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Adrenaline

Post Reader
(He/Him)
After playing Awakening, my first FE, I was glad that Three Houses had more non-combat stuff to do, but by the end I think it might actually have been too much. Maybe I'll like the balance in Engage.
 

JBear

Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
(He/Him)
My concern is the implication in one of the articles (I forget the specifics now; I read them yesterday) that there will be random/repeatable battles. My enjoyment of a Fire Emblem is inversely proportional to how much grinding it allows, because I find the design/balance tends to be much tighter when it's just X battles where the player is challenged to optimize their precious precious XP. It's why Sacred Stones and Awakening are two of my least favourite; the latter pretty much devolved into "go grind up your time babies if you want to use them". Three Houses represented a bit more of a middle ground in this regard, since although you could theoretically grind a ton, you often had more compelling options and were always on the clock.
 

Dark Medusa

Diamond Crusader
(He/they)
My concern is the implication in one of the articles (I forget the specifics now; I read them yesterday) that there will be random/repeatable battles. My enjoyment of a Fire Emblem is inversely proportional to how much grinding it allows, because I find the design/balance tends to be much tighter when it's just X battles where the player is challenged to optimize their precious precious XP. It's why Sacred Stones and Awakening are two of my least favourite; the latter pretty much devolved into "go grind up your time babies if you want to use them". Three Houses represented a bit more of a middle ground in this regard, since although you could theoretically grind a ton, you often had more compelling options and were always on the clock.
I completely agree here with JBear. My only caveat is that in Sacred Stones (also a disappointment to me but still a fun game) there were really only three units you basically HAD to use the Tower of Valni for, so the ability to grind only took away from the game to me because there was emphasis in design on it, and the game was decently difficult/interesting map-wise without any grinding at all. Three Houses had a different problem, which is that the game isn't particularly balanced around not grinding, or is balanced in any sense of the word at all, and so the battles felt pretty meaningless. Hopefully Engage can be closer to Sacred Stones in that the grinding is only there if you really need it, and the game is still balanced around not grinding, but I'm not holding my breath.
 
Honestly pretty encouraged that the consensus from previews (and many apparently have had the whole game for a while) seems to be that this is a Saturday morning cartoon where you bang action figures together in terms of plot and characterization, but that the tactics element is incredibly solid and well balanced relative to Three Houses.

Hopefully optional battles are just that—an opt in easy mode that you can ignore if you just want to play the core maps with decent challenge, while letting people who want to theory craft a party of invincible units who one-shot everything do so if they please.
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
I'm pretty sure this game owns.

I'm playing on Hard Classic and it's actually hard in a way that recalls this series' classics. In chapter 5, I got myself into a hard situation by advancing haphazardly and indecisively, and burned through all of my rewind charges trying increasingly clever/desperate plays to extricate myself. In the end I failed, but with the exercise I gained doing that, when I restarted, I managed to keep myself in control of the scenario the whole time.

This game has teeth in a way Fire Emblem hasn't since before Awakening came out. Yet despite the nostalgia-based cameos, it's not a throwback, but a distinctly modern experience.

I'm in the honeymoon phase with it right now. Still very early, of course. But, like: enemy thieves will rush toward treasure chests again! The Break system is tactical as heck! All the Activities you can do back at base offer only marginal or temporary benefits, so you can skip 'em if you don't care and they won't snowball if you max them out every time! You can customize your characters' builds, but unlike Three Houses it's limited and meaningful rather homogenizing, and unlike Fates it's all close at hand!

I do wish Alear had more gorm, though. Not big on gormless protagonists. Alear almost feels like they wanted a do-over of Corrin; this super special dragon kid is beloved by all and doesn't have a single thought in their head. With the lighter tone, however, it fits better. Rather than a war drama as Three Houses was, expect an adventure cartoon.
 

MrBlarney

(he / him)
I too have been playing on Hard/Classic, and I actually got two game overs on Chapter 3 (which is before you get your time crystal). I guess I forgot how hard FE games can be; with the way that enemies hit, overextension can happen really quickly. That fact also makes the Break system quite impactful, due to how much damage most of your characters can expect to take in an attack.

Not much else to really say at this point, still only being on Chapter 6. But yeah, Alear is pretty goofy in his no-thoughts-head-empty way. But I'm finding the game pretty charming in its lightness of story and characterization. I quite like the post-battle wandering scenes, since your party members' comments appear to reflect how they performed in the battle.
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
I think Engage is quite a bit more clever and tight than Awakening on the battlefield. The series hasn't been this tactically satisfying since before it got popular, at least not consistently. Early maps in Awakening, some of the less grueling levels in Conquest, the Cindered Shadows DLC in Three Houses - but not for a full game. I hope it keeps it up all the way.

Just very impressed at how they've cleaned up legacy jank in a way that removes perverse incentives. No weapon durability, and weapon ranks being tied to proficiencies instead of usage, means you can use the most tactically suitable weapon on every player phase, rather than having to consider whether it's the most economical one. Instead, the long-term logistical resources to consider are EXP and bond levels, which are much more fun to care about and easier to forecast. The limited availability of engages, and especially the super-strong engage attacks, which are usable at most once every four turns, means that you have the tools for galaxy-brained plays when you're in a jam, but you can't just use them constantly and create a permanently asymmetrical action economy. Fiddly little conditional damage modifiers seem to be mainly a player phase thing once again, so we're back to basic arithmetic being the main thing that's needed for predicting the enemy phase. Even terrain mostly affects accuracy rather than damage. Speaking of which, a unit's relevant numbers all appear just by hovering the cursor over them, no need to go into a subscreen or anything.

Miscellaneous gameplay observations and tips:
  • It's best to promote ASAP, since promoting does not slow EXP gain, there is no hard level cap, and basic classes don't bestow skills.
  • I wasn't clear on this at first, but when they say you need to be at full health to use Chain Guard, they mean you need to be at full health in order for the guard to activate, not just to select it from the menu. For this reason it's impossible for a single unit to protect multiple allies in a single enemy phase.
  • You automatically collect all pickups if you exit the map after a battle, so don't worry about it.
  • There seems to be no reason not to just adopt every animal you can.
  • Attacks that deal 0 damage can't inflict poison or break either.
  • Be careful investing too much too early, since the investment level of a region is a major part of the formula for scaling the skirmishes.
  • Bond rings are mostly just filler or collection fodder, but each world has two to three bond rings which bear a unique skill at S quality.
  • When a boss activates their Revival Crystal, they also recover from being broken, even if they were just hit by an attack that breaks them.
  • If your engage runs out while you're standing on a tile with emblem energy, it will not refill the meter. You need to end the turn on that tile while not already engaged.
  • Micaiah's Great Sacrifice seems to give the user full healing EXP for each target it hits, so it can be a really effective way to get a low-level unit up to speed safely.
 

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
I went with Hard/Casual too but after a handful of battles I'm thinking I'll drop down to normal. Hard is good and I think I could push through it but it's just a bit too toothsome for my skill level. I'm a very stupid baby who needs to see a mistake play out before realizing it was a bad idea and Hard is just a bit too punishing to allow for the "Alear can move out one more space, she's a lord, she can handle it" style of thinking I trade in.

It's okay though because I'm playing the secret real hard mode, which is to say the wife walked in during a conversation and saw the types of things these characters wear and heard the sorts of things that come out of their mouths.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Normal/Casual for me. I'm sure not playing this series for tense and exacting tactics; I won't go into my usual diatribe why the the genre at large is at odds with my preferences but nothing is really different in that regard here--I received full confirmation of that in the lone extant DLC chapter as of now which took nearly 30 turns in all, and concluded with a one-shot death from full health among my ranks. With permadeath not in play and with the limited-but-generous turn rewind feature also being an option to massage oversights, I'm free to engage with the suggestion of inhabiting a strategic existence amidst it all instead of being undone by its harsher repercussions that I'm not always proficient enough to anticipate.

This game is the successor to Awakening and Fates both in lineage and adopted style. Koei Tecmo did Three Houses and illustrated one way the series could be interpreted, and I loved it more than any other attempt at getting into them. Engage features the Intelligent Systems pedigree and staff overlap from the series's other recent past, notably the lead scenario writer, among other narrative contributors who worked on that 3DS duology. Mechanical game design nuances are for the more versed in the field to discern the differences between them, but the writing voice is the starkest identifier in how these parallel branches adapt the series now, and how differently. In a vacuum, Three Houses rings better in the ear: characterization rooted in setting, sprawling into a series of intertwined interpersonal webs to a degree the series doesn't always bother with. The reason why I'm picking up what Engage is putting down as of now--in contrast to its 3DS predecessors which I could not stand--is that because it is so transparently diverging from the recent precedent that judging it by that curve and grade doesn't seem relevant at all; if anything I'm pleasantly surprised by it in contrast to what its creators put out the last time.

The one-note ally caricatures and stock antagonists that encompass the cast don't read as failures in characterization in this context of blue-skies fantasy teen warfare because it signals to be nothing beyond that; I'm meeting the game on its level because expectations aren't amiss in the context of its premise of good heroes fighting the evil dragon. For both these most recent games, their main conceptual artists are the best signifiers for their creative intent in tone: Chinatsu Kurahana endowed the Three Houses cast with a resulting affection bordering on infatuation; her expertise as an otome genre artist allowed her to channel those powers toward making the audience imprint hard on the subjects at hand and assess the whole of the game through that lens.

Mika Pikazo for Engage supplies an equal understanding of her genre and personal background in what her work embodies: as a prominent vtuber character designer, Engage's cast are as loud, garish and outlandishly attired as possible, in a touch that does not speak of incompetence or incoherence but communicating how these characters in turn are seen by the game, as charming if superficial bundles of quirks and traits. The distinctiveness helps both, which is the takeaway that's forming overall, as it's been less than one year since the last Three Houses project arrived on the scene--the series may yet return to being considered one succession of projects in an unbroken lineage, but right now it has split into branches that serve differents ends, emphases and tonalities. There is no need for it to stand in competition with itself.

Identifying that divide is paramount in not rejecting what either extreme is interested in fundamentally, and it helps along enjoying both even if clear personal preferences toward whichever end exists. Engage frequently stumbles its dramatics, flubs its punchlines, misplaces its plotting... yet I find it endearing in spite or in light of all that, because it also showcases insight toward what it purports to be, and the worse instincts of its forebearers are lessened if not altogether gone from its ethos.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Assorted stuff I like:
  • most Fire Emblems since the Awakening resurgence have suffered from player avatar worship on part of the writing emphasis and larger cast's interactions with the protagonists, though the concept's beginnings were already nascent years earlier in the halcyon days of Mark the tactician--the increased prominence in the last decade seems, as ever, rooted to Persona's success in leveraging player ego-massaging to its lasting benefit and popularity within the larger genre. Engage doesn't break the pattern, but I think it's more palatably contextualized than usual: instead of a nobody the entire world is in love with and adoring of for no particular narrative reason, the Divine Dragon's role within the story is as a literal object of worship beyond their individual personhood as an adolescent deity. Even as small a rationalization as that does a lot to sell the various gobsmacked and deferential interactions much of the cast have toward them, as they represent the center of their faith and several have literally grown up praying to their slumbering body all their lives. It frames the interactions you have with the cast, should they have that working context, as more fortright and transparent in the relative power dynamics at play, instead of worming in teacher-student consent issues like Three Houses at its worst might've. Whether it's played for comedy, drama, or anything else, it's a protagonist role and status that I'm much more comfortable with in context of how these games are interpersonally structured and themed.

  • "IT'S TEATIME" surely ranks among the all-time critical hit quotes

  • being able to linger in the stages after a battle is doing wonders for the setting and sense of place for the locations it presents. The work is essentially already done, as any combat animation zooms into a view more or less to representational scale of the battlefield diorama at hand, and it's that specific spatiality that your dudes cool off in after a skirmish with you able to scope out the premises for nominal item spoils, but more importantly just to impress the area from a point of view a bird's-eye position could not on its own. There is a higher degree of globetrotting appeal to the game when its environments have these multiple modes of presentation to them, and varying contexts in which you can experience them in.

  • the dress-up options and customizability are pretty decent, and being rewarded with a country's national attire is a great incentive for the donation mechanic that's beneficial in other ways too. I was pleasantly surprised that every single character has their personal casual attire they change into at HQ, coming from Three Houses's precedent that stuck to its uniforms for much of the game. Depending on what they're up to in their downtime, characters might also switch to their workout clothes or swimwear if they're engaged in those activities, framing those clothing options as appropriate for the occasion, even if it's pretty clear why they're present to begin with.

  • the reason why I ended up loathing the 3DS games for writing reasons had little to do with like, plotting considerations, as those aren't really personally important to me, nor is "plot" a strength I've ever identified in Fire Emblem, even in its better-told incarnations. It was all in how the games regurgitated played-out-even-then sexist genre gags for attempts at levity and character writing instead of anything that actually landed as funny or interesting in its own right; Chrom and the player character support in Awakening is likely one of the first seen and it perfectly embodies the ethos present in that era of the series, consisting of nothing but "comical" woman-on-man violence and accidental peeping and pratfalls. For as much as Engage is in dialogue with this sordid past, there's surprisingly little or any exploitative fodder of that manner within, despite whatever signifiers one may read into its overall presentation. It's just very genuinely lighthearted in a way that doesn't come at the expense of mining gender exploitation out of its cast and weaponizing it. Where Fates went for up close and personal face-petting mini-games, the equivalent ancillary mechanic here is being woken up by a party member in a frankly funny pseudo-ASMR set-up that frames the person in question in glamorous sparkles as they rouse the protagonist; the innuendo is largely whatever you bring to the scene and not the material itself testing the limits of plausible deniability. Similarly, the Custom Ring Polish System where you maintain the summoning tchotchkes of the series's legacy characters upon announcement and first glimpse of it in action seemed such an absurd rendition of a concept that it still feels like a fake video game even as you reduce it to routine. Other games have wielded a similar method of in-universe "maintenance" between characters as an opportunity to make euphemisms with explicit intent, but in here it's just played so straight that it remains conceptually hilarious throughout.

  • why play tactical RPGs if you're not so much into the tactical component? For me, it's always been about the genre's common formula serving as a vehicle for casts of dozens if not hundreds; these characters need to be particularly detailed or carefully shaded, just evocative enough to appeal to whom they may through archetype, and the sheer quantity at play in a typical representative of the form usually ensures that at least a few will strike anyone's particular preferences. For Engage, that standout for me so far is Etie, the blunt and direct archer, because her existence is tailored to pander to me. Etie is a muscle and workout fiend that encompasses most of her personal interactions with the cast, and it's usually played for comedy, but not in a way that's mean-spirited toward her or others, just for her single-minded pursuit of higher muscle goals. It is the kind of comical writing that actually works, since it contextualizes whom Etie will even form relations with; most of her interest is jumpstarted by others' physiques she sees as aspirational, however the sentiment comes off. It is a farcical character in a sense but also a down to earth one in just how plainly Etie's fixations manifest, and there's a particularly appealing mix of gendered presentation to her that's not all stock convention: Etie is toned by her midsection but clearly still working on herself, her manner and voice direction are more masculine-coded contrary to appearances (and the generally higher-pitch baseline for girls and women in the game), and her personal fashion exists yet in contrast to that, in all its fluttery femme ribbons and embroideries. There are many smaller and subtler things active in her portrayal all at once that render her and her interactions with others more interesting than the recurring subject matter would otherwise indicate. She's this game's character design and writing voice operating at max capacity, at least for my individual preferences.​

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Dark Medusa

Diamond Crusader
(He/they)
Although I've only made it through chapter 4 (and hence seeing some of your writing confirm my nascent positive feelings on certain parts feels good!), I largely agree with your points. The one nitpick I have is that from Blazing Blade through Radiant Dawn, characters felt multifaceted, letting different parts of their personality and past shine through in different conversations (support or otherwise) with other characters. Three Houses was closer to this than the other games around it, perhaps, but I wish Engage did more to try to flesh out and write the characters seriously. Not that Kent wasn't defined only by his devotion to duty, or Sain by his skirtchasing (so there were a number of characters in those games that were fairly one note), there were quite a few characters that run of games that showed a softer side, or a secret connection that was revealed through these conversations. Path of Radiance relied on this a lot, I think to its benefit - Mist's A support with Jill stands out, but there are a lot there that give that cast more depth. (or like freaking Mist attacking the Black Knight, a dialogue you are not guaranteed to see and in optimal conditions would NEVER see, but is so damn cool and revealing for that charadcter aughhhhhh it's just so good)

I hope that any games that come after Engage try to write a deeper cast of characters, since as much as Muscle Woman with Cool Design does a lot to bring me in, having EVERY support more or less have to do with said love for muscles is a bit much (I'm exaggerating since I haven't seen these conversations, only playing off what you've indicated here, so please feel to correct me if I'm wrong) - it'd be nice to see her talk a little more frankly about how she might feel about presenting more effeminately while wanting to demonstrate traditionally more masculine desires. I feel like the Tellius games (and to a lesser effect, the GBA games) would attempt this and deepen my love and engagement (ha!) with the characters.
 
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Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I played Blazing Blade not too long ago and found the playable cast incredibly plain to a fault; a quality that visually attracts me to that era of the series (or before), but in writing and considering individual persons, prevented me from retaining even the slightest impression of them on a permanent basis. My favourite character under that paradigm was Lowen, simply because I liked his tousled hair mop obscuring his eyes, which in itself is a reliable character design stock convention. I think the writing voice there is equally as one-dimensional for the supporting cast in particular as these later entries can often be--only the intensity with which they're employed differs, the more mundanely delivered qualities of which can lead to forgetting who the people involved are even supposed to be if they're not sufficiently defined.

As for Etie and other Engagers, first impressions are mostly the context right now and how the game chooses to introduce its cast. They might develop nuances with time or stay the colorful and exaggerated caricatures they start out as; given this game's general tone, either would be fine so long as the material itself surrounding the development isn't objectionable.
 

Dark Medusa

Diamond Crusader
(He/they)
I'd clarify that it's not the characterization in Blazing Blade that gets any deeper than surface level, then, it's that there are little details about their lives hidden in support conversations and other dialogue that endears them to me. Rebecca and Dart are long lost siblings, something that you wouldn't know unless you did their support conversations. I also think that limiting support conversations to only a few per game (five in the run I mentioned from Sword of Seals to Radiant Dawn) helps. It makes characters more distinct in each playthrough - in this one, Hector and Lyn's competitiveness leads to their lifelong bond, in another Hector falls for the sweetness of Florina. I don't find myself forgetting most of the characters in Blazing Blade, even if they're one note (ok, maybe Kent and Lowen because boy are they bland).

I think another point that's surfacing is that there are bits of story that come out only if you chase them in Blazing Blade and Path of Radiance. Nergal's story, in particular, can only be pieced together by some of the most difficult things to do (and I don't necessarily think this was elegantly done, but the right idea is there). Only by doing all of Kishuna's gaiden chapters do you get a fuller picture of Nergal, and then doing supports with literally the last character in the game (Renault) gives you more about where Kishuna came from and Nergal's descent into madness. I don't like that these bits of story are so well hidden, but the fact that there's this nuance and characterization that the game feels like it doesn't need to shove in your face, that it empowers the player to find - that's what I like about Blazing Blade, Path of Radiance, and Radiant Dawn. And it's what's been missing in these games from Shadow Dragon forward. Kaga had his excesses that I sincerely don't like, but the way that the older systems create slightly different characters each time with different relationships and bits of story, and how the full background of the story has to be pieced together, I think that goes a long way towards elevating each game, for me.

And that isn't to say that Engage isn't utilizing some of those systems, to great effect. RNG level ups, distinctive and fun character design, and maps that create more memorable situations and gameplay are a huge part of it. But I think these latest games miss the deeper characterizations, the things that make individual playthroughs and moments more special, and engaging stories that really make the whole series sing. Three Houses got closer to that, with all the scenario writing, but I think some of the systems and way the story is a huge mess overall made it incomplete as a total effort.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Blazing Blade is the oldest and only pre-Awakening game I've played, and that was mostly to form some kind of baseline of understanding where a lot of the English-language affinity for the series comes from, as it kickstarted all of that and is well-regarded for its own merits. Since it's viewed in that specific context as archetypal, I think it gave me enough of a sense of what draws people to this series and where my own interests might differ. If there's a compelling Fire Emblem plot out there, I haven't encountered it, so it's up to the interpersonal emphasis to carry the narrative slack. I think even a story as immaterial as Engage's seems to be shaping up can deliver so long as those glimpses into individual personalities captivate through whatever means they employ, but who really knows--I might enjoy the other games from the "golden era" for those qualities or other facets that usually aren't that present in the series as it has come across to me.
 

Dark Medusa

Diamond Crusader
(He/they)
I'm not sure if it's exactly what you're looking for, but Path of Radiance strikes a really incredible balance between compelling (if not a little easier than the other games around it) gameplay and engrossing story and characters. I really love it, and maybe in the context of what you like in Engage, you'd appreciate it!
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
Path of Radiance has probably the best overall balance in the series between compelling writing and challenging level design, though it is slow to play and not very interestingly animated. I highly recommend it. In terms of the seriousness and realism of its narrative tone, it's up there with Three Houses and Thracia 776, while Engage is seated the kids' table.
 

Bongo

excused from moderation duty
(he/him)
Staff member
Advisory: in Engage, the Tempest Trials feature seems to be designed for people who've already done everything but want to play more anyway, although you can technically set the difficulty to whatever level you want. It's three battles in a row, and all you get is a pittance of EXP and a handful of gems whose purpose has not yet been tutorialized to me.

I'm just salty because the few level-ups I gained from my attempt at it were all lousy.

Maybe Relay Trials will be better. I'll find out after I advance the plot some more.
 
Lyn's story in FE7 I thought just all around stood out compared to anything before Fates in terms of having a narrative that left a strong impression, but unfortunately that was a pretty fleeting thing as the game ripped the focus away from her in favor of what I would call the most generic Lord in the franchise both in terms of writing and visual design if I knew enough about anything earlier than 6 to back that up.

That said the last time I played it was over 10 years ago so it might also be my favoritism for her backstory and having the absolute coolest critical hit animations to this day. I can't be sure anymore.
 

Dark Medusa

Diamond Crusader
(He/they)
Eliwood is pretty bland, I'd agree, and I like Lyn as a character, but I do think some of that is rose-tinted glasses. There's not a ton of narrative there that's too compelling to me - there's only a brotherly backstabbing and then her grandfather miraculously pulls through, plus some seeding of the Black Fang in there in a chapter or two. Also, I'd argue that Hector's version of the story (sadly requiring a second playthrough) is muuuuuuuuuch better, since Hector is a fantastic character.

I think that both Lyn's story and the rest of the story have a lot of great interactions between characters just in scenes setting up the chapters, and it isn't just specific to Lyn's.
 
I think that both Lyn's story and the rest of the story have a lot of great interactions between characters just in scenes setting up the chapters, and it isn't just specific to Lyn's.
Yeah, definitely. I meant more the broader narrative itself. I would've liked to see hers get out of its nascent stages and become the full game narrative with her still being the focus. Hector's perspective was definitely fun but I have fewer intact memories of it because I got a little fixated on performance ranks after my first playthrough with him.

I probably also have a soft spot for Lyn's story interacting more closely with indigenous people which I rarely see in ANY videogame. Even Three Houses handled it less like that and more like two separate illuminati groups.
 
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