With over 30 years of history and a presence on home consoles such as the Super Nintendo, Gamecube and Wii, Fire Emblem has nevertheless been associated in recent years with Nintendo's portable platforms.
One of the advantages of the Switch, and the union of Nintendo's repertoire of both portable and home consoles, is that each series that traditionally belonged primarily to one of the two formats is now being introduced to a new portion of players, without losing the its traditional audience. The Fire Emblem series I think we can say falls into this category. With over 30 years of history and a presence on home consoles such as the Super Nintendo, Gamecube and Wii, Fire Emblem has nevertheless been associated in recent years with Nintendo's portable platforms. This may be mainly due to Awakenings which was released for 3DS in 2012 and with its commercial success, it breathed new life into the series, however, I have the impression that in general their best moments are on handhelds.
Personally, I wasn't lucky enough to get involved with any Fire Emblem before the Switch, so I'm part of that new audience that's discovering them now, and as Three Houses has already proven, which quickly became the most successful game in the series, it's not inconsiderable . And to move on to Engage, with this small sample of the series I experienced, I declare myself equally fascinated and disappointed. So to explain...
Fire Emblem are turn based strategy RPGs with grid movement and judging by Engage, very well indeed. The battles are, in my opinion, by far the best and most well thought out part of the game and thankfully occupy the central role in its gameplay. They rely, as usual, on a multitude of advantages and disadvantages created based on weapons, character class and their position on the battlefield. The most important thing is that the whole system is characterized by balance and, although it consists of many parts, its basic principles are clear and understandable.
Into the mix are slowly entering the battlefield itself with points that change some statistics, the relationships between characters that can be developed and give advantages when the "connected" characters fight side by side and of course, the rings, the alarm and advertised difference of this title compared to previous ones. The rings contain the spirit of past heroes of the series and grant the wearer, when activated, special powers and attributes for a short period of time. Here too, the player can develop a bond with each ring/hero and evolve it. I imagine that the rings, in addition to being an -important- extra dimension to the battle system, also act as a little fan service for Fire Emblem fans.
As someone who only recognizes the characters I've seen in Smash Bros, I'm obviously not in a position to judge how well this aspect of them is implemented. So the battles require thought and organization and combined with the large number of characters you control at a time, they really feel like a small war of armies rather than personal skirmishes. How to divide your units in the field, how to support them, when to attack, from where to attack and when to retreat, how to exploit the opponent's weaknesses and how to cover your own, are key questions he is asked to answer the player in each battle, if he wants to proceed without losses.
Because if you choose to play the game with the traditional rules, like I do, where every character death on the battlefield is final for the rest of the story, then the tension and difficulty skyrocket. Here I should emphasize that fortunately, with the help of a special crystal, you can turn back moves if something goes wrong so that you are not severely punished for some negligence in your strategy. Although scripturally rather uninteresting, these are characters you bond with on a mechanical level, and when you lose them forever, their absence is felt.
Through this "brutal" mechanism, ultimately, the game tells its best stories. Quite early in the adventure, a kid joins my group, who wants to travel with us to become a doctor like his dad. Just before his father lets him follow us, he asks me to promise him that nothing will happen to him. It's a classic, over-the-top scene, without much inspiration or emotion, and I don't really care. Several hours later, I'm on the 22ndround of a battle and realize I can't save him unless I restart the whole battle. I finally decide to live with the consequences of my strategy, and that decision has haunted me more than anything else in the game. Such scenarios that arise organically through gameplay and player decisions are what highlight the great potential of the title.
Which, unfortunately, to be honest, doesn't verify them. "His" story is, in my opinion, disappointing. It's not so much that he lacks ideas. And her twists and turns are nicely paced and she doesn't chatter incessantly as is often the case in these kinds of melodramatic narratives. Where it falters is in its execution. The characters are many and ultimately have little depth (which undermines the stakes of the scenario I described above), the main hero (or heroine) has a "boiling" personality, while the delivery of some key script moments lack elemental drama building and structure.
Even in the simple interactions between the characters, there is no "spark" in his writing. After each battle the game allows the player to talk to his companions and even rewards such initiatives with "bond fragments", one of the "currencies" in his economy. And while it's a nice idea, the conversations are of little interest. They are a little reminiscent of football players' statements after a match. They have nothing of substance to say. So this process ends up being a rushed chore for the player to get their reward. All this logically ends with mathematical precision in an adventure that seemed "flat" and "lifeless" to me.
Overall, I think most of the elements surrounding this great battle system don't live up to the hype. The game also has a place that works like a hub and the player can return there after each battle to buy or upgrade weapons and also do some small activities in the form of mini games. Eating with his companions, fishing, cleaning (!) his rings etc.
Again, none are particularly interesting or mechanically well-executed enough to absorb the player. He will see them out of curiosity or out of necessity (they offer little help) but, judging from me at least, he won't return to them out of pleasure. On the plus side, at least none of this is necessary, if you just want to focus on the battles and ignore them, it's pretty much done. But somehow, you understand that a large part of the game looks like "dead" space and time.
Finally, the area of ââpresentation and audio-visual design is one of its strengths. The anime style of the characters is nicely done, and I also liked the map and the various illustrations of the kingdoms. It may give a limited space for the player to explore but the game is quite effective through these visuals and its art direction in conveying a sense of size and identity to each of its areas. The animation in the battles is a nice touch and its music, while not exciting me, has some tracks that really stuck in my head. In short, visually and aurally the Engage is fine.