Fire Emblem Engage never gives itself the chance to shine

Considering how much attention Nintendo gives the series now, it is hard to believe that the Fire Emblem series was considered a dead property before Fire Emblem Awakening breathed new life into it. Fire Emblem Engage seeks to return to the series’ roots, with a firm focus on the tactical combat that the franchise has always been known for.

That might be a welcome change for players who are here for a challenging tactical roleplaying game and nothing else, but for me, it felt like a big step backward. Don’t worry for those of you who haven’t finished the game yet. I won’t be diving into major plot spoilers here.

The frustrating inconsistency of Fire Emblem Engage

Fire Emblem Engage

It is going to sound like I didn’t enjoy Fire Emblem Engage, but that isn’t the case. My free time is rare enough that I don’t finish games I’m not enjoying and I’ve played all the way to the end of this game. The combat is tight, varied, and challenging in all the best ways, even if it is remarkably easy to grind your way to invincibility through skirmishes and bonus missions.

While Casual Mode removes the danger of perma-death from the game, there are still plenty of points where it is easy to get overwhelmed by foes. Some of the mechanics, such as the ballistas that are scattered around some of the maps, can be frustrating to try and overcome when in enemy hands, but overall the combat is where Fire Emblem Engage shines.

I also loved seeing older entries in the Fire Emblem series celebrated in the form of the Emblems. Getting to hang out with Ike, Marth, and Lucina was a great way to tie Fire Emblem Engage into the wider franchise without having to place it in a shared setting. My only complaint is how shallow the conversations between members of your army and these classic characters felt. Even maxing out their bond level results in an awkwardly short exchange that, frankly, feels lazy.

Fire Emblem Engage female protagonist

That’s a symptom of many of the non-combat features in this game. There is a small dog-like creature living in the main hub area that you can pet and feed, but doing so just nets you a small reward. You can adopt animals that you spot on your journey and they’ll drop crafting and cooking materials. There is even a fishing mini-game, because what JRPG is complete without one?

The problem is that you’ll soon find yourself swimming in these materials, with more than you could ever hope to spend sitting in your inventory. You’ll end up with piles of horse manure that have no purpose in the game outside of eliciting joke responses from characters when they are given it. Spend a bit of time on the wyvern-themed rail shooter and you’ll get a Vulnerary to go along with the 50 of them that you already found lying around on the battlefield.

However, no mini-game is more superfluous than when the fortune teller shows up at the Somniel around halfway through the game. They’ll do a reading for the main character, telling you how certain characters feel and what they’re worried about. The problem? There is no way to act on this information. It doesn’t change how you approach character interactions or how you use them in combat. Rather than make the game feel deep and involved, everything outside of the main combat mechanics just feels tacked on and shallow.

Fire Emblem Engage

That sense of shallowness doesn’t end at the mini-games. I mentioned before that my first impression of this game was that it wouldn’t have the replayability of Three Houses or Awakening, and that remains true. The story of Fire Emblem Engage plays out almost exactly how you’d expect, with even major plot points signposted for several chapters before you reach them. Predictability isn’t the issue for me here. I don’t mind if I can see the twist coming, so long as it is fun. A good linear story is better than a bad branching narrative.

It’s so frustrating because I can see what the developers are trying to achieve. Bold decisions are made in the final chapters of the game’s story only to be completely ignored a moment later. Fire Emblem Engage is a game with sparks of greatness that never get the chance to grow. For every brilliant moment in the game, there are two that pull it back down to average.

Still, this isn’t a bad game. The cast isn’t quite as good as previous entries but is still solid. The combat mechanics are stellar and will keep you excited throughout the 30 or so hours it takes to complete the main plot. Everything outside the combat, however, feels like it was added simply because they couldn’t possibly ship a JRPG without a host of mini-games to pad out the runtime. I went into Fire Emblem Engage expecting “great”, so “good” feels like a disappointment.

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