The Fire Emblem series has seen a rebirth over the past 20 years. Ever since Marth was featured in Smash Bros. Melee in 2001, it has gone from a Japan-only obscurity to beloved across the world. We have seen it excel on the GameCube, Wii, 3DS and the Switch in that time. It has evolved from being an early tactical RPG obscurity with permadeath to something aimed at a wider audience that retains a lot of what made it stand out. Fire Emblem Engage goes for the most user-friendly experience yet with the franchise and the end result is the best-playing entry in the franchise that I’ve ever encountered.
Fire Emblem Engage starts off stronger than most games do dramatically by focusing on the protagonist Alear’s revival and his/her emerging bond with his or her mother despite amnesia. Alear wants to desperately remember their mother but can’t and it makes them frustrated and angry. It’s a pretty compelling story overall, with tragedy starting off strong due to the amnesia being played seriously and with consequences. Engage starts off strong story-wise and keeps the momentum rolling with exciting combat.
The Perfect Gateway Entry in the Franchise
As someone who wanted to enjoy the series more than they did, Engage is about as well-crafted as I could have ever imagined. The earlier entries’ permadeath was something that always made me iffy towards making any kind of emotional connection to the characters but having that as an option and not a requirement here makes for a far more user-friendly experience.
Engage embraces the franchise’s history in ways that we don’t often see in RPGs as a whole by having prior protagonists join the lineup as spectral versions of themselves – allowing them to combine their strengths with a character in your party. There are also different weapon affinities to consider – so going with a lance-based character and Emblem to fight off sword-users can make battles that might drag on a bit end faster due to how effective certain weapons are against others.
Ease of Use Across the Board
Fire Emblem can be an intimidating series because there are a lot of moving parts on the battlefield, but Emblem makes things easy by always explaining the game’s core mechanics as they come up. If you encounter a new type of enemy, you will be informed on a suggested way to defeat them and that’s it. You can succeed or fail based on that info alongside things like attacks missing or enemies being able to use their own Emblem affinities to chain attacks together. The game’s systems can seem a bit complex, but they’re able to be brought up at any point in time – making it easy to remember how things work after a break from the game.
The franchise’s bold red and blue grids have always made telling enemies and allies apart easy, as has the simple nature of the grid itself. Emblem keeps the colors intact, but boosts their clarity nicely by having their shades change. So your friendly side goes from darker blue to lighter blue throughout the turn, while enemy squares on the map change from darker red to lighter red. It’s a small change, but a nice one to see. Engage also embraces ease of use with an auto-battle system. Now with a turn-based game, this isn’t the kind of game that will generally lead to fatigue, but it is nice to have auto-battle turned on if you’re struggling. Another anti-frustration feature allows players to rewind time and redo turns if they so desire.
Beyond the ever-changing grid colors, Engage has large text and full in-game dialogue narration for all cutscenes and all story-related battles to make it an easier game to experience for those with vision problems. It does not feature voiceover for things like small conversations in the hub world that have no bearing on the story, which is a minor disappointment, but doesn’t get in the way of the overall narrative since those interactions build up in-game friendships and bonds that don’t have any baring on the overall plotline.
Engage is a fairly-accessible game for those with visual issues if the primary problem is that they need larger text to read comfortably. The bold, large white text is set against a translucent black backdrop that allows for a stark contrast and makes the text easier to read. The character nameplates are set off with the same color scheme as battles – so friendly units will be shown with a blue backdrop for their name, while enemies have a red backdrop, allowing for more contrast between the text. It would be nice if there were colorblind settings available in Engage, especially with it featuring such a colorful world rooted in red and blue.
The game’s usage of fully-voiced dialogue makes it easier for those with vision issues to enjoy the story, while the inclusion text for every conversation makes it possible for those with hearing problems to understand all of the storyline and game mechanics. The gameplay systems can be complex, but step-by-step rundowns of everything make it easier to retain the information alongside the interactive nature of putting the systems into use right after the text shows up.
Fire Emblem Engage does a lot with its audio beyond just dialogue. Actions like swords clashing with shields and various exclamations of sorrow during battle help get across the physicality of battle and the drama created by it – but none of those are properly-described to the player. The soundtrack is also fantastic, with a lot of brass and booming sounds throughout the music and yet that too gets no description for players. There is definite room for improvement when it comes to getting across the drama of the battles for players that are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Thankfully, Fire Emblem Engage being a turn-based RPG makes it largely user-friendly for those with fine-motor issues – although not quite to the extend one may thing. Prior entries were largely entirely menu-based and with this entry giving players areas to explore, the player does have to use the left analog stick to move around – or remap that function to the right stick in the system settings. Luckily, once you’re in battle, everything can be controlled with the d-pad and buttons.
Enemy actions can be sped up if desired and having auto-battle as a feature enables pretty much anyone to at least see the game through to its conclusion as long as you’re properly armored and have enough healing items. Last month, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope shined a light on making tactical RPGs more accessible with invincibility and this does something similar, just with a bit more work needed since auto-battle has to be turned on with every battle.
Fire Emblem Engage is the most user-friendly incarnation of the series I have ever played and one of the best tactical RPGs on the market when it comes to being able to be enjoyed by anyone – for the most part. The core gameplay is largely accessible from a fine-motor perspective as long as the player can move the left analog stick and press face buttons. Auto-battle makes things easier if someone can’t press a button regularly with ease – although it isn’t quite fully automatic throughout an entire battle.
Players with vision issues may have problems if they have colorblindness due to the lack of any colorblindness settings. Thankfully, Engage uses very large text with stark contrast between the text and the reading area – so even without text size options, the game is easy to read outside of a few scenes with white text on a light background during cinematics. There is room for improvement when it comes to getting across the drama of combat and battle sounds when it comes to deaf and hard of hearing players – but the inclusion of subtitles for all spoken dialogue is fantastic and helps ensure that the game’s mechanics and story can be fully-understood by all.