Phalanxing: An alternative to Pairing Up?

In one FE game, there was a mechanic where half your army can cease functioning as characters and start functioning like Batallions in 3H, raising stats of equipped characters with the occasional bonus gimmick like “extra attacks” or “blocks incoming damage” triggering now and then. Fates tried to change things by separating Pair Up into an offensive and defensive stance. Some people think Pair Up needs to be removed entirely from the franchise forever. Others think it needs to be brought back and just nerfed so it’s harder to grind the strategy out of the strategy game, or even impossible to do so. Some have suggested replacing the system with something overcomplicated, some have suggested replacing the system with something so small and low-impact it’s barely worth remembering or thinking about.

I wanted to replace the Pair Up mechanic with a smaller stat boost system that rewards experimentation and smart formation without eliminating the individuality and power fantasy of specific characters or creating a situation where refusing to build your army around lead units and Pair Up stat-boosters on legs feels like you’re not playing as optimally as you could be. I believe the best games can find ways to make optimizing the game the most interesting part of the experience, or at the very least, more interesting than deciding which units fight and which units they wear like jewelry. I wanted a mechanic that doesn’t incentivize you to transform half your army of hopeful souls, vengeful warriors, loyal retainers, and other varied interesting characters into level eighteen four strength four speed leather belts for your toughest tankiest hardest-hitting juggernauts.

Here’s my suggested take on the concept of pairing up: Phalanxing.

Pairing Up is impossible and there is no Dual Strike or Dual Guard. Instead, there is Phalanxing. All of the player’s named Units (no generics) will provide a stat bonus determined by their class to all allies within 2 tiles. Levelling up and increasing your stats will improve the stat-raising field you create, and having a high support level with the stat-raising field generator will increase its effectiveness on you. That is to say, if Unit A provides stats and has an A or S rank support with Unit B, who’s also within stat-boosting range, Unit B will obtain an increased stat bonus from Unit A.

As a bonus, Rally skills like Rally Magic can change to become passive bonuses to their Phalanxing stat-raising aura. Possibly. Then again, I like the Rally skills, but I don’t like the time it takes to make a designated Rally Bot. But there are times when “Do I use this unit, or does the unit Rally other units?” is an interesting choice to make, so… I can’t say I’m certain one way or the other on this particular aspect. I’d say to keep Rally skills, they let units who can’t fight aid those who can.

To someone about to type “It would be unreasonably overpowered for the highest pair up bonuses I got in Awakening to be given out to all my overpowered FE Awakening units! I bought the DLC and spent weeks grinding them all to perfection! Have you seen how OP I can make my numbers?” the Phalanxing bonuses would be less effective than the Awakening Pair Up bonuses can get when everyone’s stat-capped and DLC boosted and possibly even in classes you chose for their superior pair up bonuses. Raising your stats as a unit won’t increase the effectiveness of your Phalanx bonuses much, but getting more supports will, and if you have a higher support rank with the unit Phalanxing a stat bonus onto you, you’ll get a bigger stat bonus. This encourages a wider variety of supports instead of encouraging a repeat of Awakening’s “S-Ranks pair up, and charge, except for one extra unpaired healer/dancer/etc if there’s an odd number of fighters” system. This also means your strongest units will be able to help your weaker units get kills and survive enemy attacks with Phalanxing without taking away any cut of the EXP.

Designated units (mostly Armoured units) can Defend a unit. The Defender will move onto a chosen unit, as if they were pairing up with that unit FE Awakening style, only to immediately and automatically Switch and then Wait. The unit you are Defending becomes the pair up partner for the Armoured unit, who will take all incoming damage for that unit while losing the ability to counterattack until the unit he’s forced to defend Separates from him. No dual guards eliminating incoming damage. No stat bonuses for this pair up. There is a penalty reducing your chance to dodge and a bonus increasing your defense and RES because you’re not dodging attacks, you’re focused fully on blocking or taking attacks meant for someone else for a turn. Phalanxing bonuses from the unit being Defended are disabled until you two Separate, but the Defender can obtain Phalanxing bonuses from other allies. This is a purely defensive emergency measure, not a cheesy way to load a diamond shaped area with as many units as possible to double and maximize the Phalanxing bonuses in an area. At the start of your next turn, you can Separate, and both the Defender and Defended unit can move normally that turn. No missed turns here.

Is it worth moving weaker units closer to your stronger ones for a stat buff when there are enemies who could attack? Is it worth using some units for their Phalanxing buff instead of their damage output? Is your healer’s phalanxing bonus to Magic and Luck worth the risk of not having your healer far away from combat using a ranged heal spell? How do you position your units when their position determines who they can strengthen? Should you surround your mages with other mages for a bigger magic boost, or surround them with tough melee units to help them survive? Is a strategy that relies on multiple stacking bonuses to one stat worth it when enemies could have the tools to counter an army with too many Wyvern Riders or Knights or Sorcerors or whatever? What happens when map design discourages you from turtling all your units together in one big clump for as many overlapping Phalanx bonuses as possible, by splitting your party down multiple thin roads or separating them by walls or forcing them to go after specific objectives with a soft reward-based time limit(no gems or sick weapons or stat boosting items for you if you fail to save these villages/get these thieves/let these green units die), or punishment-based time limits(no recruit/gaiden chapters for you if you fail these optional objectives), or a hard punishment (game over if you fail to clear the map in time)?

Oh, and combat while being in a unit’s Phalanx range will build supports as if that unit was adjacent to you. That should help with grinding multiple supports at once, so your army feels like a group of people with multiple bonds and not just a collection of people in various sets, some of whom are together.

I believe I have designed a system that aids the core appeal of Fire Emblem’s “Bonds make you stronger” theme without making it overwhelm the strategy gameplay or completely negate some attacks/obliterate some enemies with extra attacks based on RNG. Of course, I know I am not perfect. So I would like to ask everyone for their opinions on this system, their analysis of it, and how they think it could be improved upon. Ultimately, this system would need to go into a game with hours of playtesting and fine tuning before anyone can play around with the mechanic and know for certain whether it’s balanced or not, and enemies might need to be stronger on harder difficulties designed with the assumption that the player has figured out how to Phalanx effectively after a normal mode playthrough. Perhaps enemies might even figure out how to Phalanx during some maps! I want to hear your thoughts on this concept.

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I really like this. I’m no game designer by any measure, but this seems to me to be a major upgrade versus the pair up system, by “flattening the curve” of pair up’s benefits. Instead of getting an extra attack and annihilating an enemy or totally negating an incoming attack regardless of its base damage, getting a steady bonus is preferable. The 2-radius bonuses remind me of the “drive x stat” skills from skillsystems, which is nice and familiar. I especially like the Defender system, that was inspired. I imagine implementing this would just be a matter of how much elbow grease some talented individual is willing to expend on a patch; I think it would be worth it, I want to try this out.

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I think this is a really great way to fix pair-up. There’s a lot of potential here for very intricate gameplay. This would make me want to use things like “Rally” skills and have to think more about who gets put next to to who if they don’t all have the same function that way. This idea would work best in a hack that’s more focused on high stats and grinding rather than a simple story-focused game. But about the name… it’s definitely clever, but it reminds me too much of IS’s current revisionist localization practices of overcomplicating text and trying way too hard. I’d personally see “Formation” as what this would be called in the spirit of the Kaga games, but this is coming from the guy who calls the first protagonist “Mars” so feel free to disregard.

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I plan on putting the Phalanxing stat bonuses into my upcoming Fire Emblem fangames. When one playtester tried the mechanic out, he said “I’m surprised you didn’t give it a name like your old Pokemon Pink CBT game”. I will admit, I considered that. After all, this is the fandom that decided to call the Follow-Up Critical Coefficient… Well, that.

I also considered calling Phalanxing other names like Formation Bonuses or Organization Bonuses. But “Phalanx” sounded better to me as a verb in the context of this game mechanic. “I’ll form these guys” sounds like “I’ll make these guys”, but “I’ll Phalanx these guys” sounds like a sentence only someone using this mechanic would say. Sure, you could say “form up” but a Phalanx is a formation that gains strength from numbers to become more than the sum of its parts, but any formation can be a formation. Instead of multiple formations with multiple functions, I wanted to focus on the most important functions: An army working together, and one warrior defending another.

What if units could only give out their Phalanx Bonuses if they hadn’t yet attacked that turn? Or hadn’t yet moved that turn? It would certainly make the players think more about turn order, and whether an attack is worth giving up the aura the unit could grant allies. But that’s probably overkill.