How would you simplify Fire Emblem for non-FE players?

#1

Game mods almost invariably make the game harder, including total conversions and not just difficulty/gameplay patches. This makes sense in that if you love a game so much you’re going to make your own fan game or seek one out to play, you want it to present a challenge even to die-hard fans such as yourself who know the game mechanics inside and out. But I think simplification for player accessibility is an underrated topic that doesn’t get a lot of discussion. It is usually redundant: who ever played something like The Last Promise without also having played FE7 first? I offhandedly referred to “game development” in a discussion about hobbies with a colleague once (talking about roms in real life is a no-no; it’s not worth it to go into that discussion), and they told me they would be interested in playing whatever game I was thinking about making if I ever got around to making it. This got me thinking: what if I actually presented a Fire Emblem mod project to this person? I know they play some games, but I don’t think they play any sort of strategy games. What sort of esoteric mechanics that we all take for granted would result in them not being able to make it through the game? I’m not about to actually do it, but it’s an interesting exercise in thought. I don’t bother with tutorials in my game unless there’s a meaningful difference from the norm, and even then it’s nothing more than a short explanation in a message box. Even FE7, with its super hand-holding Lyn Mode, fails to explain every little detail that the player will potentially ignore and get their units killed. How can I make my game more accessible, not only easy enough for laypeople to play but quicker to be understood? I have several ideas to go about doing this, but they’re all rather lacking and I’m interested in hearing if anyone here has any suggestions.

Unit death: the elephant in the room. My very first playthrough of any Fire Emblem game was in FE7, during which most of my units were defeated in Lyn Mode and by chapter 19 of Eliwood Mode I only had the lords, Marcus, and Oswin left. How could I have let things get so bad that I had to restart Eliwood Mode from chapter 11? I distinctly remember feeling like I was cutting losses and that my units’ deaths were necessary sacrifices. Making the whole game be permanently in casual mode feels like an inevitability to me; however, I don’t really want to do this. Casual mode has existed for a long time now and is far from controversial, but “if your units die, they’re gone” has always felt like a big part of Fire Emblem to me, and I don’t want to deny my players the taste of that feeling (as a matter of fact, encouraging the player to accept death is a topic I want to discuss in detail at some point later). Additionally, casual mode completely changes the gameplay meta because kamikaze strategies become viable. The most obvious solution to me is constantly giving the player new units so they can continue on even if everyone but their lords and favourites dies. FE1 does have plenty of expendable units who are basically cannon fodder and get zero lines of dialogue, and FE11 gives you a side story chapter with new units and more exp to be earned if you’re running low on units. There’s probably some Japanese person out there whose favourite Fire Emblem character was Bord because Cain, Abel, and the others died and Bord had to step up. Maybe I could find a middle ground between always-on casual mode and permadeath, like a thing where units need to spend the next chapter resting if they’re defeated or lose levels/stats. However, the former would just encourage alternating between two groups of units to use for kamikaze strategies and the latter encourages the “cut your losses” mentality too much and potentially just digs the player deeper into a hole of the game becoming unwinnable.

Equipment: the weapon triangle definitely lifts a lot of weight already. In my projects, I already tend to change it so it only affects hit and not attack power, and I think I would do the same here. The combined difference of 30 hit between advantage and disadvantage is a huge boon to the player, but the extra point of damage only really helps in the earlygame before it becomes an annoyance and a possible factor that the player will not remember to calculate for. As an esthetic change, I would take a page from Heroes and give swords/axes/lances red/green/blue themes. I would also like to do something with weapon weight, maybe getting rid of the constitution stat entirely and making the baseline iron weapons have 0 or 1 weight. When I was a ten-year-old playing FE7 in 2004, I thought having a high constitution stat was a bad thing because it makes units harder to rescue and I hadn’t learned the concept of attack speed. I used to think it was just because I was a dumb kid, but now I understand it was also an issue with the game not explaining it very well. A village saying “heavier weapons are harder to wield” with no further detail is easily mistaken as flavour text, and even the description of constitution in the status screen only says it “affects rescues”.

Stats: I don’t think there necessarily need to be fewer stats to keep track of, but they could be more intuitive and better explained. Luck, for example, affects critical hit avoidance, regular avoidance, hit, and skill stuff if your game has those, and all the vanilla game tells you is “this affects many things”. The way I see it, each stat can be simplified to having a primary function, with the game being forgiving enough that any secondary function that does exist can be ignored or forgotten about unless you’re a skilled player going for super-optimal strats. My proposed primary function of luck is crit avoidance, although luck’s effects are all so subtle I hesitate to call any of its features extremely meaningful. We could also turn luck into a “critical hit stat” in general if we wanted to decouple crit chance from skill, whose primary purpose is already to increase hit rate, or an “avoidance stat” when the primary purpose of speed is already increasing attack speed. Maybe it would be better to roll with the latter and not have stats add to crit/fortitude at all. Getting screwed by a mercenary who has single-digit crit from their skill stat doesn’t feel good, and the player shouldn’t learn to depend on the same thing happening on their own side.

Speaking of critical hits: double damage instead of triple damage strikes me as a good idea; the same goes for weapon-against-class effectiveness (although I’d buff those weapons a little in return). I would still like to have critical hits as part of the game even without stats increasing crit chance, and the player definitely should be watching out for them, but it could be less of a death sentence if the player does get one of their units critted. I want to encourage the player to try to squirrel up a solution in these scenarios rather than just resign themselves to restarting the chapter as soon as they see the bad guys twirl their weapons. Maybe the “crit bonus” class/character flag is more broadly applicable than to just a few special promoted classes and the ability to crit with ordinary weapons could be a feature for an entire archetype of classes. RNG abusers would have a field day with this, sure, but with non-Fire Emblem gamers as the target audience this isn’t a problem.

Do you have any ideas for making Fire Emblem, or just any strategy game with a similar dynamic, more accessible and easy to get the hang of? Thoughts/solutions on my own ideas? I’d like to hear them.

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#2

I’m not sure why making effective weapons worse would help new players. 2x effective weapons just tempts me not to bother with them.

For my own 2c, I’d say ‘keep skills to a minimum’. Not that you can’t use them, but if you add tons of skills it can be really hard for even experienced players to keep track of… and it’ll be even worse for a brand new player.

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#3

Look at how the English version of FE7 changes the effectiveness to double. My reasoning here is that the player always makes a conscious decision to attack an enemy using an effective weapon, but might make a mistake every now and then and accidentally place one of their units in range of one (e.g. if there are two mercenaries, one with an iron sword and one with an armourslayer, and they accidentally move their knight next to the armourslayer one instead of the iron sword one). The player is less likely to be punished with instant death for making a mistake like this.

#4

I think reduced effectiveness does more to hurt the player than help since it makes low strength units find it even harder to get opportunities for good damage.

#5

I think the effectiveness weapons warning patch is a better answer to that than to neuter effectiveness weapons for the player. If the player sees a big (!) above one mercenary and moves their armor knight in range of them anyway, that’s… well, you should probably get punished for it. If effective weapons aren’t scary enough that you get punished for letting that class get hit by them, it kind of removes the point of having them.

I’d prefer a solution like ‘give enemies with effectiveness weapons lower level/str so they’re unlikely to one shot, but will still do heavy damage’ instead.

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#6

Oh man, I’d actually forgotten that that existed. That’s actually a much better idea.

I hadn’t thought about it this way, either. Excellent point.

I forgot to talk about skills: I probably wouldn’t implement these except for the purpose of explaining class features that are already there. Think Canto, crit bonus, units having mounted/armour/flight/other trait making them weak to certain weapons, etc. I might give a special ability to the main character to incentivise using them (“this unit will cause a game over so I’d better keep him back” just leads to the lord being underleveled), but that’s it.

#7

Merge Speed/Skill/Luck into two stats

Get rid of most of the pointless skills

Movement types are now explained in detail ingame

Strength as constitution, tomes are weightless

Weapons have actual useful descriptions, none of this “Effective against infantry” or “Doubles as ranged attack” crap

Don’t have modern FE map gimmicks

Edit: Display growths!

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#8

Yeah, it’s part of HP bars.

In general I’d say UI improvement patches are a huge part of making things more accessible for new players. HP bars, talk bubbles, effectiveness/high crit warnings, all the info a modularminimugbox gives, these all make the game a lot easier to jump into. A new player might not yet understand ‘oh I can have the lord unit talk to people to recruit them’, but if they see that text bubble ontop of that green/red unit, it suddenly becomes a lot more apparent. And it makes all this stuff a lot harder to forget, too.

That’s understandable. It’s certainly a lot easier to design without adding more skills. Though, I think well/sparingly used skills can help inform a player what a class choice or a unit is supposed to be good at. For example, if a unit has Armored Blow it’s fairly obvious they’re supposed to be a tough frontliner. Snipers having crit boost suggest giving them a killer bow and using them to blow up priority targets quickly, so on and so forth.

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#9

I personally use “effective against armors”(In reference to FEH listing armored as a seperate movementtype from inf) instead of effective against infantry. What they mean is heavy infantry, which are armorknights,etc.(Of course them not mentioning cavallery is still factually wrong) and doubles as ranged attack is meant as “Secondary function is ranged attack” and not “Doubleattacks at range”. Infact, at least the german version has “Double range” as description and I personally use “Doubled attackrange”.

Basicly, those description more so suffer from lack of clarification than inaccurate Information(Except them not mentioning cavallery in lordweapons)

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#10

This is a really good post, Alusq, and something I’ve thought about before. There are a few people in my life who are interested in the game I’m making who otherwise would have very little interest in an FE rom hack, or even FE at all.

I’ve struggled with how to make the game more accessible to them, while still making something that is enjoyable to myself and the more hard core fans that frequent FEU. I’ve made an easy mode, but slapping a few less bonus levels on enemies doesn’t teach a new player the basics of the game, much less nuances such as rescue-dropping or trade strategies.

Now, my hack is much more similar to vanilla than others; no skills, no game changing items, etc. So what I’ve told people wanting to play the hack with no FE experience is to play the first 4-5 chapters of vanilla FE8 Easy first, to learn basics. This is definitely a lazy cop out, and people with a more casual interest in a game I made likely won’t be willing to do this. So I suppose part of the decision about tutorial modes comes down to who your intended audience is.

As far as managing difficulty, something that I HAVE found helpful in designing maps to appeal to both more and less experienced audiences is to have difficult side objectives. A village to reach, an extra enemy to defeat, a goody-laden side path, all of these can be made difficult enough to satisfy a skilled player. But they can also be optional, meaning the chapter can be played without getting them, and that not having the reward for getting them will not significantly hinder the player later on. Thus, newbies can still complete the chapter at a much more comfortable pace.

I think this is a good discussion to have, as we as a hacking community can often make games that are hard to get into for less experienced players, whether by having new/obscure mechanics or just difficulty that assumes high level of play. I recently had someone express that they had difficulty with the Prologue of my hack, which really opened my eyes to the tunnel vision I can have when developing the game. Nobody loves tutorials, but I’m not sure the Kaga way of explaining absolutely nothing is best either. Gotta find a nice balance

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#11

I completely forgot about tradestrategies actually. I think I want to write a tutorial for it in FE8 and to a lesser extend FE7. What are all the strategies involving trading again? I only remember switchting out the weapon of a unit that already used up their turn.

#12

I think this would make things more complex, as each stat would affect more.

Why not just not have skills, if simplicity is a factor?

Anywhere in vanilla GBAFE that refers to infantry is referring to lord weapon effectiveness, which is armor + cavalry, not heavy infantry or armor effectiveness (those say effective against knights, of which the only knight classes in GBA are armors). Generally modern FE considers infantry to be non-mounted, non-armor units, and from that viewpoint, the GBA item descriptions seem incorrect. But, it’s consistent within itself in older Fire Emblem games (pretty much anything pre-Heroes) being lord effectiveness and really is only a problem if you’re familiar with a different concept of what is considered “infantry” in fire emblem.

Having your hack accessible to Fire Emblem/SRPG newcomers is something I’ve thought about a lot, and ultimately I don’t think can easily be done alongside design requiring a higher level of understanding and utilizing game mechanics (e.g. rescue dropping, among others). To design around a level of gameplay that you may be at where you would use these sorts of strategies regularly is fundamentally incompatible with appealing to newcomers. There’s nothing wrong with designing your game like this, but do know that doing so will hinder the potential appeal of your project. Conversely, designing your game around a lower level of play may also put off those looking for a higher level of play. Either way, if you want to have your game accessible to both groups you effectively need to design it twice and have a drastically different easy mode with different enemy layouts, even different objectives possibly (see Radiant Dawn’s easy mode; if there’s one thing that game does well, it’s having a wide spread of difficulty levels). I do think having your hack appeal to the widest possible audience is a good thing to strive for, however doing so can regularly be a ton of extra work.

The easiest way I’ve found to account for this design-wise is to design around Normal mode, then building Easy and Hard modes off of that, as this is generally less work on both ends. As far back as I’m aware, people tend to design/want to design their hacks around hard mode. The inherent drawback of this is the effective lack of an easy mode it creates, without even more careful consideration as to what you’re doing. This likely is a large factor in what causes this topic to be brought up in the first place, as when many hacks are designed around hard mode you end up with inherent inaccessibility to newcomers.

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#13

I was pretty sure that other weapons also sometimes use effective against infantry, but I guess I was mixing it up with hammer in FE6 fantranslation. However, effective against knights is not exactly better since that sounds like it is effective against only knights and no other armored unit or that it is effective against knights and cavaliers since cavaliers are also called knights sometimes. It really makes me wonder why they did not just went with “armored” from the start.

#14

FE8 actually did kind of fix the “infantry” thing… but only in the Reginleif’s description (“Strong against cavalry, knights”). The rapier is inexplicably still “Effective against infantry”.

#15

Great post and informative responses. I’ve actually been thinking about this sort of thing for a while. Last month, the SRPG Studio discord had a game jam where the theme was “make a game for someone who hasn’t played an SRPG before.” We all learned that we make lots of assumptions because of how experienced we are, even if we don’t really think we’re that good.

A new player doesn’t check enemy inventories or their range, and will often blame the game if a low% crit gets through. (Even a high% crit if they didn’t look for a killer axe or something.) Something that REALLY took me off guard was that a new player doesn’t look at the inventories of the PLAYER units, even when told to. (My submission hinged on that a little…)

It’s easy to resign to “well I guess my games won’t be meant for newcomers,” but SRPG Studio isn’t like romhacking - it’s for actual games that can be monetized and have the potential to be fully standalone. Forgoing accessibility is shooting yourself in the foot, so I looked at what Fire Emblem games have that SRPG Studio doesn’t. A huge part of it is definitely the UI.

Fire Emblem’s UI is really good at conveying the controls in tight spaces:


When I was playing Three Houses, I noticed that I would look at the controls onscreen pretty often, and the Switch doesn’t have all that many buttons. For a game using a keyboard - basically, a controller with dozens of buttons - it’s all the more essential that the game displays contextual controls onscreen at all times. The player might not have been checking inventories because he/she simply didn’t know how.

Removing the NEED to press those buttons is just as important, and a lot of the great QoL patches do exactly this. HP bars let you know if your unit is in trouble at a glance, and a floating (!) says all you need without needing to check inventory -> check weapon description -> make judgment call. For us it’s a nice addition, but for a new player it’s a nudge away from “what, the game didn’t tell me this” toward “oh, it said so right there.” Displaying the unit’s equipped weapon without having to check their inventory is a huge one, especially if criticals and effective weaponry are kept as strong as in vanilla.

In the context of SRPG Studio specifically, which displays no controls onscreen (presumably because you could be playing with a keyboard, controller, or just a mouse), keeping controls in mind is pretty important QoL (and should probably be the next frontier for our plugins imo). As it is, it’s possible to make custom UI that shows contextual controls for the intended control scheme:


(though this has limits and needs plugins in some areas)

A Fire Emblem romhack has the advantage of piggybacking on intsys’s pretty great quality UI, and SRPG Studio has a ways to go before it’s got that level of usability. For an off-topic example, scrolling help text is hella underrated:


Personally, I think I’d do a short tutorial section (several maps that teach one thing and are 1 to 2 turns long each) that eases you into advanced techniques like rescue chaining (assuming that’s essential knowledge for the game). Something like, “you have 1 turn to get your lord from one end of the map to the other, use your horses to rescue-chain.”

If Rivals of Aether’s tutorial can teach people how to DI, then anything’s possible.

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#16

I imagine they copypasted all the previous translation info from FE7 and then went from there so since Reginleif is a new item they went and gave it a new one while keeping Rapier the same as it was before.

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#17

i think fes problem when it comes to accessibility is that it doesnt teach the player in a particularly organic manner. it usually either breaks pace and flow to bomard you with tutorial messages and the like, or simply drops you head first into the deep end. that is in part why a lot of the recent games have spent a fitfh or so of their time to tutorial the crap out of the player which can feel exhausting.

im not quite sure how one could tackle this mind, just that it might be something to consider.

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#18

Maybe an optional prologue chapter that allows the new players to get ready for what’s to come? Like the prologues in FE11. So they’re not being bombarded with tutorials but they also have time to get used to the mechanics. Something like that would probably work.

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#19

I thought optional tutorials were a given at this point.

#20

@flasuban
hnn, not so much optional tutorial, more so that fe needs to figure out a system that teaches players without actually straight up telling them. or atleast how to implement something like that a bit more.