My loving husband, Neal, gave me a copy of the shiny new Fire Emblem game for Valentine’s Day. I was so excited, I started playing it instantly. If you read my last column, you’ll know this means I violated my second rule of gaming, but I’ve got good reason. In addition to having been waiting for this game with bated breath since the start of 2023, my husband is an even bigger Fire Emblem nerd than I am. He claims to have played Sacred Stones over 200 times. Basically, if I don’t spend multiple hours playing Fire Emblem Engage every day, he is constantly “joking” about borrowing the copy to play it himself — my own Valentine’s Day gift! Can you believe him?
Editor’s Note: Check out the full GiN Review of Fire Emblem Engage!
In addition to talking about how many times he’s played through different titles in the Fire Emblem series, Neal also frequently teases about how easy all of us new players have it with all the additional creature comforts the series has implemented through the years. While many players probably know the turn rewind feature is fairly new to the series, they might not know that the titles before Awakening didn’t allow players to repeat maps to grind up their characters (aside from Sacred Stones). Before Awakening, only one Fire Emblem title allowed players to choose the promoted class of their units (again, Sacred Stones).
Recent Fire Emblem games allow for a plethora of support conversations between characters, allowing stat boosts to buff nearby allies. However, previous titles only allowed 5 support conversations per character. This means each character could only reach A level ranking with only one other character, and you could unlock support conversations with 1-2 other characters. Because of this, in order to fully understand each character’s backstory and personality, you would have to replay the games multiple times or read the conversations online. Also, while the more recent titles allow players to choose between a casual and classic mode upon starting a new game, older titles did not have a casual play mode. Permadeath was the only way to play the game, and it was generally taken to be one of the main features that made a Fire Emblem game.
Given all this, I wanted to play Engage more like an older Fire Emblem title. I had played both Awakening and Three Houses with a more classic mindset, in that I would restart a level or rewind anytime a character fell in battle. For Engage, however, I wanted to play with a more permanent permadeath mentality. If a player’s character fell in battle, there was no going back or starting over. All character deaths are final.
(Beware: Spoilers from this point forward)
Very early on I lost Clanne, one of Alear’s retainers. I quickly gained 2 more magic users, so I wasn’t really bothered by this set back. It did lead to a few funnily awkward moments in the game. In the first support conversation between Framme, Clanne’s twin sister, and Boucheron, he mentions reading a book about siblings locked in war and offers to lend it to Framme. I cringed a little, knowing that Framme’s sibling was dead, but she doesn’t so much as bat an eye. During the first paralogue mission after you talk to Jean (side note: which I forgot to do until I was 90% done with the map; then had to pause all forward progress and finagle Alear up to the top of the map, luring the last corrupted out of the way in order to pass through and reach Jean, all the while crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t accidentally kill it in a follow up attack), he convinces his parents to let him fight alongside Alear and company. His mother gives her blessing, only asking that you take good care of her son. Jean then tells his father, “You don’t need to worry about me. It’s not like I’m never coming home.” Having just lost Clanne a few battles previously, I couldn’t help but chuckle at Jean’s hubris. Sorry, I can’t make any guarantees, Jean.
I only lost 2 other people before reaching Chapter 10, Etie and Citrinne. Having recruited a second archer in Alcryst, I wasn’t that upset about Etie. Citrinne’s loss stung a little more. I had now lost 2 magic users, leaving only Céline. All in all, I still had more than enough units to choose from, so I felt confident in my ability to continue through the game. Chapters 10 and 11 changed that. In Chapter 10, I lost Lois and Chloé, both of which I had invested a lot of time and resources into. I also lost Clanne before I had much time to invest anything in him, and Etie I barely used. I had Citrinne spend some time with Emblem Celica, but I had only recently recruited Citrinne. While not having invested much in Chloé, she was my only Pegasus unit, which was her main selling point.
Losing Louis hurt the most. I had spent several missions leveling him up, investing in his bond with Emblem Sigurd. He was invaluable in holding the line. These loses were compounded by the unique nature of Chapters 10 and 11. Fire Emblem Engage does not allow you to make any unit substitutions between these levels, so I was going into the hardest level yet with 2 less units from the start. Despite these heavy loses, I might have been able to trudge on if it wasn’t for one major mistake I made towards the end of Chapter 11: After reinforcements arrived, I had made the fatal flaw of turning back up the map. I foolishly thought that with the addition of Ivy and her 2 retainers, I might just be able to squeeze out a few more levels of experience and take out one or two of the Four Hounds. That’s when everything fell apart. First, I lost Jade, then Framme, Ivy, and Alfred. Having lost 2 “lords,” one of which I had used a precious Master Seal to promote, I was ready to scoop and start over.
Fire Emblem had won. Then I found out that what I was trying to recreate with this playthrough wasn’t the traditional Fire Emblem experience, but what is referred to as an Ironman run. Players used to constantly reboot their games after losing a unit to start the level over again. Neal then helpfully informed me that he has only attempted Ironman runs a handful of times, citing how they can easily snowball into a terrible situation. All it takes is one ill-timed critical hit, and the entire game is over.
At this point, I reached out to our friend Vince (also known for being the Save State columnist) to share my sheepish ignorance and hopefully provide him with a chuckle at my foolishness. At this point, Vince had been playing Fire Emblem Engage for 2-3 weeks longer than me. He was able to share a handful of helpful tips. First off, he recommended ample grinding. Having lost Citrinne during a skirmish, I mentioned that I had been leery about repeatedly grinding for fear of losing more units. He also recommended making sure every deployed unit was equipped with an emblem or bond ring to increase their SP. Strike two against me. I also immediately dumped all my military donations back into the countries, not realizing that grinding for gold was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. Vince kindly let me know that these rewards were mostly useful for post-game tower trial runs. The jury seems to be out on what exactly dictates level scaling for skirmishes, with some saying it takes into account the average unit level, while others are claiming they’re always 2 levels higher than Alear’s level, or even that it’s determined by the donation level of the area. With both Firene and Brodia at level 3, and Alear’s internal level at least 3-5 levels higher than any other unit, I had created a recipe for disaster for myself. My last mistake was not checking the item shop for Master Seals sooner. While I think I didn’t miss out on buying a Master Seal, I did miss the chance to use it between Chapters 10 and 11. This means I went into Chapter 11 with only 3 promoted units instead of 4.
After my chat with Vince, I quicky restarted the game with these new strategies in mind. This time around, I made sure to donate only a portion of my gold to the different countries, and I tried to keep Alear’s level either in line with or under other key units. I also spent a lot more effort gathering bond fragments. During my first playthrough, I completely forgot about the spirit dog that watches over the Somniel. You can easily get 200 bond fragments between each fight just by feeding and petting it, and there are generally 100 or so fragments to collect on the ground in its cave. I also made sure to always use the Arena between fights. While it doesn’t offer a ton of experience, it can quickly add up.
Another key difference was through saving money back from the country donations, I was able to invest it instead in buying more items and upgrading weapons in my second playthrough. I also made sure to use every engraving available to help boost weapon stats and reduce weight. Lastly, I changed a few of my Emblems around and promoted Diamant instead of Alfred (having a second axe unit was more beneficial than having a second sword unit). I took Sigurd off Louis to give it to Anna, and boy is it fun to have Anna swoop in from the sidelines, deal massive damage due to the momentum ability triggering, and then have her scurry off to safety. As my wall, Louis was way better suited for a more stationary Emblem, like Leif. With all of these changes, and knowing not to turn around during Chapter 11, I was able to breeze through Chapters 10 and 11 without a problem at all. I think I only started one level over due to losing a unit, and one level due to losing a few key items to a thief.
Despite my first Ironman run being a total flop, I do look forward to trying again. The threat and experience of permadeath creates a different playing experience. It also helps combat the decision fatigue of choosing units towards the end of the game.
Fire Emblem Engage throws so many units at you each chapter that you are easily drowning in decisions, and Three Houses and Awakening are no different. I just don’t think I’ll make the mistake of trying to Ironman a Fire Emblem game during my first playthrough anymore. And maybe not even on my second playthrough, but if I start to play through any title even a fraction as much as Neal has played the title Sacred Stones, I think I’ll need to Ironman just to keep the experience different enough to keep it interesting.
Let me know in the comments what your experience has been with Fire Emblem Engage, and if you’ve attempted or succeeded at an Ironman run for any of the Fire Emblem titles. Until the next time, stay cool, be you. Bye!
Developers: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: Nintendo Switch