The mechanic of permadeath strikes fear into the hearts of dedicated Fire Emblem players, wherein if any of your party members die, then they’re gone forever. No retries, no second chances, just death. In Fire Emblem Engage, it’s present yet again, although there is an option to turn it off if you’d prefer. I opted to keep it active, but midway through the game, I was faced with such a bizarre and confusing situation that it made me think the mechanic was glitched. But in reality, I had just doomed myself.
Throughout the game, I had made sure to play as carefully as possible. There is a mechanic where you are allowed to go back in time to reset a bad decision you made in a battle, but I didn’t use it in order to preserve that classic difficulty. By the time I reached Chapter 15, I had only lost two party members, which I viewed as an accomplishment. I knew that the game was only going to get harder from here on out, so I decided that I needed to upgrade the most valuable piece of equipment you could get in the game, Emblems Rings.
Emblems are previous Fire Emblem characters that you can equip onto party members to grant them new skills and abilities in battle. Each Emblem Ring can only be equipped to one party member at a time, and they can go up to a maximum level of 10 per party member. They can go up to level 20, but you’ll have to complete an optional sidequest with them, which is great for also grinding out levels and skills.
It’s at this point where one of my two Emblems, Lyn from the 2003 GBA game Fire Emblem, reached level 10, and I decided I was at a decent enough level to undertake her sidequest. The quest was simple — defeat Lyn in battle. I was placed onto a map with up to 12 party members and had to fight her and her army. The battle was framed as being a simple trial and somewhat like a training bout, and it made sense within the narrative. The Emblems are working alongside the player to defeat the Fell Dragon Sombron, so friendly sparring is needed to improve our skills. There even is a sparring mechanic in an area within the hub called the arena, so I assumed that this was an extension of that.
The battle began fairly slowly given that my party was divided into groups of four and placed at opposites sides of the map. It took some time to slowly have them meet up where Lyn was, but they inevitably met up with each other and began to attack Lyn. I had two of my best party members lead the assault. First was Alfred, who was a lightning-fast cavalry unit that could travel great distances and hit for a decent amount of damage. Then there was Ivy, a dragon-riding mage who has absurd maneuverability and damage output.
During her turn, since Alfred was the closest, Lyn launched a special move that was able to defeat Alfred. I was ready to use my time-warping ability to go back in time, thinking that this would spell the end of Alfred’s quest. But Alfred didn’t die. He merely just said that he needed to retreat so that he could recover and heal from battle. I felt that this was odd, given that I had permadeath turned on, but then I remembered that the game presented this as a friendly sparring match. I mean, I was fighting someone who was considered to be an ally. They wouldn’t kill one of my best party members as part of a training exercise, right?
With that idea in my head, I then began to play a lot more aggressively. I sent Ivy next to attack Lyn, who took severe damage, but not enough to kill her. On Lyn’s turn, she summoned extra forces, who launched a surprise attack and defeated Ivy, who also said that she needed to flee the battle so that she could rest and recover for future fights against the Fell Dragon’s forces. So two characters had dialogue that clearly indicated that they were not dead. They openly said that they were retreating and were saving themselves for future fights. I breathed a sigh of relief, glad to know that the game certainly wouldn’t kill my party members in this mock battle with a partner.
So the battle concluded and Lyn congratulated me on a good fight. The game then indicated to me that she received an upgrade and could go up to level 20, which was perfect. I then went to the Somniel and began to explore around and saw Alfred and Ivy, as well as my other party members. Alfred offered to help me do some push-ups, and Ivy was sitting by herself in the cafe making pleasant talk with another party member. It was once I went into my menu to look up support conversations that I saw that Alfred and Ivy’s icons were gone. And then the cold reality set in. Despite the game telling me that they were alive on multiple occasions, they were in fact dead and couldn’t help me anymore.
It was at that revelation that my mind broke and I became simultaneously depressed and enraged at Fire Emblem Engage. First of all, the game made sure to establish that Alfred and Ivy were still alive because they’re plot-relevant characters. The story cannot progress without them, yet they could no longer be accessed due to the permadeath mechanic. Meanwhile, I had two other characters, Chloe and Citrinne, die earlier, and they weren’t featured in any more cutscenes or wandering around the hub. So permadeath is a thing in the game unless the character is plot-essential. Handling things this way cheapens the mechanic because dead doesn’t actually mean dead if I can still talk to Ivy and see her in cutscenes.
But then there’s the bigger issue of just what in the world Lyn was thinking by actually murdering her allies. In the context of the game, the Fell Dragon Sombron is trying to take over the world, and we’ve witnessed several major deaths that threw the state of multiple kingdoms into chaos. When Lyn is acquired, it’s only because Ivy stole her from Sombron’s forces and our heroes escaped by the skin of their teeth. So why then, in a simple mock battle, would Lyn actually try to kill her teammates? Is she aware that only makes things harder for her own side? If she had killed the main character in this trial, then the hero is dead and Sombron would win. Are we sure that she isn’t still a pawn of Sombron, because we could see Emblems become corrupted under his control and kill people? That’s the only rational explanation I could think of to explain why she would actively murder her own teammates.
But ultimately, I think Fire Emblem Engage itself is at fault for not conveying any of this properly. If the writing made it clear that this was still a life-or-death situation, maybe I would have played differently. If when Alfred “died” the first time he said dialogue that confirmed he was dead, then I almost certainly would have used the time travel mechanic to revive him. If the game fully committed to its permadeath mechanic, then maybe I would have been aware before I saved over my game that my best party members were indeed dead.
But it didn’t. And now Lyn is a murderer of my best party members. And she killed them with a smile on her face.
Related: Best Units in Fire Emblem Engage Ranked on Attack of the Fanboy