Character Count

When designing a hack, the first thing that always comes to mind are characters. Naturally, in a somewhat large hack, you would want every class to be playable. In a smaller hack, you may only have a couple of characters. However, It’s hard for me to estimate how many characters I want in my hack. Is there a way to estimate based on the number of chapters, or is it something up to personal taste? Please help.


I like to consider the vanilla games as a sort of baseline to start. I’ll pull my numbers from I’m going to ignore route specific characters and route specific chapters and just lump them into the totals, assuming they roughly cancel each other out, for the sake of simplicity. This’ll add a sizeable amount of error to FE6 in particular but eh.

FE6: 54 playable characters, 38 maps
FE7 Eliwood: 42 playable characters, 30 maps
FE7 Hector: 44 playable characters, 34 maps
FE8: 33 playable characters, 30 maps
FE9: 49 playable characters, 34 maps
[Skipping FE10 because wholly crap that would screw up the numbers using this method]
FE11: 51(ish) playable characters, discounting the “only if you’ve died a lot” units, 30 maps
FE13: 49 playable characters, 49 maps (including paralogues)

These are the games I’ve played the most, so I’ll stick with this list. What’s the average number of playable units across these games? I’m going to weight both FE7 routes at 0.5x so together they still only account for one “game” worth in this calculation.

Across all of these games, accepting we have quite a bit of error in the character / map estimates because I didn’t want to spend forever figuring out exact numbers, vanilla averages 46.5 playable characters and 35.5 maps, or a ratio of about 1.3 characters per map.

Is this useful? Maybe. Do you have a lot of really small, fast maps without many enemies? Do you have a lower difficulty? Do you not mind the player resetting on death? Your ratio can probably be at or lower than this one without a lot of problems. Do you have more enemy dense maps that are more the size / shape / complexity of the average vanilla map? Do you have a moderate or higher difficulty? Do you want to actively encourage playing through character deaths? You may want to consider going at or above the given ratio to provide the player enough options and resources to have an enjoyable experience.

FE11 has obscene difficulty settings and gets to the point of throwing generic units at the player if they run out of characters, and 51/30 is still the highest ratio otherwise; this is a remake of a Kaga game that WANTS you to play through death. Conversely, Sacred Stones is… really easy. The player will spend most of the game struggling to get Seth killed even if they’re trying on lower difficulties, and the maps on average require less of the player. This is an easier game that’s more introductory.

Personally, I actively encourage playing through character death, so I end up with a higher unit to map ratio. I also love having character options as a player, so I personally find a higher ratio more fun. Hopefully this wasn’t painfully long to read, and helps contextualize some of your decision making in what already exists in the vanilla games :slight_smile:


I had a similar question a little while ago and it depends on a lot of things.

If you just want an opinion or an idea, I personally think its better to be on the higher end compared to the main series (40-50) so the player has a lot of options and has many characters to choose from who might be their favorites.

But overall its up to you. If you want more or less characters for your story then you do you. If you are trying to make a quality hack and think the writing is gonna suffer for it then you should prob do less.


Big casts offer more flexibility to the player to play through mistakes and try out different units throughout the course of their run or multiple runs.

Not every character needs to be super fleshed out, but it’s possible to have a large cast with good characters.

I don’t think there needs to be an inverse relationship between the size of the cast and the quality of the writing. It is a false dichotomy and I see this come up a lot as a reason to avoid the large cast.

In my experience, players will latch onto characters they like if they are fun to use and have a few lines of dialogue that resonates with them. Modern FE tends to overdo it by writing so much for each character that it gets repetitive.

There’s a sweet spot to strive for with the average unit, I’d wager a few convos or scenes in their join chapter, then 4-7 GBA style support chains, and a few boss convos is plenty to establish a character and even give them some sort of arc if you want. You can get away with less.

The harder part is making all of the units feel good to use, since a lot of the games IS has made with bigger casts tend to have many stinkers who you’d never bother with, but you don’t need to follow their lead on that if you don’t want to.

That said, I find small cast games tend to be really limiting on replay value and make playing past mistakes more punishing since each death means more. Losing a unit in Gaiden or FE4 hurts a lot more than it does in FE6 or FE11.

I’d prob say 40 is the minimum a “full length” FE experience of 20+ chapters should have for a cast. I am also heavily biased towards larger casts for the reasons I shared above, but I def think giving the player more units to work with and balancing them is part of the fun for me as a designer and as a player.


Pros of small cast

  • The story makes it easier to grow attached to characters
  • Each character can fill a unique role in gameplay

Cons of small cast

  • Replacements are hard to come by, if a unit gets RNG screwed or dies, there might not be a suitable replacement

Pros of large cast

  • More flexibility due to having more choices
  • More friendly towards bad situations, i.e. deaths or rng screwed units
  • Excitement of recruiting new characters

Cons of large cast

  • It might be harder to remember specific characters, as a lot of them have most of their dialogue relegated to their supports

I think it comes down to the sort of game that you want to make. If you want to make an experience where the units are just gameplay elements then a large cast works because the player will just use whichever best fit his playstyle while swapping them out as needed. If you want each unit to feel like a character taking part in the story, then a small cast works best.

Maybe that’s an overwhelming thing to think about in the early stages, but I would advise that you’ll never see a hacking project through to the end unless you’re making what you want to make. That is, don’t add a bunch of units that you don’t care about as a developer just because you think people will expect them and don’t make a small cast with a lot of character dialogue if you’re not interested in doing that much writing. Just make the thing that you feel driven to make.


There are Ups and Downs with a small and large cast which offers many new things for players to experiment on and how the character is being part of the story whether they are relevant to the plot or not.

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A lot of good things said here, and a lot of good things to consider when making the game. Everybody has different preferences and goals when making games, so it’s good to think through what you enjoy and what you’re shooting for.

Something that I’d add is that you really don’t have to decide all this (cast size, class distribution, when you get certain units) at the outset; it’s perfectly fine to be making the game and decide to make changes as you go based on playtesting and feel. In fact, I would heavily encourage this, especially if you don’t have a strong vision beforehand.

Realize the player is pretty screwed if they lose the early thief? Add another one! This is what happened during VisionQuest playtesting, as a tester lost the early thief and revealed that the game became substantially harder without that utility for many chapters. Ended up taking your story a different direction and it no longer makes sense for that 4th armor knight to join? Perhaps rewrite them, change their class, or cut them altogether - your cast of characters isn’t static, even once they are implemented in game.

So I suppose the best advice I’d have is to make a best guess for what you want the cast to look like, make a demo, playtest it and get outside feedback, and then go from there. This will probably be more helpful than talking about any of these concepts in a vacuum.


Imo it’s better to have “too much” units instead of too less. A big cast gives you two things in particular.
First of all, you have more chances if you’re playing Permadeath which is an important thing for me since I love playing with it. However a huge number of character doesn’t automatically mean that it’s suitable for Ironmans and such (looking at you, Radiant Dawn).

The second big thing about it is that while we’re all having our favs and characters that we bring with us every time there are always other characters to take with you for another run. Especially in combination with Permadeath you never know how your final cast could end up. Which is always a cool thing to me. And those who want to reset and try to bring everyone to the goal can also profit from it that way.

Also it is still possible to make every character memorable even though they have just a few lines of dialog when being recruited… Or in their Supports. Generally the latter is perfectly suited for fleshing out their character. The Main Cast needs to be present and grow in the story all the time. The sidecharacters can have their own stories via supports and talk events. Maybe add in some secrets.

The worry that a character will never be used is not nessecary. Look at characters like Marty, Arden, Lot, Cecilia, Isadora, etc. etc. Some consider two of them good, some bad. Two of them are VERY bad statistically speaking… Yet, those units all have fans. And it’s the same with every unit out there. Everyone has someone out there who likes to use them in battle and that comes down to multiple things. Some like their stats, some their looks, some their class… But in the end everyone is a part of your game and will be used eventually. It’s the same with secrets. Someone will find them - It’s just a matter of time. And sometimes characters you don’t expect to be favorites turn out to be the heroes of your players.

Also while not every unit will or can be present in the main story - The story they write ingame will be the one that you will see. Maybe they grow pretty good. Maybe they become the heroes of your party. Maybe they die a tragical death. Or while saving multiple of your other units. Even if a unit has 0 dialog, if it is a playable character it has the chance to write all these things with actions. And while I love a mixture of both gameplay and story - The gameplay is unskipable and the thing that you create while playing.

As Mr Green said in his comment, the con of a large cast is that it can be harder to remember specific characters. And of course if a cast is huuuuge you can’t use every single character. But then there is the question, are characters like Forsyth, Zeke, Nomah, Ewan, Marisa, Saleh etc. more memorable just because their cast is smaller? Is it possible to use everyone there just because the cast is smaller? I mean here you even are encouraged to use the same units multiple times due to split promotions. Nah, I think even a big cast can be memorable if you try it. This negative thing can be fixed by adding talk events, more dialog, supports, etc. And it isn’t too bad compared to the missing replacements you have in a small cast which in the end harm the gameplay - which is more fatal imo. The easiest fix there would be to disable permadeath or adding things like revival options (Valkyre/Ohm/Bifröst Staff, Springs from SoV, etc.) and Generic Replacement Units. But especially the first would be a thing that I’d miss in a Fire Emblem.


Unless I was going to do a more “unique” FE game (like Shadows of Valentia or Genealogy of the Holy War), I’d probably stick with a larger cast. Take The Sacred Stones as an example: let your Gilliam die. You no longer have a Knight, unless you want to bother with Amelia. If your L’Arachel dies, then you no longer have a Troubadour and so on. I’d personally hand out at least a couple of characters for each class, unless that class is somewhat unique (like Dark Mage).