Fire Emblem Engage's supporting cast are as charming as they are frustrating. As I mentioned in my review, interactions with your wider companions feel like a step down from Three Houses. The cast once more feels sprawling and unwieldy, your connections shallow and unimaginative, each conversation a boring succession of basic tropes that never evolve, subvert themselves, or develop into meaningful and well-rounded characters. While the gameplay is stellar, the downtime drags as the game goes on, as you slowly realise few of the characters are worth bothering with. However, one character is head and shoulders above the rest, and she just so happens to be a singing furry.
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You encounter Merrin around halfway through the game, though that marker can be brought forward, depending on how many side missions and optional life sim activities you partake in. All throughout the game, your selection of units will grow ever-larger (assuming you keep existing ones alive) with each mission. Almost every battle, you encounter new fighters who will join your army. Typically, 12 to 14 units go into each battle, but if allies are already on the field, this number is eaten into as they take up locked slots. Sometimes this can be a drag; the new fighters are either weak, poorly armed, the wrong class, or else just take a while to get to grips with. Merrin, however, is electric from the first moment.
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She is one of Timerra's knights, one of the eccentric princesses who has already proven popular in the trailer. Where some other fresh faces can weigh you down, or at least take a second to get used to, the threesome of Timerra, Merrin, and fellow knight Panette elevate your team immediately. Even with this added strength though, Merrin is the clear star. She rides her wolf into battle, giving her high mobility, and uses both a dagger and a sword, meaning she can attack at close quarters or throw her weapon from a distance. She's not the strongest character in the game by raw power, but by the end of my playthrough she boasted a stat rating of 188, just three points behind the highest overall and some 20 ahead of player character Alear.
However, Merrin's biggest ace (on the battlefield, at least) makes her perfect for Fire Emblem. By the end of my run, she had the highest Luck stat, the highest Dodge stat, and the third highest Crit stat. Merrin turns the tide entirely on her own. High Luck and high Dodge mean she evades attacks more than any other unit, never gets wiped by a Critical Hit, and can punish enemies even when she has low odds to land the blow. Since she attacks twice (take a blow, which often misses) in the middle, her top three Crit rating gets two bites every time, meaning she's far and away the biggest destroyer too.
In the mission when I first picked up Merrin, she tore through everyone in sight, and this was before I tinkered with her class and arsenal. I suspected this was a narrative wink from the game – the mission was all about Timerra and her brave knights, so it made sense that her companions dominated. The enemies must have been tailored to Merrin, or positioned strategically for her to pounce, or the dice were loaded in her favour. Not so. Battle after battle, enemy after enemy, attack after attack, Merrin was a constant MVP.
That's only half the story. She's a good fighter, so what? Maybe the best – someone had to be. I don't remember who my best fighter was in Three Houses. Ferdinand, maybe? Certainly it wasn't Bernadetta, Petra, Dorothea, or Mercedes, but those are the ones I remember most because of the time we spent together. That's why Merrin will stick in my mind too. Romancing characters in Engage without guidance on who is available and how to do it, was tricky. Merrin does not appear available, she's too in love with her wolf. But even as an eccentric friend, Merrin is the standout.
Merrin's core characteristic is that she walks around with a tail attached to her at all times. How is it attached? No idea. Like I say, Merrin wasn't interested in me romantically, so she can keep her secrets. But where a lot of gaming characters with this level of connection with animals have a highly feminine, almost fetishised design, Merrin has broad shoulders, bulging biceps, and a roughly chopped short hairdo.
She's not just a furry, either. In her Support episodes with Panette, Timerra's other guard, she embarks on a mission to get singing lessons. I know that doesn't sound all that interesting, but the conversations are lively, sprinkled with humour, and reveal a deeper glimpse of the personalities of each hero than most of the other dull and stilted conversations put together. Though it doesn't beat a tail plug up the butt, Merrin's conversations are far more interesting than most.
It will be interesting to see what the community makes of Merrin as they start playing through it. Three Houses encouraged light tribalism, with debates around which house was best, and which characters should be ensnared from others to round out the party. With Engage, everyone will slowly gather the same units. Merrin was a constant MVP for me, and I think the singing furry will be the star for everyone else too.