Fire Emblem: Engage (Switch)
Fire Emblem is my absolute favorite Nintendo IP, and as such a huge Fire Emblem fan, I'm pretty easy to please. I even like Fire Emblem Heroes, and I'm notoriously prejudiced against mobile gaming (it's for peasants). As such, I absolutely adored Fire Emblem: Three Houses even though a lot of my friends either outright disliked it or were at least disappointed that leaned so heavily into the social sim aspects and put such an emphasis on the monastery as a hub world. Fire Emblem: Engage, however, I didn't enjoy just because it was Fire Emblem (and had an axe-wielding anti-religion cutie) like I did with Three Houses; unlike the previous mainline entry, Engage brings back a lot of the classic Fire Emblem feel that Three Houses lacked while still also feeling modern and fresh.
The basic premise of the game feels very similar if you've played previously Fire Emblem games (or any JRPG, for that matter). You play as Alear (whom I renamed Rozemyne because my current hyperfixation is Ascendance of a Bookworm and whom the Internet nicknamed Toothpaste-chan since her hair looks like Colgate), the child of the Divine Dragon Lumera and thus a Divine Dragon herself (or himself if you're a loser and play as a male). You awaken a thousand years after a cataclysmic war with the Fell Dragon, but just as you're awakening (with amnesia, as is tradition for everything made in Japan), oh no, the zombie-esque Corrupted soldiers are appearing again! What could this mean? Surely the Fell Dragon hasn't returned (not-really-a-spoiler alert - the Fell Dragon has returned). So the story isn't original, but hardly anything in anime or Japanese RPGs are; what matters is the execution, and the execution is fantastic here.
You still have a hub world called the Somniel where you can interact and bond with characters, shop, use your amiibo for some extra cooking ingredients, etc, but unlike Three Houses, the Somniel is like 95% optional. There are a couple of story segments that require you to interact with something there, but for the vast majority of the game, you can choose to go straight from the post-battle area to the world map and immediately to the next battle. This helps to keep the game's pace moving swiftly if you're not interested in the social sim aspects while also giving a relatively robust social sim element if, like me, you actually enjoy that. As for the core gameplay - the battle maps - it's exactly what you would expect from Fire Emblem. It's a well-designed and robust strategy RPG with balanced battle mechanics that invite - and eventually require - the player to develop strategies that go far beyond "send your single overpowered unit in as a tank." There are the usual mechanics that you're used to - the familiar weapons triangle and the weapons that are better against certain traits like mounted or armored - but there's also a new one, and that's Break. If you have the advantage in a weapon match up - swords against axes, for example - there's a chance that you can break the enemy's weapon, making them unable to counter attack during their next battle that turn. It only works during your turn - you can't keep them from attacking on theirs - and it only works once, so you can't just bum rush them with half a dozen units and have them all safe, but it's a great mechanic that opens up a lot of new strategies.
As Fire Emblem games since the 3DS era have, Engage gives you a variety of difficulty options. First and foremost, you'll choose between Casual and Classic. Casual is how I always play on the first playthrough and removes the permadeath for which Fire Emblem is traditionally known. That way, if your character falls in battle, they're not gone forever; they can be redeployed in the next battle. Classic, on the other hand, keeps permadeath intact; if a stupid mistake leads to a character death in a random grinding battle, that character is dead forever unless you go back and redo it. After you choose which mode to play, you choose your difficulty. These two choices let you craft the game to be as easy or as a infuriatingly difficult as you want it to be.
There is a pseudo-multiplayer aspect with the Relay Battles, but frankly, I have zero interest in those battles, so I did one token battle and then never touched it again. Still, though, it's a nice inclusion that's reminiscent of Awakening on 3DS. Something else that harkens back to the 3DS games (and all of the games before that) is your main gameplay gimmick, the emblems. Each of the 12 emblems represents one of the previous 12 Fire Emblem games (excluding Mystery of the Emblem, Shadow Dragon, New Mystery of the Emblem, and Echoes since they're remakes). There are also two DLC emblems if you bought the season pass. I know better than to pin my hopes on Nintendo's decision making, but I'm hoping against hope that this is an indication that they're preparing to either remaster or re-release some of the older Fire Emblem games because this is bound to get newer players (3DS and later) interested in the protagonists from the older (Wii and earlier) games.
Fire Emblem: Engage definitely feels the much more like a "classic" Fire Emblem game than Three Houses did. I personally loved Three Houses, but Engage surpasses it in pretty much every way except maybe character design; I love Toothpaste-chan, but even my anime standards, her hair is kind of out there. It reminds me a lot of Path of Radiance as well as Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, and I mean that in the best way possible. This is, in my opinion, the best Fire Emblem game since Awakening. If you love Fire Emblem, you need to play this; if you love the Switch, you need to play this; if you love SRPGs, you need to play this. It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn close in my book, and I'm extremely eager to see what story content the upcoming DLC adds.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.