What's so fun about Fire Emblem?

Hey all,

Having just shipped my first game (Land of Legends) yesterday, I’m beginning work on my second game.

It’s in the design stage at this point. There are some mechanics I’m attached to, and some that are very much up in the air. But I think the closest games to compare it to are Fire Emblem, Gladius, or even FFT and the like. In a nutshell, it’s a turn-based tactics/arena-combat game with perpetual characters, based on the Land of Legends franchise.

After much deliberation, I’ve tentatively decided to use a grid-based (non-isometric) map (like Fire Emblem), which means it won’t be particularly feasible to have sub-features like terrain hight or directional facing. Since Fire Emblem is really the only tactical rpg I know of that isn’t isometric, that sort of becomes the most sensible baseline of comparison. (Much like Advance Wars was the baseline of comparison for Land of Legends, even though they’re quite different.)

The thing is, it’s pretty clear that I don’t actually like Fire Emblem as much as most people here. So I’m curious to hear what specific mechanics or design traits you like about Fire Emblem.

I’ll list some of the design decisions I’ve already made later – I just don’t want to get into them now because I don’t want to influence your feedback quite yet…

The best thing about Fire Emblem is how when somebody says they don’t like Fire Emblem, you can be certain that you don’t have to pay attention to them anymore.

I like the perpetual character roster that grows as you progress through the game, and yet each character is distinct, with personality traits revealed through mandatory and optional conversations. This lends a sense of attachment that makes it that much harder when making strategic decisions that could lead to a character’s permadeath.

I also like being given enough troops and troop types that you can tailor your army to a certain degree to a specific playing style - going light or heavy with air units, favoring Generals over Cavaliers, or Snipers versus Mages versus Druids, etc. Sure, each unit is useful in certain situations, but you should still have to make a hard choice as to what types and which characters to bring into battle, given a limited battlefield roster size.

Maybe I’m just being silly, but I don’t think a guy who didn’t like Fire Emblem and has to start a thread asking other people to explain why Fire Emblem was fun to him should be making a game that capitalizes on the Fire Emblem fan market. Maybe you should just make Land of Legends 2 in outer space or something.

Hit the hornet’s nest there, eh? And you didn’t even say you disliked FE, just that you didn’t love it as much as others.

But congrats on abandoning terrain height and unit facing. That has consistently been the non-fun aspect of games like La Pucelle and FFTA. You’ll never get rich catering to the complexity whores.

There’s nothing all that fun about Fire Emblem. I’m sorry, but to me it just pales in comparison to games like Advance Wars and Panzer General. The rock-paper-scissors thing just doesn’t do it for me.

I suppose you all can ignore me even MORE now!

oh oh oh wait, let’s all say 10/10 and the such!!! FUNNY JOKE


I think the better question would be what’s not to like about Fire Emblem. Really, the only thing I could do without is the “hardcore mode” aspect of it where you can’t save and a character who dies is gone forever - I hate it. I have limited time to game these days and I am something of a perfectionist, so that decision pretty much guarantees I will never finish Fire Emblem because I get sick of restarting missions. As much as I hate it when game fans clamor for options for something I don’t want to put in my game at all, please make this an option :)

Other than that, it’s pretty much a pure tactical RPG experience, isn’t it? Not-too-complex inventory management, interesting and unique characters, well designed maps, unexpected events in the middle of missions - it’s pretty much all good.

I love it when people say they don’t like FE for the rock-paper-scissors aspect of it, then talk about how Advance Wars is better, not apparently realizing that it also has a rock-papers-scissors gameplay mechanism. Like in AW, there’s a lot more going on in FE than rock-papers-scissors.

Anyway, who gives a crap if Hiro doesn’t like it? Different strokes and all that. What’s odd is that he’s going to try to build a sequel to Land of Legends based on a game he doesn’t like. Who trusts anyone to do that?

Well, whether or not its more or less rock paper scissors, I still loathe it.

Here’s the stuff I don’t like (some of which is fixed in various versions)

The need to buy weapons during combat, and if you don’t buy them before you kill the last bad guy that shop is gone.

The need to look at each enemy units inventory to make sure that the weapon they are carrying isn’t a reaver weapon.

The keep every character alive gameplay mechanic. I like sacrificing units. This is why I FAR prefer Advance Wars to Fire Emblem.

This is fixed in the latest Fire Emblem, and in the first GBA Fire Emblem (not released in America) where you can buy equipment at any time.

The need to look at each enemy units inventory to make sure that the weapon they are carrying isn’t a reaver weapon.

This is a strategic layer - enemies are not predictably equipped.

The keep every character alive gameplay mechanic. I like sacrificing units. This is why I FAR prefer Advance Wars to Fire Emblem.

There is NO “keep every character alive” gameplay mechanic. If you don’t sacrifice units, that’s a gameplay choice you make, but it is not forced upon you with the exception of plot important characters (this is a maximum of 3 characters out of almost 40 in FE7, and only the main character in the other two). With the exception of 3 units in FE7 and 1 unit in FE6 and FE8, you are meant to be sacrificing characters, and the only repercussions are not being able to recruit special characters later. Look at the current FE Sacred Stones thread - most of the guys there are playing the game through accepting each and every lost and never replaying if they lose a guy. People replay missions when they lose guys because they can’t stand the idea of missing out somehow by the sacrifices, but it’s not the way the game has to be played (or is even meant to be played).

…unless you’re playing on a harder difficulty (whatever it’s called in the US versions). If that’s the case, I don’t think it’s possible to clear the game if you lose more than a few of your top tier characters.

There are alot of parts of FE that I don’t like, but it’s well woven together and greater than the sum of it’s parts. It’s hard to put a finger on why though.

The biggest attraction to me is that all the characters are unique, have subtlely different abilities, if you lose them they’re gone, and you can afford to lose some so you needn’t reload after every mistake.

Other thoughts:

  • Lack of opponent information from the UI, so you have to manually examine every unit.

  • zero AI.

  • Even on hard opponents are weaker than you, and you’re still expected to wade through a horde of opposition with few to zero casualties.

  • I like the random leveling up, but not the variance in how much you learn each level.

  • Item management is fun, but weapon attrition is just a bad idea.

  • I don’t particular care for the “weapon triangle”, but it’s not a bad thing either.

  • It’s awkward that the best way to play is to ignore your most experience units early on, and baby the kids until they become powerhouses.

  • The generic cartoony fantasy setting is just bland, and none of the characters are really interesting nor any of the bad guys really compelling.

Why is weapon attrition a bad idea? Consumable weapons makes combat decisions even more important because it effects the very limited amount of money in the game. Fighting with a more expensive weapon is better, but literally costs more than using an inferior weapon.

I prefer this system in FE to the standard “sell your current weapon, buy the best weapon in the shop” of most RPGs.


Well, the fantasy setting may be somewhat bland, but I love the art style of the characters. A lot of personality is conveyed through the character art for the series.

I wonder if you’d feel the same after playing Berwick Saga, with it’s

“Weapons have a 5-10% chance of breaking after every swing” system :)


Why is weapon attrition a bad idea? Consumable weapons makes combat decisions even more important because it effects the very limited amount of money in the game. Fighting with a more expensive weapon is better, but literally costs more than using an inferior weapon.

I prefer this system in FE to the standard “sell your current weapon, buy the best weapon in the shop” of most RPGs.


I find it boring, tedious, and pointless (I don’t run out of money). Also, what kind of magic sword breaks after a mere 50 swings? Who every carried around a good sword and a cheap sword only for use against weak opponents? What’s up with ablative weapons so drastically less durable than their real counterparts? Why should melee weapons essentially have ammunition the same as a Bow?

I can just see Gimli, “That’s 50 orcs! Ack, my Father’s Axe is out of ammo?!”, and Legolas, “What? Why didn’t you go to Durin’s Discout Armoury before hand, and pick up a couple of cheap handaxe clips?”

Shut yer yap, Crypty. He never said he didn’t like it. He clearly likes the genre, wants to make a good game, and is interested in hearing opinions other than his own (imagine that!) about what makes that sort of game tick. How about we offer some constructive comments along those lines?

SETTING: If you’re wed to the Land of Legends setting, so be it, but I would love to see an SRPG that gets further away from the generic fantasy stuff. I know the common wisdom is that people can identify better with elves and the undead, etc., but I think having a niche audience is a perfect opportunity to come up with something different and cool, with a solid foundation. I do like the tweaks you’ve brought to the fantasy setting in LoL, however.

CHARACTERS: I love the distinct personalities of the FE characters, appealing portraits, and the fact that you can build relationships between them over the course of the game. In my dream SRPG, there would be a core set of story characters, but you’d also be able to recruit random characters with a set of “personality” variables which would determine how relationships could develop between them as the game progresses. Customizing the little fellas is a big part of the appeal, even moreso if you get to start with a blank slate. Also, the random stat assignment on level-up in FE doesn’t feel very satisfying – maybe give the player one point to assign as he sees fit and assign the rest randomly.

STRATEGY: The world map in Sacred Stones is a nice step, but I would love a more dynamic strategy map. Say you’re managing a mercenary gang, and three kingdoms are at war. Each strategic turn the kingdoms move armies against enemy kingdoms and resolves battles abstractly. You can sell your services to one kingdom or another, stay loyal to one, switch sides, or even stay neutral and poach merchant caravans a la Robin Hood. I imagine a very simplified version of Pirates!-style open-ended gameplay, with optional story quests.

WEAPON TRIANGLE: I don’t mind the idea, but the implementation in FE doesn’t feel logical. Why does an axe beat a lance? Why does a sword beat an axe? I’d be much more interested in something along the lines of crushing/slashing/percing damage versus different types of armor/shields, ideally with blocks, dodges, and parries incorporated into the combat system. Something more intuitive than the FE system, but with the same degree of clarity and simplicity.

TACTICS: I think forgoing terrain altitude levels is a fine decision. I have a minor quibble with FE’s map/unit scale, where one guy can be in a forest or on a mountain and another guy can attack him in melee combat from an adjacent clear space and suffer an attack penalty. It works with the mechanics, but if you step back for a second, it’s just wrong. What about smaller-scale tactical maps (a la FFT) that feel a little more realistic, with less large-scale terrain advantages? A lot of different terrain modifiers can feel just as fiddly as altitude levels. An alternative would be to allow characters and/or certain classes to create most combat modifiers by assuming different “stances,” i.e., Block (create a zone of control around character), Guard (bonus to defense), Aim (bonus to next ranged attack), etc. This could make for a more dynamic battlefield.

OPTIONAL GOALS: I love all of the various optional in-mission goals that can be accomplished in the FE games, like getting a reward from a town before it gets pillaged, recruiting special characters if you talk to them in time, etc. They add a lot to the replay value. Even better if they could be made dynamic.

PERMA-DEATH: Love it. I know it probably won’t be included your basic design, but consider including a simple “Iron Man” option, or having each replay from a save reduce your overall score somehow.

FLUIDITY: One of FE’s greatest and most subtle strengths is the fluidity of gameplay in battle, the way it segues from tactical map to atack animation and back, and how smooth and well-paced the animations are. Given the limited resources at your disposal, this aspect of LoL is nicely done. I would go with smaller figures, though, so they don’t dominate the whole screen.

SCORING: It frustrates me to no end that there is no high score list in any FE game. For me, it creates more incentive to replay a game, and gives me the opportunity to lord my high scores over Crypty here on Qt3. The only reason I’m not still playing Shadow Watch on a daily basis is that it didn’t have scoring for the campaign game.

Congrats on shipping the game, Hiro – Looking forward to its arrival on my doorstep.

For the record, I never said I was making a game capitalizing on the Fire Emblem fan market. I simply asked what specific mechanics you guys liked in it.

My game is slated to be quite different, for better or worse. In fact, it probably owes at least as much to Gladius as it does to FE. It’s simply that the map dynamic (square-based grid, one unit per cell, etc), and the fact that it’s a perpetual-char tactical RPG can sort of put it in the same box depending on how you look at it. And when you share a fundamental design mechanic like that, I think a certain amount of overlap in other areas is inevitable. Besides, as a designer, I’m very interested in what different people like/dislike in various games. I’m not sure why that opens me up to such criticism from some of you. You’d think that approach is exactly what you’d want…

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are some of the design decisions I’ve already made, with some being more carved in stone than others…

-I will be using a per-unit, action-based timing system (FFT, Gladius, etc.) rather that a full player-turn system (Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Land of Legends).

-The player will gradually build a ‘school’ of units, based on 12-or-so different classes. For each battle, the player will choose 2-8 or so of them to fight, depending on the nature of the battle.

-Each arena (it’s a gladatorial-style game) will have different properties and rules, making different units (and different builds) more powerful in each setting. (i.e. “all unit speed is reduced by 20%”, or “magic resistance increased by 20%”.)

-Characters will get ‘tired’ after one battle, and then ‘exhausted’ after two consecutive battles. Using a tired or exhausted unit will cause stat penalties. Sitting a unit out for 1 battle will completely rest them. You cannot use a unit 3 battles in a row.

-There will be no gold (money) or equipment in the game, at least in the traditional sense. Instead, characters will be ‘built’ by allocating skill points to stats increases and buying abilities (action and passive) and stances. Abilities will be numerous and heavily varied, with wide ranges of costs. (Think Gladius’s skill-purchasing system, but with more variation, plus the following major change:)

-Characters can be completely stripped down and rebuilt between battles, giving the game a minor CCG feel. This will promote experimentation of builds, and will not punish players for trying new things. It should also help make each campaign play-through more dynamic, keeping battles from being repeats of the same exact tactics. The single-player game will be balanced such that different arenas and opponents can be heavily specialized, since the player can adapt to them on the fly.

-Each character class will have their own base statistics, and their own ‘menu’ of purchasable abilities. There will be some ability overlap between classes, but each class will have their own strong personalities. Build variations within class will be quite diverse and numerous. (For example, you could have a Druid focusing on healing/buffs, or one focusing on debuffs, or…)

-Some action abilities will be flagged as ‘weapons’, and some passive abilities will be flagged as ‘armor’. Unit can only equip (at most) one ability with each of these keywords, and those keywords (and others) can be affected by various abilities or arena restrictions/properties.

-Players will only be able to use 50%-75% of the available character classes in a given campaign play-through. (They do get to choose them.) This is to encourage multiple play-throughs, and to encourage the player to find their own synergies between units. The player will probably have a small number of class duplicates in their ‘school’ by the end of the game.

-Units will not have individual experience. Instead, the player will advance in level occassionally (via a mechanism TBD), granting all of his/her characters more skill points to allocate. This will allow players to create increasingly specialized builds over time, and to find more and more synergy between abilities and character builds.

-There will be no hard-coded rock-paper-scissors effect. Land of Legends had a naturally evolving trump system that sprung from the relationships of stats, costs, and abilities, and I feel strongly that is the elegant and ‘correct’ way to do it. (For example, one axis of that in LOL is that units can typically cost-effectively kill units sleightly cheaper than themselves, but weenie units can generally cost-effectively kill top-tier units.) Hard-coded trump systems feel sloppy to me. This new game will also be designed such that trumps evolve naturally from the engine, abilities, and unit builds. Yes, it’s more work, but it also feels more elegant.

Any feedback on any of these decisions?

I think this design is shaping up to be something very, very different than Fire Emblem. The reason I started this thread is because I know a lot of people love Fire Emblem, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooking some crucial ‘fun-factor’ mechanic that I could leverage in this design…