Official game art for Nintendo's Fire Emblem Engage featuring characters from the video game

How ‘Fire Emblem Engage’ Snapped Me Out of Gaming Burnout

4.5/5 pets for the in-house Puppycat.

Before I dig into my experience with Fire Emblem Engage, let me summarize my last year in gaming real quick. I, like so many, got obsessed with Elden Ring upon its release in February 2022. I would play it for hours on end, transfixed, convinced along with everyone else that it was Game Of The Year. Then I hit a wall around 100 hours into my playthrough—”I’m not even halfway through the map, am I?” But then I got COVID and played for another 50 hours before I hit another wall. Elden Ring was no longer fun. It felt like an endless, frustrating chore. I had played this game for 150 hours, and yet I felt like I would never finish it. I put it down.

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While I do still think of Elden Ring as Game Of The Year, I think it cursed me. I only finished three games in 2022 after I put Elden Ring down (short ones, too: Stray, Shredder’s Revenge, and The Case of the Golden Idol). I was having a hard time feeling obsessed over a game again—that sense of being sucked in, when deep down, you’re a little upset that you have plans with friends after work because you just want to play video games.

Fire Emblem Engage broke my curse.

On one hand, I know there’s a lot to be desired in Engage. The systems through which you manage your characters and inventory are unnecessarily tedious, unravelling in submenu upon submenu. The story isn’t as engaging (heh heh) as Fire Emblem: Three Houses‘, and I couldn’t care less about the protagonist, Alear. On the other hand, I have not had this much fun playing a game in nearly a calendar year. I’m obsessed. I’m completely sucked in. I love it.

The thrill of battle

Fire Emblem Engage is a game which celebrates the 30-year history of the Fire Emblem series. Actually, Engage was initially slated as an anniversary game, but got delayed. The central conceit of the game is that your party can weld “Emblem Rings” which hold the spirits (ghosts? enchantments?) of heroes of Fire Emblems past.

These Emblem Rings were a lot for me to wrap my head around, conceptually. They’re supposedly not literally the heroes of Emblems past. But still, are they alive? Or are they like AIs powered by magic? What are they doing when someone doesn’t have their ring on? Are they cursed to imprisonment for thousands of years, by the game’s own timeline? Isn’t that kind of horrible and nightmarish?! Maybe I should destroy these things and set them free?!

How these legacy rings hit you depends on your history with Fire Emblem. Personally, the only other Fire Emblem game I’ve played is Three Houses. I only recognize Marth, Lucina, and Roy from their presence in Smash Bros. The central drama around the rings in the narrative feels very forced to me. Sometimes, the melodrama has even made me giggle, but I’m also having so much damn fun that I don’t really care.

Usually, a game’s story is what gives weight to the combat. For me, it was the other way around in Fire Emblem Engage. I was not sucked into the story at all, initially, and there were very few characters I felt an attachment to. Any attachment and investment came purely from how much I was enjoying combat.

The combat is what you’d expect from a Fire Emblem game. You move your characters around strategically, trying to kill enemies while not killing your own army. Specific kinds of weapons (including magic) are strong or weak against others. You can upgrade your characters so that they’re riding a goddamn griffin or wolf (WOLF!). You’re given a “time crystal” a few chapters in, which allows you to undo any messes you’ve made, up to a point. I don’t know how to describe this in a way which communicates how addictive and fun it actually is. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

The biggest feature which distinguishes combat in Engage from other Fire Emblems is the Emblem Rings. Experimenting and using the Emblems feels incredibly satisfying, even though I have no historical attachment to anyone other than Byleth. (Edelgard/Demetri/Claude is available as part of a shockingly expensive DLC. Do I love them enough to fork over $30?) Each Emblem has a special attack, which often makes me feel like a million dollars. Warp Ragnarock, which allows you to warp across the map and blast an opponent with enough magical force to often one-hit KO them, makes me smirk like a war god gone mad.

Basically, if you like strategy and tactics, you will have a blast with Engage. There is much pre-planning to be done, much deduction of which Emblem works best with which fighter, much testing how well such-and-such fighter would do against such-and-such enemy. I’m playing Engage on Hard difficulty and Classic mode (which means perma-death for your units), because I am a maniac who wants to feel something, anything. And it’s worked. The stakes feel incredibly high. With adrenaline coursing through my veins, I’m completely rapt for the entire length of a fight.


I’m so drunk on the glory of battle that combat carries me through the lulls of the game. Engage isn’t very straightforward about how to improve your units. There’s a lot to keep track of: upgrading weapons, managing your units’ classes and relationships, managing your Emblem Rings. Engage doesn’t do much hand-holding. You have to do a lot of diving in sub-menus, often to find important things the game doesn’t tell you about up front. For example, you can upgrade your units’ classes by going to the “change class” tab in the “inventory” submenu. And it’s not always immediately clear what the “best” fit is. Then again, it’s up to you—which is a lot of pressure, as a war general.

Seriously, the menus are a lot, but again, I’m so hyped to get the next battle that I’ve found myself digging around in all these sub-menus with abandon. If you’re playing on Normal difficulty like a reasonable person, I imagine most of this tedium is skippable—or, at least, you don’t have to pay as close attention to it as I am. I feel a bit like Gollum when I play this game.

The most important thing the game does not explicitly tell you to do is go to the Shrine in the Somniel. There, you will find a very precious creature who bears a shocking resemblance to Puppycat from Bee and Puppycat. You can feed him and pet him and put a little top hat on his big, big head. Eventually, he will follow you around with some of the cutest-sounding footsteps I’ve ever heard.

Is this important for your strategic gameplay? Not really. Is it important because Puppycat is precious as hell? Yes.

An “okay” narrative

This is the part when I bring up how much I adored Three Houses. I played it twice: the first time with Demetri, the second with Edelgard. I bet there’s a Claude playthrough in my future. Even when I was playing as the Church-sympathetic Blue Lions, I didn’t trust archbishop Rhea. Plus, Demetri got a nice little edge to him eventually (cue eye-patch!). Then, with Edelgard—well, I reveled in rebelling against the Church.

From that standpoint, it was a bit of a disappointed to find that, in Engage, you are the Church. Alear is immediately shown to be the heir apparent to this game’s Rhea. Engage’s narrative is a classic tale of Good and Evil. While some characters on the “evil” side eventually cross over, there’s way less moral messiness than Three Houses.

What I’m trying to say is that I find Alear boring. It’s not that Three Houses’ Byleth was fascinating, either. But compared to Edelgard, eye-patch Demetri, Claude, and the many weird side characters you meet in Three Houses, many of your allies in Engage (looking at you, Firene crew) are straight arrows without much intrigue. The weirdos do come, but you have to wait for them. You eventually get some conflicted heirs, too—again, it takes a while, and I’m pretty sure there will be a twist with Alear in later chapters, but I don’t think it will cancel out that Alear feels quite vanilla.

I did eventually find some characters I grew attached to. Chloé was the first one, largely because she shares her Japanese voice actress with Yor from Spy x Family. Chloé is Yor in my headcanon—which made it very alarming when it was her shift for kitchen duty. I also love my dear, self-esteem-challenged prince Alcyrst, the meditating tank Jade, and the unconcerned badass that is Zelkov.

Even in these descriptions of my faves, you can tell—the story of Engage eventually won me over.

Fire Emblem Engage is a spectacularly fun game—though, for the complete series newbie, I might direct you to Three Houses instead. Engage does require some patience: patience with sub-menus, patience with the story, patience with the many characters. But if you have that patience and like strategy and tactics, you will have a blast, even if you’ve never played any of the Fire Emblem games it references.

(featured image: Nintendo)

Nintendo provided a copy of Fire Emblem Engage for the purposes of this review.

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Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.