For some context, when I say this, I mean in more relevance to a hack than a modern FE game. There are various marketing circumstances that have to be considered for a modern FE game, like setting up an avatar character who can S support who the player wants, which people like us don’t have to care about.
There is a situation in FE games where certain characters end up being “juggernauts”, characters who are so much more powerful than the enemy that you basically don’t have to care about where you put them because they will just kill everything on their own without much risk. This occurs because the designers were unwilling to have to account for the game being designed around such a powerful unit, which might only have come to you by chance or by your decision to funnel all resources into them.
However, if you give the units high bases and low caps, this means that they will be forced to reach a point where they can only be so powerful and not too much farther than their peers, and disincentivize trying to make one unit do all the work because they can’t handle it by themselves. Because they have high bases, they will still be useful even if you didn’t put a whole lot of investment in them at all, meaning the designer doesn’t have to account for the player ending up in unwinnable situations as much. Essentially, you minimize any “babying” and instead promote the player making the best of their decisions knowing they won’t get screwed over by levelup RNG enough to matter.
One character who is considered so good that he can probably reach endgame with his bases is Perceval in FE6 on Hard Mode. So essentially my thought process goes along the lines of, if there is a unit who shows up halfway through a game that is 31 chapters who can still contribute well at endgame, then the maximum unit quality, when capped, that someone designed for FE6 could be at the level of HM bases Perceval.
What problems do you think there are with this kind of system? One that I can consider is simply the player not having as much fun watching levelups because there isn’t as much room to grow nor a lot of growth even going on due to the low growths. However that kind of factor is more important to someone making a modern FE game to market to all kinds of players, while more specific audiences can be considered when making something like a niche hack.
On your point about progression potentially being hampered by low growths. There’s multiple ways of introducing more controlled and less RPG dependent forms of RPG progression outside of growths and cap hitting. Having more weapon progression, trickling put equip items, Support progression, significant & helpful promotion bonuses and skills unlocking can all provide ways of providing rewarding progression without making for an unreliable experience and you can restrict who does or doesn’t get these bonuses. Furthermore you’re also able to design enemy counters around these bonuses since you can have a good idea of when the player has access to them and how various units perform with them at different stages of the game.
A bit of an aside here, but in some ways, a 0% growths playthrough is the extreme example of what you’re describing. Units can’t grow at all, and more or less start out “capped” (barring stat boosters or promo bonuses).
Viewing it through this lens, as someone who has completed a couple 0% growths playthroughs, I’ve seen this doesn’t balance the game. It drastically centralizes it. There is very little to no incentive to raise sub-optimal units. Your combat is generally handled by a very small core, which some support utility on the side.
Now, I realize you are not suggesting 0% growths, and would be designing an entire game with this system in mind, but I can very well still see centralization as an issue. The game would have to be designed very carefully, so that certain niches are needed and every unit has a not-insignificant weakness or flaw. In this circumstance, each unit becomes static “tool”, more or less, that has varying degrees of performance depending on the setting.
I think it could theoretically work, but the idea of “static tools” may be a bit inhibitive in the map design and replayability departments. Variance is fun, multiple ways to overcome challenges are fun. Taking these away might get restrictive.
TLDR; Might not necessarily fix centralization, may encourage it, and would require specific design of niches
I believe the 0% growths playthrough differs in a very specific way: it is set up in a manner where there are so many suboptimal units to begin with. (some of which were already considered too much so by many players to even consider using in the game without this condition) It is done more to prove a point than anything else, and thus does not account for the sheer number of units it won’t care about.
Regarding the static tools inhibiting map design, I think there is evidence for how the opposite might actually be true. We have an extreme reference for this: Three Houses, where so many classes are kind of irrelevant, yet you have almost total freedom over who becomes what over time with investment. The main game has to account for this sandbox nature in which meme players still intend to win. In contrast, the Cindered Shadows DLC which gave the player very specific units by comparison had much more engaging individual chapters to play through, as the developer was well aware of how much you could work with them.
Due to how we have access to the Skill System these days, I believe that creating character niches is much easier than it would have when they were only able to be differentiated by their numbered stats. When I mentioned the maximum unit quality being equivalent to HM bases Perceval, you cannot apply this in the same way to a General as you would to a Paladin, so the General’s pros and cons would differ even as he/she has approximately similar viability. Variety then becomes further possible with the addition of potentially specific uses, like how we use thieves in the mainline games for another kind of objective, or for their sight capabilities in Fog of War.
Low growths is something that I like, and one of the reasons for that is that it synergises with something that already typically happens in mods: you level up a lot more often. One of the more common follies to run into as a beginner is trying too hard to mimic the pacing of the original games, especially FE7, where one quickly gains an appreciation for how it’s very intentionally designed to keep the player at low levels not only during Lyn Mode but during a good bit of Eliwood Mode as well. One approach to this perceived problem (“the player’s growing too quickly! they’ll be maxed out when they’re only halfway through the game!”) is to decrease exp gain to account for what are honestly probably very inflated enemy counts compared to the vanilla game, but I’m not keen on that. I like leveling up in vidgames just as much as the next human, so I opt to give units generally low growths except in extraordinary circumstances. Additionally, I try not to have many early chapters where the player only has a few units to play around with, since getting a normal-sized party means normalizing the rate of exp gain.
I’m also in favour of high bases, although I tried for a long time to make low bases work before coming to that conclusion. Originally, I was wary of reducing growths across the board too much because it results in more level-ups where the player perceives that they’re getting “screwed” since they only got one stat or HP+luck (but hey, there’s now a hack to get rid of zero- and one-stat level-ups!). Additionally, I was a fan of how satisfying it felt that getting what would normally be “just one point” of a stat was a lot more impactful. But then the speed stat just had to exist and ruin everything. It turned out that I had taken some level-ups for granted and eventually I would run into scenarios where I would have one less point of strength, defense, or speed than expected, rendering impossible the intended optimal strategy that I had meticulously balanced the map around. The threshold for doubling being so absolute was something that particularly reared its ugly head.
There’s just something satisfying about having interesting bases, too. Say you’ve got a character who’s really skilful with the blade, whom you might give a +1 to their skill base in a vanilla context where they probably have, like, a 60% growth. But in a low-growth context, it feels a lot better giving them a beefy bonus, e.g. +4, and right out of the gate the player has a unit with a gloriously big bar on the stat they’re good in and a unique potential for clinching 100% hit rates and sometimes getting a lucky crit. It looks and feels good.
I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who’s gotten low bases/low numbers in general to work out well. Although I suspect it would take an overhaul of game mechanics for cases like doubling, or maybe fixed level-ups, I still wouldn’t mind taking another stab at it sometime.
I agree that low caps/growths/high bases will lead appeal more to experienced players and will deter casual players, which probably explains why FE5 has so many diehard fans, because that game is far less interested in unit stats and more interested in what kind of weapons its characters can wield, when they can wield them, how many critical hits they’ll get etc. Utility units really shine in this game. But it’s also just so damn unwelcoming to casual players.
If you’re interested in taking this to the extreme, dondon151 made an FE7 hack which was focused on puzzle-like gameplay (like an extreme version of Conquest’s earlygame) and to be honest, it was horrendously boring because it had no interesting story and there was very little excitement in gaining a new unit. I do think that some of the fun of the game comes with getting units and not knowing where they’ll end up, and having to re-plan around those scenarios.