Assessing Fire Emblem Awakening Skills

It’s been a while since I did a proper Fire Emblem post on this blog. At one point in time, I had this grand idea that I’d do a whole series comparing Fire Emblem: Awakening with Fire Emblem: Fates. Here’s the thing though — Fates wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. While it’s an okay game that I enjoyed playing through a couple of times, its relatively boring storyline, strange weapon forging system, and limited reclassing options took away from some of the game’s improvements[1].

Awakening, though not a perfect game, is easily one of the most replayable games I’ve ever played. Part of the appeal to the game — along with the great storyline and engrossing characters — is the ability to build characters with skill sets to suit your play style. Although I would love the personal skills mechanic from Fates to be added to Awakening, there’s still plenty you can do with the five skill limit that your characters have.

This got me to thinking though. What are the best skills to have in Fire Emblem: Awakening? In a game with 84 skills available even before you consider DLC, you certainly have plenty of options at your disposal. I took a look at all 84 skills and considered their usefulness in the main game, importance as inherited skills, activation rates, accessibility, and personal preference to put those skills into 9 tiers with roughly 9 skills in each tier. This post focuses on the importance of these skills in the main game, as wireless play can be a whole different beast.

Tier 9: Replace As Soon As Possible

The Skills: Speed +2, Skill +2, Magic +2, Strength +2, Rally Skill, Rally Speed, Rally Magic, Rally Strength, Rally Luck

The Why: Despite the fact that much of the Fire Emblem gaming community loves the Rally skills[2], I personally can’t stand them. They waste an action for a promoted unit in exchange for +4 of one stat (with two notable exceptions). It’s rare that such a boost will turn the tide of a level or even one battle. You’re better suited to having other skills. If you must have a Rally skill, there’s better options than the five in this group. As for the +2 stat boosts, you’re generally not using them deep into the game. If you must though, use the survival boosts rather than offensive ones.

Tier 8: What You’re Probably Replacing Second

The Skills: Odd Rhythm, Even Rhythm, Underdog, Beastbane, Tantivity, Focus, Defense +2, Resistance +2, Rally Defense, Rally Resistance

The Why: The Defense and Resistance skills for Rally and stat boosts are slightly better than those in tier 9 for survivability, so they get the bump to tier 8. Odd and Even Rhythm only work 50% of the time, which limit these otherwise average skills. Similarly, Focus and Tantivity are limited by the fact that your unit has to be all alone to gain benefits from them, which isn’t a common play style for Awakening. Underdog is a useful skill for Donnel and Donnel alone, but it pales in comparison to his other skill options. Beastbane is handicapped both by the plethora of other units and weapons that deal with mounted units, as well as the fact that taguels are just awful as a class.

Tier 7: Weaker Niche Skills

The Skills: Wyrmsbane, Pass, Relief, Outdoor Fighter, Charm, Discipline, Patience, Special Dance, Hex, Solidarity

The Why: Wyrmsbane gets ranked higher than Beastbane because manaketes are at least competent statistically, even if you’re probably not using Nowi and Nah in that class. Special Dance, Charm, and Solidarity are useful on the adult units that get them, but they have limited usefulness in inheritance[3]. Pass and Relief are similar skills in that their usefulness comes most commonly behind enemy lines, which is situational at beast. Discipline is great in the early game, but you’ll drop it once weapons are maxed. Patience and Hex are avoidance impacting skills, but there’s better options out there. They’re good in conjunction with those other skills, but they’re not required. Outdoor Fighter would be better if more outdoor maps had choke points, but that’s not the case.

Tier 6: Above Average Early Game Skills

The Skills: Avoid +10, HP +5, Luck +4, Indoor Fighter, Despoil, Veteran, Rally Movement, Prescience, Anethema

The Why: All of these skills except Rally Movement (a promoted unit skill) and Despoil (requires a class change) come very early in the game with units you can acquire relatively easily. That said, aside from Luck +4, which helps Olivia’s survivability in her recruitment chapter, none of these skills are critical for units to keep past mid-game. Avoid +10, Prescience, and Anethema are similar in function to Patience and Hex from tier 7, just stronger or less situational. Indoor Fighter is helpful due to choke points on indoor maps, but it’s still not a great skill overall. The only skills I can see keeping end game are HP +5  and Veteran, but only if you have nothing else better to replace them with.

Tier 5: Healers and Killers

The Skills: Hit Rate +20, Lethality, Renewal, Slow Burn, Gamble, Dual Strike+, Dual Guard+, Miracle, Healtouch, Demoiselle

The Why: There’s not a ton of good healing classes in Awakening, so you’ll likely find yourself using the healing skills less frequently than most other skills. Miracle is awesome in permadeath mode, but only in that mode. Healtouch and Renewal aren’t skills I typically keep until end game, though that’s more a function of my dislike for the War Monk and War Cleric classes than anything else[4]. Dual Strike+ is a good skill, but since only Chrom and Lucina can get it, it’s hard for me to rank it higher. Dual Guard+ is more available, is overshadowed by Great Knight’s Luna ability. Lethality is my favorite skill in the game, but is also has the worst activation rate of any skill in the game, so I can’t rank it above this tier. Slow Burn, similar to the Rally skills, is loved by many Fire Emblem players, but games don’t last long enough for Slow Burn to fully take effect. Demoiselle is the only skill in the game that allows you to avoid critical hits, which pairs well with male units running Miracle for extra bulk. Gamble and Hit Rate +20 are acceptable skills, but I usually find myself replacing them with one of the skills in the next four tiers.

Tier 4: Niche Skills and Crits

The Skills: Bowfaire, Counter, Movement +1, Rally Spectrum, Defender, Wrath, Astra, Locktouch, Zeal

The Why: Unless you have a unit in the Assassain class, Bowfaire isn’t worth your time to learn, as hit rate is more critical for Snipers and Bow Knights[5]. Rally Spectrum is the only Rally skill worth a damn, but considering the amount of skills Robin and Morgan can pick up, good luck slotting it somewhere. Locktouch is 100% situational, but indispensable when you need it for door or chest-heavy maps. Wrath and Counter are loved by those who play a melee heavy style, but they’re limited by a need for low HP (which is hard to do for Berserkers thanks to their inherent access to HP +5) or low defense (which isn’t terribly common for those with Berserker access). I’d rather take Zeal’s lower crit boost and call it a day. Astra would be much higher up if it had a better activation rate, but it’s a good skill nonetheless. Free movement is always good, and Movement +1 is one of the few movement skills a non-flying unit can pick up. Defender is terribly underrated, as you’re picking up +7 overall stats along with any pair up bonuses you’re already getting.

Tier 3: Avoidance Is Your Friend

The Skills: Axebreaker, Lancebreaker, Swordbreaker, Acrobat, Luna, Deliverer, Tomebreaker, Quick Burn, Vantage

The Why: All of the -breaker skills give you +50 avoidance if the foe is using a specific kind of weapon, making them stronger than any other avoidance skill in the game by 20. Even though they’re situational, they’re so strong they must be considered top-tier. Acrobat and Deliverer greatly boost movement for infantry/mounted and paired up units, respectively, which is great for quick strike offense. Luna is one of the better offensive skills in the game, but is inferior to Aether due to its lack of healing (despite having a better activation rate). Vantage is one of the few early game skills you’ll want to use in the end game for units with access to it. Quick Burn is far superior to Slow Burn thanks to the fact that most battles don’t go beyond 7 turns, giving you extra avoidance early in a battle.

Tier 2: Damage Boosts Galore (Mostly)

The Skills: Lucky Seven, Swordfaire, Tomefaire, Axefaire, Lancefaire, Bowbreaker, Ignis, Aether, Dual Support+

The Why: Lucky Seven is Quick Burn on steroids, though it lasts half as long. The -faire classes all give +5 damage when using that weapon type, making them end-game staples and good inherited skills if there aren’t better options. Bowbreaker is better than all other -breaker skills due to all flying classes having a weakness to bows. Aether would be one of the top skills in the game if more than Lucina, Chrom, and Lucina’s sibling got access to it. Similarly, Ignis triggers at a great rate, but only Robin and Morgan can access its overpowered abilities. Dual Support+ is broken as all hell, but considering only the extremely uncommon Valkyrie class can access it or pass it down, that caused me to place Armsthrift in the top-tier over it.

Tier 1: God-Tier Skills

The Skills: Rightful King, Galeforce, Aptitude, Lifetaker, Vengeance, Aegis, Pavise, Sol, Armsthrift

The Why: Rightful King allows all other skills to activate 10% more of the time. It’s wonderful on Chrom[6], Lucina[7], and Brady/Inigo. Aptitude is only accessible to Donnel and his child, but it gives the best growth rates in the game. Aegis and Pavise are chance based skills that lower damage received while Sol and Lifetaker heal you while attacking. Armsthrift saves your weapon durability with the best non-100% activation rate in the game, which is important because only the Falchion and Parallel Falchion are indestructible. I feel like Vengeance should have had an activation rate of Skill divided by two instead of Skill times two, as it triggers almost constantly on child units who have it. And then there’s Galeforce…a skill so broken that they had to make it DLC in Fates just so you wouldn’t beat the game in your sleep. Since nearly every female parent has access to the Galeforce skill and since all children except Lucina and Morgan are tied to their mothers in Awakening, nearly every child unit can be given Galeforce with proper planning. This essentially assures you taking 2-3 full turns for your entire team per every one turn your enemy gets. Galeforce is crazy.

 

What are your favorite Fire Emblem Awakening skills? Do you disagree with my tier list? Sound off in the comments.

Fire Emblem: Heroes Review

A few weeks back, I did a recap post of all of the information coming out of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Direct event. Since that post, the first of the four games mentioned in the Direct event — Fire Emblem: Heroes — has released on mobile devices. I downloaded the game’s iOS version and have been playing it since launch day. Now that we’re almost a month into the game’s existence, I wanted to share some thoughts on FE: Heroes and my experience with the game.

Story

Like most Fire Emblem games, Heroes gives you a story about how you’re trying to save the world you’re in from bad guys. Granted, in almost all of the previous FE games, you’re trying to save the world from an evil dragon, but we didn’t need an evil dragon for this to feel like a Fire Emblem game. Instead of a dragon, you’re tasked with saving the summoning gate from the evil Princess Veronica.

To be clear, you’re tasked with saving the summoning gate — the place in the game where you can buy your units — from a bad guy trying to stop you from being able to summon.

On one hand, I get the point. Veronica wants to stop you from summoning great heroes who could defeat her. Her motives make sense. Meanwhile, you want to defeat her so that…uh…you can summon more units to defeat her again? I mean, your ulterior goal is to save Alphonse and Sharena’s kingdom (Askr) from Veronica, but the ultimate objective is to save the summoning gate. Which could cause you spend money. Is Nintendo trying to teach you that fiscal responsibility is bad[1]?

That all aside, the plot seems very thin, both at time of release as well as now. While the paralogues get you into the history of Fire Emblem games a bit, the main story is extremely linear. On top of that, the dialogue pre-chapter is very slow. Your only options for the dialogue are to wait it out or to skip it entirely. I found myself skipping it entirely from chapter 3 onward, then going back and finding it online to read it myself.

Also, why is it that the most badass original character introduced in Heroes (Veronica) isn’t a playable character?

Gameplay

The primary game play focus of Heroes is similar to the grid-style, turn-based combat featured in most Fire Emblem games. You’re limited to 4 units per map, which feels perfect on most maps. You’re generally tasked with facing 3-5 units in story mode, so it’s rare you’ll feel crowded by anything other than terrain. Though the permadeath feature that most early Fire Emblem games are known for isn’t present in Heroes[2], there are quirks in the game that force you to be creative with your game play style in other ways. As an example, if a unit dies mid-battle, you lose all XP and stat growth that you’ve gained throughout the battle. This prevents players from charging headlong into battle with no regard for strategy, particularly on Lunatic difficulty in the story mode, as well as in the PvP arena.

Story mode itself seems like it’s going to be an in-depth experience at first glance. You have 9 chapters with 4-5 parts each, as well as three different difficulty levels you can play each part on. The rounds go relatively quickly though, meaning you can blow through your limited player energy in 10-15 minutes, particularly on higher difficulties. Though stamina potions are plentiful, this only makes the story mode feel shorter.

Arena mode is painfully disappointing. Similar to the story mode, arena allows you to compete in a 4 vs. 4 battle, though your opponent is another player. The battles themselves are generally harder than story mode, adding a challenge to the player experience. That said, arena mode is majorly flawed thanks to the bonus points you can receive for using certain units in the arena. If you’re able to use one of the 6-10 bonus point units for that arena “season”[3], you’re all but guaranteed to receive the maximum prizes possible that season. If you can’t use one of those units, you’re relegated to 60-70% payout in a best case scenario.

Other side modes like the training stratum and special quests are merely for materials or unit farming. Nothing really to write home about, though it’s pretty standard fare for mobile RPG games.

Summoning and Leveling

As mentioned earlier, to get new units for your teams, you must summon via a gacha-style summoning gate. Fortunately, the in-game currency (called orbs) are pretty common to get, even when ignoring the app release bonuses currently ongoing. I’ve summoned or acquired[4] somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 units to this point, with 5 of those units being top rarity units. Considering I’ve been free-to-play the entire time, summoning new units is not an issue.

Nor is there an issue with the actual leveling of units, at least once you recognize that if a unit dies mid-level, you lose all their XP and stats obtained that level. It took me 3-4 days to realize that was happening, so be aware of that mechanic. Unit experience seems to scale at a comfortable level from level 1 to level 40 regardless of the unit’s rarity, so that’s a positive as well.

The major gripe I have here is with the promotion functionality of Heroes, which is referred to in-game as Unlock Potential. For units of a very low rarity (1 or 2 stars), the resources required to level the rarity of a unit up are pretty minimal. However, once you try to level a 3 star or 4 star unit up, the acquisition of one of the two items (hero feathers) needed to raise the rarity of a unit is unsustainable. The only way to obtain large amounts (read: more than 10 at a time) of hero feathers at this time is through weekly arena rewards. The best case scenario for arena rewards is 7,100 feathers in a week, though that would mean you would have to be the top player in the entire game. A more realistic value is that you finish unranked among all players, but still get full rewards for the other milestones. If you do that, you get 2,100 feathers in a week…or just over 10% of the amount you’ll need to raise a 4 star unit’s rarity to 5 stars. You’re either stuck grinding for literal weeks on end or hoping you get good luck at the summon gate.

Replay Value

For free-to-play players like myself, games like Fire Emblem: Heroes need good replay value, otherwise grinding for resources is pointless. The replay value so far isn’t good. That in and of itself is concerning, as I’ve found myself getting bored with the game less than a month after its release. Though Nintendo has done a good job of releasing new content since launch[5], the amount of effort and/or luck needed to get a top-tier team is disheartening. I got lucky in one of my very early unit pulls and managed to get two units that seem to be meta-defining in the arena at this stage of the game (Takumi and Cordelia). Had I not had that luck, I think I would have lost interest before now.

Furthermore, unless you intentionally handicap yourself by using lower level units, most of the story mode is simple. I finished Normal mode in less than a day, Hard mode in about a day and a half, and Lunatic in three days. The only reason any of those modes took as long as they did was the energy limitations — even Lunatic mode would be easy when compared to other Fire Emblem games.

Final Thoughts

I had pretty low expectations for Fire Emblem: Heroes prior to its launch. Despite all of its flaws — and there are quite a few — Heroes has exceeded my expectations pretty comfortably. The game is enjoyable in small bursts and it makes me nostalgic for previous editions of the Fire Emblem series. With that said, I’ve taken multiple day breaks from the game twice already in the first month. There’s just not enough content to make a casual gamer, especially one that isn’t familiar with Fire Emblem canon, care about the game.

If you’re a Fire Emblem fan, Heroes is probably worth playing through for the nostalgia. It’s a good time waster in small bursts, and its familiar game style will be easy to pick up on if you’ve played previous games in the series. That said, unless Nintendo comes out with more content, more difficult content, or both, I don’t see Fire Emblem: Heroes being a long-term success.

Fire Emblem Direct Thoughts

A little over a week and a half ago, Nintendo held a Nintendo Direct event for the Fire Emblem series of games. As you might be aware, I like Fire Emblem just a little bit. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the four games discussed in the event below. If you haven’t watched the event yet, you can find the full video below.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Shadows of Valentia is a game inspired by an earlier entry in the Fire Emblem series, 1992’s Gaiden. While I’ve played quite a few games in the Fire Emblem series, Gaiden is not one of the titles I’ve played to this point. From everything I’ve gathered, the gameplay mechanics of Gaiden differ pretty drastically from other Fire Emblem games, which is a disappointment. Gaiden combines the turn-based strategy of a typical Fire Emblem game with a navigable world map similar to games in the Legend of Zelda series. I love the turn-based style combat of Fire Emblem, so seeing a Fire Emblem game deviate from that — as three of the games on this list are expected to do to some extent — is a bit disappointing.

With that said, Shadows of Valentia appears to have a good storyline, at least from what little we can glean from the Direct event. The game itself is reported to copy Gaiden‘s gameplay style nearly directly, though an updated story inspired by Gaiden will be introduced with Shadows of Valentia. Part of me is tempted to get my hands on an emulator copy of Gaiden soon to see if I like the style. But there’s two main things holding me back from that.

  1. Gaiden never received an English translation
  2. I really hate Zelda style games

The Direct event shows a scene around the 5:15 mark where you appear to do a dungeon crawl level that really turns me off to the game. As much as I love Fire Emblem, I have no desire to play hack and slash or dungeon crawl games. That said, a lot of the other scenes focus on more traditional Fire Emblem game play. My hope is that Shadows of Valentia focuses more on the traditional game play than the overworld.

Shadows of Valentia will be releasing on May 19, 2017.

Hype Rating: 3 of 5

Fire Emblem for Nintendo Switch

We don’t get a title for whatever the new Fire Emblem game coming to the Switch is, but that’s alright since the game won’t be releasing until 2018. We don’t know much about the new game other than it’ll be the first full console release of Fire Emblem since the Wii. Even in the Direct event, all we got was a 45 second blurb about the game coming out in 2018. That said, of the coming games, it’s the one I’m most intrigued to learn more about and eventually play.

Hype Rating: Incomplete, though likely at least 4 of 5

Fire Emblem: Warriors

No.

But really though. Dynasty Warriors is a hack and slash series that I have zero cares about. If you want to see an example of exactly how hack and slashy this game is, go to the 7:50 mark in the video at the top of the post. The art in Warriors looks amazing from the preview video, though I’d have to assume that’s console gameplay we’re looking at, not handheld. While Warriors will be released on the 3DS and 2DS in addition to the Switch, I do get the impression that either there will be less stellar graphics on the handhelds, or we’ll see a degradation of play quality. Since I can’t imagine Nintendo allowing the latter to happen, I’ll assume that the handheld versions will have lessened graphics qualities.

But hey, at least Chrom is in the trailer?

Hype Rating: 1 of 5

Fire Emblem Heroes

This game screams Brave Frontier or Final Fantasy: Brave Exivus. Bad. To the point where I had to go back and watch the Direct video a few times to make sure Alim wasn’t part of the development for Heroes.

This is Nintendo’s first foray into the mobile market with a Fire Emblem game. Heroes — at least from what we can tell from the Direct video — looks to combine some of the turn-based attack strategy game from Fire Emblem’s other games with summoning type mechanics found in mobile games like Brave Frontier.

Of all the games announced so far, Heroes is the only game thus far where I’m disappointed with the released art. I don’t know if this is because I’m so used to seeing newer Fire Emblem games like Awakening and Fates, however the actual gameplay art of Heroes is subpar. The non-gameplay art (in particular the summoning art) seems to be pretty good, so perhaps it’s just the preview that I’m bothered with.

Not shockingly, Nintendo has decided to go with the microtransaction model for acquiring the in-game currency needed to acquire units in this game. As much as I’d like to try Heroes thanks to my love for the Fire Emblem series (as well as the aforementioned Brave Frontier), I don’t think I’ll find myself picking up Heroes when it releases on February 2, 2017.

Hype Rating: 1.5 of 5