What I'm Playing - No. 179
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Fire Emblem Engage (Switch)
Fire Emblem Engage is an extremely fun game. It looks great, with excellent battle animations for things like critical hits and dodges, and nice character models. The music is great, and the gameplay is super polished, featuring a nice blend of series staples and new mechanics. Battles in this game might just have the best turn-based strategy the series has ever seen. It feels like an amalgamation of all the 3DS Fire Emblems: Awakening, Fates, and Echoes. It has a world map like Awakening and Echoes, no weapon durability like Fates and Echoes, and the ability to undo turns like Echoes (and Three Houses). Personally, I was really excited to see the World Map return in particular. I’ve always really enjoyed the Fire Emblem games with World Maps ever since I first played Sacred Stones. Seeing your little character move around the map space by space is just really charming. There’s also a nameable player character in Engage, who’s much more like Robin or Corrin than Byleth because they’re not a silent protagonist, although you can’t customize their appearance beyond choosing their gender. The default name for them is Alear, but I named him Pepsiman.
The story is a pretty simple, good vs. evil adventure. Alear is a Divine Dragon who defeated the Fell Dragon, Sombron, 1000 years ago, and then fell into a deep sleep. Waking up after 1000 years, Alear learns that the Fell Dragon is stirring once again, so they need to travel around the world to collect the twelve Emblem Rings before the followers of Sombron get them first in order to prevent the Fell Dragon from returning to power and taking over the world. It’s an enjoyable adventure, somewhat predictable but there were still some moments that caught me by surprise. My biggest complaints about the story happen late in the game, so I won’t spoil them here, but there are some scenes where it tries to give some villains an empathetic backstory, and those felt pretty heavy-handed. I think if they wanted to develop their villains, they should have started doing it earlier instead of trying to squeeze it into the closing moments of the game. Aside from that though, I enjoyed the story for what it is: a fun adventure.
Not only are the Emblem Rings central to the plot, the biggest new gameplay mechanic also comes from them. Emblems are the spirits of heroes from other Fire Emblem games, and they live in the Emblem Rings. Wearing one of the rings allows a unit to summon the Emblem to fight alongside them in battle, providing them with several bonuses. They can also Engage with the Emblem, temporarily fusing with them for a few turns and changing their appearance while giving them access to Emblem Weapons associated with that Emblem, powerful skills, and a special attack that they can only use once per Engagement. For example, Engaging with Emblem Marth allows you to wield the Falchion, and gives you access to the Lodestar Rush skill, a multi-hit flurry of attacks. Some Emblems provide really powerful skills while Engaged, like how one of Emblem Sigurd’s skills gives you +5 movement while Engaged, letting you run practically halfway across the map.
Characters also have a Bond level with each Emblem that increases as they use them, though you can also spend Bond Fragments at the Arena to quickly level up Bonds. As a character’s Bond with an Emblem increases, they’ll gain access to new skills and Emblem Weapons while using that Emblem, and they also have a very simplified version of a Support conversation with the Emblem every five levels. And I mean, very simplified, these Bond conversations are usually only two sentences long.
Another thing characters will gain from increasing their Bond with certain Emblems are weapon proficiencies. These are needed to change their classes, either changing them to a different Base class with a Second Seal, or changing them to an Advanced Class with a Master Seal once they’re at least level 10. Characters have certain innate weapon proficiencies, and if those are the only weapon proficiencies needed for a class they’ll be able to change to it no problem. But if a character only has a proficency in lances and you want to change them to a class that requires lance and axe proficiency, you’ll first need to increase their Bond with an Emblem that gives axe proficiency at some level, like Leif. This is an interesting way to handle class changes, it gives you a lot of flexibility to reclass units to whatever class you want, but you can also just ignore the proficiencies from Bonds and promote units to the Advanced versions of their starting classes if you want. That’s pretty much what I did, I didn’t drastically change the class of any characters I was actually using. I messed around a bit with characters who weren’t in my main party though, I had a good laugh when I made old man Lindon into a warrior.
I really like the nostalgia factor of the Emblems. I’ve played every mainline Fire Emblem game that has an official localization, so seeing these classic Fire Emblem characters brought back was awesome. Each Emblem has a Paralogue available later in the game. In each one, they’ll talk a little bit about a pivotal moment from their own adventure, and then Alear will have to clear their trial which features a remake of a map from their game. It’s been a long time since I played most of the games the Emblems are from, but I still recognized several of these maps! It was really cool to see these maps and hear a little about the story of their games again. It makes me want to replay them, especially Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. For Sigurd and Leif’s Paralogues, I haven’t played their games since they weren’t released outside of Japan and I haven’t gotten around to playing the fan translation patches, but hearing the characters talk about their adventures and seeing their maps makes me want to play those games. It also makes me want a Genealogy of the Holy War remake or at least an official English release! I mean, why else would they feature Emblem Sigurd so prominently in the story if they weren’t planning on bringing Genealogy back somehow, right? …Right?
The weapon triangle of many previous Fire Emblem games makes a return here with an interesting new twist: the Break system. If you attack an enemy with a weapon that has an advantage over theirs, you’ll inflict Break on them, disarming them until after their next combat. This means that they won’t be able to counter you during the combat you inflict Break, and you can also get a free attack in on them if you attack that same turn with another unit. This can be helpful to strategically defang tough enemies. I only played on Normal difficulty, which was pretty easy the whole way through, but I imagine using Break effectively is very important on the harder difficulties.
Outside of combat, the place where you’ll spend the most time is at Somniel. This is your base of operations throughout the game, and between chapters you can return here to run around the area, talk to your allies, eat meals with them, and play a few mini-games, including fishing, a wyvern rail shooter, and several strength training games. The gameplay here is a little like Three Houses’ Garreg Mach Monastery in that you’re exploring this 3D home base in 3rd-person, but other than that it’s actually more like a new version of My Castle from Fates. Characters in your army will appear around Somniel to talk to, but only some of them will ever have anything related to the story to say. Most of the time they just have generic character dialogue, which can be fun too although I was much less likely to talk to them towards the end of the game since I knew they’d just be repeating dialogue I’d already heard before. The last thing I want to mention about Somniel is your pet/mascot, Sommie. He’s this cute little creature that follows you around Somniel, and his footsteps make this adorable squishy noise. Plus, you get to dress him up, and I love that you can give him a little Alear wig, it’s too funny!
Characters in this game come off as pretty one-note most of the time. They each have their “thing,” and that’s what a lot of their dialogue and supports will center around. Initially, I was a little thrown off by the simplicity of the characters. They felt too flat. Many of their Supports tend to revolve around their main character trait and nothing else. Céline has multiple C Support conversations about tea, and I saw two of them in a row at one point. In fact, a lot of the Supports between Firenese characters are about tea, and they’re the first characters you get so Supports at the beginning of the game weren’t super interesting. But after awhile, the characters really began to grow on me. Their simple personality traits became endearing, and many of their Supports became more interesting too, like Alcryst’s Supports with Céline about their shared fear of losing their older brothers. Alcryst has several good supports, I think on average his supports might be the best ones in the game, at least from what I saw. My main point here is that if you give Engage a try and you’re not enjoying the characters, give them a chance. You might find that your opinion on them turns around later on like mine did, but even if it never does I think it’s worth sticking it out for the gameplay alone.
One other thing about the characters in this game, a lot of them have really odd quirks. Some of it is just overexaggerated anime cheese, particularly early on, but then you have things like Clanne’s weird obsession with pickles. This comes up in his C Support with Etie, and when I saw this Support, I was like “what is happening right now?” I was similarly thrown by Yunaka’s introduction, where she says things like “Zappy!” and “hiya papaya!” which come off really forced and awkward, but I guess that’s kind of the point there, and she actually ended up becoming one of my favorite characters. Some of the quirks can be endearing at times, like Chloé’s love of disgusting-sounding folk food dishes. Overall, I really did end up liking the characters, at least the ones I ended up using. Although with Alfred it was kind of a love-hate relationship, because his quotes like “My muscles are yours!” still got on my nerves at the end of the game, and he didn’t turn out to be a very good unit either. He was pretty much carried by Emblem Sigurd, the absolute chad. I would have stopped using Alfred, but I’d already put so much time into training him and he was in a lot of story cutscenes so I felt obligated to keep him in my party.
Playing this game felt incredibly nostalgic, largely due to the Emblems but the mechanics were also much more like classic Fire Emblem. I can definitely see myself replaying it at some point. There’s so many characters I didn’t use, so much potential for team building through class changes using Second Seals, and pairing different Emblems with different characters opens up a lot of possibilities too. It’s a very different game than Three Houses, its predecessor, and it leaves me wondering which direction the series will go in the future. Will the next game feature more social sim elements like Three Houses, or will it have the more traditional gameplay loop of Engage? Or, maybe they’ll continue with both types of games, alternating styles between releases. I really enjoyed both Three Houses and Engage, so I don’t mind either way, but I imagine some fans might prefer one or the other. Anyway, if you’re a fan of the series or of strategy RPGs in general, I definitely recommend checking Engage out. It could also be a good starting point if you’ve never played a Fire Emblem game before too. You won’t have any nostalgia for the Emblems, but seeing them might be enough to get you interested in playing some of the older games. My final time was 51 hours 38 minutes. A large chunk of that was cutscenes and time spent in Somniel, but I also completed every Paralogue, so if you just focus on the main story you could probably finish the game much faster.