The Fire Emblem series has always had a knack for well put together level design, crafting some well designed and challenging levels and some not so great maps riddled with gimmicky challenges. But the main drawing factor is that Fire Emblem knows how to construct a level full of challenges that require you to navigate a level by formulating a strategy before you begin to act.
This is most notable on the Fire Emblem series’ higher difficulties such as Lunatic, a mode notable for enemies’ increased stats and powerful skills that are capable of wiping out an entire party. In a mode such as this where a careless move can derail an entire strategy and cause it to collapse in on itself, it is of extreme importance to learn how to play the map effectively and use the level design to your advantage.
If in a game like Fire Emblem Awakening on the Lunatic difficulty, maps where nothing but empty space filled with enemies and your platoon of soldiers. You would be quickly overrun by the heightened stats and terrifying stampede of enemies. To alleviate this the map design softens what would otherwise be a terrifying difficulty curve by placing various obstructions and different types of terrain to modify the course of battle.
Forest tiles give extra defense and a chance to avoid attacks to units standing on them but require an extra move point to navigate through, desert tiles slow down movement of all units except for fliers and reduces mounted unit movement to 2 tiles. Several different terrain modifiers like this exist with the intention of challenging the player as well as allowing the developers to control the flow of difficulty.
In a map like the one pictured above, the player is confronted by a large group of enemies, normally the player would be overrun, but because of the desert terrain, this slows down the attackers allowing the player to slowly pick them off in waves, as long as the player plans accordingly by biding their time.
In a similar situation, fairly early on in the Lunatic difficulty, enemies are very difficult to deal with, so the developers give the player a pre-promoted class that is much stronger than the rest of the party. This unit is designed to be used to alleviate some of the early game as it would be near impossible without them. Specifically in chapter 5 of Fire Emblem Awakening there is a point with multiple enemies unit that will slowly collapse upon the player. The starting position of the player’s units allows for the enemies to approach from two different directions, one through a tiny one unit wide choke-point, and the other a fairly wide open area that requires units to zig-zag to get to the point which is a much longer route than the choke-point.
Because the way the AI is programmed they try to take the shortest path possible to get the player, this naturally puts most enemies towards the choke-point. While initially put into a difficult situation, this easily becomes manageable by defeating the small handful of enemies in the open area and using the pre-promoted unit to block the choke-point, essentially stopping the flow of enemies and preventing them from quickly overwhelming your small army. While this seems like a clever exploit from players, the map was designed in such a way to enable this strategy for the harder difficulties as playing the map in other ways would be much harder as it leaves several of your units exposed and vulnerable.
The Fire Emblem series has various other great examples like these of maps and levels inside of them. As well as some not so great ones, but Fire Emblem manages to make each and every level an entertaining balance of strategy and difficulty.
In my next posts we’ll be seeing how XCOM and XCOM 2 manage their difficulty.