This post will contain spoilers. I’ll touch on things that go through until the end of the game, so don’t look if you want to remain unspoiled. Thanks. I’ll admit the review is a little rough around the edges, but I’d been sitting on this for a while and felt it was worth sharing.
I recently purchased and completed Fire Emblem: Engage. I haven’t finished the final chapter, but saw it through enough to get a sense of what it was about (the map wasn’t great so I haven’t felt compelled to go back to it).
I did not use or purchase any DLC. I played the game on Hard/Classic. I completed all of the paralogues and did a few skirmishes/training battles. I played with Japanese VA.
I have a lot of thoughts about the game and wanted to share them, and felt writing a review would be helpful for generating discussion and sharing my own thoughts.
Engage is a difficult game for me to evaluate. It shows refreshing flashes of brilliance on the gameplay side, but is mired in mechanic complexity posing as depth and a story that ranks among the series worst, if not the absolute bottom of the barrel.
As someone who tends to be more interested in how the game actually plays, Engage is solid and I’m generally willing to put up with this type of weak storytelling to experience it. The mechanics have some highs and lows, but it’s a lot to parse through and understand (especially on a first blind run), so I’ll be spending a lot of time breaking this out and sharing my thoughts.
For this review, I broke the game out into 5 categories (like I did in this thread) and evaluate each piece as best as I could from my single run of the game.
In short, Engage is a middle of the road Fire Emblem held up by strong gameplay and map design and bogged down by poor plot and character writing. The nuance, and how you may ultimately feel about Engage, will likely be tipped pending how you feel about its many mechanics and subsystems, which range from innovative ideas and needed refinements to old systems to headscratchers and time wasters.
Here are notes for the TLDR Review:
Gameplay is good. Story is bad. Visuals are middling to weak. Characters are Awakening/Fates tier interesting, with a few diamonds in the rough that look great here but would be middle of the pack types in a game with a good cast. The game is better when you don’t think too hard about what’s happening narratively and just focus on the maps.
Mechanic experiments are interesting. It’s a lot to take in but doesn’t muddy gameplay too much, while some elements are refreshing and fun. While the end result of the mechanics and how they affect maps are generally enjoyable, the mechanisms of getting to these mechanics make them more tedious to figure out than fun.
I felt there was very little BS thrown at the player (at least on Hard)
If you are a fan of Conquest gameplay, you will probably like Engage. This felt like a refinement of the Fates gameplay formula.
I also felt notes of Tellius, Gaiden, and Thracia sprinkled throughout, and would call those entries secondary influences on Engage’s gameplay and mechanics. The other non FE influence that shines through is Triangle Strategy. My headcanon is the game was delayed to crib ideas from TS. There’s also a lot here that hacks did first. IS is 100% on FEU.
I need to digest the game more to evaluate where it sits among other FEs all time, but right now I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle, likely still bottom half. The game really deflates after ch18 and the pacing makes the end of the game really a drag.
Yunaka, Seadall, and Lindon were probably my favorite characters, but in general the cast was really weak and I haven’t felt compelled to read more about them or want to spend more time with them on a replay.
Emblem Sigurd is the GOAT and easily the most compelling character in the entire game. He has some killer lines. Absolutely stands head and shoulders above everyone else who speaks in this game. Emblems in general were among the better written characters. Emblem Sigurd has that sorrow and just seems so forlorn. He was my favorite part of the game’s writing.
Glad I played it. I doubt I’ll go for DLC unless they add stuff to spice up a replay (more classes would be nice). Game feels replayable, but I have little desire to revisit it right now.
Below are the detailed breakouts.
- Visuals (map design, unit design)
First, we need to address visuals. Engage’s color choice is reminiscent of the highly saturated colors used in Elibe. We haven’t had an FE this bright and colorful since FE6. While I appreciate the sentiment, high saturation and 3D don’t go well together - I found myself needing to dim my TV settings to make the game easier on the eyes.
This is made worse by the most obvious aesthetic issue: unit design. The unit are overdesigned - nothing feels practical, very few outfits make sense. It’s all very bright and showy with little regard for practical purpose. Outside of a few units (namely the armors), it’s hard to take the units seriously with how they look and what they wear, especially compared to the generics you occasionally see milling about.
The maps themselves, however, look pretty. The animations are very fluid and clean, and are generally the highlights from a visual standpoint. I appreciate how the map terrain is used and you zoom into the battlefield. There’s a lot of detail here and I can tell IS put a lot of love into making this work the way it did. While this approach leads to the battlefields feeling overscaled (and very empty when you walk around after the fact) the overall stylistic choice works.
My biggest issue with the maps were the general display. The GBA games are really easy to read - your units are generic icons that are all blue, the enemy’s are all red. It’s very easy to quickly glance at units and figure out what to do and who has moved. In Engage, the units are all highly personalized and their color schemes aren’t uniform. It made it difficult to parse friend from foe and which units I’d taken action with. Additionally, unless I zoomed out, it was hard to see the board clearly. I think part of this is an issue with 3D, but the on-map viewing in this game requires more brainpower than it should, and it made me realize how good some of the 2D entries were about making it clear who you had on the board and what enemies were there – I had quite a few situations where I’d forget to move a unit because they looked greyed out or forget an enemy was right in front of me because they all blended in. Similarly, I’d also lose track of how near enemies were because of the map zooming. There was always a tradeoff between making out my units and getting a decent view of the map. While a quick scoot on the cursor makes pulling up this info easier, it should be more obvious visually. I’d argue Tellius was more readable visually here despite being less pretty overall.
Outside of the map visuals being a bit difficult to read, the UI is generally clean. While the biggest issues I have with it are predominantly related to how much stuff there is, the menus and text are readable. Placement on the screen is generally fine. I appreciate their use of essentially a MMB to display essential info all on one screen. The color choice for the menus is also nice - a solid blue color that’s easy on the eyes. I’d consider adjusting the font, but overall this is pretty high-end UI from IS, especially among their games with only a single screen to work with. Huge step up from 3H.
Fire Emblem games always have good soundtracks. I’ve not played an FE where I found the music any less than “good”. The same holds true in Engage. Their ability to compose solid tracks is their greatest strength as a studio (outside of willingness to experiment).
I didn’t really hear many tracks that stood out to me on my playthrough, but nothing was really distracting. The support background music got a bit annoying with how often it played, but that’s minor. Overall this is a solid soundtrack, albeit I struggled to find the one “iconic” tune I can pull out from it. The highlights were the way they handled music changes in battle, and I generally enjoyed the relaxing vibe of the Somniel theme. The remixes in the paralogues were nice too, albeit predominantly for nostalgic and fanservice value.
You get access to Normal/Hard/Maddening upfront, which I appreciated. I’m not sure why Maddening is locked to fixed growths on a first run, but otherwise, the general flexibility of difficulty is on par and it is arguable this is more open difficulty selection than most entries.
Every map felt fair. On Hard, the game allows you 10 charges of the turnwheel and unlimited in chapter saves, which are functionally save states. While I appreciate how lenient the game is here (especially with lots of low crit running around), it also forced me to try and make my own difficulty by not just brute forcing my way through maps with trial and error. There isn’t really much “cost” to a mistake because you can rewind easily. I found myself naturally making aggressive moves and not looking closely at what was happening, knowing I had a safety net. The most I enjoyed the game was when it pushed me to be more thoughtful turn by turn and do more planning vs. trial and error.
At the very least, the game’s difficulty doesn’t come from sucker punches like Awakening’s ambush spawns or heavy cognitive loads w/ skill loadouts like Fates – instead it’s more old fashioned and streamlined, with most mistakes feeling like they were my own (outside of stray 1% crits). This is a good balance to strike, and I feel like Engage’s hard mode stands among the best designed difficulties IS has made.
The parts that are easiest to ding are less to do with “how IS tried to make their game difficult” and more about specific mechanic choices, which we will get into later.[/details]
- Map design
The maps are all generally solid. There were a few standouts that execute on their ideas well and a few stinkers that could’ve been better, but none that made me want to drop the game or cause me to take an extended break. Chapter 18 is the game’s gameplay peak, and the glut of paralogues and final stretch of main story maps are far from inspiring, but I find it hard to ding IS too hard for yet another weak late game, as that’s true of almost every entry.
The most notable new feature on the maps are the way boss encounters work. I like the innovation here from the multi-health bar monsters in 3H now being on bosses. Given the powercreep with engaging, this made the encounters a bit more thoughtful and scary.
Bosses seldom stayed still and rarely did I feel like I could do warp strats on its many defeat boss maps because of it. Taking down a boss was usually a team effort and required careful planning. While many of the boss fights boiled down to strafing them into position, then spamming some combination of freeze/silence, dagger poison, chain attack setups, and 3 dances with my best attacker (among other attackers), I appreciated that it was more thought provoking than other encounters throughout the series’ history, especially in the first half of the game. It was a good experiment and I’m keen to see them refine this and make boss encounters more challenging and memorable.
The objectives were not super varied. There was a lot of bread and butter objectives: rout and defeat boss. There were a few with notable side objectives and emblem related gimmicks, but nothing that outstayed its welcome. The general length felt about right for most of the game. I spent anywhere from 20-40 mins per map on average (played w/ anims off), which feels about right for me. Long enough to sink my teeth into, but seldom too long where I felt the map outstayed its welcome. This made the game pretty easy for me to rip through, even towards the end when the maps started to wear on me.
- Unit design
While Engage’s maps feel intentionally designed, its unit design is suspect. You get ~36 playables, which feels like more than it is given how restrained deployment gets. Like the game’s story pacing issues, unit pacing is also an issue. There simply isn’t enough to differentiate many of the units you do get, and you are constantly getting units that outclass ones that joined a map or two ago. It felt bad to invest in units, have them meet their averages, and then be given a new character who does the same thing but better. This was a particular problem during the Brodia arc, where you would get unit after unit the one-upped one you’ve barely gotten a chance to use. It was frustrating to have so many units all at once and not have enough deploy to attempt using them for more than their join map.
The main differentiation between old and new units throughout the game is the emblem bond and supports, both of which are cheaper to make up than raw stats. SP from new units also helped close any skill inheritance gaps, further giving leverage to late joiners who also have statistical advantages.
It would’ve been better if the game had more filler maps in between units joining, or if the new units were more complementary – different preferred Wrank, different stat spread, PRF weapons – really anything to make the choice more differentiated than raw stats. Personal skills were generally so small to be a non-factor, too.
A lot of the early units I used through the first third of the game were strictly inferior to the units that came later. While I anticipate some late joiners being better, I wasn’t expecting it to be with such consistency. This, coupled with restricted deploy (felt like I could use 10 or fewer units each map barring new joiners), made it hard to justify using much of the game’s cast. I was surprised that they took this approach to unit design. While I can appreciate knowing I have the backup coming to make up for poor unit outcomes, the game’s emphasis on unit building made using early, inferior units a suboptimal choice and a general waste. Perhaps it was designed this way knowing players would mess around with emblems and inherit skills early and then want to “refine” their approach with late joiners? I can’t really think of a reason why they made it this way. It reminds me of how overpowering the FE7 prepromotes are, but here you’re barely given any time to make the early units good or see what they can do.
- Gameplay loop (Map->explore->somniel->world map)
Much improved from the monotony of the mandatory monastery, the Somniel being more “optional” certainly helped the gameplay flow. I’m a traditional FE fan, so I like to go map to map with only a bit of story and some prep time in between. While I generally enjoy doing preps in older titles, even those with more sophisticated base menus, I found that Engage’s loop still took too much time out of battle.
The biggest offender here is how much time it takes to do anything.
The explore sections (a shameless lift from Triangle Strategy) were really empty and uninteresting. No one ever had anything contextually relevant to say, and I quickly ignored them and ran around to collect some items and maybe talk to an animal. This aspect has potential to be interesting, but its inclusion felt very slapdash and not well thought out – “it could’ve been a menu” will be a recurring phrase in this section of the review. But the explore section, while novel to walk around the map initially, is incredibly empty and a waste of my time to collect meager rewards.
The Somniel was not much better. Even if you ignore most of the truly optional parts of the Somniel and focus on the bits that you’d get in a Tellius base menu or a GBA prep menu, you’re still going to the shop, armory, flea market, and forge between every battle. I would often do this plus the arena for EXP (which I stopped doing about halfway through the game because I was tired of how long it would take) and then anything to build bond with emblem rings, like skill inheritance or the emblem arena.
In general, this part of the game was far too sluggish. While the support writing was bad, the bond writing and VA was probably the biggest waste of time and money in the entire package – I’m not sure why they felt it was necessary to make something as simple and elegant as “grind rank” take so much time and require so much repetition. Especially towards the latter third of the game when you get emblems back and want to mix and match more, grinding the ranks in the arena took a ton of time across 12 emblems and the 12 or so units I was committed to. Having to grind up to a level, watch a fight, stop for a conversation, and repeat was a masterclass in disrespecting the player’s time.
I dislike reclassing conceptually since I think it reduces immersion and leads to me wanting to make everyone the same 1-2 classes that are really strong, but this system was one of the better ones IS has done.
While there is some jank associated with trying to map out the emblems that have the right rank, which level you get them at, then spending bond currency to get there so you could reclass, it was more of an exercise in tedium and busywork rather than as easy as it could’ve been. That said, I am glad it wasn’t based around grinding in specific classes like in 3H. It felt more meaningfully limited, which discouraged me from making everyone the best possible classes. In that sense, the reclassing was good. But broadly, I would’ve liked to see the system a little easier to navigate, both in terms of how I can view relevant info, but also in terms of how I can meet the pre-reqs to reclass. It felt like they made it intentionally more obtuse to appease traditionalists who dislike reclassing, but appeal to modern players who enjoy that type of freedom and “job system”.
It’s one of the many olive branches that I felt IS was extending to different sides of the player base with its mechanical choices - an attempt to meet old and new in the middle in some places, but likely leaving both feeling slightly dissatisfied instead of fully alienating them.
- Emblems (skill inheritance, bond rings, bond level)
Similar to my thoughts above, I appreciate that this felt more meaningfully limited than it did in 3H. It was harder to get good skills on everyone early, as well as levels on all the units you want to give rings to. I appreciated the tradeoffs. Towards the latter half of the game though, it started to get a bit cumbersome to manage.
As a gameplay system, I felt it was just a bit too obtuse to navigate all of the currencies and levels. I had to go back and forth between loading screens to review what was needed, then spend time grinding the rank, adding the skill, then going to another menu to equip said skill. It’s not that the premise itself is weak, but the execution is really lacking here. Overall I felt like they could’ve streamlined how this both worked technically and how you viewed the information.
Additionally, by the end, the bond fragments are so plentiful with all of the achievements that you get for just playing the game normally that you could do whatever you want with emblems and get high levels for good skills inheritance without much problem. While I can appreciate the flexibility the game provides towards the end to ensure the player has enough stats/skills/etc to move forward, it also lead to me building bond with the same few emblems to get specific skills I wanted to make the late game easier (speedtaker, canter, spd+3 were big ones), versus using it to build bond with emblems I’d equip units with. This was more tedious than it was interesting. It took a lot of time to execute, but wasn’t really rewarding to “figure out” because some of the choices for builds were seemingly obvious. For example, getting 3 points of RES costs as much as 3 points of SPD. IS continues to not understand how useful speed is and putting it on the same level as other stats makes me feel like IS doesn’t really understand how powerful doubling and dodging are.
- Plot (Premise, pacing)
The short version is that this is the worst writing in a Fire Emblem game I’ve experienced. Most of the hacks I’ve played are genuinely better. If Engage was posted to FEU, its story would be skewered by a series of longposts, every plot contrivance or weak character moment called out for what it is - uninteresting and poorly put together. Half-baked is generous, quarter-baked feels right.
The premise is cheesy, but workable. Calling the world “paper thin” almost feels like it gets too much credit. These are items that are easy enough to ignore. However, where the main story really suffers is its pacing. This is most critical for me because it impacts how the game plays.
The plot pacing is rocky throughout the entirety of the game. While it starts off at a fine enough pace, the period around the early mid game felt particularly rushed, namely the Broda section and what comes immediately before and after. While I alluded to my gripes with units above, the story exacerbates the issue.
Broda’s king is introduced, died, reincarnated as corrupted, and killed again all in the span of 3-4 chapters. Later on, the Solm arc has much less happening, but also takes a lot longer to get through. It’s actually in Solm where the game’s pacing is at its best, because it gives things time to breathe.
Something that is often not discussed in FE (and storytelling generally) is the importance of letting things breathe a bit. While nonstop action may sound great on paper, it is difficult to execute in this type of game, especially with so many story beats and moments that try hard to land. Because it’s so rushed throughout the early-mid part of the game, hardly any of it feels like it matters. I don’t get the time to learn the characters much through gameplay or story, because their arc in game is over almost as soon as it begins. The endgame needlessly drags (what are these crystals and why do they suddenly matter?) and we end up fighting the same handful of bosses multiple times when the story starts to crawl. It would’ve been better to shuffle it around and add some filler earlier and let the game get to its climax more naturally.
I think about FE7 and how a character like Nino was handled. She gets introduced well before she’s playable, and gets a number of scenes and character moments that establish who she is and what she’s about before the climactic moment in Battle Before Dawn where she decides she doesn’t want to kill Zephiel. She then gets a gaiden where she gets to face off with Sonia, effectively resolving the arc. Beyond that FE7 is generally sitting on a much stronger world and premise than Engage is, this works because the game lets the events breathe. While there isn’t that much that happens with Nino in story that could’ve been told over fewer chapters, having a slow intro and a few scenes for us to get familiar with it, followed by some space where the group did other things, and then Nino’s big moments in the 2 chapters she’s featured in make it all feel like it matters much more.
The Broda princes in particular suffer from this – we focus on their conflict for all of 2-3 chapters, with their dad dying and being reincarnated in the same timespan. We don’t get much time to process the info or see enough of these characters to care about them. When fighting morphs of villains you’ve gotten to know over the course of the game at the conclusion of FE7, it felt a lot more emotionally impactful than seeing Broda’s king as a corrupted, because we never got to know him well at all. (not to mention the character is a walking death flag. But even if you tweaked that, this pacing issue still remains).
The last 6 or so chapters of Engage in particular felt like padding and contributed to the sloggish pacing at the end. This was also in part due to the way the game presents paralogues for emblems, which end up all being clustered around the same time. I had most of them available to me around ch19, and doing all of the paralogues in succession to unlock the highest bond rank killed a lot of momentum the game had. While I can appreciate flexibility offered by letting the player tackle them as they choose, because they’re tied to a relatively important gameplay mechanic (unlocking the highest bond levels), I would’ve liked to see them woven into the story more naturally – especially considering the Emblems are far and away the best written characters the game has to offer – isolating their big character moments to items divorced from the plot felt like a huge miss, and the gameplay flow and narrative pacing suffers for having 12 paralogues that unlock roughly around the same time with ~7 chapters or so to play.
- Characters (Supports)
I didn’t mention this much above, but characters are obviously FE’s bread and butter. The people love good characters, and IS recognizes the power of its characters (although I’d argue they learned the wrong lessons from it).
Supports are the best way we get to see more of the many minor characters who each get a short moment in the sun when they join, and are often the source of most of their characterization.
First, I’ll say that I love the amount of food dialogue in this game.
There’s so many conversations centered around food and tea. It’s great. I’m glad that the game chose a topic that was, pardon the pun, easy to digest and low stakes enough to make it easy to put the characters front and center.
However, like many of its modern predecessors, the supports got repetitive. While less repetitive than some of 3H’s supports, the overall quality of writing was significantly worse. Almost every support leaned heavily on the characters’ gimmicks. Louis’ love of stalking. Chloe is only able to discuss fairy tales and “folk foods”. Framme fangirling over Alear. Towards the end I started to skip supports because most were hard to read.
There were a few standouts I did enjoy. In particular, Yunaka x Seadall stood out to me as one of the better ones (unsurprisingly, since I felt both were among the best characters in the cast). Lindon’s chain with Alear starts on a bad note (as almost all of Alear’s supports do), but ends on a high one where Lindon opens up about his wife.
I’m struggling to think of many others that I really “enjoyed” here. At best, the “good” supports were merely palatable, while the bad ones made me me groan. There were far more of the latter, and a big part of it was the insistence on shoehorning the character’s gimmick into every support conversation. Rarely did it feel like characters showed another side of themselves or do anything that didn’t just reinforce what we already knew about them.
In general though, I appreciate that supports were a touch more limited and that I didn’t get bombarded with them after every map. While the quality was poor, at least there wasn’t so many all at once given how slowly supports gain here relative to other modern FEs.
Summary and closing thoughts
Engage is a roller coaster. When you put it all together, the package ends up being middling, but with sharp juxtapositions between its strengths and its weaknesses.
I’d probably rank it towards the top of the lower half of FE games on the strength of its gameplay and general spirit of innovation and refinement from modern FE systems. It suffers from a lot of things most FEs suffer from on the gameplay front which is a weak late game.
What’s been most shocking to me about Engage is how seemingly tepid the community’s reaction to it. It is March 1st and not a single review is written on FEU. No one has attempted to make a hype-fueled community hack cribbing ideas from Engage. There isn’t really much debate surrounding its quality, everyone seems to agree that “gameplay good, story bad”. While there are a few outliers who champion the story and its characters, they’re far from a majority voice from what I’ve observed. The response and discussion feels shockingly flat.
In general, it’s fitting that a game celebrating 30 years of FE has myriad strengths and weaknesses and falls near the middle of my personal FE list – it wears its influences on its sleeves, tries some new things, and makes an olive branch to both ends of the fandom. In general, I’d say Engage was fairly successful in putting together a package I enjoyed playing through for the most part, without really much to make me want to stop until the end, which is par for the course even for the FE games I do rate highly.
While it’s a far cry from the Fire Emblem I want, it was “good enough for a modern FE”.
Given that IS hasn’t put out a new FE game that I’ve been jazzed about since Radiant Dawn (Not considering remakes here, I do like FE11 and FE15 a lot), I’ve come to accept I’m no longer the target demographic for these games and that the era of FE that I grew up with is long over (outside of epic hacking). While I likely would’ve been sitting around stewing about more of these parts I was critical of years ago, after playing Engage I mostly had to let out a sigh and accept that this is what IS wants to make now, and that I can try to ignore the parts I dislike and attempt to enjoy the parts of it that FE can still execute well with regularity – a grid with combat. Thankfully, we still have the hack.
Thanks for reading.
I’m curious to hear what others think. Thanks for reading.