3 Reviews liked by eraneranera

This review contains spoilers

Fire Emblem Engage draws a lot from different games in the series, which is to be expected from an anniversary title. It has a world map like Sacred Stones or Awakening. It has a central hub area like Fates’ My Castle or Garreg Mach from Three Houses. The shorter supports and more one-note characters are also reminiscent of Awakening and Fates’ approach to writing. Fire Emblem is a series that’s constantly reinventing itself, so it’s no surprise that Engage draws from a lot of different sources and tries to merge all the different mechanics and ideas from past games into one coherent system. Obviously this meant that people who really like one specific type of FE game (people who venerate Kaga as the savior of tactical RPGS, people who just want the GBA games back, people who think a girl who was abused and experimented on by literal mole people, only to be manipulated by said mole people into thinking that the dragon pope is the source of her trauma is actually some kind of communistic girlboss, etc) would be put off by mess of inspirations and mechanics that is Engage. I get that. But since I’m a connoisseur of only the finest chuuni bullshit and been a fan of the series for well over a decade, I fully expected to enjoy the game.
And I did. A lot, actually. The story was pretty simple and a lot of the characters can be boiled down to one defining quirk or character trait, but it did a good enough job of moving Alear and company between cool fights. There were even a few chapters that were really cool intersections of story and gameplay, like the whole chapter 10-11 sequence. The Somniel was an okay hub that didn’t really need to be in the game, but I do need to commend the game for having a much better fishing minigame than Three Houses did. It can get kind of tedious going between activities sometimes for the stat boosts, but I never found them too integral to the game so you could probably just ignore the hub entirely and move between story battles if you wanted to. For a switch title, the game also actually looks really nice. The models are all clean, the colors and environments are all bright and detailed without being too cluttered, and it generally lacks that kind of blurriness that most switch games suffer from. I also liked the music a lot and the soundtrack was (a bit) more varied than just remixes of its vocal theme, which is more than I can for some other FE titles. The place the game really shines, though, is in the gameplay and the systems underlying it. I’m a sucker for games that let you abuse their mechanics, and Engage actively encourages you to use the different emblem rings in increasingly scummy and creative ways. The way it does this is actually really clever, too. You fight enemies that use their own emblems throughout the game, and the best way to counteract their own underhanded tactics and warp-spamming bullshit is with your own. Use Sigurd’s emblem ring to send your archer halfway across the map in one turn, then move them out of danger after they’ve taken out a particularly dangerous wyvern rider. Give Lucina to your thief so they interrupt any battle in a six square radius and poison the enemy, weakening them for the rest of the battle. Use Corrin on a thief, archer, or dragon unit to fart out nine tiles of fog that add a flat +30 evade to every unit within them, and dodge tank entire waves of reinforcements. Give Byleth to anyone that isn’t Seadall so you get a second dancer that can restore turns to four units at once. There are a lot of creative ways to mix and match emblems and units, either to compensate for their weaknesses or to further augment their strengths. And since each character has their own unique traits on top of their class, there’s even more room for customization. It isn’t like Three Houses’ “every character starts off as a trainee so make your own party”, customization, either since each character has a more clearly intended role within your army. Yeah, you can still do things like make an entire army of mages if you wanted to, but unlike 3H where any character could be okay as any class, there are definitely better and worse ways to use each unit in Engage. The maps were also much more varied than in Three Houses, with a few that even had objectives outside of routing the enemy or defeating a boss. There were a few later maps that pitted you against enemies that could alter the terrain through things like launching 3x3 fireballs that leveled boulders, or by triggering avalanches that would push your units back unless they were positioned in front of impassable tiles that were reminiscent of the dragon veins of Fates. The paralogue maps that pull from past FE games also stood out as really good, since they tended to recreate pivotal moments from their source games in creative and sometimes downright funny ways (shoutout to Ike just leveling like ten tiles worth of walls in his paralogue chapter). Yeah a few maps dragged on longer than they should and the choice for Celica’s paralogue was awful, but generally I enjoyed them and nothing was anywhere near as tedious as the Desert Stronghold in Echoes, or as bland as most of Three Houses’ maps. I went into Engage expecting a more gameplay-focused experience than Three Houses, and I ended up pretty satisfied by the whole thing since it really delivered on that front.
The one thing I didn’t expect, however, is that the game would remind me the most of the one Fire Emblem game it was least likely to draw from: Tokyo Mirage Sessions.
In a series as schizophrenic as Fire Emblem, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Engage most closely resembles the spin-off idol RPG, but since I’m like one of the five people that actually like that game, I really wasn’t expecting there to be so many parallels. A fairly light and by the books story about heroes from other worlds granting their power to others in order to stop an evil dragon. Characters fusing with said heroes from other worlds in order to gain new powers. A bright, flashy art style with heavily stylized cast of characters (this is just a nicer way of saying overdesigned since I actually like a lot of the character designs). A combat system that encourages planning in order to exploit enemy weaknesses and chain together attacks from multiple characters (Engage’s backup system in practice is pretty different from TMS’s sessions, but the idea of tagging in other characters to add some extra damage to your attack is pretty similar). An oddly clean presentation for the system they’re on. I could probably list off a few more similarities, but since this is basically just a long joke I didn’t really see the need to. I do actually see a lot of TMS DNA in this game and wanted to point that out, since that’s not something I see talked about a lot (maybe this is just because people either hate that game or forget it exists IDK lol). Maybe it’ll get people to think about Engage a little differently, or maybe me mentioning TMS will just make some people go listen to Reincarnation by Kurono Kiria. Either is a good outcome.
btw the Tsubasa cover of Reincarnation from Encore is better than the original go check it out

I used to be pretty down on this game, but after listening to Food4Dogs's thoughts on the game, I'm more sympathetic to it even if it's not exactly a great game. The mystery and characters are both just sort of alright, nothing mindblowing or particularly clever, but its focus on people's relationships with deaths is a subject I've always found fascinating, even if the actual execution isn't. There's some unrealized ambition in this game, but as it is, it's just okay.

To sum this game up in one word, it's a janksterpiece.
The game foregoes a lot of established series trends (the removal of the flashlight and radio, you never visit Silent Hill, ect) for better or worse, though I feel most of these changes breathe new life into the series. It allowed for a greater variety of locations and to not confine itself to dark narrow corridoors for a majority of the game.
The biggest issues I need to get out of the way is the combat and camera. To be blunt, they're bad. The combat is about as cack-handed as previous entries,. and the camera is about as handy as the ones in 90s 3D platformers, which they must have been aware of as they have a button dedicated to resetting it for the countless times it'll get stuck on the environment over the game.
The production value isn't up to snuff either, unfortunately. Textures are noticably lower quality over Silent Hill 2 and especially 3, models are worse, facial animations are more rigid, lighting is far poorer. I think some of this can be attributed to the larger environments that previous entries, but it is a shame to see this regardless.
That all being said, the game offers a richly disturbing atmosphere and complex story which more than makes up for its many, many faults.
The game wastes no time, establishing you're trapped in your appartment, locked from the inside and completely cut off from the world. Scream and bang on the door all you want, no-one will here you. They take their themes to their logical conclusions and leave a strong impression. Voyerism, abandonment, motherhood, isolation, all perfectly woven together to create an atmosphere of nightmarish hell, but also uneasy comfort.
Unfortunately the protagonist, Henry, has almost no personality and almost no dialogue. Though this is made up for by the game's antagonist, Walter Sulivan. Surprisingly, he is the main character of this game and he earns it, being an ever present force and a complex personality.
I can't say too much more about the story as people should experience it for themselves, but I will say there's a point roughly halfway into the game that completely changes the way you approach playing, and I'll never forget how helpless I felt in that moment. That moment alone was worth playing the game for.
If you can play past the glaring surface issues, I promise you there's an incredible experience waiting just underneath. Don't overlook this one.

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