Fire Emblem Engage review: "Struggles to find the space to let this new roster grow"

Fire Emblem Engage
(Image: © Nintendo)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Fire Emblem Engage resurrects the weapon triangle to great effect, making the turn-based combat feel like a game of death and dares, while an unmemorable cast of characters and an unexplored world sadly drag behind it.

Pros

  • +

    Weapon triangle is fantastic

  • +

    Combat is a taut chess game

Cons

  • -

    Characters are forgettable

  • -

    Returning heroes outshine the new cast

  • -

    Wider world left largely unexplored

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Some video games love paying lip service to their past. Newer games in a series might resurrect a character for older fans to appreciate, or bring back a single item for one last hurrah – like the Samurai Edge in Resident Evil Village, a cheeky wink at players who've been there since the beginning. Fire Emblem Engage takes this to another level. The latest game in Nintendo's strategical series is billed as a grand revival of long-lost characters and elements – Engage's headline quirk has you literally summoning heroes from past installments to aid you in the turn-based battles. 

FAST FACTS: Fire Emblem Engage

Release date: January 20, 2023
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

There is, however, a difference between paying homage to the past versus digging it up with a shovel and parading it around. The act of summoning old heroes comes via rings, which you can bestow upon the new Fire Emblem Engage characters. This enables them to call on the likes of Ike and Marth for a predetermined number of turns in the heat of battle. 

This cleverly adds another layer to Fire Emblem Engage's turn-based foundations. As summoned heroes only stick around for a precious handful of turns, you'll need to carefully plot out when you want to activate these comrades – too early in a mission and you might fall short to a final powerful foe, or activate everyone's spiritual companion at once and you'll no doubt be weakened for ensuing encounters. 

The weapon triangle returns

Fire Emblem Engage

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Thankfully, this system doesn't detract from Fire Emblem Engage's own character in combat. With summoned heroes very much in a supporting role, the focus is instead on matching each of your fighters up with a foe they won't struggle to take down. Prince Alfred wields a lance, so you'll want to send him after a sword-wielding enemy, while a sword user like protagonist Alear will perform well against troops using axes. 

This is all communicated via the return of the 'weapon triangle.' A series mainstay that 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses did away with, there's now a predetermined system which dictates strengths and weaknesses for weapons: swords perform great against axes, axes are ace against lances, and lances can undo sword troopers, so you immediately know which matchups to avoid, and which to dive headlong into. 

All this combined makes for one of the most absorbing turn-based battle systems in years. The weapon triangle means any troop, no matter how over-leveled or elite they are, can be overpowered and felled if they take on enemies in a bad weapon matchup, resulting on soldiers feeling more like actual characters to be taken care of rather than chess pieces you can throw around the board at will. 

Each step forward in battle becomes a calculated move, every attack carrying the risk of a plunging enemy counter to send your unit to their doom. Fire Emblem Engage's battles are all the better for the weapon triangle's triumphant return, making you feel like you're constantly walking a razor's edge of being in comfortable positions, or being outnumbered. The returning system isn't overbearing on battles though, merely giving you guidance of who to dispatch your characters against, and because there's wild cards like archers and mages at play (aspects which the weapon triangle doesn't affect in the slightest), there's enough maneuverability to experiment with matchups and not be outrightly punished by the system. 

Familiar faces

Fire Emblem Engage

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Fire Emblem Engage might succeed in recalling old heroes for battle, but it's decidedly less successful at integrating them into the wider game. Three Houses was rightly beloved for its colorful cast of characters – after a dozen or so hours you had a strong grasp of the students, their strengths and weaknesses, and their personal history in relation to others throughout Fódlan. 

Fire Emblem Engage's newcomers can't hold a candle to 2019's cast, try as they might. With such a large focus on famed heroes like Roy and Lucina, Intelligent Systems struggles to find the space to let this new roster grow over the course of Engage's 30 hours of play. The story really hones in on the older characters to the detriment of the new cast – it's a race to accrue the returning crew, leaving any storytelling details on how the new characters relate to the wider world in the dust. 

Fire Emblem Engage

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Three Houses brilliantly made the player feel like they'd stepped into the middle of a storied land, with historic links between characters and countries ripe for discovering. Fire Emblem Engage doesn't have any of that, simply sending you on a round-the-world trip to pick up allies, toss them into your backpack for use in battles, and continuing on until you fell the big bad at the end. Save perhaps Engage's desert region, with its atypical approach to governing via a monarchy, there's nary an interesting detail about Engage's world to be found. 

The Support link conversations of past Fire Emblem games returns, but they're paper-thin on character development. This is really where the tropes come out to play, and they're all bristling and ugly; actual character moments are pushed firmly to the background, with one-dimensional traits brought to the forefront. If a character appeared overbearing at first for example, get ready for them to be a lot more overbearing in their support links. It's that simple. 

All this bonding with characters is done back at Somniel, a floating island that acts as your base of operations in Fire Emblem Engage. There's a deluge of activities awaiting you here, including cooking, dragon riding, strength training, fishing, and just plain napping. Some activities, like cooking, feed back into your relationships with characters, strengthening them if you can pull off the perfect dish, but most sadly don't tie back into Engage's cast, meaning you're ultimately spending a lot of time on your own. 

It's lonely at Somniel

Fire Emblem Engage

(Image credit: Nintendo)

That the vast majority of activities have you on your own, instead of with companions is frustrating, resulting in Somniel merely being another missed opportunity for you to better get to know Fire Emblem Engage's cast. Fire Emblem Three Houses' cast resulted in an outpouring of love from fans for months on end, with fanart and fanfiction teeming from every internet forum. I'd be surprised if anyone remembers Fire Emblem Engage's cast a few weeks after they're done with the new adventure. 

Fire Emblem Engage is sadly a missed opportunity to tie together a new cast of characters with the heroes of old. There's a great balance struck in combat between new characters striking out on their own merits, whilst being supported periodically by supremely powerful heroes, and the weapon triangle's return is an emphatically triumphant one, successfully making each unit feel valued and vulnerable. All that can't make up for a completely apathetic and forgettable new bunch of characters though, while the wider world of Fire Emblem Engage is largely left an unsolved mystery. 

Fire Emblem Engage was reviewed on Nintendo Switch OLED, with a code provided by the publisher.

More info

Available platformsGames, Nintendo Switch
GenreStrategy
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Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.