Magic in Fire Emblem

There’s usually a lot of discussion about how to fix/balance certain class types such as knights, archers and mounted units in general. However, one often overlooked class type when it comes to balancing would be the offensive mages and to a certain point, the staff users across the games.

IS has definitely tried different ways of iterating the class type, whether its by having one general offensive magic rank in games such as SD and Fates opting for a magic triangle like in the GBA and Tellius games or having personal spell lists like in Gaiden or 3H. However I believe that there’s some room for exploration among the classes and the weapon types to make them a bit more interesting than what we have going on now. Staves on the other hand, is something that’s a little better balanced, there’s definitely certain staves that can drastically affect map design to the point of trivializing them such as Warp and Rescue but I think they mostly fill a decent niche with healing and the occasional status staff to spice up gameplay.

What’s your approach to balancing magic relative to the other classes and weapon types? Do you think that we really need a magic triangle for mages to be unique? How about split promotions? Is it possible to have a promoted magic user without staff access to really shine?


(Long ramble to follow, apologies, but I get rather annoyed at how lackluster magic is handled in official FE…)

One of magic’s main problems is that, for the most part, it doesn’t do anything special. Sure, Dark magic often will have secondary effects beyond damage, and you’ll occasionally get other magic that also has it, but a good chunk of what has made up the core of magic’s existence in Fire Emblem is just weapons with differing stats or something relatively benign like effective damage versus some group of units.

For something so mystical that only certain types of units or certain characters can use, it sure doesn’t feel all that mystical or involved outside of the lore. I know people love the simplicity of Fire Emblem (and I’m not entirely saying to go crazy complex, just give me a moment…), but when regular weapons have more interesting and varied properties to them, I think you’ve got a problem. Even something as simple as giving, say, Elfire an innate Seal Defense skill would be an improvement to what the developers have routinely put out!

I don’t particularly agree with the homogenized Tome ranks that the series has shifted towards, especially when they haven’t really made the tomes do anything as part of it. Like, if you want to homogenize tome ranks together to cut out the bloat (which Awakening probably should have done), that’s one thing, but at least make the smaller selection have more variety amongst what they can do. Sure, it’s nice that a magic user can potentially use everything and not be way too overly specialized (see Tellius especially where weapon ranks are a pain to gain, leaving the mages often stuck to their own element or weak magic from another), but is having 18 tomes (that still don’t do much other than changing stats) that anyone can use better than having 30 tomes, only 6 of which each type can use?

I like the concept of units having their own lists of magic that they can learn, though I would like it better if it was used in addition to having standard tomes along side them. I’ll give Shadows of Valentia/Gaiden a pass, since there are lore reasons for not having tomes, but I personally think that the Learned Magic system should be something that any unit can use in any class with a restriction on the number of uses per map (and, if you really want to do something like what Three Houses did with limiting it, just either reduce the number of uses if you’re not in a magic class or give them low uses to begin with and have magic classes multiply the number of uses), and by having Tomes as standard weapons, it lets the unit use a spell that they might have learned early because of their Level Up list that might be higher rank than what they could use in Tome form or to allow them to have extra tools and not have to carry a specific weapon in their actual inventory (edit - especially if you would only be bringing it to handle a small number of specific threats or targets across the entire map).

For Staves, I know Warp and such can be fun to use (see Thracia), but if they’re going to be included then the games need to be designed where they can’t just be (ab)used to render entire chapters pointless and able to be cleared in one turn with them, or just remove them. (Personally, I opt to permit Rewarp but not Warp since the mage is potentially putting themself into danger. Alternatively, inflict a debuff on the unit Warped/Rescued or prevent them from moving (if they haven’t yet) after the staff is used on them (including preventing being refreshed).) Outside of that and egregious things like the Hexing Rod, etc. that are just there to troll the player, I think Staves are relatively well balanced since their entire point is to be used and do an effect when that happens.

As for balancing and comparing to/vs other weapon types, variety is key. Sure, you could just make an equivalent Killer/Brave/Reaver/etc. tome that is comparable to what physical weapon types get, but that’s honestly pretty boring. Consistent, yes, but still boring. Give magic a variety of ranges (1-only, 2-only, 1-2, 3-5, 2-4, 5-8, 3-15, etc.) and adjust the power and effects of what those tomes do versus their range. Give a wind tome 3-15 range but make it weak or less accurate to compensate. Make Nosferatu locked to Range 2 to prevent tanking with it a la Awakening instead of virtually everything else that IS has tried in order to balance it.

The magic triangle is mostly pointless for its WTA/WTD bonuses, but I do personally like having different schools of magic and having them do different things. Even the typical Power/Accuracy/Crit trends are fine as general stylings that are an overarching theme across all of the tomes of the type, just as long as the tomes (usually) do something beyond their damage. Split promotions will always vary even for non-mages in what the options are and what they can do. Staves are really only so powerful in promoted Sage/Druid/etc. hands because they usually have higher Magic stats or come in with really good Staff ranks that make them so good. If you adjust the staff formulas to use, for example, Res as a driving factor or you nerf the amount the staves heal by themselves and require Healtouch for more normal healing amounts (and lock it to Cleric-type classes) or just don’t give a promoted character that joins trivial access to the entire list of Staves by giving them basically the highest rank they would ever need and invalidating other units in the process, then I theorize that other things might fall into place along the way.

In addition to the rest, I think there’s room for more wide-reaching magic effects, i.e. AoE magic. Give them limited uses and make them work like Staves where they don’t equip (see the Lex Talionis engine’s Spells) and give them other interesting things that, again, aren’t just being straight damage amounts over a wide area. (For example, Lex Talionis has a Dark Spell that targets 1 enemy from a long range and reduces their stats if it hits and has another spell that makes a target act like they’re a flying unit for a time - while these would likely be staff effects in a traditional game, you could easily slap damage onto the first spell or give staff-like effects to other weapon types and restrict more powerful staff effects (i.e. Warp) to traditionally healing classes based on what weapon types you assign to classes.)


One thing I keep in mind when balancing characters is that 1 magic is not equal to 1 strength.

Enemies almost always have low resistance, and to top that off magic is ranged, varied and super accurate so you need to give magic users a little less stats than physical units. 30 strength is a lot of strength, but with 30 magic you get this:

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I’m a firm believer in Anima being the way to go for magic, as it’s a lot easier to come up with unique Fire/Wind/Water/Earth/Electric/Ice spells, otherwise Dungeons and Dragons Mages would be way less funny casting the same Firebolt every time.

This line alone describes what I feel for this; Magic triangle tends to be useless for the reason that there’s less mages in general, but giving descriptors to specific weapon types and giving various effects for tomes is amazing. Fire tomes could be the generalists they’ve been in various fire emblems, while Thunder Magic is high in damage and critical with specialties in close range damage, and Wind can have extended range & deletes Wyvern Riders from existence.

More tomes also is fun, but the limited amount of animations can hold it back from being great to do for projects. Giving more than basic tomes + siege weapons just… makes sense to make them more fun to use. Lemme delete things with a 50 crit Thunder tome named Mjolnir and I’m content.

Light and Dark magic is a different thing. I think they’re best utilized as a sort of ‘Plot Device’ - If the player gets their hands on it, it’s an ultimate tome giving to a specific character that only they can use, with limited uses but power that justifies this nuclear aspect. Giving something like Forblaze’s power to only Lilina, giving her a touch of death against anything Dragon would give her something to do in the endgame and a canonical reason for her to wield it would be amazing.

Similarly, Dark magic is great as a plot point for the enemy to have or to cause the conflict that triggers the action in the game. The Darksphere from Archanea is a great example of a potential ‘Dark magic’ that isn’t truly dark magic. Its clash with Light magic can form to be the backbone for villain motivations, or can be the thing to break a seal on a long-contained power. Same type of crap that Formortiis has.


Light/Dark magic should be used for plot points if not intrinsically relevant to gameplay/story. Anima magic can be split into schools with lots of variants to make mages more interesting. Lord Glenn makes fantastic points.

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The way I do it is setting anima/nature/arcane magic as the primary magic type, used by Mages and Arcanists. Fire, Electricity, Wind, and Ice serve as the main types of Arcane magic, each with different attack ranges, damage, and accuracy. All four types have four appropriately named tiers that match each other in terms of ranking. “Dark” magic has become Aether/Almighty/non-elemental magic that is outside of the standard arcane lines. Those tomes all have special effects setting them apart from the normal magic tiers.

The counter to Arcane magic is Celestial, which basically combines the effects of staves with the offensive Holy magic capabilities. Celestial magic is basically just “light” magic for defensive healers and staves rolled into one. Support celestial tomes (staves) have a bit of variety to them, there’s healing, stat buffs, and all the standard movement effects.

I have singular promotion paths for this system. Priestesses and Mages both promote to Sages with Celestial/Arcane magic, while Arcanists promote to Sorcerers with only Arcane magic. I try to give Sorcerers higher overall stats to Sages as well as much higher defense to compensate for lack of Celestial access. Mounted mages are Celestial-only, with the Paladin class wielding spears and Celestial and promoting from the Holy Knight (celestial-only) class.

My take on the magic triangle is that it’s mainly unnecessary. Sure, if mages are half of the enemy composition and physical/magic classes have more variety in resistance stats, a magic triangle might have some strategic merit. But with how standard FE does it, most of the time it’s more beneficial to attack a mage with a physical unit or attack a physical unit with a mage. Magic triangle would end up being seldom relevant in that case.

I think how standard FE has mages in the enemy team is fine, they can be special threats to take down rather than be everywhere and having their threat be mitigated. The fact that I only have Sages/Archsages and Sorcerers/Warlocks most of the game means that having half of enemies use magic would get quite repetitive and uninteresting. Most FEs don’t have a wide variety of magic classes and I’m generally fine with keeping it that way.

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Here’s how I handle magic in my project…
Magic triangle exists. It’s Anima > Light > Dark > Anima, with animas not having advantage over one another. Obviously, each element has their own quirks.

  • Thunder strikes from 3 tiles away, has critical boost, and effective against dragons.
  • Wind grants SPD boost, is the most accurate of the of the animas, and effective against fliers.
  • Fire has the highest Mt (usually more than twice the Wind tome) among the animas and the cheapest price. They are reliable at dealing a single huge damage against most opponents.
  • Light grants LCK boost, has the most accurate hit rate of all, and effective against demons.
  • Dark deals the biggest damage and has more varieties when it comes to gameplay use; Goetia being the normal dark tome, Fenrir strikes from 10 tiles away, Hel reduces HP to 1 and Edknrssa (Enemy PRF) deals multiple status (poison, sleep, stun, silence), reduces LCK and prevents any unit hit by it from regaining HP throughout the chapter.
  • Ice may inflict sleep status on enemy, although it only exists as Blizzard in my game.

I use the classic GBA magic system, for the most part.

Dark magic is basically the same. It hits hard, is inaccurate, and has a lot of unique effects. (Nosferatu works like normal, Fenrir has 1-3 range, and a couple of new spells like ‘Diablo’ to hit DEF instead of RES when dealing with magic users.)

Anima magic is more accurate, but weaker. The only unique spell is Aircalibur.

Light magic… just kind of sucks. All of the spells have accuracy on par with Dark Magic, but worse might than Anima. However, Light Magic has been combined with staves, so clerics/priests/troubadours have a basic weak attack and Sages can level up their staff rank quickly.

I also added a new “Stone” magic type. This weapon type is based on the Dragonstones you’d find in Fire Emblem, giving you various stat boosts. However, it’s character based rather than class based.

As for the classes themselves, I usually balance them like this.

Mage/Sage: Anima magic +Staves upon promotion. A good all-around class with no real specialty.
Shaman/Druid: Dark magic +Anima upon promotion. High defense and low speed, generally better at combat than the other magic users to compensate a lack of staves.
Priest/Bishop: Staves +Dark upon promotion. Weird, I know, but I wanted a second class to use dark magic. Generally the fastest, but frailest magic user.
Troubadour/Valkyrie: Locked to staves, even after promotion. With 2 more movement than the other classes, they should be relegated to utility only.

Edit: Magic users should have a place on any team just by virtue of attacking RES since enemies usually have higher DEF. That’s without even factoring in staves like Warp and even Restore.

Also, I don’t particularly care about the lore of magic, only how it affects gameplay. The only FE’s that really make magic feel powerful, in my opinion, are Kaga’s games since units either have terrible RES or your units literally do not have RES Growths (Or both, in FE1’s case). Magic is good in the later games too, but it’s not as much of a force to be reckoned with. (Especially in the Tellius games.)


for me I really like the fe gba magic triangle of the three magic types, and I think rescue staffs are incredibly useful and don’t exactly break any game. I would love the gba magic system with a promoted magic user having access to 2/3 of the magic types along with a class skill that acts like a spell but maybe it uses hp or something? I think mages are powerful enough because they target a whole seperate stat other than defense that most units aren’t adept in.