As I played Fire Emblem Engageit felt great returning to the classic turn-based strategy combat that we haven’t seen since 2019’s Three Houses. What immediately stood out to me was the visual upgrade in the overall presentation of the game – it looks super clean in 2022. Plus, the more I dove into the single chapter I was allowed to play, the more I realized how fun and innovative gameplay has become with each new entry in the franchise. However, what I’m left wondering is whether or not developer Intelligent Systems is too relying on a nostalgia that may not exist with many fans.
What was apparent from my time playing a near-final build was that the game is practically done – or rather, anything you would expect from a finished Fire Emblem game is there and looks beautiful, to say the least. There’s an attention to detail with how the game is presented that feels new for the series. Something about the animation when your units prepare for battle is a nice touch compared to the still images of games past, and the action creeps even more into anime-fight territory every time I see it. I also loved how all of your units’ stats, abilities, etc. are visible on the bottom of the screen instead of having to navigate through multiple menus. This made the tactical aspect of combat easier to plan out knowing immediately, for example, who would outspeed who.
Fire Emblem Engage Screens (Nintendo Direct – Sept 2022)
The most advertised additions to gameplay are the 12 Emblem Rings, which summon Lords from Fire Emblem’s past to help with battles by providing stat boosts, weapon options, and much more. In practice, it felt reminiscent of the “pair up” mechanic introduced in Awakening, but this time as an equipable item. Every unit gets a design mashup when you “engage” with each ring’s Lord, and the ones I saw had me wanting to try out every combination possible. This also might be good news for those who have strong opinions about the design of the main character. How the Emblem Rings affected my overall strategy felt familiar, yet different enough that it’s a welcome change to the core of Fire Emblem combat.
Since these Emblem Rings summon different main characters from the history of Fire Emblem, it begs the question: will people play specifically for this concept? A Fire Emblem game wasn’t brought to the West until the seventh one, The Blazing Blade, yet Intelligent Systems seems expectant of players to rejoice over the return of older characters such as Sigurd and Leif. Beyond those who play the mobile version, heroes, and those who poked around the bonus modes of the past couple installments, these names are most likely unfamiliar. As a fan of this series, I enjoyed the concept and use of the Emblem Rings, so perhaps this is the introduction to the vast history of Fire Emblem characters (that aren’t just sword users) that is needed for a wider audience.
I managed to beat the entirety of Chapter 5 in the time I was allotted to play. And my conclusion is that if the rest of the gameplay is like this demo, then Engage will be one of the best-playing modern Fire Emblem games. The story, on the other hand, remains to be seen. I can at least say for sure that I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of it when it drops on Nintendo Switch on January 20.
Kalani Goda Newman is a half-Japanese Producer / Editor at IGN. Follow him on Twitter at @kalanikun to go to war with him about why Smash Bros. is the secret Fire Emblem spin-off we didn’t ask for.