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PeaceRibbon

Difficulty in Fire Emblem and Community Impressions

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Recently I've been looking to replay the Fire Emblem games I have access to, and while booting up Awakening I thought of upping the difficulty of the game in order to change up the experience a little, and I was taken aback at just how different the experience was, almost to an uncomfortable degree. After trying and failing to be chapter 2 with no casualties several times, it got me thinking about this site and the community in general, and how I've always been under the impression that most fans serious enough to spend time on sites like this one play the games on Hard difficulty. In that moment I was struck by the possibility that, despite being a fan of the series for about half a decade, I might have been playing a completely different series of games, philosophically speaking, from most of my FE peers. I might be playing these strategy games as long-term games, which emphasizes efficient recourse management to successfully scale to the late game enemies with a dash of strategic combat to keep me on my toes, while others might play them as hit-the-ground-running against the odds tactical thrillers. Now, I'm aware that there is nothing wrong with playing the games on any difficulty I choose to, and I don't particularly have any sort of gamer's pride which mandates I "get good" enough to play hard difficulty modes. However in reflecting on the differences between difficulty modes I wonder if my experience of the series is foreign to most other hardcore players, and am filled with a distinct worry about both breaking down communicating about a given game's challenge with other fans, and missing out on an appeal of the series which might deepen my appreciation of it.

So, I wanted to ask around about how others play Fire Emblem in regards to difficulty. What difficulty setting do you think is the "normal" setting for the series? Does the answer depend somewhat on the entry you are playing? What difficulty have you perceived as standard based on community interactions, and how important do you think playing the same difficulty is to discussing the series? Are there different appeals to different difficulty levels that could potentially make one's opinion of Fire Emblem more well-rounded? Feel free to discuss anything you think is relevant to the topic.

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Honestly, I think the Normal difficulty in FE is a stimulating challenge enough for me already.  Plus it gives me more freedom to use the units I actually like, even if they're considered in most circles to be suboptimal.

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I always play hard first, ironmanning blind if I can. I try harder than that sometimes, but often I find what most games do to up the difficulty radically changes how the game is played into something abuse-ridden and unrecognizable. Awakening Lunatic and Three Houses Maddening are both very infamous difficulty spikes with lots of complaints about how they were designed all around, along with the sentiment that an entire difficulty mode belonged between them and hard mode.

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Whatever's in the middle.

It will feel like a different game, but in the end, FE is numbers.  You're just dealing with bigger values on the harder modes.

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46 minutes ago, PeaceRibbon said:

What difficulty have you perceived as standard based on community interactions, and how important do you think playing the same difficulty is to discussing the series?

I wouldn't say there's any overall community standard, although in general I think I've seen that games in general have a bell curve in difficulty where most people pick the middle and fan out from there. 

The second question can be a loaded question; it depends on what you're discussing, and then to me differs from game to game. Anyone can discuss the story, that's independent of difficulty. But once you start talking about good and bad units, it's guaranteed to come up. And of course strategies that work on easy are not necessarily going to work on hard, although that's true for any game.

54 minutes ago, PeaceRibbon said:

Are there different appeals to different difficulty levels that could potentially make one's opinion of Fire Emblem more well-rounded?

This may sound elitist, but generally speaking, not really in regards to going down. If someone is on easy and they go up, then yes, there's a lot to be gained. However, I don't think there's anything to be gained by playing on hard and then going down to easy. Ideally harder difficulties force better understanding of mechanics and strategies, and present new challenges to adapt to and overcome. Conversely, going down does the opposite.

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4 minutes ago, Boomhauer007 said:

This may sound elitist, but generally speaking, not really in regards to going down. If someone is on easy and they go up, then yes, there's a lot to be gained. However, I don't think there's anything to be gained by playing on hard and then going down to easy. Ideally harder difficulties force better understanding of mechanics and strategies, and present new challenges to adapt to and overcome. Conversely, going down does the opposite.

I may bump the difficulty down on a future run if I want to experiment with unconventional builds.  That will give me an idea of what works and what doesn't, and if things go south, I can just steamroll the game normally.

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When I started out (with Awakening), I was the kind of guy to choose Normal/Casual because I was (and still am) not that great at playing FE. Normal lets me play with some challenge but without stressing out about losing units or having suboptimal units so much. But as I explored the older titles in the series (especially Blazing Blade, which I found had a near-perfect scaling and level of difficulty on normal), I found myself really appreciating permadeath and its effect on difficulty level. It makes me appreciate my units as characters and give more effort to keep them from dying, even if I do ultimately bench them. Even though the difficulty level is the same, it feels more challenging because the consequences are more severe.

As to what I would say the "normal" difficulty is, I would say normal in most instances, except for Radiant Dawn which had a translation issue where "easy" is actually normal and "normal" is hard, etc. Normal mode presents enough challenge to keep me engaged, but I can understand why others would choose a higher difficulty if they want their skill to really be tested. My only gripe with how the difficulties are named is that normal is always called the "beginner" difficulty. If that's the case, then why is it called "normal"? Why not "easy"? If it's for beginners, then it is only natural to call it easy, have normal be the difficulty choice for those with some experience, and make hard mode be for FE vets.

Edited by twilitfalchion

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2 hours ago, Alastor15243 said:

Awakening Lunatic and Three Houses Maddening are both very infamous difficulty spikes with lots of complaints about how they were designed all around

This. The games themselves, and not the difficulty “labels”, are the problem.
Awakening either breaks itself or just annoys you, there is no “Interesting” setting. Four Houses goes from Too Easy to Too Slow.

I start at the middle difficulty and see how it goes. The map design is more important than how the difficulty is labelled. A bad map does not get better on Lunatic, just more annoying. Conversely, a good map is interesting even at the starting level.

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For me, the extremes of difficulty level (on both sides) sometimes homogenise units or strategies too much by moving break points too far in one direction or the other. Speed is an obvious example. For any given attack, there are only three possibilities: double attacking, being double attacked, or one attack each. If you're getting doubled, it doesn't matter whether you're at five speed less than your opponent or five million. If all enemies are so fast that everything is doubling all your units, then speed stops being a relevant stat. At the same time, if all enemies are so slow that all your units are doubling them, then speed also stops being a relevant stat.

Other stats also have a similar breakpoint: there is no difference between a unit being brought down to 0hp and them being brought down to -20hp, between just barely having enough defence to take no damage and having twice that amount of defence, between having enough strength or magic to just barely kill something and overkilling it horribly. And so on and so forth.

I want for differences between units to matter. I want for there to be a noticeable difference between untis with great, good, mediocre, bad, and terrible speed. I don't want to always be doubling or to always be getting doubled. Both extremes bore me.

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57 minutes ago, lenticular said:

For me, the extremes of difficulty level (on both sides) sometimes homogenise units or strategies too much by moving break points too far in one direction or the other. Speed is an obvious example. For any given attack, there are only three possibilities: double attacking, being double attacked, or one attack each. If you're getting doubled, it doesn't matter whether you're at five speed less than your opponent or five million. If all enemies are so fast that everything is doubling all your units, then speed stops being a relevant stat. At the same time, if all enemies are so slow that all your units are doubling them, then speed also stops being a relevant stat.

Other stats also have a similar breakpoint: there is no difference between a unit being brought down to 0hp and them being brought down to -20hp, between just barely having enough defence to take no damage and having twice that amount of defence, between having enough strength or magic to just barely kill something and overkilling it horribly. And so on and so forth.

I want for differences between units to matter. I want for there to be a noticeable difference between untis with great, good, mediocre, bad, and terrible speed. I don't want to always be doubling or to always be getting doubled. Both extremes bore me.

Exactly. This is why I prefer other means of increasing difficulty compared to stat inflation.

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Depends on the game. FE1 doesn't have mode changes to my knowledge, FE2's "easy" mode is frankly the only way to play unless you like hours of tedium, FE3 and 4 still don't have difficulty modes. FE5's Elite mode is something I think is genius. Don't change the enemies persay, change what the player units can do. Giving everyone double exp does make the game easier, without significantly altering anything. This makes the jump off of Elite mode way easier, since it's still the same game, but now you'll have a bit harder time reaching that point of domination.

FE6's hard mode is the first time where enemies are buffed, but they still have the bonuses of hard mode enemies that can become player allies, so that does soften the blow of changing difficulties. FE7 is similar, although its hard mode isn't particularly hard barring a few choice maps. This does mean that a player can easily move from normal to hard, and still not be in too difficult a case. FE8 is similar to FE7, which was similar to FE6. FE8's hard mode is the only way you play the game. Even if you're new, doing Easy mode will bore you to tears, and normal isn't much better. Hard mode offers a bit of a challenge in the early game, and on a few maps. The GBA games as a whole generally allow a player to steadily and comfortably make their way up the difficulty levels.

FE9 is an easy game regardless, and its difficulty modes don't really help much. Easy is as easy as FE8's easy mode, Normal is on par with FE8's Hard, Hard is like, a little bit harder then that, meanwhile Maniac is either bullshit enemy spam, or a boring slog. FE10 is similar, except that it's actually a decent challenge. Easy(Normal) is generally a sufficient challenge that if you keep on your toes, you'll make it out fine. Normal(Hard) is something you do if you really want a challenge, this'll test your skills. Hard(Maniac) is what I consider to be the worst designed difficulty in all of FE history. This is because the game explicitly takes away mechanics in an attempt to be difficult. I'm mainly referring to the removal of the weapon triangle. Now when Echoes or Three Houses take away the weapon triangle, they design the game around this. Radiant Dawn is not designed around the lack of weapon triangle, and this plus stat inflation makes the game mode unable to be enjoyed in my eyes. This on top of the other way that Tellius tries to pile on it's difficulty, experience of the regular and bonus kind. On harder difficulties, you get less experience, but you also get less bonus experience. I get the thought process behind this, and in FE9 in sorta works fine because of how easy at base that game is. In FE10 it all falls apart though, since that game is harder by nature. You get so much less to work with that it's a tad absurd. The way these games do difficulty is the antithesis for how I think difficulty should be handled in FE.

In contrast, the DSFE games are a super good, mostly. While difficulty is primarily based around stat inflation, which is kinda meh, the sheer variety of difficulties available makes up for it in spades. Having 6 total difficulties really allows for a level of fine tuning and working your way up that fewer difficulties don't allow. My biggest gripe is hiding content behind the mode, where Normal has extra chapter that Hard doesn't. Although maybe the devs realized that everyone would just kill off Gordin and having 4 cavs at the start was too much for them. Regardless, it's generally a good system.

The 3Ds games are all drastically different from one another. Awakening has normal and hard, which feel pretty easy for the most part, but generally still function. Then there's Lunatic, which is kinda stupid but eventually evens out to a decent challenge. Then there's Lunatic +. This almost could've been good, but they just went way too far. Absurd skills that are random just isn't fun. Fates thankfully fixed this issue, except that no matter the difficulty Birthright is a cakewalk and Revelations is a mistake. Conquest is actually really good about difficulty scaling, I enjoyed experiencing the differences between the harder difficulties. Echoes I hardly noticed a difference between Normal and Hard, just some small stat inflation.

Three Houses, much like Awakening, almost had it. Normal and Hard are both way too easy, but Maddening mode could've changed that. Frankly, I personally think they did a great job. While the stat inflations are frankly done to an excessive degree, but that encourages the specific systems of 3H to a great degree. It's specifically a game about specialization, so having enemies designed for a specific unit type is brilliant. The earlygame is an absolute nightmare, which I feel leads people to give up on the mode. This is a failing of the difficulty, but it doesn't completely eliminate its successes. 

Really, I think Thracia did difficulty the best. If modern FE had an easy mode with double exp, a normal mode which was the same without the double exp, and then a hard mode that properly scales enemies with other things like extra skills to make sure your paying attention, that'd probably be perfect.

8 hours ago, eclipse said:

I may bump the difficulty down on a future run if I want to experiment with unconventional builds.  That will give me an idea of what works and what doesn't, and if things go south, I can just steamroll the game normally.

I get this in theory, but in practice by bumping it down, the unconventional build's usefulness could be overblown. Unless it's an extreme case, I don't see that practice being particularly useful for an understanding of what properly works, unless the builds you wanna test are so out there that their absurdity is off the charts.

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2 minutes ago, DarthR0xas said:

I get this in theory, but in practice by bumping it down, the unconventional build's usefulness could be overblown. Unless it's an extreme case, I don't see that practice being particularly useful for an understanding of what properly works, unless the builds you wanna test are so out there that their absurdity is off the charts.

If it's so bad that it won't work on an easier mode, it sure as hell isn't going to work on a harder one.  For example, Merric in SD makes a hilarious Cavalier, but don't expect that to work on H5 (I'd say the limit is H2 for comfort, H3 if you want to push it).

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What i find funny about the community is that the pro players are the ones who are criticizing map design and such.

And for some reason Fates is bad because it is has anime tropes in it, and bad writing. But the animations in the GBA games are the most anime-ish i have ever seen. Even the normal hit animations looks like it was taken straight out of a shonen. And Sacred Stones might be the only decently written gba game, Binding Blade feels like a wierd amalgamation between book 1 & 2 of Mystery of the Emblem. FE7's story is the only one i skip between chapters, because it is sooo boring. 

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2 hours ago, Peder said:

What i find funny about the community is that the pro players are the ones who are criticizing map design and such.

And for some reason Fates is bad because it is has anime tropes in it, and bad writing. But the animations in the GBA games are the most anime-ish i have ever seen. Even the normal hit animations looks like it was taken straight out of a shonen. And Sacred Stones might be the only decently written gba game, Binding Blade feels like a wierd amalgamation between book 1 & 2 of Mystery of the Emblem. FE7's story is the only one i skip between chapters, because it is sooo boring. 

Very nice example of misrepresenting a differing opinion in order to make it look silly, overall. Bonus points for doing so in a completely unrelated topic. 7/10 salt crystals from me.

--

For me personally, different FE games work best on different difficulty levels for me: I find that FE6's game design works best on hard mode; I dislike EHM and HHM (to no small part because of the very low deployment slots); FE8-9 are still fairly easy on their hardest setting; I really hate how FE10 doesn't show enemy range on HM, so I don't play it; I still haven't beaten either DS remake on their hghest difficulty because I'm a scrub.

I actually don't play play games on a different difficulty setting very often - when I want a relaxing, not too brain-intensive experience, I'd rather boot up PoR or HNM (maybe randomized), and when I do want to have to think, I'd rather replay FE6's hard mode than deal with RD's bad decisions regarding its hard mode.

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16 hours ago, Von Ithipathachai said:

Honestly, I think the Normal difficulty in FE is a stimulating challenge enough for me already.  Plus it gives me more freedom to use the units I actually like, even if they're considered in most circles to be suboptimal.

I can definitely relate to wanting to use whoever I want. 😛 And I agree that normal mode can be stimulating in its own right, it just takes longer for the game's challenge to speed up unlike harder modes. I think the only games in the series I played that felt too easy on normal were Birthright and Three Houses, barring the last few maps, though I think their less difficult nature makes them easier for me to replay oddly enough.

16 hours ago, Alastor15243 said:

I always play hard first, ironmanning blind if I can. I try harder than that sometimes, but often I find what most games do to up the difficulty radically changes how the game is played into something abuse-ridden and unrecognizable. Awakening Lunatic and Three Houses Maddening are both very infamous difficulty spikes with lots of complaints about how they were designed all around, along with the sentiment that an entire difficulty mode belonged between them and hard mode.

Seeing your popular series playthrough thread might actually have been one of the catalysts for making this thread. Definitely something to keep in mind in regards to Awakening and Three Houses difficulty.

14 hours ago, twilitfalchion said:

As to what I would say the "normal" difficulty is, I would say normal in most instances, except for Radiant Dawn which had a translation issue where "easy" is actually normal and "normal" is hard, etc. Normal mode presents enough challenge to keep me engaged, but I can understand why others would choose a higher difficulty if they want their skill to really be tested. My only gripe with how the difficulties are named is that normal is always called the "beginner" difficulty. If that's the case, then why is it called "normal"? Why not "easy"? If it's for beginners, then it is only natural to call it easy, have normal be the difficulty choice for those with some experience, and make hard mode be for FE vets.

This brings in the interesting question of difficulty semantics. I feel like there are trade-offs to either route in terms of naming the lowest difficulty. If we were to rename all difficulties targeted at newcomers to "easy" I feel like what happened in Radiant Dawn would invariably repeat itself over and over because people are too used to easy modes being the "I'm unskilled" mode instead of the "start here" mode it actually is in the FE context. The benefit to changing the name would  be to encourage people like me to play on harder difficulties more often because while I mentioned I'm not a prideful gamer, I do appreciate being skilled enough to play games on their normal modes at minimum, and taking the "easy-normal-hard" route would maybe have pushed me to start the middle difficulty much sooner then I have now. As it stands though, the lowest difficulty calling itself "normal" helps ease new players into the experience, but it does make me a little shameless about sticking to lower difficulties.

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Difficulty is something that has to have great care taken, otherwise it's a disaster. The challenge has to be enough to test the player in unique ways, but not taking it to the degree of where way too much luck or whatnot is involved. In my personal opinion, decisions to reduce player gained EXP is not the right way to start. That just makes it so you want to use 8 specific units all the time, which isn't fun. Why punish you for no reward at all?

As mentioned, a lot of the 3DS FE games have this issue.

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Personally I pick Hard since I play strategy games for a bit of a challenge. 

I am a bit not a fan of how apparently the harder difficulties in new ones just consist of OP enemy stats, I'd rather it do that via challenging map design. (Yes I am on of the 5 people who actually likes the Map design in Echoes for the most part.)

Adding random nonsense like random enemy skills that can potentially screw me over isn't strategy, it's RNG and heavy RNG in strategy games is something I actually hate. (Hit chances? sure but for the most part leave the RNG to hit-chance and hit chance alone please.)

I already kinda dislike enemy crits a bit. (I don't mind it in say, FE7 Normal mode where it's at least mostly kept to bosses and regular enemies tend to have low crit-chances unless they're specificly using a killing edge weapon, since then it's something you can work around but when you have Awakening, where I can potentially have the exact same tactic fail, in the very first stage just because an enemy mage got a 10 chance to hit on Robin and I don't really have any other tactics to do, well, don't do that.)

When I have to restart your first stage, twice. (not in the same playthrough as I restarted Awakening.)  because of RNG, your "strategy" game isn't very much actual strategy. (No matter how many times Robin claims otherwise in that one quote they say.)

So I stick to hard and doubt I'll ever increase the difficulty even on repeat playthroughs because I think strategy games should be generally somewhat consistent.

Edited by Samz707

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2 hours ago, lightcosmo said:

The challenge has to be enough to test the player in unique ways, but not taking it to the degree of where way too much luck or whatnot is involved.

 

2 hours ago, lightcosmo said:

As mentioned, a lot of the 3DS FE games have this issue.


But there are only three 3DS games. What do you mean by “a lot”?
Even if we counted Fates’s paths as three separate games (which, mechanically, makes sense), there would still be five games.

Out of those games, the only difficulty settings that rely on luck are the Lunatic ones of Awakening. But the maps are still boring in all settings. The problem lies at its core.

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Whatever's the easiest available difficulty.

8 minutes ago, starburst said:

But there are only three 3DS games.

Awakening, Fates: Birthright, Fates: Conquest, Fates: Revelations, Shadows of Valentia. That's five, not three.

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10 hours ago, starburst said:

But there are only three 3DS games. What do you mean by “a lot”?
 

Your right, I should have said "most", sorry about that!

Edited by lightcosmo

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On a first playthroug I generally go for normal and then bump it up to the hardest difficulty on subsequent playthroughs. That let's me play the game without having to think much the first time around and just enjoy the story and new features, while the second time around I play for challenge.

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For my first playthrough I always start on easy or normal. Learn a bit more about the new mechanics and focusing more on the story and characters is easier that way. Then I work myself up in difficulty until I find the one that gives a nice challenge but still allows me to experiment with fun builds. In most games that's normal mode, sometimes hard.

Recently I've started picking up some games on harder difficulties, but I usually enjoy that less.

Different modes are for different people, I guess. I do see them derail discussions here often. Like when people say Meg is completely unusable in RD, she may be the worst unit in RD but on easy she is still usable and gives an interesting challenge to me.

Maybe discussions should always include dfficulty mode? =P

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4 hours ago, whase said:

For my first playthrough I always start on easy or normal. Learn a bit more about the new mechanics and focusing more on the story and characters is easier that way. Then I work myself up in difficulty until I find the one that gives a nice challenge but still allows me to experiment with fun builds. In most games that's normal mode, sometimes hard.

Recently I've started picking up some games on harder difficulties, but I usually enjoy that less.

Different modes are for different people, I guess. I do see them derail discussions here often. Like when people say Meg is completely unusable in RD, she may be the worst unit in RD but on easy she is still usable and gives an interesting challenge to me.

Maybe discussions should always include dfficulty mode? =P

I'm not sure the difficulty mode really helps the case for Meg. I mean sure she's useable, but she's still going to be relatively less usable than any other character in the game who's not a commoner laguz or Fiona. Being useable doesn't mean she's good since these things are based in comparisons with other units.

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