(This is basically an X-Post from the reddit, but I'm making some changes and additions. This is going to be a more collected version. Besides, I would want to show this to a given member here, because ARM/THUMB doesn't want to play nice.)
There have been plenty of points about how Armor Knights suck throughout the series because Speed and Movement Power are the dominant stats. Some, like Anouleth, even think that Armor Knights are innately not interactive, and while that's something I don't agree with, there's a lot of execution problems that try to prove me wrong in that regard.
I think Armor Knights could in fact become workable, but there would need to be plenty of things to be done, not just getting the mounted unit standard under control. I have, of course, my share of ideas, listed below.
Revamp doubling: Fight Speed increase for attacker
For those who don't want the quick link, my suggestion is that the doubling threshold be at +6, BUT the attacking unit get +4 Fight Speed, or the defending unit lose 4 Fight Speed if you want to increase Hit instead of Evade on player phase. Basically, needing only +2 Fight Speed to double when attacking, and a whopping +10 when defending. I recently made a topic about FE1 ASM hack for this, though it doesn't give the attacking unit +4 Fight Speed so much as change the thresholds, but an Evasion change would be negligible in FE1 anyway.
I made a graph for effectiveness display for anybody confused, by the way. Red line is original method, blue line is my method.
This would almost objectively buff Armor Knights, as they would get to attack into anything on enemy phase without fear of being counter-doubled significantly. It also avoids Fates Wary Fighter's drawback of preventing them from doubling, so Armor Knights with added Speed can actually manage an offense in some cases here and there. A few extra units would be able to double them when initiating an attack, but those units would already be slow enough for countermeasures. Otherwise, Armor Knights won't lose anything on enemy phase.
The +10 threshold for defender would make enemy phase doubling a luxury, one that would be restricted to units like Myrmidons and Pegasus Knights, both not being known for having a lot of Strongth welling in their body even when they're wise and courageour knights. Pretty much any other unit with doubling ability would get nerfed, which would tone down juggernauting when they'd start needing twice as much durability. Social Knights, who are only moderately fast; Mercenaries who aren't super-fast like Myrmidons and actually are Glass Cannon units; and Dragon Knights, who are slow, would have to play things more cool as a result when they can't just tornado everything in sight. Suddenly, Armor Knights' sturdiness is a lot less redundant.
Putting the active player's threshold at only +2 would make doubling on player phase significantly easier. This helps Axemen and Archers, both of whom are player phase oriented by their mere design so the drawbacks also being stronger isn't an issue. Social Knights and Dragon Knights would get doubled more easily, so that nerfs them. Now this doesn't help Armor Knights directly, but the key point is that every attack makes DEF stats add up, so Physical DEF tends to actually benefit from doubling being standardized, provided the comparative numbers aren't so ridiculous.
Oh, and yes, I think Armor Knights should in fact be doubled reliably by any enemy initiating an attack, so that anti-armor attack actually is rewarded. Of course, that brings me to my next idea.
Treat ATK value changes with enough weight
Contrary to what some people think, higher ATK values actually weaken Armor Knights rather than strengthen them. It's no coincidence that they are infinitely worse in Fire Emblem 11 Hard 5 than in Fire Emblem 1, even though they have virtually the same Physical DEF values. This is because Fire Emblem 1 had ~20 ATK or higher reserved for noteworthy enemies until later on in the game, but Fire Emblem 11 Hard 5 had it as the melee mook standard as early as Chapter 2.
Obviously, higher ATK punishes units for getting hit whatsoever, but an overfocus on that concept inevitably invites degenerate gameplay that can take any number of forms, creating more problems than destroying the viability of Armor Knights.
Ideally, midgame balance should generally involve having Steel Sword barely 3HKO standard melee units with just WTA for power-based mismatching. Something like that at any rate. This would make Armor Knights' high Physical DEF more useful against the weaker weapons because they would easily wall that stuff.
Also, forging absolutely should be checked, preferably by using Path of Radiance's general forging cost formulas and prevent forging that would have the cost multiplier from the weapon's basic cost exceed a given amount. This would prevent stupid powerful custom forges of things like Iron weapons or Javelins or even effective weapons.
Effective weapon balance
Speak of the devil.
Even as early as Fire Emblem 1, effective weapons aren't well balanced with each other. Take a look at these stats:
Armor Killer: 5 Might, 80 Hit, 2 Weight
Knight Killer: 5 Might, 90 Hit, 5 Weight
Simple math makes it clear that the Armor Killer is better at its job than the Knight Killer functions against mounted units. Worse Hit doesn't matter because Armor Knights aren't dodging anything, and you actually want to miss with the Armor Killer against any non-Armor Knight units to save up durability, which brings up why 2 Weight is stupid low for the bloody thing: it's the same as the freaking Iron Sword. That means there is no punishment for having it equipped on enemy phase beyond durability concerns. Armor Killer should have high enough Weight that it barely pulls +2 Fight Speed on Armor Knights, which would make the thing unsafe to equip on enemy phase.
I also want to talk about the Might value, or rather the effective Might value, because even in Fire Emblem 1, it's high. Here's a comparison between the Armor Killer and the Steel Sword using effective Might values:
Armor Killer: 15 Might, 80 Hit, 2 Weight
Steel Sword: 8 Might, 80 Hit, 4 Weight
A SEVEN Might advantage with no weaknesses for counterbalancing other than costs and that sort of stuff. In fact, 15 Might is actually better than the Silver Sword's 12 and the comparative accuracy loss isn't a big deal, and neither would a good amount of Weight be that. Now obviously, the Armor Killer works on only 1 unit type, and is stuck with 5 Might otherwise, but that one unit type is supposed to be powerful enough. I do not think the Armor Killer even needs much base Might, MAYBE 6 tops (effectively 18), but definitely not 7 or higher like all of the later games do. That's just too much.
While the Weapon Triangle does nerf the Armor Killer due to Armor Knights using lances by standard, that ultimately messes with the interaction. By itself at least.
Armor Knights should get to use axes at base
This is something that has been repeatedly suggested by users like rattatatouille so I'm not being original. Never the less, I'd have to provide my 2 cents.
Fire Emblem 1 does have Armor Knights use Swords at base. If it had Weapon Triangle, Doga would terrorize the early game chapters even more easily than he already does and likely would manage to be a walking God until Roger upstages him and becomes a walking God himself. Effective 14 Physical DEF against swords in FE1? Sign me up!
Okay, maybe not that nuts, but definitely would leave an impression.
The underlying problem with Swords at base is Armor Knight balance: they are supposed to worry about anti-armor weaponry, and we should class general Axes, never mind the Hammer, as such. Sword availability with the Weapon Triangle means that the Armor Knights will mess with Axes horribly enough. Of course, Armor Knights have to have SOMETHING to make sure they have some form of Weapon Triangle Control, because the developers certainly saw fit to give Social Knights that.
Axes would be a perfect replacement. First off, Armor Knights in axeland would be able to avoid WTD without inflicting WTA, which means they'd be able to keep up without breaking things. Second, Armor Knights would address Social Knights' Sword Control with their own Lance Control, which also works in the Armor Knights' favor as they could consistently use Lances and work off of a power advantage, possibly mixing in a Knight Killer for good measure for staggering mixup from the Social Knights. And finally, having Axes would give Armor Knights a better player phase, as they could chop-shop something if they're feeling aggressive enough and they're sure they won't get slashed by an Armor Killer nuisance in retaliation.
The only real concern would be aesthetic, because some people would feel Armor Knights by standard using axes before they use swords would feel unorthodox. I think it would be Fridge Brilliance, because Armor Knights can't very well double OR dodge efficiently, but they can sponge hits and thereby afford to position up close where accuracy issues aren't going to be so concerning. The smarter ones would probably realize that, and the simpletons would likely personally want to be using power weapons anyway.
Armor Knight bases should not suck
Though not always that terrible, Armor Knight bases have consistent problems for their mobility. While characteristic, they have awful Speed, so naturally, destroying enemies quickly is generally out. Plenty of the other stats would be at least decent if we went by standard foot unit standards, but some you'd want more of to overcome the mobility problems.
The most notable stat in its effectiveness is Physical DEF: some games have seen fit to make the Armor Knight class's as low as 8. (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, THRACIA 776.) The highest the base before promotion has ever been is 12, male Armor Sword in Radiant Dawn, actually a wise move that got lost in Radiant Dawn's higher end stats before Awakening and its ilk came along. Oh, and that you don't get any male Armor Swords there, you get a female one where the class's base is freaking 9.
11 as the Armor Knight's Physical DEF base worked decently in FE1 because of the comparison to the Social Knight's base Physical DEF of 7. Effectively, the comparison reduced the Might of any weapon by 4. A 14 ATK unit (Chapter 8 melee enemy) deals 7 damage to a base Social Knight unit other than Hardin, 3HKOing them if their HP is less than 22. Against an Armor Knight, it's 3 damage per hit, admittedly a 6HKO against base Doga, but definitely a potential improvement. Incidentally, if it was 12, 2 damage per hit, 9HKO against base Doga.
So yes, their Physical DEF should be at actually good values to do their job, and HP shouldn't slouch, so probably a base HP of 20 too. Additionally, they're wise and courageour knights so they should feel Strongth welling in their body. Not too much or they'll feel busted since they compliment mages at chokepoints and we do want players to realize that sort of thing better, but definitely just enough to make up for doubling inability and the mobility problems. No need for mages to do all the work.
Speaking of mages...
Give Armor Knights some actual Magic DEF, and give general tomes compensating Might values
Yes, this needs its own suggestion.
This is actually more to buff mages than to buff Armor Knights, because let's face it: mages as they stand are generally polarizing. They won't deal nearly as much damage to other units as they will to Armor Knights, and that really hurts their balance. This wasn't the problem it is nowadays back in Fire Emblem 1, because EVERY unit had no Magic DEF (except Gato, Medeus, and the Mage Mamkutes, but we're not counting them for given reasons), but even back then, mages still soft-countered at least Armor Knights simply by outspeeding them without problem.
If Armor Knights had ever so slightly above standard Magic DEF and tomes had still good enough Might values with that, mages would still soft-counter them just because Armor Knights are so slow, but now they would also damage other units reasonably. It would go a long way in letting mage units pull matchup upsets, which would make Swordmasters less frustrating.
This would also be a way to indirectly nerf siege tomes. That would be the biggest buff in this suggestion to Armor Knights, because no longer would they be sniped off so easily from where they can't even pull Javelin h4x even if the game would let them do that (obviously it shouldn't, but even so). Instead, they could actually wade through the siege tome range until they take out the pesky mage behind it. Again, Armor Knights would still be soft-countered, but reducing the soft-countering to punishing them for playing possum would make them more viable.
Fix experience and growths
Another reason mobility has balance issues is the way growths are handled. Mobile units will clash with enemies sooner and get experience off of that. This rewards them for striking first with even more powerful. I'm sure anybody at this point gets what happens with that.
Armor Knights, meanwhile, are lucky to get to the battle soon enough to get much EXP, and having bad Speed also often prevents them from juggernauting anyway so they're generally limited to player phase EXP.
Having the better growths would incentivize good Armor Knight usage, as they'd get good level ups, they would pull more efficiency later on in the game, everything. It would also help justify the logic behind the aesop of "slow and steady wins the race." More games could welcome that IMO, since falling into its own extreme shouldn't happen anyway under good design.
Smash_Fanatic also brought up a good point in the reddit topic: the level difference being stronger in the EXP formula helps. It helps get lower level units up to snuff much faster, but the more important effect is that Armor Knights' competition can't snowball nearly as easily because EXP gains simply slow down too much for that. That reduces incentive for oversimplifying the game to mere races with mobile units.
Check the competition
Know what? I may as well add this.
As we all know, Armor Knights are slow. They're slow because they have the stats to make up for it, at least on paper. In practice, there are no shortage of reasons they can find themselves being redundant, which makes overcoming the speed deficit pointless.
I already provided a bunch of suggestions that would nerf most of the chief competitor classes, especially the Social Knight, to welcome degrees. In fact, I actually wouldn't be surprised if FE4/5/9/10 Second Move would become less alarming, which would be good because you do have to admit that it's player phase friendly and it also helps disrupt overly passive enemies. Besides, was every mounted unit broken in those games? I could swear the broken ones in them had other reasons they were broken.
However, the biggest concern is none other than the Dragon Knight, who flies with enough mobility, has Physical DEF, AND newer games have the Dragon Knight default to axes. And, of course, he will get some benefit from my Speed suggestion, which may very well double Armor Knights as a result. Obviously, Dragon Knights do have their flaws: low Magic DEF, vulnerability to arrows, and still low Speed. Of course, you'll be lucky if you can hit these flying monster trucks first.
I think Dragon Knights should have -1, maybe -2, Movement Power compared to Pegasus Knights. This would be in line with Pegasus Knights being fast. Dragon Knights would still be able to snipe stuff, but less movement would make them less able to poke backliners safely. Depending on their mobility and Physical DEF, they probably should have lower end physical unit HP too. I think a low HP-to-Physical DEF ratio would be ideal, actually, because Dragon Knights would still get to be the threats they're meant to be in general, but end up succumbing against a well-coordinated army that can make persistent usage of Might weapons in the melee ranks.
This is very, VERY outside the box. I'm only pointing to this because I had in fact noticed healing benefits Armor Knights more due to law of diminishing working in their favor, and didn't mention it before, even though I made a topic on the Game Design subreddit about healers and incentive. Admittedly due to gender bias when it boils down to it, but that's ultimately a small detail if bringing up the concept benefits games as a whole.
Healing being too powerful does of course keep formation mistakes from being punished significantly, which invites turtling. Healing got standardized in general games simply for being well-known even with the cost-effectiveness penalties intended for it. This legitimizes the thought process that wives are supposed to be good a medical stuff, the gender bias I was talking about earlier. Even if a wife is happy to do it, not even being a Stepford Smiler or anything, that just means she's providing welcome support that deserves to be treated well. Where my standards lie is that needing too much medical stuff causes unwelcome reliance on somebody who could be doing other things, rather than making sure both parties have the leg room for creativity and everything.
That's where I am going with the healing topic: incentive for more healthy standards, without removing healing as a whole at all.
The big problem is what could be done to have wands that would improve the gameplay. Fire Emblem is supposed to feel original, simple, and clean enough in its gameplay instead of ripping off of the likes of Final Fantasy. I think this would ultimately deserve its own topic, honestly, because there's simply too many variables and ideas to worry about.
Terrain boost balance
Throughout the series, terrain boosts focus on evasion boosts, which ends up making them underwhelming in their effectiveness. When that isn't isn't the case, they're generally going to favor evasive units who will bring Net Hit values down to something low enough, even if not outright 0. Terrain evasion isn't a bad thing, despite everything I have to say about 60 Evade Graves no matter how nitpicky that would become, but the persistent skew towards it makes terrain so polarizing. 60 Evade Graves proves that much even though, or actually perhaps because, Gaiden (and FE1 as well) has magic ignore terrain evasion.
In the name of simplicity, Physical DEF boosts are provided for terrain come Thracia 776. This was actually a good idea, because it means providing key terrain with added Physical DEF, which particularly benefits units that have increasingly higher Physical DEF, such as Armor Knights, due to affecting Damage values in the same vein as terrain boosts' effect on Net Hit. This becomes better when it favors higher Might weapons you'd be wanting against Armor Knights, compared to terrain evasion gimping them badly. People have complained about the Hammer in FE6 being God awful. It is for other reasons, but terrain evasion didn't help in the least.
The underlying problem managed to be, what else, the execution. Thracia 776's +10 boost to Physical DEF for being on Seize points was just absurd. Terrain Physical DEF was nerfed in later games, but possibly excessively in general. It could be the unit balance itself, but getting onto rough terrain doesn't feel effective like it does in Advance Wars, at least before Days of Ruin. Determining this from playing Game Boy Wars 3, where terrain boosts there similarly subtract from damage instead of fractioning it like in the rest of the Nintendo Wars series, terrain boosts are meant to be a subtle anti-spam measure where building too many units would clog up all the good Cover tiles while the game itself standardizes having units on them in the first place, which results in that you'd want to position units well to make up for any headcount problems. I'm sure anybody who is familiar with Scrabble play can determine how that helps, because its own special spaces have a similar effect.
As a final note, Armor Knights would still have problems even getting onto rough terrain, of course, but anything they can get onto would definitely help them out, as long as it isn't too far out of the way of their route and timeframe. They would welcome significant benefits in their favor. Dragon Knights wouldn't benefit directly because they're flying, though they could block the boosts off.
At the very least, terrain boosts could be reviewed to see what works and what doesn't.
Map design. Seriously.
Last but certainly not least is map design. All of the above suggestions aren't going to be useful if the Armor Knight still can't do relevant stuff. Of course, this being Fire Emblem, not every map should be a bland open field anyway, so good map design would really help things along anyway.
I don't have a comprehensive list of what can be done to help Armor Knights, but there is one idea: Armor Knights really shine when there's a short enough route to an objective. People are fond of saying "choke that point" and I can't blame them because while Armor Knights have garbage offensive power, the same can't be said for mages, who benefit from Armor Knight support, as they no longer have to worry about being sneezed upon, and they can cause a lot of damage to enemy armor units.
Just the short path idea alone really helps Armor Knights, because dropping them is inevitably going to involve anti-armor. That's going to require plenty of resources, so reacting defensively stops being unreasonable despite their mobility. The real benefit, of course, lies in offense, because the whole concept actually helps faster units as well, but not in a way that makes them overpowered so much as giving them synergy with the rest of your army. Even when checked, they can still snipe off anti-armor threats, which clears the way for Armor Knights and their defended friends to start mopping up.
There's your big explanation to the whole....everything about this: army synergy.
So to shortlist it, here we go:
- +2 Fight Speed needed for doubling on player phase, +10 on enemy phase
- Caution with ATK differences
- Effective weapon balance
- Axe availability at base
- Good enough bases
- Do not have Physical DEF base at 8 (SERIOUSLY, I AM LISTING THIS TWICE, AVOID THIS PROBLEM LIKE THE PLAGUE)
- Solid Magic DEF with accompanying Might increases to most tomes
- Above standard growths for Armor Knights
- Fix the EXP formula to better favor lower level units
- Review any competition, especially Dragon Knights
- More varied wands (needs its own topic)
- Review terrain boosts for balance with Armor Knights
- Good map design
- Map design provides at least one short hotzone path option reliably (So Good I Mentioned It Twice)
There could be more than those 12 ideas (anybody who counts 14 should note there's 2 extra for heightened emphasis), but I do at least want to get this up and I'm not sure what else to come up with. I can be sure of course, that Armor Knights can be fixed, made viable and fun, and not be so polarizing within good changes.