Big Maps = Bad... Or are they?

Hello fellas. It’s been a while, eh? I figure since I keep yearning for the “good old days” of forum discussion before Discord made discussion too fast to be meaningful, why don’t I start with my original home, Fire Emblem Universe?

So, an opinion I’ve long held in Fire Emblem design is that you should always strive to make maps as concise as possible. Space should always have a reason to exist, whether it be to have a village, enemies, or anything else that directly contributes to gameplay. Large maps are bad because you spend a lot of time traversing them rather than doing something more interesting, and they quickly become busy work in games like FE4 where going to the next event can take several minutes.

However, lemme let you in on a few little secrets. Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is my favorite game in the series, and one of my favorite maps ever is Chapter 11A, or “The Hero Of The Western Isles” from the same game. This chapter’s map is huge. So why do I like it so much?

Well. Having made maps for such a long time, I’ve recognized that small maps have a fairly glaring weakness. It’s difficult to make complex scenarios in them because you have so little space to work with. For example, I find it hard to envision what “Hero Of The Western Isles” would look like if the map’s size were “cut by 3.” Lots of events happen in it. Klein pops in from the south. Tate pops in from the north. Echidna’s fighting dudes in the east, and you’re trying to haul your ass over to not only resolve all these events, but to also save every damn village… At least, if you’re not okay with letting some of these things go horribly wrong.

I love this map, and it’s exhilarating to concoct a well developed plan to 100% complete it.

This isn’t to say it’s a flawless map. It’s still big, which means iteration times are gonna be obnoxious, and there’s a few moments where you’re not doing much. But if you want complex maps, a little bit of extra fat tends to be the tradeoff.

I think big maps serve another important purpose. Fire Emblem can be stressful. Having those moments where you’re not doing much after a difficult encounter with a group of enemies can serve as a pallet cleanser. Sometimes having your first turn not involve any interactions with the enemy is good because it allows you to prepare for the later turns when you are. Beyond that however, larger maps can help with atmosphere. The world feels bigger and more grandiose when there is more of it to see. Look no further than FE4 for that.

The bottom line is this. While large maps can be really boring and unfun, that doesn’t mean they are entirely without merit. Being closed minded to an idea that appears bad can sometimes prevent you from taking risks that lead to interesting places. As Alan Watts once said, “Don’t get hung up on a certain way of viewing the world.”

I hope you enjoyed my TED talk. :+1:


I am of the mindset that space used should have a purpose, otherwise it can (or should) be cut
However I’ve also made like a 100x100 map so
There should be a balance, and I still believe dead space in a map is not good. Mostly on the areas where you have no reason to ever traverse.

Also hi Markyjoe it’s been a while


Map size depends on a lot of factors. Objective, complexity, unit mobility base, number of players/enemies on the map, etc. I think complex objectives and events are a great way to make use of a large space.

If you want to have large map sizes, you could always just increase class base mobility. GBAFE mobility is quite low and not very handy to have for larger maps, going Tellius or even Archanea mobility as a base would help quite a bit. There are a lot of creative ways to make large maps work, it’s just that I don’t see a lot of project makers using them.

I don’t think every part of the map needs to have a purpose. As long as it isn’t outright confusing or greatly distracts from the flow of the map. For example, take chapter 4 from FE3 book 2/FE12.

The upper left corner seems quite confusing to me, it has no real purpose but it sticks out like a sore thumb. It feels like there’s something that should be there, but there isn’t. It’s just there for decoration.

When it comes to making sure that the player isn’t meant to go somewhere, I say decorating with terrain features is very handy. I love throwing together terrain features on parts of the map that aren’t used. Often times, I find small maps to be incredibly boring to look at because a lot of the interesting bits are cut out because they “don’t do anything”. You’re never going to have an entire map be used.

Just don’t have it so you have to slog through giant bits of reduced mobility terrain or take multiple turns to march through open plains without doing anything. Singular empty turns shouldn’t be a big deal, but when you have half of the map spent just moving units on empty spaces, it’s probably time to rethink how the map is laid out. Big maps don’t necessarily mean either of those are the case, it’s just that many FEs with large maps have had plenty of empty turns in the past.


Welp, i just think a big map doesnt mean a bad map, it just depends of how well it has been made, how much things you can do, enemys, treasures, events etc…

I mean, the principal problem of these maps are that they require a lot of time to complete, and then add if you make a minimal mistake you may have to reset all from the beggining.
That might be the main problem someone could say about big maps, is that they are tedious.
But anyways, they doesnt have to be bad, like the final map from path of radiant, full of enemys and having a
great climax.

Big Maps = Bad is an oversimplification of the problem; the amount of stuff you’re going to put into a standard map is far from enough to fill a big map the vast majority of the time. This is where the general advice of cutting the size of the map by 3 comes from: on a large map with a standard amount of stuff on it roughly 2/3 of the map is going to be dead space, which leads to turns spent just moving through that area which is unfun. This is the main problem that FE games with big maps tend to have, which is misidentified as being the fault of the maps being large instead of the maps being empty.

I encourage smaller maps on the grounds that increasing the dimensions of your map also increases the area of your map almost exponentially, giving you a need for even more things to fill the space you’re working with. If you were to fill this space, having inspired ideas for all of it is very unlikely and you’re going to have some boring sections there only to fill space. The worst-case with a small map is you have to make it a bit larger to fit everything you want, rather than needing to come up with filler content to avoid dead space. This lets you better tune the chapter to exactly how you want by reducing the variables. Note that this is entirely doable on a large map, and if done well can be very enjoyable; the caveat being “done well”. The more space you have to work with the more variables that are in play and the more difficult it becomes to tune the experience how you like. This is just very hard to do, and having only maps like this or even just a number of these maps is a herculean feat; as such, keeping your maps small makes it much easier to make fun to play maps.

So yes you are correct, big maps are not inherently bad if you consider the reason they are generally considered to be bad, good big maps are just a lot harder to do


Does “it’s a rectangular map so we have to fill these tiles with something” count?


My favorite map in FE7 is the one where you recruit Legault, a fairly large map with winding corridors, several paths you can take, several objectives, etc.

My second favorite map in FE7 is the one where you recruit Isadora, Heath, and Rath. Same exact reasons.

My third favorite map is the post-Nergal final map, where you recruit Renault. Saaaaame exact reasons.

The thing is, these maps are paced amazingly, you have lots of units to choose from by the time you reach them, and there are tons of ways you can play them out (replayability, ho!). However, they were also made by professional development teams. Amateur fangame makers tend to make their large maps extremely boring. See: That one GIGANTIC TLP map.

Of course, you don’t have to be an amateur fangame maker to make a horrific large-sized map. Look no further than a few of my least favorite FE8 maps.

Eirika Chapter 14:

Here’s a map where, once you clear the left side objectives, those units are now trapped and must walk ALL the way around the one-tile-wide left wall, along the northern ceiling, and down around the middle, then the left, then up again until they reach the boss. The only other option is to break that teeny little breakable wall in the middle, which still puts them two or three turns behind any units who went up the right-hand side from the start. Fuck this map so much!

Eirika Chapter 12:

This map has one path and one objective. Only fliers may traverse the huuuuuuge wall of mountains with any modicum of speed. Everyone else is stuck slogging down the single path through the narrow middle path. Your only divergence is off to the right for a shop.

…And don’t even get me started on FE4 Chapter 1. Don’t even get me started.

So, essentially, when people say “make your maps smaller,” what they really mean is “your map is a slog, it’s paced awfully, and it’s super boring.” Your task is either to figure out the map’s pacing to improve it, add more content so it isn’t barren, or shrink it down so we can at least get through it faster. Big maps are simultaneously the pinnacle of my Fire Emblem gaming experience, and the absolute pits. It’s all in the implementation.

(For another example: One piece of writing advice is “Never use passive writing in your fiction.” This is considered a golden rule by many, but in actuality, it’s meant to try and help newbies stop using a really annoying crutch early on when they’re still learning to write. Experienced writers can and often do use the passive voice to improve specific story moments or passages. Similarly, if you are new at designing a game, a big map is simply something you probably won’t be able to do well until you’ve mastered the fundamentals of FE game design, and so, they aren’t a good choice.)



asdfads yes, that one. Fuck that piece of shit.


For Pokemblem I made a new command: Call. When a unit uses it, all player units that haven’t acted yet are teleported to the nearest available square. It can only be used once a turn.

Now, this command is bonkers. It is very powerful in letting you strike first and in retreating, so it’d be a bad idea to just throw it into existing fire emblem games. But design wise it has let me have quite large maps with wasted space that aren’t so terrible. If only one unit needs to traverse the dead space, it’s not nearly as bad.

Between “Call” and refreshing units when there are no enemies nearby, I haven’t had many complaints about my maps feeling too big, despite them obviously being way bigger than what would be ideal.

1 Like

Sme said it really well. Was having a similar discussion on what we as fire emblem designers and players mean when we say something is “bad”. I think this usually translates to, “hard to execute well, and when it isn’t done well, it isn’t fun to play”.

Big maps mean you have to make use of more space and mentally map out how more turns will work. This becomes increasingly more challenging the longer a map plays out, as the number of potential positions for a player to be in also expands immensely with every phase. More intended turns and space to traverse means needing to account for that. It increases the likelihood that your chapter will either have flow issues (ie dead turns with just walking) or become more punishing to lose because of how long it may take to get to the end.

For example, it hurts a lot more to restart in endgame where you have to move 16 units and each turn takes a few minutes versus a prologue with 6 units where you can move in under one min.

I think you can def make good big maps, it is just harder to do so and requires more testing.


Map size doesn’t equate to map quality. It’s all about how you use the space. One of my favorite aspects of big maps compared to smaller ones is that you’re not as concerned with what’s immediately in front of you. Let’s say you’ve got a map with three timed side objectives that are all very spread out: I have to think about not just whatever enemies are near me, but also how I’m going to spread out my forces to reach these side objectives in a timely manner.

Smaller maps aren’t able to do this as well because, well, there’s less space to traverse. Side objectives are inherently closer to to you. Of course, you could make the timers way stricter, but this runs of the risk of having a single solution to acquire them. Big maps lend themselves more to being complex than small maps, which is why I prefer them. You just have to actually make use of the space (though some empty space for scenery isn’t a bad thing, but I more mean the playable space).

The main post brings up FE6, and I think that game nails maps that are large but still have a lot going on. It’s the game I try to model my maps after. One important aspect of its maps that I want to stress is enemy density. Take a look at any FE6 map and you’ll see how enemies are generally spread out or clumped together in little groups here and there. Compare this to games or romhacks with smaller maps like Vision Quest and enemy density is way higher.

Personally, I’d rather have a few turns of pure movement as a breather instead of traffic jams with high enemy density. When you have no combat to do, moving units is generally pretty fast. Choking a bunch of enemies at a point is not.


I think the so-called “empty turns” where you only move your units and nothing happens is a bit overexaggerated in term of it being boring. Surely, if it does exceed more than just a few turns, it’s a bad thing, but otherwise, they’re at most, neutral.

“Empty turns” is probably my least favorite FE design maxim, in close contention with “identity” when it pertains to things that are by definition nebulous i.e. classes.

The whole “large maps=boring because you aren’t going to have enough ideas to fill up that space” argument is truly absurd to me because what the heck are you doing deciding your map size BEFORE you outline what you’re even doing with it? Sure, an amateur might, but is any experienced map maker really deciding to make a 34x44 map without having lots of ideas for it? "Big maps require big ideas " is not something only mapping savants can figure out.

I agree! I’m currently working on a FE game that uses solely FE4 length maps. I’ve found that although cooldown periods can be nice, it’s important to still have something for players to do during those periods.

One of the weaknesses of FE4’s maps are situations like the start of Ch2, where you’re just stuck moving units for a three-four turns. Moreso, the fact that there are like 2 talk conversations during this time makes it even worse, since each turn is really just moving units. Ideally, there would be enough convos (and a shortened walk) to make each turn worthwhile, and give players something to mull over.

But I don’t think the mistakes of FE4, which, by the way, was breaking entirely new ground by attempting this type of map design, doom big maps as a whole. Country-scale maps can feel connected in ways that castle-interior and castle-exterior maps rarely ever do. Think about the final part of Valm in Awakening: if you looked at the two maps independently, would you ever realize that there’s supposed to be a single doorway between them? Big maps can create a cohesive world that small maps almost always lack.

1 Like

This is a really good point. One of the things I love about FE4 is that there are just random churches placed around the map. Many of these churches are really out of the way, so it’s unlikely that you would ever make use of them. But, the reason for those churches being there is exactly that: the area is out of the way, and so needed its own place of worship. A.K.A., the world was designed by people, not game designers.

1 Like

Big maps aren’t bad in the same way that desert maps aren’t bad.

It all comes down to how you implement all the factors, and frankly there’s too much to discuss to easily put in a forum post.

(Maybe a very concise 30 minute video essay)

Another opinion:
Good map music makes empty turns bearable. So if you do plan on making big maps with the possibility of consecutive empty turns, consider adding a banger music…just like FE4 (although personally, FE4’s big map designs alone are what I consider its charm).