Effortposts Around Units We Like (From Custom Campaigns)

Asch (The Last Promise)

In the grand scheme of things, Asch’s stats are nothing special. Here you have his stats compared to Kelik’s ones, who joins a chapter earlier than him.

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Definitely stronger and bulkier, but his speed is on the lower side and that 4 luck is not exactly fantastic.
Furthermore, considering the fact that TLP is a game with a great focus on growth units, being a prepromote does not favour you in any manner. Looking at his growths, which by the way are not that bad, is almost trivial. It’s not like he’s going to level up that much or cap any of his stats, which is fondamental for a healthy lategame experience.
However, what makes Asch worth of notice is the numerous amount of tiny little positive aspects that surround him.

Let’s start with an easy one. Asch looks cool. He is rappresented by a very polished splice with some nice custom elements into it. The palette is also pretty cool. Overall, a great start for the guy.

Secondly, Asch is not a guaranteed unit. In order to have a chance to recruit him, the player has to not trust Logan, who’s asking for help, in Chapter 12. This little aspect helps him become a tiny bit more memorable imo.

Speaking of Logan, you can recruit him instead of Asch if you respond to his plight for help. A comparison between the two units is a natural occurrence.

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And lucky for us Logan sucks big time. Good luck having any screentime with 5 Strength and Kelik and Tekun on your neck. I guess that’s another point for Asch.

Fun fact, did you know that Asch is the only unit able to weild axes in Kelik mode from chapter 13A up to chapter 17? That’s 4 chapters of free real estate! And guess what, the guy comes with a B rank and a not too shabby 12 Con! He’s going to throw Hand Axes left and right like there’s no tomorrow. But if you really want to lolligagmax, Asch comes equiped with one of the quirkiest weapons present in TLP.

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Is it good? Hell no! Is it funny tho? HELL YEAH!

Lastly, a couple of words about his stats. As said before, his numbers are not particularly good in TLP, but they allow him to leave a decent impression at the very start of Kelik’s mode to later gently fall off around Chapter 18.
His strenght is not going to be matched by any unit for a decent amount of time, his speed allows him to double the not exactly fast enemies of the first part of TLP and he is even bulky enough to compete with the likes of Kevin, a unit notorious for being as talky as a wall. But guess what, Asch does not have do deal with having 4 Mov, au contraire, he sports 6! Pretty cool stuff, huh?

In my opinion this shows how, if inserted in the right context, an otherwise underwhelming unit can shine through a myriad of soon to become broken units and help them in their journey. I don’t know how intentional all of these little boons were, but with certainty they make Asch a memorable prepromote in a land of sometimes bland options.

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One of the most unique aspects of Dark Lord and the Maiden of Light is its overall awareness of tropes, especially in aesthetics. Fire Emblem (and anime and media in general) has this really obnoxious pattern of making all the good guys cartoonishly pretty and all the bad guys cartoonishly ugly, to the point where you can often look at a character roster and immediately tell who’s going to be with or against the player. Personally, I’m really not a fan of character rosters who immediately give away each character’s plot significance through the way a character’s design compares to the characters around them—and I believe the game is playing its hand way too fast if I can instantly tell who’s going to play what story role from a mere picture of the cast.

DLATMOL’s character designs, in general, do everything they can to push against this philosophy and use it to its advantage. The hack goes out of its way to make a fair few of its recruitable characters look plain, ugly, or cartoonishly evil, especially through the use of spliced parts from vanilla villains—which is a huge breath of fresh air to me. It is more than aware of how common “ugliness” is used as a visual coding for a character’s villainy, and it toys with that effect through its portrayals of its less conventionally attractive characters. Units like Ronaldo, Fiana, and both recruitable shamans all fall under this umbrella, among others, but nowhere else does this effect come out more memorably than Alva—who I consider to be one of the most fun and interesting romhack units ever in terms of how he’s designed.

Alva – a model on how to leverage SRPG gameplay mechanics to make Fire Emblem side characters really cool

Alva is a mage introduced in Chapter 11 of DLATMOL. While being a mage in DLATMOL is always a plus, his bases are painfully average for this point in the game. This makes some sense given his setup in the story, as he’s an upper-class noble, but it makes him an unappealing choice for deployment when the player has likely sunk investment into others in their roster by now. And considering DLATMOL’s difficulty curve, this join time means he essentially misses out on 14 chapters of free EXP to grow compared to other units in your army.

His introduction in the story reinforces this conclusion, as he’s initially presented as a shady, untrustworthy noble from the enemy country who wants to strike a deal with you. The protagonists go in expecting a trap, and when they meet him they feel their fears are warranted—he belittles his own men as useless, he makes racist comments about his personal bodyguard, and he comes off as an unsavory person in general. It’s obvious that he just wants to use them so that he can fill the empty throne once the war is over, either himself or through a puppet emperor.

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And would you trust a face like this? What a trustworthy smile. Nothing like a Jerme splice to make you go “I think this man will keep my Social Security number and credit card info safe and sound”.

Now, with all that said… let’s say the player ignores all these clear red flags. Let’s say the player goes out of their way to baby a unit who’s not only unimpressive at base, but also seems set up to backstab them and leave the party at some point.

What happens then?

Well, Alva’s gameplay performance inevitably disappoints them, that’s what.

His offenses don’t grow consistently. He basically only doubles slow enemies like armors. His stats stay unimpressive in general, minus one 50% growth—and since it’s 50%, it has a high level of variance, so the chance of deviating from the expected average is higher.

But this is where DLATMOL’s lack of modern hack “features”, specifically visible growths, plays to its advantage. If the player knows Alva’s growths, they’d know to expect that he’ll inevitably disappoint them in most important areas. Without that transparency, however, Alva just comes off like he got stat-screwed, because there’s nothing about him at first glance that suggests his growths are the way they are. This means that, when the next prepromote Sage shows up a few chapters later eclipsing him in all but (usually) one stat, a blind player is much more likely to come to the conclusion that Alva just got unlucky and replace him for a significantly superior substitute.

In this way, between his setup and the circumstances surrounding him, Alva feels deliberately coded in both gameplay and story to be alienating to the player—as if the very game itself is warning you against investing in him.

But what if the player, once again, deliberately ignores all of this? What if the player doesn’t care that Alva has been apparently stat-screwed? What if they just really, really want to see if this no-good, very bad, slimy-looking asshole will shape up, even though he has repeatedly failed to consistently level well enough to keep up with the curve and is probably spiking your army’s water supply with hallucinogens when nobody is looking?

Well... (mild spoilers for details that are more satisfying if uncovered on your own)

Let’s say the player decides to deploy Alva on the chapter where you get the Sage who almost completely outclasses him. At the start of that chapter, if Alva is deployed, he’ll have a short dialogue with a villager where he asks about the whereabouts of another NPC who’s on the map.

And if the player actually pays attention to that dialogue, and takes Alva to meet said NPC… they’re met with a very different interaction than everything else they’ve seen from him. This NPC treats Alva more kindly and gently than anyone else in the game does, praising him for being a hero above many others. Contrary to Alva’s first impression, he seems dismissive of the idea that Alva is selfish and terrible, and insists that Alva still has room to grow and improve himself. He even gives Alva an expensive tome though it really should’ve been a unique Prf to help patch up his combat tbh. As for Alva himself, he seems rather anxious and embarrassed about it all, insisting that the NPC stop talking to him so that the others don’t ask questions. In this way, this conversation shows a very different side of Alva while also mirroring the player’s faith in him through the introduction of this NPC.

Once more, DLATMOL’s lack of quote-unquote “quality of life” actually works to its benefit here. None of this would function at all, nor would it be particularly satisfying to discover, if there was a little speech bubble indicator on top of the NPC in question that blatantly gave away the answer to the puzzle. The only clue to finding this dialogue for a blind player is deploying Alva at the start of the map—and the (likely) only reason that you’re deploying Alva at this point in the game is if you’re willing to dismiss both the narrative red flags and the gameplay red flags, and likewise deploy an otherwise functionally redundant unit in hopes of seeing more of his personal growth.

I don’t know whether this was deliberate on the dev’s part or not, but it doesn’t really matter. This obscure little talk conversation, and the way the gameplay and story are set up around it, are set up in a way which makes it immensely satisfying to uncover on your own. I cannot understate how fulfilling it felt in my first run to put so much faith into a person who didn’t quite seem to deserve it and finally unearth this little magical bit of payoff.

It’s from this moment on that Alva’s dialogues begin to point towards his own self improvement, too. He has battle quotes with enemies who he doesn’t stand a chance against at base—quotes where his growing sense of nobility and righteousness steps into the spotlight. Just like with the above talk, the only way that one will find these quotes, and likewise see the better side of Alva, is through putting their faith in him. And the fact that these quotes are only reasonable to obtain (without suiciding him) by giving him EXP is what makes investing in him in gameplay so rewarding and fun.


Conclusion

Dark Lord and the Maiden of Light is a hack that is generally very playful with how it uses coding and existing FE tropes. I think it does a very stellar job at initially presenting characters in a certain way to establish player expectations, only to leverage those expectations to enhance the story’s effect when it takes those characters’ stories in a different direction than vanilla might. In many ways, I consider Alva to be the crux of this.

None of Alva’s most compelling dialogues are particularly “secret” in the complex sense. None of them require some convoluted requirement that you’ll only find on a wiki. Rather, all of them are tied towards deliberately looking past multiple layers of character coding designed to make him seem unappealing in both gameplay and story… all for the promise of that sweet, sweet nectar of character development.

On an initial run, putting that faith in him despite everything and being rewarded for it is gratifying in a distinctly remarkable way. And on a replay run, knowing that gameplay investment in him directly translates into a more fulfilling story—that every combat he participates in is bringing you one step closer towards helping him shape up and be better—is an aspect that makes him incredibly fun to use in a way that no other romhack character can compare to for me.

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I was recently made aware of a hack called Tales of ChoHakkai, which has essentially no story or characterization to speak of other than memes and indulgent self-references. Despite that, one unit shines as being a beacon of mechanical interest based around an extremely simple concept.

Enter Tej.

I’m not going to go back and play through the first few chapters to get a proper screenshot of this guy. Here’s his stats in builder.

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The growth totals are actually perfectly normal by this hack’s standards, and his base stats are perfectly serviceable and not particularly interesting. It is necessary to mention this at least once to provide context for the rest.

Now, let’s look at him in endgame.

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I taught him a bunch of goofy skills, none of which ended up mattering. What does matter here is what’s hovered over: Blue-haired Swordsman. Although he is not actually the lord of this game, Tej is meant to be a pastiche of FE1 Marth, and with this comes a number of esoteric benefits.

First: note the 6 Move. That’s his base movement. Marth had 7 but you can’t have everything in life.

He comes with Supply. Did Marth have this? I don’t know. What’s important is that this hack does occasionally encourage you to split your army, and a second supplier is fairly useful in terms of arranging your inventory or pulling out chest keys/door keys to make progress. On the topic of unlocking things:

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I’m sure most people here know this, but FE1 Marth can just go around unlocking shit with the divine power of the Fire Emblem. This translates to Tej being able to use lockpicks. You get four units total that can pick locks in the entire game: your rogue jagen, this guy, Joshua Bright from the Trails series in endgame (who is actually a pretty good unit), and a 1 MAG troubadour. For most of the game, you will be using Tej (who can also just pull out door/chest keys for others to help).

Note the rapier. That’s not his rapier. I got it off of a different prepromote I got killed by accident. The rapier is shared prf between Tej and that unit, and there’s really no indication that Tej can use the rapier other than the fact that he’s a blue-haired lord. It does make him quite serviceable, though.

You might have noticed he’s level 20. He does not promote, and he doesn’t get any bonus for leveling up to 20. In many ways, he feels like a very silly unit to bring as part of your main party if you care about combat, and the fact that he uses Roy’s animation really cements that fact. However, late in the game, you’re rewarded with this:

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Following the footsteps of “lords” before him, the man is awarded with a powerful sword in endgame. There’s actually no indication at all that this sword is meant for Tej to use, but it’s not, like, a difficult guess to make. As monsters dominate the final few endgame maps, this sword allows Tej to nuke most foes out of orbit. Still, isn’t he a bit weak? Those level 20 stats aren’t doing anyone any favors. However, this brings me back to the initial screenshot of his growths:

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This game is comically growth deflated, both for playable units and foes. This does have a natural consequence: enemy quality doesn’t ever spiral beyond the point where Tej, with his apparently modest 11 STR and 15 SPD, can’t handle them. The lack of a promotion stings, as promotion bonuses are still real in this hack, but he doesn’t really need them to stand his ground, and his prfs and unique skills help him maintain relevance throughout the course of the campaign.

I’m reminded of this video by ActualLizard about Marth in specifically FE1, and how his unique FE1 kit gave him a number of bizarre advantages that future lords (even future Marths) did not enjoy. Tej is a unit that has recreated the feeling of these advantages outside even the context of being the lord. You’re never forced to bring him, but like the Marth of yore, the unique contextualization of this project’s balancing decisions makes him surprisingly enjoyable to use for a unit that is otherwise “Roy but he never promotes”.

Oh, and he starts with a Light Brand so, you know, he does have 1-2 range swords going for him.

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