

"Character 1: Hey, how come you’re so strong?Character 2: I just am.Character 1: Is it cool if I watch how you live your life so I too can be strong like you?Character 2: I guess.Character 1: I’ma watch you sleep."

It plays out like you’re living in an island paradise filled with fancy people with autism. Rarely do they speak about what’s happening in the story and they’re all just distracted by someone being strong, or a cat. There are also a lot of moments where the characters discuss staring at each other. Sometimes someone will stare at someone while they sleep. Or sometimes they’ll just stare at people as they go about their lives. It’s bizarre.

Another thing is that, well, have you ever heard of “show don’t tell” in storytelling? This game does NOT understand that and a lot of time it feels like there was just an overall laziness in graphic design.

For example, in one of the missions you have to track down a band of thieves that have stolen one of the fancy Emblem rings. When your characters get to the base camp that camera focuses on your characters only as they describe what they’re seeing. It’ll be along the lines of this:

"Character 1: Look at what they did to the town.Character 2: I can’t believe what I’m seeing.Character 1: Look over there, that man must be the leader. And look I see a glint from something in his hand.Character 2: That’s the ring I bet!"

I would say, easily, more than half of the battles, are our characters experiencing things and describing what they see without us ever being seen. There’s a part where you’re making your way to a cathedral and someone gives you directions and states, “It’s over there, by the exceptionally large tree, you can’t miss it.” You never see the tree.

I guess it’s for the better because these worlds are also ugly. That’s the other thing that kills me with this game is that they spend so much time cutting corners on not showing us stuff between battles, just to also cut corners during the battles.

Fire Emblem’s famous clear-cut graphics of the battlefield are now just the 3D models of the characters shrunk so far down you cannot tell who’s who until you hover your cursor over them. It’s especially difficult if you have several characters using their Emblem ability — in which they merge with a famous past Fire Emblem character — at the same time. You’ll have a ton of blue-haired, white-clothed people hovering about the field looking nearly identical to the point where I kept accidentally positioning people by who I thought was a healer, only to find out later it’s my guy with an axe. Eventually, I learned to double-check everyone on the field every two minutes, but it was still a massive disappointment. The battles used to have so much character and now they just look like something out of RPG Maker.

Would you believe that in the image below there are actually seven different enemy types shown, each with wildly different abilities, strengths and weaknesses that you need to consider when positioning your troops? Can you tell which one of them uses an axe?

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All in all, Fire Emblem: Engage ends up being less engaging than its name suggests. The characters are boring disconnected creeps, the graphics are a massive step back for the series, the storytelling feels like a bad fiction podcast, and it just feels like everything was slapped together.

If you’re looking for a tactical, grid-based RPG on the Nintendo Switch and you’ve gone through all four story modes on Fire Emblem Three-Houses, torn through everything on Wargroove, and imported and gone through all the Super Robot Wars games (which are SO good by the way AND in English), then I guess this is alright to try. But honestly, if those other options are still available to you, I can’t recommend paying full price for what feels like a student project.

Fire Emblem Engage (Nintendo Switch) Score: 5.5/10

Fire Emblem: Engage feels like a massive step backward from both Awakening and Three Houses. Losing many of the features that made modern Fire Emblem games, ironically, engaging, we’re left with a barebones game that barely feels like a Fire Emblem title. Stories are poorly written, characters are barely fleshed out anime tropes, graphics are muddled, and the series’ signature bold and clear tactical battlefields have been replaced with PS2 era maps with indistinguishable tiny 3D models on them that look near identical until the camera swoops in.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.