Level ups in FE games are mostly simple affairs - you gain a level, every stat has a chance of increasing, and that's about all that goes on, right? Well... not quite. A lot of FE games do small things to tilt the odds in your favour, from forced stat gains to hidden mechanics that raise growths. I wanted to have a bit of a think about those, at least out of the games I'm familiar with, and talk about what I'd like to see come back. In fact, so many that this post became MUCH longer than I initially expected. So, If you want to skip to the interesting bits, just skim through to the stuff in bold. I'll try and highlight the most interesting areas.
As mentioned, and just to spell it out for those not familiar, typically when you level up in a FE game, each stat has a chance to increase dependent on the character. Often, this is the only thing that matters, for example if a character has a 60% HP growth, then every level up has a 60% chance to increase HP - previous level ups don't affect anything, there's no pattern to be followed, so sometimes you can simply get unlucky and get very low stats, and other times get lucky and get very high stats. This is the basic "standard" level up method I'll be referring to. Now, I also want to highlight this here before going on - the standard method is totally fine. Stats in FE games follow the binomial distribution - in short while there is a chance to get really blessed or screwed in a stat, on average stats are average (big shock). The standard deviation of a stat - the average distance from the exact average value - is probably less than you might think.
FE1 to FE3 - I'm not especially familiar with these three FE games - I've played the remakes only. But there's an interesting bug in these games which leads to only certain "patterns" of stat gains existing. In short the random numbers (RNs) generated are extremely predictable, only 256 possible patterns of RNs for the entire level up, leading to characters having a small set of possible level ups they can get. Marth for example has only 14 such patterns
While this seems like a flaw in the design and not an intentional mechanic, it does have some interesting consequences. For instance looking at FE1 Marth above, you can see he's guaranteed at least a two stat level up, but also can never get more than a five stat level up. FE1 Jeigan as another example, can gain both HP and Skl in the same level up (in 6/256 cases, or about 2.3% of the time), but otherwise all of his other stat gains are independent. You can't have a great Jeigan level up where he gains HP, Spd, Str, Skl all at once.
In a way, this ends up smoothing out RNG a bit - looking at a single stat on its own, it's random as in the standard level up method, but here all of your stats are NOT independent of each other - a Marth with very low speed for example would expect to have very high Skill. Have a look at the chart I linked above and you can see that Speed and Skill never overlap - so if you told me your FE1 Marth had gained no speed in 10 levels, I would probably guess they had gained around 7-8 skill, because you gain Skill ~76% of the time when you don't gain speed. It's not really a mechanic which directly helps or hinders the player, though it does make the chance of a unit getting heavily RNG blessed or screwed significantly lower, since for many characters they will be guaranteed to get at least one or two stats.
FE4 (Genealogy of the Holy War) - compared to the above, there's not actually a lot to say here. There's a second generation mechanic, which adds up the growths of one parent with half of the other, plus holy blood... but it doesn't really affect how level ups work directly. The one big interesting thing here is another bug - I don't fully understand it but in short, sometimes the game "runs out of RNs" somehow, typically in the arena, and you can end up getting blank level ups even in stats with 100%+ growths. Basically, another bug, but this one is purely hostile to the player. AFAIK recent translation patches also include a fix to this bug.
FE5 (Thracia 776) - I'm not very familiar with FE5, but from what I know it has a pretty standard level up system, just it also adds Con and Move as stats which can level up as well. Which is pretty crazy (Mekkah's boy Ronan, with 9 move from his Ironman run, was fun to see) but really there's nothing special going on with the level up mechanics that I'm aware of. If you know of anything funky it does with level ups, let me know in the comments!
FE6 to FE8 - These three all have one interesting quirk. If a unit would gain no stats on level up, ignoring stat caps, then the game re-rolls the entire level up, and it does this a second time if you'd still get no stat ups - meaning you get up to three attempts to gain at least one stat. Note the above point about stat caps though - character with at least one stat capped will get 0 stat level ups moderately often, since the game considers a successful roll on a capped stat enough to prevent a re-roll, even though you can't actually increase the capped stat.
This is a simple enough little system, and helps to avoid those frustrating 0 stat level ups, at least until the mid-lategame when units may cap some stats. The overall impact from this is actually pretty small for most characters, the odds of rolling a 0 stat level up are low on most characters - even for e.g. FE7 Marcus it's only about a 3.6% chance, and for most characters it's more around 1-2%. But it does mean that about 1-2% of your level ups will be an average of around 2.5-3 points better, so it has some positive impact on your stats. It has the most positive impact on characters with generally low growths, and no high growth, for example Yodel and Niime would have a ~25-30% chance of getting a 0 stat level up, so a pretty significant chunk of the time they simply get to reroll their level ups. Nifty.
FE9 (Path of Radiance) - AFE9 has some VERY interesting things to talk about - and is one of the two things that really made me want to talk about level ups. The default random mode doesn't have any protections against 0 stat level ups that I'm aware of (there may be one - let me know if you know of one), but also growth rates are generally higher than previous games. Still overall the game just uses the standard level up model.
There are many things that affect growths in weird ways here. Firstly there's a few accessories that increase growths, though that isn't even new or unique here so whatever. Secondly is BEXP, which can let you level up characters in the base - and if you want, save scum for good level ups. I don't recommend it but hey, if you want to do it then nothing is stopping you. And thirdly,
the Blossom skill. This one also appears in FE10 and works the same way in both - it lets a character with the skill get two chances to increase each stat, on each level up. For example Sothe has a 60% HP growth. With Blossom he gets two 60% rolls, and if either procs he gains HP - so it's only a 16% chance to NOT gain HP (40% x 40%), i.e. an 84% HP growth.
But of course the REAL interesting topic is Fixed Mode. Fixed mode is a whole beast of a completely different level up system. I could explain in detail but I'll just summarise, and leave this link for if you'd like to read more. In short: In fixed mode, characters will broadly follow their average stats. There's a bit of deviation, partially due to how the initial points are set up, partially due to class and weapon modifiers, and partially due to rounding errors, but the big idea is that characters can't get RNG blessed or screwed, they stay close to their average.
Now, there's definitely some interesting things you can do with BEXP once you understand how the rounding works. The Bonus Experience Manipulation page on the above link explains more, but basically if you give constant chunks of some amount of BEXP in Fixed Mode, you can basically round their growth rates up and get extra value. 2 EXP at a time tends to work well for many characters, lots of growths in the 25-50% range that go up to 50%. Like with save scumming, I don't really recommend it - a big time investment for what you get, but if you don't mind the extra time investment it can be a way to get higher than usual stats.
Personally, I'm not really a fan of the way the quasi-random aspects of fixed mode work (seems really random to tie it to weapons and enemy), and the rounding issues are also a bit annoying, but I do love the idea of having a fixed mode option. And I'd like to stress the OPTION part of that. I also enjoy the random side of FE level ups, so I'd still be happy for that to be the default, but also having the option to play with that one random part turned off when desired is so, so nice. I would very much like future FE games to have a fixed mode.
FE10 (Radiant Dawn) - FE10 was the first game to have a guaranteed stat gain system. Characters will always gain at least 1 point in a stat they haven't yet capped, every level up. Even if you set all growths to 0%, they then start gaining HP every level up (I believe). It's a simple and explicit way to avoid blank level ups, and it does seem to have stuck around in many recent FE games.
The BEXP system in the game has been revamped slightly, characters now are guaranteed to gain 3 stats from BEXP levels. Stat caps don't matter either, if you've capped 5 stats, well enjoy gaining the three you have a 15% growth in, every BEXP level. It's definitely an easily exploitable system, and will generally lead to your characters getting much higher stats in the lategame than their written averages would suggest. It's also very odd in how it distributes stats. Higher growths are favoured dispropotionately by BEXP. For instance if you gave 100 BEXP levels to a character, you might find they gain the 60% growth stat 80 times, and the 30% growth stat only 20 times, about four times as often despite the growth being only twice as high. If anyone knows the exact details on how this works, I definitely would like to hear it.
FE11 (Shadow Dragon) - The other big game that inspired me to make this post. Shadow Dragon has a little known and oft misunderstood feature called Dynamic Growths. Dynamic Growths, if you read the Serenes Forest page on Dynamic growths you'll probably be more confused than anything - but in reality it's a very simple system. For every 0.1 points below average a stat is, you get +1% growth in that stat. Stat booster gains are ignored, and... that's it. That's everything that Dynamic growths do, in a single sentence. Well, okay, there's potentially some rounding weirdness that goes on, and the SF page does claim it's from testing and not reading the source code (if anyone HAS read the source code and can add extra details please chip in! Wishful thinking probably...), but for the most part, that's all it does. Cavalier Abel is 1.2 points below his speed average? You've got +12% speed growth (62%) at the moment. He levels up speed and is now only 0.7 points below average, now it's +7% growth (57%). Get two more speed level ups and are now slightly above average? You don't get penalties from dynamic growths, so it caps out at the default value, 50%.
Dynamic Growths are awesome and should really come back in some form. They basically work as a cushion for characters who are getting RNG screwed. Stats that have fallen well below average start getting moderate bonuses to growth, preventing them falling too far behind or in fact letting them catch back up pretty effectively. Having quickly simulated 1000 times in Excel, an Able who falls 3 points of speed behind in his first 6 level ups (i.e. no speed gains), on average is only about 0.15 points behind in speed after 20 more level ups - so that RNG screwage early gets mostly caught up over time. You're still gonna feel being slow for a lot of the game of course, it doesn't just make bad RNG irrelevant - but it does help units bounce back a bit and keep up with their averages.
Personally, as you can probably tell, I REALLY like the Dynamic Growth mechanic. It provides a gentle push towards character averages, without being as heavy handed as fixed mode. It's a purely beneficial mechanic for the player in its current form as well. I'll talk about it more in a conclusion at the end, but I'd actually have preferred it slightly if it could push in both directions, both reigning in an RNG blessed character as well as propping up RNG screwed ones.
Anyway, asides from that this game doesn't have too much going on with its level ups. There's class changing, which can modify growths, but the level ups still work as normal.
FE12 (New Mystery) - Sadly, the Dynamic Growth system from FE11 is gone. Probably it was included due to FE11's generally lower growths and with FE12 ramping up growths, they thought it was unneeded. The interesting level up weirdness here is the Drill Grounds, which work a bit like FE10 BEXP giving a fixed number of stats - only the fixed number has some variability, and is based on a character's total stats. It's also less weighted towards their best growths than FE10's BEXP as far as I'm aware. Not a whole lot to say here.
FE13 (Awakening) - Perhaps the most generic game for level ups in the series. I'm not aware of a single weird quirk that goes on with growths in level ups in this game, at any point. Which considering all the other jankiness in the game with kids, Second Seals, Pair Ups, skills, personal stat caps and so on, is unusually... normal. Let me know if I've forgotten anything.
FE14 (Fates) - On Lunatic difficulty, Fates pre-rolls all of your level ups for the entire game. This means you get the same level up every single time. In theory I guess you might be able to plan ahead if you play maps and see what stats you'll gain, and/or gain slightly more stats by changing classes sometimes, but realistically it's more something to control players resetting to try and get good levels I suppose. Asides from this fun little mechanic, nothing really stands out to me. I don't think the game has forced stat level ups, but let me know.
FE15 (Echoes: Shadows of Valentia) - Yet again, another game with not much to say that I can think of in terms of level ups. Though I'm not that familiar with Echoes either - if there IS something level up related that's odd, let me know. Maybe it has forced gains of at least 1 stat? Not certain. Echoes gives characters who would gain no stats a +1 HP level up. So there's that, at least.
FE16 (Three Houses) - Finally (sort of), Three Houses has one fun quirk. You know FE10 had guaranteed single stat levels? Well, Three Houses doubled down on that and has guaranteed TWO stat level ups, but only for students and Byleth. Church and Knight characters don't get this boon, so can gain 1 or even 0 stats. Being guaranteed at least two stat gains isn't a huge difference but it will give you a few extra stats you otherwise wouldn't, even with the generally high growths in 3H. For example, by my estimate Felix (Noble) has a 6.0% chance to gain 1 stat and a 0.9% chance to gain 0 stats on a level, so on average he gets about 0.078 extra stats per level up from this rule - or about a total growth increase of ~8%. As he changes class it becomes less relevant, e.g. as a Grappler he drops to a roughly 0.1% chance to gain no stats (thank you +40% HP growth) and a 1.6% chance of gaining just 1, so more like an average of 0.018 points of stats per level. Basically, it's a small subtle bonus early in the game, likely to give you a couple of extra points across your team, while later it's a very small bonus only.
And that's it! All the games in the series. Well, except there's a few spinoffs to mention. I haven't played TMS#FE so can't comment on that one. FE Heroes has semi-random level up patterns which can be determined through certain observations, but mostly people don't care - max level stats are fixed barring a stat increase and decrease from a boon and most FEH content takes place with max level characters. FE Warriors actually has totally fixed level ups, and it's all at constant rates as well. I really like FE Warriors personally and did a bit of research into how level ups and stats work there (also it's the only FE game where Luck is the dominant stat), but as far as level up mechanics go, it's as simple as they come.
Honestly, there was a lot more here to talk about than I expected. Lots of FE games have done weird little things to mess with level ups, from safety nets to mitigate bad level ups, to outright forcing a minimum number of stat gains, right up to adding mechanics that heavily shift how level ups work altogether.
Personally, I would really like to see future FE games give us some options regarding level ups. This doesn't have to be anywhere near as in depth as the above. For example, a game could give three options: Random (default), controlled, and fixed:
* Random is the default, perhaps forced on a first play through. It does what you'd expect. Great if you want the usual, chaotic FE experience.
* "Controlled" is basically a variant on dynamic growths - it would both boost growths of below average stats, and drop growths of above average stats, using the exact same mechanic as the FE11 dynamic growth system (+1% per 0.1 points). This would give stats some degree of randomness, and let them get RNG blessed or RNG screwed, but also at the same time stop stats getting too high or low. This would be great for players who still want a bit of RNG in their stats, but also want some reliability and security that stats will be close to averages. This method could even have different levels of control, e.g. "weak" is just +1% per 0.2 points (5% per point above/below average), so it has a very gentle push towards averages, or "strong" which is +1% per 0.05 points (20% per point above/below average), which pushes stats quite heavily towards their average if you want basically some slight RNG, but otherwise reliable stats.
* "Fixed" would be more or less just a fixed stat mode like FE9. Maybe very small amounts of randomness in e.g. initially seeding setup somehow, but otherwise a predictable mode where you can calculate stats. Would be pretty nice for players who like consistency and want something more like a traditional RPG, where stat gains aren't something to worry about.
It kind of disappoints me somewhat that Fire Emblem has had several interesting mechanics to help deal with the randomness, but never really stuck with giving players one of these as an option. While the standard random modes are of course fun, it's really nice having an extra option every now and again. And the devs have shown they can make all kinds of interesting level up stuff happen, so please, can it just be an option going forward?
Anyway, this ended up WAY longer than I initially expected, and took me close to 2 hours to type up, but hopefully you found it interesting. Let me know what your thoughts are - did you like Fixed mode in FE9? Want to see any old mechanics return? Do you now appreciate my Waifu Dynamic Growths as much as I do?
Finally, xpost on Reddit here.