Over the course of the past couple of weeks, the Japanese Fire Emblem website has absolutely unloaded news about the game over Twitter and in videos as well as on their official website. It has been more than one human person can possibly keep up with – though god bless them, Serenes Forest certainly tries! I’ve caught snippets here and there but I wanted to take some time over the weekend to sit down and really dig into exactly what is going on with this game. So I pulled up Serenes and opened all of their recent analyses in different tabs and have read through them in a mechanical deep dive. My goal is not to glean story details or secrets but to set expectations for myself regarding what’s coming at the end of next month. There are lots of questions I have about what Fire Emblem Engage hopes to accomplish, and my hope is that many of those questions have been answered and I just didn’t know about it yet!
The Class System
A big part of what set apart Three Houses compared to previous Fire Emblem titles was the class system. Each character began in a novice class, either the noble or the commoner, and earned new classes by raising their skill levels and then passing examinations. Any character could become any class with enough time and effort, although naturally each one had their own personal inclinations based on which skills really worked for them. Fire Emblem Engage clearly returns to a more traditional FE experience where each unit has a default class in which they begin. In the various trailers we get the opportunity to see a lot of the cast in their default classes, but one thing that remains unclear is exactly how the class system functions.
Some elements seem to borrow from Radiant Dawn. For example, armored units are divided into subclasses like lance armor and sword armor where they focus on a particular weapon. This appears to be true for cavaliers as well, as opposed to older titles or Awakening/Fates where they are locked to lances and swords. However, there are a couple of examples of two units in the same class still having different weapons or mounts. Take for example the sisters Ivy and Hortensia, who both are the new wing tamer class but each ride a different mount: Ivy a wyvern and Hortensia a pegasus. Or there’s another pair of royal siblings, Timerra and Fogato, who are both the sentinel class but the former a lance wielder while the latter specializes in bows. This isn’t unprecedented in the series, though; Eirika and Ephraim were both lords and both promoted to Great Lords while still wielding different weapons, so we might be dealing with the same situation here.
The class system has more going on than just the classes themselves, though. In addition to their class, each character has a unit type which define some essential characteristics about them. The player character Alear, for example, has the dragon unit type. Other unit types that can be observed in the trailers include, cavalry, armor, backup, mystical, qi adept, flying, and covert. These unit types can explain some differences between otherwise similar characters – returning to the Timerra and Fogato example, the former is a backup type while the latter is a cavalry type. These unit types not only define movement differences between characters but also include other features. The mystical type, for example, ignores terrain modifiers to avoid when attacking foes with magic, which serves as a great counter to the covert type, who receive double the usual benefits from terrain. The final notable feature about these unit types is that they determine or amplify the effects of certain Emblem abilities (more on that in a bit).
One other big question on the class system is of course class changing. The ability to promote classes has been featured in a number of Fire Emblem titles, but many earlier titles in the series did not feature lateral class changes. Some didn’t even feature branching promotions, the ability to choose between two classes when promoting. Based on the data in the trailers as translated by Serenes Forest, it seems highly likely that what we are looking at with Engage is an Awakening/Fates style class system – branching promotions, the ability to reclass laterally, and the ability to start over in the same class. We see branching promotions with Chloe, who is shown as both as griffin knight and a wyvern knight in some of the trailers. Lateral reclassing we see with Vander, whose default class is paladin but is seen as an axe fighter in a different trailer. Finally, restarting a class is visible with Ivy and Hortensia. Hortensia as a level 19 wing tamer has lower stats than Ivy as a level 1 wing tamer, making it very likely that Ivy has started her class path over.
Fire Emblem Three Houses primarily did away with the weapon triangle that is considered to be such a prominent feature of the FE combat system. Fire Emblem Engage has brought back the traditional triangle – swords beat axes which beat lances which beat swords. These aren’t the only weapon types though. Bow, magic, daggers, and body arts (the new designation for the gauntlets first featured in Three Houses) are all featured in this game as well. These ranged weapons do not appear to have a weapon triangle relationship or be included in the existing triangle the way they were in Fates; however, body arts have an advantage against the various ranged weapons. One feature this game adds to the weapon triangle is the ability to inflict Break, which prevents counterattacking until the end of the next combat. So not only is the weapon triangle back, it also has been buffed compared to previous titles.
One burning question I’ve had ever since seeing that daggers feature in the game was wondering whether or not they would function the way they do in Fire Emblem Fates and FE Heroes. In those titles, hitting an opponent with a dagger reduces one or more stats based on the dagger used. This added a new layer of strategy around softening opponents before going in for the kill, or defeating foes through attrition rather than one big combat round. This has been changed somewhat. Daggers now inflict the poison status, and poison functions differently than in previous FE games which featured it. Poison makes the afflicted more vulnerable to damage, so subsequent attacks against them will hit harder. It can also be stacked by making more dagger attacks against the same target, further increasing their vulnerability. Right now it seems like the primary methods of curing poison are the antitoxin item or the restore staff; if daggers are a common weapon, these items will likely be more important in Engage than they have been in past FE titles.
Fire Emblem has vacillated over the course of the last few titles on how to handle the weapons in the game. Historically, weapons have potency based on their material (iron, steel, silver, etc.) as well as durability. When a weapon’s durability is depleted, the weapon breaks and can no longer be used. Some titles like Three Houses allow broken weapons to be repaired while Fire Emblem Fates completely removed durability from the equation. Engage seems to follow in the Fates tradition, with no durability on weapons (although staves do have durability). Instead, weapons have unique functions based on their type. In Radiant Dawn, there were light and heavy weapons (swords vs blades, lances vs greatlances, axes vs poleaxes). This appears to have returned, and it looks like heavy weapons cannot do follow-up attacks but instead can inflict Smash, which pushes the foe back a tile when combat resolves. This, along with some of what we’ll learn with the Emblems in a bit, suggests a greater emphasis on unit positioning.
The other noteworthy thing about weapons is that the ability to smith and improve them seems to have returned. Some of the trailers feature improved weapons with names like Elthunder+1 or Flame Lance+5. In titles such as Path of Radiance, forging weapons allowed you to improve the base stats like increasing damage, accuracy, and critical hit rate while reducing the weapon’s weight in order to improve attack speed. It’s unclear if weapon improvements work exactly the same in this game, but it seems that the ability to improve the weapons you like will be valuable. In my own case, I can see myself wanting to forge lighter weapons that can follow up rather than using a heavier blade just because of its higher hitting power. I’ll be curious to see the stats of the weapons in more detail to see just how distinct some of the weapon types are. Alear’s sword Liberation, which increases the Engage meter faster when defeating enemies, suggests that at least some weapons will interact with the game’s brand new mechanics in interesting ways.
Emblems and Engaging
In the context of FE Engage, an Emblem is an ancient hero, a legacy character bound to a ring which can be used to improve the cast members of the current game. There are two states in which a character can connect with an Emblem. The first is syncing, which is simply the process of equipping the Emblem ring and receiving its passive benefits. Syncing with Marth, for example, provides bonuses to strength, dexterity, and speed. Emblems also have sync skills, which are skills the equipped unit inherits just by syncing. Sigurd for example has a sync skill called Canter which allows a unit to finish their movement after an attack if they didn’t move their full range prior to the attack. Syncing with an Emblem gives useful but not game-changing bonuses; those come from Engaging.
When a hero Engages with an Emblem, the two fuse and the hero takes on additional properties from the Emblem: more skills as well as weapons, based on the bond level between the Emblem and the wielder. Engage gives much more significant benefits than syncing but as a result has greater limitations, too. It only lasts three turns, and can only be activated after filling up the character’s Engage meter. The meter can be filled gradually through normal combat actions but special conditions like the bonus granted by Alear’s sword or stepping into a shimmering circle of Emblem Energy can increase the gauge faster. In exchange for all of these limitations, the abilities granted by Engaging with an Emblem are significantly more powerful; personally I’ll be curious to see how necessary these seemingly game-breaking moves are from a difficulty standpoint.
The Engage abilities vary widely across individual Emblems and even within Emblems, as many give a unique bonus to characters within a certain unit type. Lyn for example has a skill called Astra Storm that does an un-counter-able 5-hit attack against a target, which has an additional +10 range when wielded by units within the covert type. Some Emblems change significantly based on what unit type has Engaged with them rather than simply seeming to prefer one over the others. Byleth is a great example of this, with the stats improved by his Instruction skill as well as the Hero’s Relic granted by Engaging with him changing based on the unit type of the hero wearing his ring. It appears there could be benefits to changing Emblems around between battles rather than just slapping one on the same character all the time and calling it a day; at least, that’s my hope!
One thing I mentioned earlier is that unit positioning and terrain seem like they could be more important than in previous titles partly due to the impact of Emblems. Corrin is a great Emblem to talk about to demonstrate this. Corrin has the ability using Dragon Vein to transform the terrain according to the unit type of the unit Engaged with her. This has been shown in trailers to be able to clear out hindering terrain like rubble so that units can move past it, as well as replacing dangerous tiles like miasma or flames with beneficial tiles instead. There are lots of terrain types that have been sprinkled throughout the trailers – some grant avoid, other heal the units standing in them, and some have effects more unique to this title like preventing Break. With so many distinct types of terrain as well new ways to interact with it (changing it, doubling it, ignoring it, etc.), terrain seems to factor in more heavily than ever before. Unit positioning also seems important. You know how Smash can push an enemy back after combat? You can combine that with Corrin’s Torrential Roar, which deals damage to three targets in a straight line. Using movement skills and attacks to line foes up just so and then take them out all at once with a big move is a whole new approach to Fire Emblem, one I am excited to learn more about as the game gets closer.
There was a lot more to learn about Engage within the trailers than I imagined, and the information taken all together points at a game that, like Awakening years ago, strives to collect features from across the series and bring them into a single title. Gauntlets from Three Houses, daggers from Fates, Radiant Dawn’s weapon tiers, the Awakening class change system, skill points from Heroes, all combined together alongside the new Emblem mechanic which promises some new possibilities for the gameplay. Managing your Engage meters carefully to make big plays when the time is right seems like the name of the game, with the Emblems enabling you to move farther, take out more foes at once, and deal big damage to the more difficult enemies on the field. Done well I can see this game really pushing you as a player to think differently about your tactics compared to previous Fire Emblem titles.
If you’d like to read more about Fire Emblem Engage for yourself, I cannot recommend enough the excellent translation and analysis work happening on Serenes Forest. Whether you want to know all the Emblem abilities that have been shown off so far, what characters or classes we can look forward to, or in-depth analyses of specific trailers, there is tons of info there painstakingly put together based on the Japanese trailers and Twitter posts. I hope you, like me, found it valuable to look at all the tidbits collected together into one place!