Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem is a series I've held near and dear to my heart ever since it's North American debut with Fire Emblem (Rekka no Ken / Blazing Sword).  My interest in the series was piqued with the character cameos in Smash Bros and the corresponding trophies that hinted at what the game was about.  I had completely missed out on the Shining Force series back on the Sega Genesis so this was entirely new territory for me; a strategy game that was turn based and didn't involve space marines, how exciting!  The games highlights are challenging fights, permanent death for allies, a small band of rebels skirting around overwhelming forces until they can eventually muster victory, a human-only setting (with the occasional undead mixed in), character hair colored with shades of the rainbow, accursed random number generator and random level-ups for one's stats, usually a horrible evil dragon waiting at the end, and the eponymous Fire Emblem.  It's a fun series and definitely worth a look.  A good place to start would be the aforementioned Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance or Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on the Nintendo DS as your first forays.

That said I'd like to take a look at the most recent entry on the Nintendo 3DS.  I just started it back up at the end-game and finished a few sidequests and deciding to continue my momentum and finish the entire game this weekend.  One more step in chipping away the massive backlog of games I have waiting on me.  In particular I'd like to look at two new systems the game presents and how they could be useful for your own game.
Many images courtesy of this fine fellows website

The first system is essentially dual-classing building upon the ideas put forward in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.  This system allowed you to take a character you liked and swap them to a different class.  Presumably because you wouldn't have to make a hard choice of using a likeable character if you disliked their class or were particularly bad at strategically employing their class.  In Awakenings you acquire an item called a 'Second Seal' which can allow you to hop over to a new class based on the classes available to you.  The difference here is that you get to retain the characteristic traits from your previous class and stat-wise you are roughly the same level (in fact for experience purposes you effective level is a hidden value that keeps track of every level you have received so reclassing doesn't allow you to start rolling in exp again.)  This allows you to hop around to different classes amassing some fun & signature class features and eventually building them all up into one deadly fighting machine.  I like it quite a bit but as a player I dislike that you can do it infinitely (although slower exp progression can dissuade you from it) because rather than let a character make their way to max level I always felt the need to reclass them to something else otherwise they would be wasting valuable time.  Essentially a carrot was eternally dangling in front of the nose of a efficianado (this should be a word) such as myself.  Design gripes aside it is a decent semi-balanced approach at multi/dual classing.  You are roughly on par with the rest of the team, your stats change somewhat to reflect your new leanings (hopping form berserker to sage obviously reduces one strength and bolsters one magic) and the traits you have are limited to maximum of 5 so you must choose wisely which you will keep.  I've toyed around with limiting class features in the past, the number available potentially dependent on ones Intelligence, Wisdom or Knowledge score.  The idea never fully got off the ground but it is something I'd like to reconsider so I have to thank Awakenings for reminding me of it.

The second system being the 'Pair-Up' feature the game introduces early on, as yonder pegasus knight saves our young lordling Crom from certain arrow-filled death.  In previous incarnations the game had a 'Rescue' command which allowed you to pick up an ally and move them safe from harm.  This time around the pair instead combines their forces, the primary unit still fights as normal but receives a stat boost commensurate to the supporting characters specialties.  A thief may boost their skill, speed and movement, an armor plated knight may provide significant defense bonuses and strength while a mage can bolster both magic and resistance.  In addition to that the supporting character can occasionally jump in from time to time and aid in attack and defense, a blessing in this game where the slightest tactical error (don't leave anyone alone for too long) can mean death and a quickreload unless you prefer the consequences of a permanently missing party member.  This can manifest as either a quick attack as a followup to your own before the enemy has a chance to counter-attack or in some instances they will interject and completely nullify an incoming attack; count your blessings when this happens.  There is another bonus that I frequently forgot as my impatience often turns animations off ever since the jump to 3D sprites; the supporting character can give a bonus to Accuracy, Evasion or Critical at the start of a combat.  The system is so highly useful that rarely a time went in the game that I did not pair someone up.  It made them stronger, harder to kill, occasionally move faster or overcome obstacles easier by saddling up with a pegasus or wyvern and as a point of minutia it means one less unit to manage each turn; a simple thing but it adds up considerably overtime and drive one batty.
As for how you can add this to your own game?  Well, that can take a bit of effort and I feel that stat bumps or making something equivalent would be too burdensome for an RPG with a number-crunching computer to constantly back you up.  Dual Strike / Guard on the other hand is another thing entirely.  In the system I'm currently developing or in 3d6 D&D I have it so that each person in a formation adds one more die to the attack roll, so 5 people in formation are rolling 7d6 (only three dice are ever kept though).  This is simple, effective, not overpowering and represents minions very well (the more you mow down with mighty hews the weaker that group gets) but I would like something else for two heroes fighting in tandem.  The simplest way to do this without over-complicating the rules I think would be to allow a substitution of a critical hit for a combo-attack (both dealing damage) between the two heroes.  When they are on the receiving end of an attack the defender can make a roll and if the result is a critical the attack is nullified as their partner steps in to save their hide.  In this way the odds of dual strikes or last minute saves are fairly unlikely but still make a show in gameplay.

 Would you forgo critical hits to team up with a partner?

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