Fire Emblem: Three Houses (FE:3H) and Fire Emblem: Engage (FE:E) are the two newest Fire Emblem games in the series. Fire Emblem: Three Houses was originally released July 26, 2019, and Fire Emblem: Engage was released January 20, 2023. In my opinion, both games are amazing and a fun experience. But, if you’re not sure which game to start first, this article will cover some of the key differences between the two.
Which Game Has a Better Story?
When it comes to the story or plot of these two games, there is no comparison. Fire Emblem: Three Houses blows Fire Emblem: Engage out of the water. The plot of Three Houses is more complex, as the game offers 4 possible routes depending on a choice you make right a the start of the game. These routes are Azure Moon, Crimson Flower, Verdant Wind, and Silver Snow. These routes will change depending on the lord, and thus house, you will teach during the first half of the game. With 4 different routes to choose from, the lore of the game is quite intricate, as you will see different perspectives throughout the game, and you will notice certain details that don’t appear in the other routes. This is what makes the plot of Three Houses so interesting. Without going into spoilers, a lot of unanswered questions found in Crimson Flower or Azure Moon get explained in Verdant Wind, but if you played Verdant Wind first, you wouldn’t see those details. That’s the benefit of Three Houses; there is a lot of replayability found within the base game.
Contrary to that, Engage’s story is much more linear and straightforward. The plot doesn’t go that deep, and as a result, some might think it has a weaker story. With a more straightforward story, Engage’s plot is more reminiscent of previous games in the series. Check out my full plot summary for Engage!
So, if you want to play one the Fire Emblem games for their story, then Three Houses is the way to go.
When it comes to gameplay and mechanics, the two are very similar. Being titles in the Fire Emblem series, both are strategy, role playing games. In these games, you get a cast of characters that grow throughout the course of the game. Then, with this group of characters, you enter a map with your units against enemy units. During your turn, you can move all your units and then perform various actions, like attacking an enemy, trading between units, or even just waiting to end their action. Once all your units have spent an action, or the command of end turn was selected, the player’s turn ends and the enemies get a turn to do the same. The series also features a rock, paper, scissors type of combat, where swords are good against axes, axes against spears, and spears against swords. Typically, these advantages and disadvantages affect damage. However, these two games put their own spin on it.
Now where these two games differ are the special gimmicks introduced in their respective games. In Three Houses, the player has access to the Crest system and battalions. The Crest system is based on the royalty of the game. These Crests give specific units special abilities that they can trigger during combat. Alongside the Crest system, battalions were also added to Three Houses. Besides providing a stat bonus, the battalions also have special abilities that can be triggered through “gambits”. These can range from giving units extra movement, or an extra action, to even disabling enemy units. This opens up a lot of interesting and unique strategies. When it comes to the weapon triangle, Three Houses removed this system. Instead, these advantages and disadvantages are converted to skills that can be equipped onto a unit, by granting them bonuses against certain weapons.
When it comes to Engage, the gimmick added were Emblem and Bond Rings. Starting with Bond Rings, these items give a stat bonus to the unit equipped with them. If the Bond Ring equipped is the highest rarity, S in this case, the max number of stats are buffed, with some rings giving special skills. Some of the skills attached to the rings are overpowered and make the game really fun.
Emblem Rings are the other kind of ring a unit can equip. Within the base game, 12 are available, with the DLC adding extras. At the time of writing, there are currently 7 bracelets available. While also providing stat bonuses, the Emblem Rings allow a unit access to specific skills and the ability to “Engage”. These Emblem Rings house the spirits of the lords of previous titles, and when engaging, the unit gets to receive special abilities related to that specific Emblem. These abilities are references to the game they came from.
Along with the abilities tied to certain Emblems, certain inheritable skills are linked to those same Emblems. This system allows for some unit characterization, however, each unit can only have two active, inherited skills at a time. For this game’s weapon triangle, the advantage and disadvantage states have more serious consequences. When attacked with an effective weapon, a status called “Break” can be applied. In this state, the unit becomes unable to counterattack, which leaves them vulnerable for one action.
Of these two systems, I have to say that I prefer Engage’s system. Even though battalions and the Crests are interesting on paper, during the game, they don’t offer anything too ground breaking. The stride and counterattack battalions are pretty overpowered, but they don’t offer the same strategic depth as the ring system. By also being this overpowered, it trivializes parts of the game. Another aspect that I enjoy more on Engage’s side is that the weapon triangle and breaking are actually viable strategies.
Before I played Three Houses, I played Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones on the Gameboy Advance. This game featured the old style of the weapon triangle, and when I found out that Three Houses didn’t have this same system, it made the game easier. Without the weapon triangle, I slowly found that my units were all becoming the same thing. When it comes to Engage though, my teams were more balanced, as I had a few units that wielded different weapon types. The break system was also more enjoyable to use and to play against. It added an extra layer of strategy that I enjoyed.
So, when it comes to gameplay and mechanics, I have to give it to Engage. The gameplay itself is much more interesting, and by mastering all the different parts of the game, it is much more rewarding.
Character Design and Customization
The first aspect I want to discuss are purely the visuals for both games. When it comes to Three Houses, the character designs feel more realistic, whereas the designs in Engage feel more cartoonish or more anime. Before the split in the routes and the timeskip in Three Houses, I have to say that the designs of the characters are quite bland.
Since everyone is in their Academy uniforms, the only differentiating available is hair colour, eye colour, or accessories. From a story perspective, this does make sense, since the characters are in school. However, post timeskip, the designs are beautiful. Each character has a unique look that is backed by their personal backstories. I also like how these designs are put into their combat models as well. Although, depending on their class, their unique costumes might disappear, which is a bit sad.
On Engage’s side, the characters are flashier and more memorable for sure. I know the internet first blew up when they saw the protagonist, Alear, and their design. Personally, their design grew on me and I’ve come to enjoy it. Besides the protagonist, all the other characters are unique and bright. Since Engage uses a brighter colour palette, the characters feel brighter and more full of life. Also similar to Three Houses, their combat models do change if you change if you swap classes which is a bit annoying.
Staying on the character design, Three Houses does have a small fix for this issue. Throughout the game and DLC, the player gets access to extra costumes that the units can equip. This also follows them into combat. So, if you like seeing your characters in butler and maid costumes, then you can see them running around with swords and spears on the battlefield. In Engage, although they have a costume setting, those settings are only set when walking around the home base of the protagonist. Once they are out on the field, they revert to their class costumes, which is a bit disappointing.
Speaking of characters, I have to say that I prefer the personalities of Engage’s characters. Now, this is mostly due to their support conversations, but the cast in Engage feels more lighthearted with funnier interactions. Now, the reason for this can be because of the atmosphere of the game. Three Houses is most definitely a darker game, and its themes and characters reflect that.
All in all though, I do enjoy Engage’s characters a lot more. With a brighter colour palette, unique character designs, and overall more enjoyable interactions, then Engage is the clear winner.
Now, besides visual and personalities, another source of customization lies in classes and skills. In Three Houses, the class system still exists. Each class has unique skills and stat distributions. Now, by staying in a class, you can earn class points to unlock certain skills that can be transferred to other classes whenever you want. This is where the customization comes in. First, you promote to a class, master it, then take the skills you want to another class.
In Engage, a similar system is used. Classes are once again set up with different stat distributions and skills. But this is where the differences come in. First off, each class has a unique skill that’s unlocked once your unit reaches level 5 in that class. The other skills that a unit can use are found through skill inheritance with Emblem skills. Here, you earn SP, which can then be traded for skills. In Engage, you get a max of 2 inheritable skills, the class skill, a unique personal skill, and the skills attached to the Emblem or Bond Ring equipped.
Another difference in the class system is that each class in Engage have their own stat limit. Each unit can be raised to level 20 before they have to use special items to reset their levels, though they keep their stats. In Three Houses, however, the unit can level past the typical level 20 limit. There, they keep accumulating levels and stats. In all my playthroughs, I’ve never hit a stat limit.
When it comes to map design, this can usually make or break a Fire Emblem game. I have to say though, that both games have fun maps to play on. Most of the maps featured in Three Houses feel more open and big, which makes sense with the context of the game. Since you are fighting in fields during wartimes, it makes sense that the maps reflect this size. Engage, on the other hand, doesn’t feel as big. Since most conflicts occur in towns or villages, the maps reflect that size. When it comes to shear size, Three Houses would have the bigger maps, especially Gronder Field, which is an important location in the game.
There is no clear winner for this category, and there is no loser either. Both games feature fun and exciting maps. Although there could be the occasional map that isn’t as fun to play, the overall quality is great. Based on actual story maps, I do have to say that the Chapter 10 and 11 maps in Engage hold a special place in my heart for their difficulty first time around and the atmosphere from the story. For Three Houses, The Battle of the Eagle and Lion is one of the better battles.
The final category I want to cover is the music for both games. Looking at the game as a whole, I do have to say that I prefer the Three Houses soundtrack a lot more. That game features a more diverse soundtrack, and due to the story, a more grander sounding soundtrack. Since the game has multiple unique final bosses, I have to say that almost all those final boss themes are hits. Now, on the Engage side, it also features some great tracks. One of my favourite has to be Bright Sandstorm, for its upbeat and energetic flow. The final battle theme is on the more hopeful and regal feel, which is nice for the way Engage ends. But besides those two songs, there aren’t many others that I particularly liked from Engage. The sounds are great, but they aren’t as memorable as the Three Houses soundtrack.
So, from that standpoint, I do have to say that Three Houses has the better soundtrack, but both are still enjoyable with respect to their games.
So, to wrap things up concisely, the game you should play should depend on what you hold more valuable. If you want a game more centered around a strong and intriguing plot, then Three Houses is your game. But, if you’re more interested in the gameplay, then I would say Engage is better. Both have solid soundtracks and characters, so it mainly boils down to gameplay or plot. Either way, once you played one, you’ll definitely will want to play the other.