Fire Emblem Engage for the Nintendo Switch is the first major release of 2023, and a big exclusive in a beloved franchise. The Fire Emblem series has been defining tactical RPG experiences on Nintendo platforms for decades, but the series blew up in a big way in recent years with popular releases like Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Engage is the next entry in the series, with a hook that pays homage to the series’ long history with the addition of Emblems–heroes from other realms who serve both a gameplay and story focus.
We’ve played the first eight chapters of Fire Emblem Engage, and already found that it makes some significant changes from the precedent set by Three Houses, and to the series as a whole. Here are 10 of the biggest changes coming to Nintendo’s long-running tactical RPG series with some early, spoiler-free impressions sprinkled in.
1. School’s Out
2019’s Fire Emblem Three Houses was a huge success for Nintendo, and I’m sure there are some fans expecting the school-based structure from that game to return in Engage. While the social sim aspects are still intact, the school-based mechanics unique to Three Houses have been removed. This means you won’t be choosing a house or faction at the beginning of the game, you won’t be teaching a class of students (or taking any out to tea), and you won’t be managing your schedule week to week.
Instead, Fire Emblem Engage follows a more traditional structure similar to Fire Emblem Awakening. Battles can be selected via the world map, and in between skirmishes you can return to your home base to purchase new equipment, chat with your units, and partake in some diversions. Like Three Houses, this is a fully 3D space that you can roam around in freely, though you can also select from a menu to travel quickly between particular rooms.
In my experience so far, Engage is a lot more linear than Fire Emblem: Three Houses, in which you could choose one of three houses, recruit different students, and even make a few major decisions during the story. Everyone who plays Engage will likely recruit the same people and follow the same route through the story. This may not be a bad thing if the story is really engaging, but those expecting Three Houses’ dynamic social progression will find this to be a little more straightforward.
2. The Weapon Triangle Is Back
The iconic Fire Emblem weapon triangle is back, and I couldn’t be happier. Prior to Three Houses, Fire Emblem’s combat used to revolve around a rock-paper-scissors style triangle. Sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword. Meanwhile hand-to-hand arts beat bows, daggers, and tomes. If you fight a unit you have a weapon advantage over, it will cause a break. Breaking an enemy means they can’t counterattack, which will save you vital health. The most effective way to deal with enemy units is by taking full advantage of the weapon triangle.
3. Direct Control
A small but meaningful change is now you can control your units directly instead of drawing out a path for them. While it’s still grid-based, this new approach offers a little more precision and flexibility to movement, and feels very natural.
Poison status effects have popped up in Fire Emblem games over the years, but they work a little differently in Engage. Instead of doing tick damage at the beginning or end of each turn, now poisoned units take more damage than they would normally from attacks. Poison can also stack, meaning that if you hit a target multiple times with a poisoned weapon, you’ll do even more damage.
5. Weapon Durability
Weapon durability has been almost entirely removed from Fire Emblem Engage. Weapons cannot break and nearly every weapon can be upgraded with the proper materials and gold. Although physical weapons cannot break, staves (which enable special spell effects) can after a certain number of uses.
6. Explore the Battlefield
After each battle you can explore the battlefield, talk to allies, collect resources, and adopt pets. It’s cool to see these battlefields up close after each battle. You can also just skip back out to the main map and continue with the story, but doing so will cost you some valuable resources and moments connecting with the characters.
Fire Emblem Engage Engaging with Emblems Trailer
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7. The Somniel
Between battles you can return to the Somniel, which acts as your home base. There have been elements similar to the Somniel in past Fire Emblem games, but in Engage there are some new activities you can participate in. You can exercise to give your character a temporary buff in the next battle. You can feed and pet Sommie, a small creature who occupies the base, for some extra Bond Fragments. Other animals you’ve adopted will gather resources for you in between battles at the animal pen. You can share a meal with two other units to increase their bonds, which isn’t exactly new, but this time you can save the leftovers to bring into battle. You can train three times after each battle to get a little extra XP. You can also donate to different countries to increase your reward pools after skirmishes. And finally, you can purchase alternate outfits and accessories for your units. The cosmetics only affect a unit’s appearance at the Somniel though, and not on the battlefield.
8. Emblem Rings
At the center of Fire Emblem Engage is the Emblem Ring mechanic. Throughout your journey you will collect Emblem Rings that house the spirit of past Fire Emblem protagonists. Units equipped with an Emblem Ring can use a special “Engage” command in battle to summon a classic hero to fight alongside them. A unit armed with an Emblem Ring typically enjoys some stat buffs, a new weapon which can be used while engaged, and a unique skill. The engage period lasts three turns and then the engage meter must be refilled either by attacking, getting hit, casting spells, or by standing on a designated recovery tile, depicted as blue spaces on the map.
Some of the Emblem ring characters I’ve been able to utilize so far are Marth from Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon, Celica from Gaiden and its remake Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Sigurd from Genealogy of the Holy War, Micaiah from Radiant Dawn, Roy from The Binding Blade, and Leif from Genealogy of the Holy War and Thracia 776. Want to know how many of those games never came to the US? The answer is too damn many.
Anyway, just like your standard units, you can also forge bonds with your Emblem Rings by battling with them equipped, and by chatting with them at your home base. By improving your bonds, you’ll unlock new skills and stat buffs which can be purchased with skill points in the Ring Chamber.
9. Bond Rings
Along with Emblem Rings, you can also forge Bond Rings using Bond Fragments. Bond Rings also feature characters from past Fire Emblem games, but these rings only give characters stat buffs. Once you’ve unlocked an Emblem Ring, you can purchase randomized Bond Rings from their respective game. 100 Bond Fragments will get you one Bond Ring and 1000 will get you 10. By collecting duplicate rings you can meld them together to forge more powerful versions of those same rings.
Fire Emblem Engage adds hundreds of in-game achievements that can be converted into bond fragments. Once you’ve completed a few, you can head over to the protagonists desk and claim them. These achievements range from deploying specific units multiple times to landing a certain amount of critical hits.
Since I’ve been talking about all the changes coming to combat, I wanted to address my experience so far. I’ve been playing on the Hard difficulty with Classic mode turned on and thanks in part to all these changes, combat feels balanced and satisfying. No one unit is overpowered, and every character serves a specific role. So far, almost every battle apart from the first few have required a lot of forethought and careful planning. I’m really excited to see how this expands as I progress.
A full review for Fire Emblem Engage is coming as we approach its release date on January 20. For more, read up about everything we know about Fire Emblem Engage, including everything you can do in Somniel and the first details about its paid expansion pass.
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