A Casual Stroll Through: Fire Emblem Fates

Fire Emblem Fates has been out for over a month now, and in that time I have put more time than I care to admit into the game. While I have very mixed feelings about the Fire Emblem title, there’s no doubt that Fates is selling quite well and plenty of new folks are experiencing the series for the first time because of it. Because of that, I thought it would be a great time to have a Casual Stroll through the game. Whether you’re a series veteran who hasn’t quite grasped Fates yet or a brand new player who needs some assistance along the way, I’m here to offer some advice based on my experience with the game thus far.

PERSONAL SKILLS
One of the new features of Fates is that each and every character has some kind of personal skill, a skill completely unique to them that enhances their general usefulness or gives them an advantage in a particular situation. Whenever a new character joins you, the first thing you want to do is check out their skill and make sure you begin taking advantage of it. Here are a few examples of how to take advantage of character skills.
The player character gives accuracy, damage, and defense bonuses to allies with a C support rank or higher when they are paired up. So naturally, you want to have at least a C support rank with as many characters as possible. Take advantage of the time in My Castle to make friends with characters that your avatar may not get to see on the battlefield.
In Conquest, the character Odin gains +10 Crit if you give him a custom-made tome with a name at least 12 characters long. You’ll want to custom make him a weapon as soon as possible, but also consider what kind of tome you customize – something that can’t crit doesn’t mesh well with his ability, whereas a custom-made high-critical weapon can be incredibly effective in Odin’s hands. Effie the knight does increased damage when attacking opponents who have 5 less strength than her. To capitalize on that, pair her with someone like Arthur who gives her a strength boost. Her heightened strength will not only naturally increase her damage, but also give her a chance to activate her Puissance skill.
In Birthright, you may notice that the character Rinkah never seems to be able to do high damage. However, Rinkah is designed to perform well when she’s taken some damage. As long as Rinkah has HP missing, her attack power is increased by 4 points. This makes her attacks a lot more potent, and if you have her paired with someone who boosts her speed, she can double attack and net an extra 8 points of damage during combat. Now that’s power! When any of your characters need a little extra power or defense, keep the royal sisters Hinoka and Sakura nearby. Their personal skills give off an aura that give bonuses to anyone within two spaces of them, and just having them close by can make any character more effective.

ATTACK STANCE VS GUARD STANCE
In Awakening, pairing up with an ally or standing adjacent to them created an opportunity for maneuvers called Dual Attack and Dual Defense. You had a percentage chance of the paired ally attacking or completely negating damage based on stats and support ranking. This made pairing up simultaneously really powerful but rather unreliable.
In Fates, things are different. Whether your ally will attack or defend depends on whether they are paired with you or adjacent to you. When adjacent, your ally will be guaranteed to deliver a follow-up attack. When paired, your ally is guaranteed to block any follow-up attacks from enemies in Attack Stance. You’ll also slowly build a shield meter that will totally negate one attack when full. These changes balanced the dual system while also making it more consistent.
So how do you take advantage of these changes? When should you leave units adjacent to take the offensive and when should you pair up to block additional attacks?
In my experience with the game, a good defense is the best offense. Constantly taking advantage of the Guard Stance will steadily build the shield meters of your allies, making them negate attacks more often. You’ll also be in less danger from enemy swarms, because you won’t have to worry about the follow-up attacks from adjacent foes. Guard Stance is particularly useful against enemies in Guard Stance, since you can’t make follow-up attacks against them anyway.
However, this isn’t to say that Attack Stance is useless. You just need to know when to use it. For one, attack stance can be really effective for whittling down bosses. All those extra attacks add chip damage that will help eliminate the boss sooner. Another good opportunity is when enemies are bottlenecked into an area. Place one strong defensive unit (someone like Xander, Effie, or Rinkah) in the front and then have a ranged attacker behind them. Since enemies can only approach one at a time, you’ll be able to take the offensive without worry of being chipped down by an enemy swarm.

THE SMITHY
If you’ve played a past Fire Emblem title with a forge, you’re likely familiar with the concept: you upgrade a weapon you already own to give it some mild bonuses. It’s a neat little function and it can be kind of cool to give a preferred character a custom weapon. Of course, there were disadvantages. Forging would cost some of your hard-earned money, money you should be spending on important supplies like staves. And because of the weapon durability limit, your custom-made weapon would eventually wear out and break, making it feel a lot less special.
Fates is different for two reasons. For one, forging doesn’t cost money, it costs ore. You get ore for free once per “day” in your My Castle. The better your mine, the more ore you get. Of course, you’ll primarily only get one kind, but you can use other My Castle functions like the Lottery and the Arena to gain other types of ore and to multiply your stores of them. Because ore is effectively free, it’s not really costing you anything to customize a weapon. And now that weapon durability is no longer a factor, your custom-made weapon can last you the duration of the game.
Because forging is so much more effective this time around, you should absolutely take advantage of it. There’s no downside to your army having stronger weapons, and there’s no reason to horde your ore – it isn’t used for anything else. So whenever you have some spare chunks of ore and a couple of copies of the same weapon, forge it! The better your smithy, the more you can forge something and the more bonuses you can get from it.
You’ll get the most mileage out of items that are really easy to get multiple copies of, like an Iron weapon. Chances are it won’t take you long to have iron katanas or naginatas cluttering up your inventory, and because you have so many, you can forge them over and over to get better and better bonuses. Custom weapons don’t break the game – obviously the high-level and divine weapons give much better bonuses – but a solid custom weapon can really make a difference for you in the early-and-middle parts of the game.

HIDDEN WEAPONS, SEAL SKILLS, AND POISON DAMAGE
If you’ve played a Fire Emblem game before, you probably have a decent understanding of the “meta,” of which classes are most effective against which and how to take down difficult enemies and the best defensive strategies and yada yada. These new features turned all of that upon its head.
Hidden weapons are a new classification of weapon consisting of daggers and shurikens. In the weapon triangle, they are grouped with lances, giving them an advantage against swords and magic but a disadvantage against axes and bows. What makes these weapons special is their side effect: every hidden weapon causes some sort of stat decrease. This generally includes both defense and resistance, along with one or two other stats. The ability of these weapons to lower defenses is such a gamechanger for the series – now someone with a hidden weapon can rush in to lower your defense and then have an ally smash you to pieces in your weakened state.
Seal skills have a similar effect. They only work on one stat, but they lower that stat by a whopping 6 points. Imagine dealing 6 less points of damage with each attack, or worse – taking 6 points more! 6 points is enough to take your ability to double attack away, or to enable the foe to double attack you. If a character has multiple seal skills and they survive combat with you, all of the stats that they can seal will be sealed. Like the hidden weapons, this is a potent way to change the tide of battle against a specific opponent.
Poison damage doesn’t work in this game like it has in past Fire Emblem titles. In Path of Radiance or Radiant Dawn, poison caused you to take a certain percentage of your health as damage at the beginning of each turn. In Fates, “poison” is a catch-all term for any skill that causes damage after a battle has taken place. The most common use of this is the ninja’s Poison Touch ability. Other examples include Savage Blow, Grisly Wound, and personal skills like Fearsome Blow or Playthings. These abilities deal chip damage to the opponent, taking away a percentage of their health, guaranteed. Defense and resistance cannot stop this. If an opponent with a poison skill survives the battle with you, you’re going to take a chunk of damage.
These three features combined have created a whole new viable strategy for the game – chipping away at large threats rather than smashing them with your own large threats. Here’s how it works. First, you send in someone with a hidden weapon or seal skill to weaken the enemy’s defenses. If that character can also deal poison damage, that’s even better – you’ll be weakening the enemy in more ways than one. Next, you bring in your big guns. Now that the boss is weakened and already damaged, you can finish things up nicely without having to worry about an important character being in serious danger from a boss. Conversely, if you have a bunch of chip characters, you can swarm an enemy with all of them, letting the lowered defenses and poison damage whittle the enemy down to nothing. It’s a great strategy that hasn’t really been available in previous Fire Emblem titles.
Now while it’s great when you get the opportunity to capitalize on this new strategy for yourself, you also have to watch out when the enemy uses it. This problem was most frequent when playing Conquest – Hoshido has a ton of pesky ninjas with a combination of hidden weapons and poison touch. Even a huge knight like Effie, Benny, or Ignatius has a hard time handling three or four ninjas coming in and chipping away at their defenses and health. Perhaps the scariest application of this that I witnessed also involved the Lunge ability – ninjas would weaken my unit’s defenses, chip their health with poison, and then switch places with them, slowly moving my character into the depth of enemy lines in a weakened, vulnerable state. Kaze has an awesome line in the early chapters of the game: “your death need not come all at once.” These new strategies make that approach very viable, and if you aren’t ready to deal with it you can easily lose some units.
With this new strategy, it’s not just about who has the biggest muscles or the most potent magic anymore. You really have to rely on teamwork and good strategy to overcome enemies when half of your party has lowered stats. My recommendation for ninjas is to deal with them one at a time if you can. While a swarm of ninjas can be dangerous to a high-defense character, a single ninja rarely poses a big threat. Fast archer characters can also be effective – bows have weapon advantage against shurikens and most ninjas aren’t living two attacks. You also need to check your enemies BEFORE you move into their range. If an opponent has a Seal skill that is going to be particularly dangerous to you, space things out so that you bring the fight to them. Units with high movement like cavaliers, wyvern knights, and sky knights can park just outside of an opponent’s attack range and then ride in to deal damage before getting any stats lowered.

VERSION DIFFERENCES
Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation are all ultimately different games. At least when it comes to gameplay. Because you have different types of units in your team, you’ll have to employ different strategies to succeed. This is particularly true for Birthright versus Conquest, where you not only have a difference in units but also a significant difference in difficulty and what causes that difficulty.
First, Birthright. Birthright is the easier game, but that doesn’t mean it is without its challenges. Most of your units in this game are ninjas, samurai, and sky knights, classes known not for their strength or durability but for their speed. In good news, this means you can outpace your enemies and double attack pretty easily in Birthright. In bad news, this means you have a team of very vulnerable people up against an army of heavy-hitters. You have to make up for lack of strength with clever skills. The chipping strategy I described above will be your best friend in Birthright. You never want to send any characters into a position where they’ll draw attention from multiple enemies, because they can’t take that kind of punishment. Luckily, the Birthright path is generous with healers and provides lots of characters that can contribute to your chipping strategy.
Now Conquest is harder than Birthright for a few reasons. For one, it is literally designed to be harder. Enemies have way better skills and have skills in combinations that don’t normally come together but that are very effective (like the Lunge/ninja thing I was talking about earlier). For two, you are playing as strong, burly, slow characters against an army of fast characters. This may not sound bad at first, but it forces you to play Conquest differently than you would play a normal Fire Emblem game. Double attacking will be more rare to a degree, which means you’ll often have to use multiple characters to defeat one enemy. Combine this with the fact that you tend to be outnumbered one each map, and suddenly you’ve got a serious problem. It is really easy to get swarmed in Conquest, and often those swarms are full of irritating ninjas utilizing the very dangerous and effective chipping strategy. For three, you can’t grind in this game; that means your characters only gain experience from the main chapters of the game and whatever paralogues you manage to unlock. Leveling up your whole party evenly is going to require careful balance of kills and making sure you don’t overuse characters like Camilla and Xander. So how can you make Conquest easier?
I have a few tips. Remember to always check your enemy’s skills BEFORE you get into their range. There is nothing more frustrating than accidentally losing your mage because you cast Mjolnir on a nameless unit that has Countermagic for some random reason. Don’t let your enemies swarm you; take them on one at a time whenever possible. Protect your healers – you don’t have all that many in Conquest, so be sure you keep them healthy for the duration of the game. Focus on getting people married – the more marriages you have, the more child paralogues you unlock. Not only will that give you extra units to use (units that may very well be stronger than their parents, depending on how you raise them), but it will also give you more opportunities to gain experience points, a very rare commodity in Conquest. Make sure that low-level units get the XP for kills, and don’t let overleveled characters like Xander and Camilla steal XP until other people have caught up with them. If you want to use those units for their bulk but don’t want them stealing kills, you have a couple of options. You can unequip their weapons entirely, leaving them there specifically to soak damage. Or you could equip them with weapons that don’t allow follow-up attacks. These will prevent your stronger characters from double-attacking and taking XP from the units who need it more.

There’s a lot of advice here, but I am certainly not done. Sometime this weekend or perhaps early next week I’ll be posting a guide specifically on children in Fire Emblem Fates. The goal is to help you unlock really capable kids and to capitalize on their unique abilities. In the meantime, if you’ve been playing Fates and have a specific question, I’ll do my best to advise you on the best course of action. I’m no expert at the game – I certainly haven’t beaten it on Lunatic – but having now played all the different paths and learning the mechanics of the game, I feel that I can provide some help particularly to those who may be enjoying Fire Emblem for the first time.

Thanks for taking the time to read! I hope this stroll equipped you with the knowledge you needed to overcome the forces of Nohr. Or Hoshido. Or whoever the heck you’re fighting.

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