Effortposts Around Chapters We Like (From Custom Campaigns)

Sister Thread: Effortposts Around Units We Like

Well, the units thread is going well, and Doing Thangs mentioned there should be one for maps, so there’s going to be one for maps.

I believe we should talk about custom campaigns more, partly to unpack and understand what makes them great in order to help us (or inform others to) build our own, partly just to gush about how great they are. In this thread, we are going to talk about our favourite chapters from custom campaigns, in detail. ‘We’ means ‘you’. Talk about whatever strikes your fancy, though be conscious to put major story spoilers under, well, a spoiler (and anything that’s going to be contingent on ‘I love the final chapter of such and such because of all these plotlines I’ll have to explain’ might not be a good fit, though a smaller character arc might well be). And yes, you can make multiple. There’s a lot of chapters out there.

One caveat: please offer both chapter number and name, if applicable. A lot of people will only remember one or the other. I’d also recommend at least one visual for the map itself.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. 1-9: Thunder’s Call (Vision Quest) by Parrhesia
  2. 1/72: Battle of Kin (The Last Promise) by LeskLyfield
  3. E-2: Imprisoner of Magic (An Unexpected Caller) by Retina
  4. 9x: To a Dark Place (Absolution) by RandomWizard
  5. 10: Hollow Kingdom & 11: Maze of Gold (Souls of the Forest) by AlexMPG
  6. 14: Capricious Valkyrie (Shackled Power) by KrashBoomBang
  7. 7: Unyielding Conviction (Legacy of Sorrow) by AuraWolf

1-9: Thunder’s Call (Vision Quest)

This is my favourite chapter in Fire Emblem.

So when I hit this map, I was feeling tense. I was ironmanning the run, and fresh off some damaging losses - a troubadour went down and took the Rescue staff with her (hilariously, dying in a dream sequence that wasn’t even her dream to begin with), and I’d lost mediocre earlygame mage Lera and, more importantly, the lockpick she’d happened to be carrying after a convoluted trade chain. Some of my key investment units had rolled poorly (not naming any names, Vagelis) and I felt like I was running on fumes.

You get three new units in this chapter. Titus and his retainer, Helga, who both come in swinging hard. Helga’s maybe the best unit in the game, a wyvern knight who lives up to the billing with big stats and a good energy. Just a fast, powerful bruiser that your squad is crying out for at that time. Titus, your secondary lord (it’s his thunder that is calling in the chapter) is no slouch either, a mage armour who, at least for me, hit a satisfying groove of leaning hard on his brave Prf before getting to a point where he can double on his own. I don’t remember where Titus gets his Prf, though. But he does come with Bolting, and that’s a particularly nice thing to have on a very tight map that’s very small as the crow flies where the timer is tight. I hoard siege tome uses to a fault, but I think I used it twice, here; the ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ principle was very much in effect.

As you can see, there’s a lot to do in the small space, and the timers are, while far from unforgiving, certainly present. Four chests to grab across two flanks. Otilie is the third unit, a nominal enemy thief who can be recruited by talking to her, and while in the macro sense she’s mostly a failsafe for if something terrible’s happened to Esfir (or, in my case, her lockpick), she’ll always be a sight for sore eyes here.

It looks simple on the surface, but the enemy put up a firm resistance, with all chest rooms fortified and a constant bombardment from behind walls. You really do feel like you’re breaking into a strongpoint. And the pressure of needing to move up is felt, believe me; you need to push and take fights before you feel ready to, making the best of a bad hand, and every action is key. You have 14 guys in a tiny fortress, and it’s proper knife-fight-in-a-phone-booth areas, and it’s exhilarating.

Vision Quest Diagram 2

And there’s a preparedness and a deliberateness to the enemy placement. Magi on the flanks, archers in the chest bunkers, a bolting guy in the north. A promoted officer on each wing. Armour block the easy ways out of the starting area you’ve been funnelled into, and breaking out with the fragile wall will wind up making the eventual back reinforcements have a quicker path to you. This doesn’t feel like a bunch of units placed randomly or, at best, with a vague idea of overlapping ranges; this feels like they’ve been placed to stop you progressing, and when you know you’re on the clock, that’s real incentive to make the most of your every action.

Even the chest contents feel well thought-out. The north two, which the thieves make a break for, contain a wyrmslayer and a blue gem. These are nice. Very nice, in the latter case. But, critically, it’s the easier chests that contain the better stuff. A Restore staff - and, yes, a blue gem can buy many Restore staves, but if you use vanilla status then you really want to be sure the player has a Restore on-hand - and an irreplaceable early Earth Seal, that now the rest of the act can be designed around assuming an at least reasonably ambitious player has secured even if they didn’t 100% the map. The wyverns provide a little extra encouragement not to lag behind, but it’s really the thieves which push you forward.

Once you’ve secured the chests, you converge on the throne, and while you’ve basically won the map by that point, it doesn’t feel entirely like a free win. The officers on the flanks are tough, the wyverns are pushing up - again, faster if you saved time in the south by cracking open that wall - and aforementioned Bolting Guy in the throne-room is slowing your pace. But it knows not to drag it out too long; taken at the decent clip it heavily encourages, this chapter probably doesn’t go over 10 turns.

Small things: it’s a really nice palette, and it even fits the grey and teal colour scheme of the enemy faction. And it looks like a small, pokey fort, nevertheless one that an outlaw warband is going to have a hard time pushing into. I really like how you can either use doors or break through cracks in the central rooms, too.

Flaws with this mission:

  • I don’t recall and can’t find any indication Otilie was cropping up on the right flank (and thus Esfir should immediately go down the left), that might have been nice
  • The garrison commander’s name is… Garrison

That’s about it.

It’s tight, it’s well-crafted, it introduces and encourages you to lean on three new characters, and the rewards are tangible. You don’t want to push through a tough enemy dug into their fortifications, but you know you’re going to have to. It was hard, but going in without a lockpick and coming out having picked the place clean, you’d better believe I was feeling smug about it.

15 Likes

My answer is TLP’s Battle of Kin. In a way, it feels like the true endgame chapter of TLP, with the last four chapters afterwards being the closure of the story.

In essence, it is a 72-turn limit chapter featuring four seize spots, a day-night cycle, and unit-based reinforcements - a slight pay-off for having used certain units (if you don’t just deploy them for just the reinforcements).

This battle - while not exactly challenging (the turn count is rather lenient, and Holton’s 10 movement boss is a nice (albeit potentially scary) touch.

This chapter does several things right that I would love to do myself one day purely from a design standpoint - being rewarded beyond just stats, skills or their utility for investing in a unit - but by events and slight alterations in a chapter.

5 Likes

An Unexpected Caller - Endgame 2: Imprisoner of Magic

I’ve made no secret of my enjoyment of AUC, and a large part of that is how brilliantly the game conveys its tone and feel through relatively minimal storytelling. Its final three maps are the apex of this storytelling, and since I know Thangs plans to cover Endgame 1, I’ll cover Endgame 2 (as for Endgame 3, it’s peak enough that you should stop whatever you’re doing and play AUC right now).

E-2’s base map of choice is FE7’s Sands of Time, a rather infamous slog of a map thanks to it being cursed with the forced survive objective. AUC’s spin on the map instead makes it a kill boss map: specifically, the target is Kishuna, the magic seal unit in the middle of the map. However, Kishuna’s functionally immortal until you seize the throne, which starts occupied by Nergal. Kishuna’s iconic magic seal is in full effect, which both makes skipping around the map with staves harder and notably impacts a lot of combat (including the main lord Puzon’s, since much of his toolkit revolves around powerful magic swords).

What makes this map so strong is that it feels like both the culmination of AUC’s unique design and a celebration of GBA FE in general. Many of the map’s enemies are reprisals of prior bosses armed with tools evocative of their earlier appearances (incidentally a design choice used by a lot of endgame maps, both official and fanmade), and it’s always an enjoyable experience to refight familiar faces in a new context. The generics are also great to fight. Most of them sport many of AUC’s extremely unique weapons, such as the two berserkers with the Axe o’ the Titan and the The Iron Axe, or everyone’s favorite Kraken Hunter Sake Sake Sake archer, who is simultaneously the most and least threatening enemy on the map (and the reason AUC fans think 6/7 is the funniest thing ever). I won’t spoil this map’s recruits for those who haven’t played, but their inventories have some great deep cut vanilla references, like the FE7 MKDD Wind sword or the 60 use vulnerary that goes unused in base FE8 (I believe it was intended to be some manner of event distribution).

The music’s also worth special attention (though that can be said of most AUC maps). Most of ArcherBias’s remixed vanilla GBA boss themes get another chance to shine through the boss refights here, and the two new remixes, Dragon’s Gate II and Everything Into the Dark, are among his absolute best. Sullied Grace (from 3DS era Kirby) kicking in once Kishuna’s left defenseless adds a lot of hype and energy to what’s effectively walking up and slapping a joke boss, and the use of Fearless Adversary (one of Markyjoe’s original compositions) as the generic battle theme gives even nameless enemies a lot of weight, especially since the entire game prior doesn’t feature traditional player phase combat themes (also sullied grace and fearless adversary being used are both nods to iconic track usage from my hacks so i may be biased but shush).

AUC’s biggest strength is being able to breathe new life into what I once thought were unremarkable GBAFE maps, mechanics, and characters, and E-2 is one of the best reflections of that life. There’s many other maps I could’ve easily talked about as instant romhack classics (Ch. 2, 5, 8, and almost every map from Ch.11 onwards really could’ve been subjects of my effortpost), and if you take anything away from this, it’s that you should PLAY AUC RIGHT NOW GIVE UP YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES TAKE THE PUZONPILL TAKE THE TEODORPILL LIVE THE 6/7 LIFE

10 Likes

Chapter 9x: To a Dark Place (Absolution)

I’ve already written a longpost on another cool chapter from Absolution (by ZessDynamite), but that thread was then, and this is now. Besides, copy-pasting over that old post is just so… passé.

Instead, I’ll just do another new writeup.

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(Splicing this image together from screenshots was actually really tedious.)

In Chapter 9x of Absolution (by ZessDynamite), your control is swapped to a new party, commanding characters who otherwise serve as some of the game’s major antagonists. These five come in as pre-promotes with carefully planned inventories, stats, and skills, tuned to take on the specific challenge in front of you.

The thing I find most interesting about this chapter is just its objective. Defend and Survive maps are often maligned in the FEU community, criticized as being too easy to win by just turtling up in a chokepoint instead of actually engaging with the map’s challenges. Chapter 9x, however, excellently forces you to play with the mechanical flow of defending, desperately stopping enemies charging into your position from overwhelming your whole group.

…What do you mean, “it’s not a Survive map”?

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(Please don’t comment on the playtime.)

This Rout map might well be the best Defend map I’ve ever played. (In close competition with Chapter 6 of Souls of the Forest and Chapter 12 of Iron Emblem, though I’d imagine those two will get posts of their own soon enough.) There’s no turn limit, and the end of the “timer” is signified by the flow of reinforcements stopping and the otherwise-stationary boss charging your position. Due to the party switch, you barely even have to worry about side objectives or experience point management. All that matters is you, the enemy, and the desperate task of survival.

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Not only do reinforcement waves charge you from the sides of the map, these enemies also have massive stats, outscaling your units one-for-one in addition to vastly outnumbering you. This whole team is designed such that raw combat isn’t enough to pick fights they can win. Instead, Chapter 9x gives this alternate party a whole new mechanical identity: abusing debuffs for fun and profit.

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This team takes down enemies through one specific combo: lowering their stats with all manner of debuff-inflicting spells, weapons, and skills, and then following up on the weakened foes to bring them down. The flashiest way to kill a debuffed enemy is this party’s main character, whose shiny new personal weapon is in a screenshot above - he can easily one-round even a lightly debuffed foe, often with ludicrous overkill. (This also sets him up to be more intimidating as an antagonist in the story, now that you’ve seen how strong he can get with the right setup.)

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(Not every day you double a Swordmaster.)

Aside from just the Lunar Lance, though, you have lots of weaker ways to turn matchups in your favor and combine units to kill enemies. Beyond that, this party’s toolkit and the fact that enemies come to you affords lots of little opportunities to optimize the flow of debuffing and killing foes, especially once you’ve got the hang of controlling this party - do you save one of Iris’s actions to toss out a Hex at a distant foe instead of healing a wounded ally? Do you risk baiting an enemy on Enemy Phase, possibly lowering their HP to the point where one action next turn can finish them, but also putting yourself in danger? Do you flee to a chokepoint where you can control the flow of enemies instead of letting them swarm you in the undefended courtyard?

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(You’ll need to find a way to deal with this fashionable guy sooner or later.)

The whole experience coheres into a fun, frenetic, and incredibly memorable experience, as well as hyping up the power of these characters as something your main party will one day get to wield and/or fight against. It’s also an interesting little detail to study in designing map flow, and just how a common FE objective can mean something wildly different from its usual purpose when backed by interesting map design.

Story-wise, this chapter is fine overall; it has some very nice character beats for the members of its party (who have all been introduced already in some form or another), and showcases their motivations a lot more clearly. I do have some slight quibbles with the specific setup of why the fight happens, but they’re clearly secondary to the growth of the characters involved, and even that is just a component of Chapter 9x’s greatest success: combining a unique fixed party composition, an unorthodox take on a common objective, and the buildup of its own villains into an incredible complement to an already great campaign.

6 Likes



Today i would like to two talk about two Souls of the forest maps I absolutely adore. Ch10 and 11, Hollow kingdom and Maze of gold. Well the builder screenshots of the maps i took are a little odd looking with regards to players and displaying reinforcements but these two maps are just straight up some of my favorite fire emblem gameplay. Hollow kingdom, the first picture has the player start in the bottom right and you have to seize at the throne.

Simple enough, but the throne room is chock full of scary enemies, along with a siege sage in the far side of the room and several 3-5 bow snipers to pepper you over the wall. Now, the approach i took initially my first run was forgoing the wall and just snaking around the whole thing picking it apart slowly, which is a fairly punishing experience being peppered by long range and taking on the tough merc and hero squad along side that. Now my second run, I was a bit braver and more knowledge about the games so I used a devil axe to break that wall on the throne room. Then using my canto+ cavs they killed the siege sage and positioned the massive prepromote general to soak up damage from the merc squad after they had started to move down. While my thieves headed south to get the chest room. What this map does for me so well is how largely player controlled the tempo of it is. You can take the long route and soak up siege for a bit or go ham and try to break through the formation straight on. The initial part of the map has a valk moving boss with a paladin squad that is note worthy, we also get the Barrier blade in this first formation. An unbreakable sword that halves damage received, which is a great tool to use in this map with scary enemies and ranged threats.

Now, Maze of Gold . The map that broke me on lunatic reverse, only to fill me with satisfaction once I " got it". In this split deploy you typically want your A team on the left with Rakel and a mobile squad on the right with Beryl.

You are immediately beset with a siege anima mage on the left side you really wanna kill turn 1. The snipers throughout the map have 3-5 bows that really pack a punch combined with the hordes of enemies in the narrow corridors. The left has an anti mage hero and a wyvern lord coming at you fast and scary. all the while a valuable thief is running from you asap. Now on the left you can see a general, he is stationary with a droppable the Shieldbearer. Which is basically the barrier blade on crack, 1-3 decent might, halves damage received and +5 to speed and defense. You really want to kill him as soon as possible so you can put that shieldbearer to use with either your lance paladin/cav or your general. Usually you take this out on turn 2 or 3 in my experience, and can use it well on the backhalf of the map. The hero and wyvern lord formation is really quite scary and its fun taking them down. using a sage to kill the wyvern but rescuing them out so they dont get instantly murdered by the mage effective sword the hero has. While the right side wants to move quickly and kill the snipers that are throughout the middle section. Killing them will relieve alot of pressure from your left hand squad. The right side has some funny enemies like a devil axe cav, which the devil axe in sotf is basically a 16 use mega stat increase hand axe. So you need a tanky swordie, say someone with the barrier blade to duke it out with them. At turn 10 bolting mages appear from all the stairs, if that wasnt an incentive to go fast idk what is. Both of these maps typically take me under 10 turns but both are absolutely filled with decision making and tight calls.

On replays i always adore getting to this section of the game, Overall i think the highlights are that Hollow kingdom really shows how open a maps design can be, in terms of progression through it and maze of gold is quite linear it takes tight corridors and combines it with sotfs ranged tools to make you really think on how to fight your way through. Both are an absolute blast in different ways

7 Likes

Chapter 14: Capricious Valkyrie (Shackled Power)

This is a pretty standard midgame seize map from Shackled Power, but it’s got a lot of really cool stuff going on with the lake in the middle. Prosel, the main lord and the guy who seizes, can waterwalk like a pirate, and also uniquely has the ability to shove other units. And for this map only, Peirhok the wyvern lord is playable as a guest unit with really good bases, so even if you aren’t using Eileen the early peg, you still have him to lean on. There’s also Cadence, another recruitable enemy peg in this map who flies over the water and can be recruited by either Prosel or Eileen. And if you’ve been using Clint the pirate or Bast the guerrilla, they can waterwalk too, so you overall have a lot of different options for moving around the lake.

In particular, the combination of Prosel’s waterwalk and shove makes for some super cool plays. It allows you to drop Prosel basically anywhere in the water and have him shove a flier to reach otherwise scary enemies from a safe distance, especially for taking out that fleet on the right. Making good use of these mobility tools really lets you approach this map from a different angle, while also not being the entire identity of the map since there’s the entire landlocked portions as well.

Going along the edges of the map is relatively standard, but you can’t just ignore it since there’s multiple valuable side objectives to acquire. In the bottom right is Vicks the recruitable sniper, the lieutenant chilling on a mountain has a stealable crook seal (thief/pirate/guerrilla promo item), there’s a unique armory that sells gold weapons up at the top, and there’s multiple villages that not only give you good items, but are linked to unlocking a gaiden chapter after this. On turn 6, a warrior miniboss and his two buddies spawn up at the top to go destroy the villages, so you have to be quick to catch them, as well as to steal the warrior’s energy ring.

The boss area is pretty interesting to approach, since Sicilis, the valkyrie boss for whom the chapter is named, has a purge tome and is guarded by three stationary generals. If you get close enough to her, she’ll also trigger some additional reinforcements to spawn, so you need to have a good plan for taking her out and seizing quickly while also not dying to purge, or letting her break it and equipping her with a better weapon. If you spread out accordingly though, you’ll be able to approach the throne area from both below and from the right, so you’re rewarded for really covering the whole map. That’s ultimately what I like most about this chapter, since it’s got two very distinct sections that encourage using different mobility types for each one. It would be one thing to have a map that’s just the lake and a map that’s just the land section rushing for villages, but this chapter merges both of them into a fun and memorable challenge.

7 Likes
Legacy of Sorrow - Chapter 7: Unyielding Conviction

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The objective is to seize the castle gate with Edgar, your lance infantry lord. In the context of the current demo, this is one of the later chapters, but in the context of the hack’s overall plan, this is still a somewhat early chapter.

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This is the first chapter of the hack to feature enemy ballisticians. They have less range and damage than vanilla ballistas, but they also have high accuracy and infinite durability. This combination of adjustments makes them obstacles that you have to advance through, sooner or later, rather than something that can be waited out. It also keeps them from being too punishing without completely removing them as a threat. Even though there’s only two of these guys present, they have a big impact on the chapter.

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Another notable threat on the map is the mounted squad in the top left. The paladin boss, Gordon, and his lackeys change to charge AI on the range event highlighted above. While this AI change can happen somewhat close to your army, you at least have the rest of that turn and the following turn before these enemies can initiate combat on their terms. The cavaliers are pretty standard enemies (one has a Javelin and the other two have a Steel Lance), but Gordon can be challenging to deal with.

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(The first skill is Nullify, which protects him from effective damage)

If you haven’t already dealt with the second ballistician, having this guy and 3 cavaliers charge at you can incentivize you to hurry up.

Before I get to the player side of things, I wanted to quickly touch on the reinforcements, which are beneficial to the overall experience. The initial brigand will take a long time to get to the western village, so the turn 2 brigand helps put some early pressure on the player. The cavaliers and wyverns are far enough to not immediately wipe units in a usual clear of the chapter, and they also support the incoming brigand. Lastly, the pegasus knights give you one last problem before it’s just you and Jeffery, the hero boss.

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So, what does the player get to fight all of these enemies? Rose automatically joins and is forced deployed for this map. She’s slower than the first pegasus knight that joins, but she has B Lances, a Silver Lance, and a Horseslayer in her inventory, so she can provide extra firepower when needed. The enemy ballisticians don’t OHKO her, and there’s enough room to maneuver around them thanks to their reduced range. You also need her to recruit Clint, who is your first promoted unit. Even if you’ve already handled the first ballistician, he can basically lead the charge against the second one, though he needs to be careful around magical enemies. His bulk is especially useful for dealing with Gordon’s group.

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Besides the items your newest recruits bring, there’s two villages to visit. The left one rewards Thoron and the right one rewards Blessed Lance. While I don’t remember using these items much (if at all) in this chapter, they’re pretty useful to have for future chapters. The enemies in LoS usually have at least one matchup where they go down in one round, but they do a ton of damage if you’re not careful. The next chapter has multiple chokepoints, which consist of 1-2 range stationary enemies and nearby attack-in-range enemies, so you can probably see the benefit these two tools provide. But even without that, having these two additional options is nice to have.

Lastly, using the terrain to your advantage feels very rewarding on this map. Gordon’s squad is threatening, but you have 2 tile chokepoints to use. Putting Clint in one of those tiles is obvious, but between an armor knight, the miracle rune (the first unit that would die after using this is left at 1 HP), and more, you have a few different ways to form a solid barricade.

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On a more personal level, I wanted to mention this rescue drop I did. In this scenario, Jenna has 72 Avoid (LoS uses a non-vanilla Avoid formula; the 72 comes from 15 Lck * 2 + 12 Spd + 30 from Mountain terrain), so she has a decent chance at avoiding the two nearby shamans and the archer (47% displayed hit from him). There’s definitely cooler stuff you can do with all of the tools at your disposal (you have 7 mounted units and a rune system that I barely touched on at all), but I was proud of coming up with this particular strategy, even though I doubt it being that amazing in hindsight. Having the flexibility to experiment with something like this while still being a challenging map is great to have.

There’s a lot of FE chapters that have a single big thing that defines them. Sometimes that’s a unique gimmick, and sometimes that’s a huge focus on one particular mechanic. The following chapter in LoS is a great example of this, in fact. However, I don’t really see that as the case for this particular map. The chapter just has a few standard elements that are really, really well done. This consistent expertise with designing around Fire Emblem’s core mechanics and features is the main selling point of Legacy of Sorrow, and this chapter is one of, if not the, best example of it.

6 Likes

Dark Lord and the Maiden of Light - Chapter 25: Within the dark

[was hard to find a good screenshot of the map, but with it gimmick I thinks it good to keep it secret]

Map gimmick that change the usual flow of the game can be very tricky, especially when it’s something that hasn’t been done before, it can easily don’t works and feel unfair/not fun for the player. But in my opinion, this hack did it very well in this chapter, both in terms of surprise and how well it works

Aesthically, it looks like a similar map to the Night of Farewells from FE7: a water temple map, with small “islands” and hazardous bridge between them. The difference here being that it’s a defensive map, with a central island where you have to protect a green character (formerly big villain) for 10 turns, with green monsters to help, and you have multiple groups of your units separated on multiple place of the map

The previous chapter of the hack was also a defensive map, albeit classical and very hard. So this chapter feels at first like a breeze compared to the previous map

With your groups of units being separated by waters, you are incencitized by the game to take flyers, rescue/teleport staffs, to help navigate the map

But then, while everything is going relatively smooth and at turn 9 you are getting near victory…

Spoiler for the map gimmick

… The Water Temple disappears, turn into a volcanic inferno, and the objective change:
now you have until turn 20 to go kill the boss that appeared and take the throne.

I still remember my (amazed) shock when this happen while playing

There is a lot of siege tome foes to try to slow the advance of your army to the boss, lava tiles that will hurt if you stay on it, and if you take too long there is anti-turtle reinforcements that will come in your back

With the clock ticking, you will really feel in a rush that is a drastic change for the first half of the map

The chapter become quite hard from here, but if you prepared your army for the hazards of the previous map, it is less complicated to deal with those challenge. Notably, your flyers will have a big role in making victory more feasible

So in terms of level design, even if it’s not perfect, it’s really interesting to see those kinds of experiments in a chapter. Those kinds of surprise has a big impact when you play it

Also, it goes really well with what is happening in the story at this moment: lot of revelations and plot twist that are leaving the protagonists, like Freesia, very confused. Making the map reflect the mindset of your characters, both in aesthetics and in mechanics, is something I love to see

It’s the kind of storytelling that you can only see in a video game

6 Likes

Chapter 3: Chevauchee (Drums of War)


(First and foremost, I promise I’m not biased at all towards the creator of this thread. No favoritism whatsoever. Promise.)

In the past year-and-change, Parrhesia’s Drums of War has shot to prominence as one of the most popular hacks in FEU and its adjacent communities. It’s known for a compelling plot of political and personal intrigue, a cast of fun characters with fully-written supports, and some tightly tuned gameplay and map design. Unfortunately, there’s no effortpost thread for writing (yet), so it’s only the last of the three we’ll be focusing on today.

Chapter 3 is very early in Drums of War’s story, and is one of - if not the - best chapters in the game. It keeps its size very contained and manageable, with most of the chapter’s action taking place within the walls of the town, and packs that space with challenging enemy formations that are satisfying to take down. The three entrances to the town provide room for several different approaches to seizing the settlement, and the shops on the right provide an additional reward for pushing further and putting yourself closer to the riskiest parts of the map.

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(I may or may not be using the FEBuilder debugger to skip around and grab these screenshots.)

Above all else, though, Chapter 3 is defined by its unorthodox objective: to provoke one of the commanders of an overwhelming enemy force into charging you, then flee back whence you came into the wilderness. While this general level flow - darting out to complete an objective, then back to an escape point at the chapter’s starting position, facing time pressure all the while - isn’t entirely unheard of in ROM hacks and custom campaigns, it’s still very rare, and always makes for a memorable twist on moving through a map.

Even among its already-rare compatriots, Chapter 3’s specific objective at the far end of the map provides a pleasant array of methods with which to get the job done. All you need to do is provoke a commander, not kill them - just triggering a boss quote is enough. You can have a tanky unit like Baros the Paladin lure them into melee before fleeing to safety, get Helje the potential ransom Pegasus Knight to soar over the fence while taking her shot, or even commandeer an enemy ballista with which to snipe at your quarry from a safe distance.

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The turn after you provoke one of the main army commanders, yet another force shows up from behind - a small company of reinforcements emerging from right near your starting point, lead by a powerful mini-boss in his own right. As your army’s frantically fleeing back the way it came, they have this new guy to deal with.

Auclair and his men are a pretty reasonable threat on their own, but they’re almost guaranteed to catch your weak backline troops - after all, the good units are the ones who’ve needed to push on and survive baiting a boss. This can, admittedly, really blindside a player - if they don’t have anyone near the starting point to reasonably fend off Auclair, they might just die. Still, the core concept of this reinforcement squad showing up by the escape point and providing a final challenge to the fleeing party stands out as an addition to this already clever objective.

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On top of that, this chapter also contains comedy! (The word’s still out on if two milkmen are going here.) Deep into the town, a mini-boss Knight guards the gate of an Arena, something many GBA Fire Emblem veterans recognize as an incredible source of money and experience points. Drums of War has several Arenas throughout the game, but they’re also the source of a running joke - none of them are actually usable.

When you try to enter the arena here in Chapter 3, the gladiators don’t take kindly to your intrusion, and one emerges to fight you for real on the map. (After all, why would they? You’re invading a foreign country. They’re not going to let you participate in local bloodsporting events.) Like Auclair, this does have the unfortunate problem of potentially blindsiding a player, but this is made up for by just being really funny. It also introduces the unusable arena as a recurring concept, setting up the future iterations of it all the way to the end.

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My favorite thing about Chapter 3, though? The way it justifies this whole unorthodox setup in the plot. After an arduous journey just to reach the front lines of the Confederation’s invasion force, your party is immediately sent on a near-suicide mission by a callous general, trying to distract part of a much larger army so his main body of troops can win the battle. Provoking a powerful enemy into pursuing you is usually a stupid move tactically, but taking that risk is the whole point of the chapter - the broader schemes of war, which don’t value your life, don’t give you a choice in that matter. That callous attitude towards sacrificing the lives of Roxelana’s company is the whole point of Act 1’s story, and this chapter uses gameplay to directly convey that and build up towards the main character’s pivotal decision just a few chapters later.

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One of Drums of War’s big mechanical gimmicks is the boss ransom system - after each chapter, you’re given the opportunity to either recruit one of the chapter’s bosses, or to turn them in for cold, hard cash. In Chapter 3, you get Lucetta the Monk. I don’t have the word count to talk about her as a unit here (though maybe my friend @bpat does over in Parr’s other effortpost thread), but rest assured that she’ll be a compelling addition to the team if you take her.

When she’s not in the party, though, she’s a neat little threat at the very start of the chapter, wielding a horse and armor-effective tome that punishes charging ahead with mounted units from behind the safety of an armored squadron. Using a named miniboss to accentuate her role in this encounter makes the specifics of that fight memorable, even as you keep on pushing into the town. She’s a fun addition story-wise too; as I discussed earlier, this chapter and the one shortly after are a particularly tense, serious section of plot. Damn near every word out of Lucetta’s mouth, comic relief character that she is, defuses the tension of the chapter just a little and helps you prepare for the danger and moral grayness to come.

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(This is, apparently, the only time the word “absolution” appears in all of DoW’s script.)

My previous post in this thread, about Chapter 9x from Absolution (by ZessDynamite), was also focused on the nature of a chapter’s objective and how it shapes play. Chevauchee and To a Dark Place take almost opposite approaches to that same concept, though; the Absolution (by ZessDynamite) chapter turns a staid and well-understood Fire Emblem objective into something very different with clever party composition and enemy design, while the Drums of War chapter uses well-executed but basic foes and its own unique take on unit balance to manage a very new and ingenious objective.

When you, dear reader, continue designing your own chapters, there’s lots of potential inspiration to take from both schools of thought (and from more conventional FE objectives and map flows, too). In any case, even if you don’t plan on making any hacks of your own, chapters like these just might change how you think about the nature of map objectives as a whole - and even if they don’t, they’ll still be pretty darn fun to read and play.

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Yes! This is what I was looking for.

Chapter 1-5: Law of the Land (Vision Quest)

This is the most excellent, tightly knit escape chapter I’ve played. It creates a certain thrill other escape maps in the main series of FE can’t recreate. Let’s start with the map design itself.

First, the chapter is split into 3 pathways, with the one on the right being the “Easy” route, the middle being the “Normal” route, and the left being “Hard” route.

The Hard route contains a Wizard Bow, which attacks resistance, which is good since your only Resistance hitting unit until 1-9 is Lera. Speaking of Lera, there is also a Thunder tome as well, along with a Speed Wing. Your supposed to use your flier Natsuko with a Chest key to grab either one of the items, but you would have to play extremely carefully.

The Normal Route just contains some enemies, along with a tough wyvern to watch out for. The Easy route has less enemies then the Normal route, but lots of trees to slow down your army.

What makes this map so much fun to replay is the amount of decisions to make. You could go the Easy route if your army is beat up, or if you want to finish the map sooner, you could go the Normal route and gain more experience, or, if your feeling risky, you could go the Hard route and gain all that juicy loot, but it’s not really recommended, since four cavaliers spawn at the top of the map not too long after the chapter starts. You could even split if you want to!

The map compels you to choose or mix and match based on what the player desires out of the map. If there is one thing a player enjoys, it’s making decisions!

I’ve taken notes from this map, on how to make a linear map, compelling and interesting.

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