so i've been chunking through maniac mode on a lark the last week or so, and the thing that's majorly struck me about it is that, completely divorced from the actual mechanics of path to radiance (which, aside from the minutes of inaction to watch animations, is a mechanically solid game), maniac mode completely fails to be ...well, maniac mode. for clarity, i just finished the chapter 17 gauntlet (which is its own topic, honestly) so it's possible this is something that Hits Its Stride in the 20s, but i sincerely doubt it at this point.
i also want to say the argument i am not trying to make is 'wow fe9 maniac mode just really isn't that hard! what a garbage hard mode!!'. there's absolutely nothing wrong with a game cleaving towards the easy, and i'll point out the ways in which maniac mode fails to be hard despite its own attempts, but the problems i have with it are a lot deeper.
the first, the biggest really, thing is the absolute number of enemies the game launches at you. holy shit. this is subjective, since i'm gotta go fast all the time every time, but if i had this on disc i would never have finished the early-teen chapters just due to sheer weight of enemies i have to watch move around and attack glacially. the problem of that, though, is that even though there's gently gimped xp on maniac mode, and you're completing chapters slower and thus getting less bexp to pump your dudes up, there are way more guys than are needed to make up for that. i'm in chapter 18 now, and i can deploy a completely promoted crew - and i've spent precisely four and a half levels worth of bexp so far, banking the rest. marcia is going to promote shortly, as will tormod, followed by rolf. ilyana has only seen flex and bench appearances, and she's sitting in her low teens just from the kills she could poach as my lowest priority dude to feed kills to. mia got four levels of kills before i dropped her for underperforming. i benched boyd for three chapters because he was getting too huge too fast.
this leads into how maniac mode really fails at being a hard mode, in my opinion. the early game is absolutely punishing, which isn't unique at all for fire emblem top difficulty modes - see fe11 h5, the horrible fe12 prologue on lunatic, etc. you can genuinely pick about any game after 9's top difficulty level and it fits the mold of Punishing Early Game. the major difference is that these games have punishing early games, which generally smooth out as you build a squad for a midgame consisting of intelligent squadbuilding, in order to prepare yourself for a difficulty ramp as you surge towards the endgame. this isn't a perfect map, but it works generally for at least 10/11/12/13, which are the ones on my head at the moment. the difficulty is that maniac mode has seemed to throw that entire map off course. i won't say this is the only way to make a difficult strategy game - hell, the Punishing Early Game But It Gets Easier The More You Work On Your Squad approach is fucking tired and i'd love to see a different form of difficulty ever - but it completely whiffs the latter half, and not in the 'it's always a struggle' way. going into the pre-teen chapters, finally escaping a razor margins early game i actually very much enjoyed (with some caveats that are nitpicks i'm leaving out here), boyd was already becoming an immortal titan who i could launch at any flank full of enemies and reasonably expect him to come out on top, just like path to radiance hard or even normal mode. the game doesn't actually create a unique challenge by activating maniac mode, it simply cranks the difficulty of the early game and, paradoxically, makes it relatively easier to build the squad as long as you can survive the horrible knife-fight of the early game.
i haven't used savestates at all to do this. i bring this up not to brag - i do enough boasting about how fuckin great i am at video games all the time anyway - but rather to point out a pattern in my resets. ever since chapter 10, the chapter you pick up lethe and mordecai (unrelated: i forgot how unsatisfying laguz are to both use and fight in this game), i have reset precisely twice because one of my titans died. in 17-1, i assumed the enemy group at the end of the map wouldn't move, because the game does an excellent job conditioning you for that; they moved, and the halberdier crit oscar on a 23% and he died. in 17-3, i put boyd to tank a bunch of mages, didn't notice that rhys couldn't get to him to cast ward, said yolo, almost got away with it, and there was a sage among them, and boyd died. every single other reset i've taken has been because i didn't mark an enemy, they made it through my lines, and one of the squishies i decided to deploy just for fun died. i think we can all agree 'ike left rolf in range of an enemy in chapter 10 and rolf died' is not the fault of maniac mode. i reset astrid's chapter eight times - five of those were because astrid was onerounded by someone (unrelated, holy shit, astrid starts bad on maniac), two of those were because ravens flitted around my guys and ate rhys or ilyana or something (i reacted by shoving a dracoshield into jill and sending her into the waves to occupy the birds), and one was actually hilarious - on the second-to-last turn, i ran ilyana up to shoot one of the fleeing raven thieves, missed him, and ended turn; he responded by flying around ilyana, boyd, and gatrie, and seizing the boat, gaming me over. what a shit map, honestly. anyway, point is, the restarts i'm taking are almost entirely because i'm taking tiny men into battles they're not prepared for because i want to train them up.
the corollary here is pretty obvious - if i wasn't self-handicapping by bringing Fucking Rolf on these midgame missions (rolf is actually better on maniac than hard, by the way, it's kinda weird), for instance, if i were playing fe9mm as a draft rather than fe9hm, there ....really would not be a gameplay difference at all. the enemy numbers are bigger, slowing the game down significantly, but the approach is the same. path to radiance's core problem of creating immortal titans and throwing them at a practically unlimited number of enemies is the same. the game is the same, it's just slower and has a massively more difficult first about nine chapters, rather than having a massively more difficult first about nine chapters that level out as you go.
i'm obviously going to kick through the rest of this as a point of pride since i've beaten most every difficulty of all of the fire emblems i recognize, but i'm starting to solidify these Takes that maniac mode, honestly, just really isn't very good. what about you? for you who played through maniac, what was your take on the specifically maniac mode changes? what's the deal with that?