If you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games or falling hopelessly in love with fictional anime characters, there’s no such thing as too much Fire Emblem. Though the Nintendo Switch has already played gracious host to the impeccable Fire Emblem: Three Houses and real-time spin-off Three Hopes, developer Intelligent Systems is back for more with Fire Emblem Engage – a kingdom-hopping journey that tasks players with solving the world’s woes with good old-fashioned tile-based combat.
Engage’s journey kicks off when protagonist Alear, a divine dragon who looks like a tube of Colgate and has a crippling allergy to alarm clocks, wakes up from a millennium-long snooze to find a realm in turmoil. A shadowy group is trying to resurrect the apocalyptic Fell Dragon, and Alear is tasked with hunting down a multitude of powerful Emblem Rings before they fall into the wrong hands.
These Emblem Rings are scattered across the world of Elyos – some hidden away, others entrusted to the ruling families of the continent’s kingdoms – and aside from setting up an intriguing plot, they offer the game’s biggest twist on Fire Emblem‘s tile-based strategy formula. When equipped by one of the many party members you’ll pick up on your quest, Emblem Rings allow their wielders to briefly summon the spirits of famous faces from the Fire Emblem franchise to gain new attacks and abilities. These abilities are ridiculously fun – Gaiden‘s Celica, for example, lets her wielder teleport across the map to cast a devastating magical attack; while Marth is an unstoppable powerhouse with a sword.
Though they’re inherently very powerful, your time with an Emblem is metered and you only get a few turns with them before needing a recharge. This means that in particularly drawn-out battles, they become your ace in the hole – and in combination with Engage‘s rewind feature, which can now be used an unlimited amount, players are given plenty of satisfying options for tackling the game’s increasingly difficult battles.
Additionally, Engage brings a few changes that will be familiar to older Fire Emblem fans but new to those introduced via Three Houses. Players still have a social hub to visit between the game’s turn-based battles, but since Engage is tied together with an on-rails world map, you spend far less time there than you may have at Garreg Mach. This means Engage feels like a grand adventure where you’re always on the move – and while you can’t stray from the game’s pre-determined path, optional missions will let you backtrack to recruit new characters, pick up some extra loot, and snag more exp for your characters.
However, Engage‘s early chapters throw new party members at you extraordinarily fast – and while that’s great if you’re playing fast and loose with perma-death enabled, it’s hard to connect with each character emotionally when you’re juggling 15 of them. You can still take people out for dinner dates and sit as a fly on the wall for support conversations between characters, but many of the social elements are tucked away to enjoy at leisure. While the decision to streamline the flow of missions will be welcome to players who are purely there for Fire Emblem‘s turn-based thrills, it does feel like the social side of Engage has taken a step back in some ways.
Overall though, it’s hard to fault Engage‘s direction. Combat feels clearer and more satisfying than ever, while an intriguing plot and colourful visual touch-up make Engage a great stepping-in point for Switch owners who have never touched a Fire Emblem game. Last year was an overwhelming success for strategy games, and Engage looks set to continue that trend – if Marvel’s Midnight Suns or Persona 5‘s re-release left you pining for more tactical trysts, Engage is well worth keeping on your radar as it prepares to launch.
Fire Emblem Engage launches on January 20 for Nintendo Switch. We’ll have our full review nearer the time – watch out for it at NME Gaming.