Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fire Emblem strategy

Okay so I didn’t discharge enough of my thought process in that other post to stop going over it, so here are a bunch more scattered thoughts about Fire Emblem games.

First of all, there is way more complexity in them than you ever need to deal with. You can do these “support” conversations, where if you put certain characters next to each other enough they can talk to each other and boost each others’ status during battle. I pretty much ignored that. Each character has an elemental affinity, which can affect how they work near other characters. I ignored that too.

In a later game (that I’ve seen but not played),

There are a couple of things I did that worked out for me.

  • It seems that Fire Emblem games always start you out with a unit that’s really strong; I’ve seen guides call them “pre-promoted” units because they are already of a class that you can promote weaker units to. You never want to rely on these units, for two reasons:
    1. Even though they can handle whatever enemy you throw them at (early on), they’ll hardly get any experience points for defeating them. This wastes experience points that could have gone to other units.
    2. There’s not much room for these units to grow over time, and other units have higher potential stats.
  • I didn’t use very many vulneraries (healing potions) at all. Instead, I had my healer, Moulder, heal with his staff on every turn if possible, even if someone was only slightly hurt. Here’s why:
    • It means that other units don’t have to waste a turn using a vulnerary; they can just go ahead and attack.
    • Healing is the only way a healer gets experience points, and by doing this as much as possible, I was able to eventually upgrade him to a magic user so he could fight when necessary.
    • Even more importantly, repeated use of a healing staff eventually increased his skill with staves to the point where he could use the really good ones, like long-distance healing and all-team healing. That wouldn’t have happened if I had left healing up to individual units.
  • I used magic users a much as possible. Besides being cool, magic can attack at close or long range, unlike most regular weapons, so magic users can often attack without risk of counterattack.
  • Keeping your distance and letting enemies come to you can be very important. This was hard sometimes, especially later in the game when my characters were strong. There was this one spot where there were just a ton of enemies, and I kept figuring I should venture forward and take out as many as possible so there would be fewer of them to attack me on the next turn. But there were always more hiding in the darkness, and I kept losing. When I finally got smart and held my ground in a narrow passageway, I was able to limit the number of enemies that could reach my units on a given turn, and when they got weak, I could pull them back and replace them with someone else.
  • When you raise a unit’s class (in some games at least), you can often choose between a class with higher stats and one with lower status but that’s more well-rounded, such as being able to use an additional weapon type. I prefer that my units specialize in one thing. It makes it more likely that you’ll be able to use the good items you find later in the game, and you have enough units that no one character needs to be good at a bunch of different things. It’s different if a class offers a special ability, though, like being able to move over water (pirate) or pick locks without a lock pick (rogue or something like that).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

Over the last few months I played the second Fire Emblem game for the US. It took a long time and I feel the need to unload my thoughts.

Quick summary of the series if you’re not familiar with it and for some reason care: it plays kind of like a board game, in that you have a bunch of units with various abilities (sword, lance, bow, magic, etc.) as well as strengths and weaknesses. On your turn, you move some or all of your units, and then the enemy units get a turn. Your characters improve in stats and abilities as you use them, but you can only bring a certain number into each chapter, so you have to pick which ones to focus on. There are so many enemies in each chapter, and you want the experience points from fighting them to go to the units you plan to rely on later. Another key element is that if you lose a unit in battle and don’t restart the chapter, that unit is permanently gone. (I make it a point to not lose any units, on principle.)

I normally don’t like turn-based stuff, but because it doesn’t make a pretense of being some kind of action or adventure game, I think it works. (I even turn off the battle animations so it really is like moving pieces over the terrain.)

I actually started the game years ago while on vacation and got to the part where the main characters’ paths split and you choose one. At this point, you have access to various monster battles in-between levels, where you can level your units up. I don’t like this – it makes it too easy and undermines the importance of focusing on the right set of units in the main chapters. Plus I didn’t have a lot of time after the vacation ended, so I stopped playing.

When I picked it up again (and started from scratch), I decided to just ignore all of those side quest things and play the game like its predecessor. I was a bit worried that it would get overly difficult, since the game clearly intended you to level people up on the side, but I gave it a shot. I definitely did make it harder on myself than it otherwise would have been. Besides insisting on not continuing until I beat a chapter without losing any units or civilian “neutral” characters, I also stuck with characters I got early on, ignoring stronger characters that came along later and could have superseded them. (After all the work to build the early characters up, it would have been unsatisfying to stop using them.)

Over all I liked it. In hindsight, I don’t think that ignoring the bonus stages made the game overly difficult, although it does make it impossible to use some of the characters that start out weak and come in late in the game. On hard mode, it might end up being impossible anyway without bonus stages.

In the previous game, my favorite character was Canas, the only dark magic user that can join your team. (Not “dark” in the “evil” sense.) In this game, you don’t get any dark magic users until pretty late (on Eirika’s path), and by that time I was already invested in a light and anima (nature) magic user. So I didn’t use that new guy. Until I got stuck in this one level and realized that I could upgrade him to a summoner. I still almost never let him fight, but on each turn I could summon a weak monster that I could control. I didn’t let the monster fight either, but by putting it out in front, it could take a hit that would normally have damaged one of my units. That made me feel clever.

The strategy aspect was very satisfying. Even when I made dumb mistakes that I should have avoided, like moving forward into a crowded mass of enemies in order to clear them out rather than holding my ground in a narrow passage where they could only come at me a few at time. It’s also satisfying to take weak characters and make them into something useful.

The story, on the other hand, was lame, and like the previous game I pretty much ignored it. Fortunately, it doesn’t really have any bearing on the game.

So in general, it was pretty cool, and eventually I’ll probably go back and play through the levels on Ephraim’s path. It’s not cool enough to make me want to play the whole series, though. I guess a little Fire Emblem goes a long way.