Movement is determined
Division and unity
Are its elements
You best believe nothing can make me feel like a queen militant more than a Fire Emblem playthrough. I’ve played Fire Emblem: Awakening three times on various levels now. Currently I’m in the middle of my first playthrough of Birthright, one half of Fire Emblem Fates with Conquest waiting for me right after. Booting up my 3DS is almost like walking into a war room, maps on the table and moving figures and all.
But feeling like a queen militant is really just that—a feeling. (Oh, I know real-life wars aren’t waged in orderly pairs and alternating turns.) Thing is, I got into the gaming scene late in life, and even though I’m naturally obsessive, I’m still very much a casual player. I don’t have the advantage of long-time Fire Emblem players who have had twelve older titles’ worth of experience. In fact, jumping into my first playthrough was little more than “Make your character, then follow the instructions on the screen!” Not the smoothest of starts when you have zero stock knowledge.
So how did I get by? I played by my strengths. And my strengths definitely included stock knowledge of the military classic, The Art of War by Sun-Tzu.
Read on to find out five ways I learned to apply The Art of War in Fire Emblem: Awakening!
First, know your enemy
“Know the enemy,
Know yourself, and
Victory is never in doubt.”
Not everybody has read the entirety of The Art of War, but it’s probably safe to say everybody has heard of this famous line from it. Knowing what you’re up against is the basis of all the decisions you’re going to make, and every Fire Emblem battle, broken down, is really just a series of informed decision after informed decision.
So don’t press FIGHT! without first gathering intelligence! Always check the map before every battle. Determine your win condition, check out the terrain, and examine the enemy units. Ask yourself:
- What kind of weapons are the enemy carrying, and of what material?
- Are there mages, and what kind of magic are they using?
- Are they on foot, mounted on horses, or flying on pegasi and wyverns?
Think of choosing your units as the answer to these questions. Remember that there is a weapon triangle: swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. Make sure to select and equip your units accordingly.
Fire Emblem: Awakening doesn’t use the magic triangle, but the characteristics of the types of magic from earlier titles are still the same: Wind is weak but accurate, Thunder is strong but inaccurate, and Fire is somewhere in between. It’s also best to come in prepared when the enemy is using dark tomes like Nosferatu and Mire.
If the other side has fliers, put your best archers on the field; if the other side has archers, make sure your own fliers have supports on the ground for protection.
Ideally, it’s useful to have units of all classes on the field. But you can only bring out so many characters with you, and it’s more efficient to be precise and incisive in your choices. Give tit for tat: “The warrior shapes his victory from the dynamic of the enemy.”
Control the terrain
“The form of the terrain
Is the soldier’s ally.”
There’s more to this than just looking over the map before starting the battle.
Press X on an empty square to pull up a pink grid that shows you the enemy’s range. Instead of charging straight at the enemy’s starting position, place your units only on the first row of boxes within the pink area, with their backs to the area beyond the range. Then end your turn.
Controlling the terrain this way gives you the following advantages:
- With your back against what is essentially a wall, you only have to worry about an attack from the three open sides facing the enemy.
- There’s more: if you back into a corner, you reduce that to two open sides; and if you’re lucky enough to wedge yourself in a niche, only one side to defend.
- The enemy will have to approach you to attack you, in a location of your choosing, instead of you approaching them in a location that benefits them.
Another good example: terrains with a bottleneck, such as narrow hallways or doorways of rooms. By blocking the doorway, you ensure that engagement only occurs in that area. You’ll be able to concentrate your efforts in only one direction, compared to if you charge into the next room with a scattered force and have to fend off multiple attacks from all sides.
By controlling the terrain, you lead the enemy around like a puppy on a leash. And more importantly, you decide the pace of the battle.
[Okay, units, let’s] Get in formation
“The most vigorous men
Will be in the vanguard;
In the rear.”
Know the enemy, know the terrain, and know your allies! Your own units will have their unique strengths and weaknesses, and a good general will know how to move them around so they will be able to protect and support each other.
Some movements are straightforward. Don’t pair up two Healers who can’t attack with each other; pair them instead with sturdy units unlikely to die and leave them vulnerable. Don’t pair up two Archers who will both be vulnerable to melee attacks either. Pair a flier with a ground unit in case you encounter archers and need to switch to protect the flier.
More complex formations involve several units. Commonly used is a cross or diamond formation, with a ranged unit in the middle and tank units penning it in on all four sides. During the enemy’s turn, ranged units are protected from tank attacks which they can’t defend themselves from, and they’ll be able to support the friendly tanks surrounding them. During your turn, they are ideally placed to shoot arrows and javelins, and this time it’ll be the enemy tank units that won’t be able to defend themselves.
Going back to the pink grid, you can place your tank units just inside the enemy’s range, and ranged units on the square right behind them. This way the enemy will only be able to attack the tank unit, but when the tank unit responds, the ranged unit will support them without risking attack.
In this way, it will be easier to reach the end of every stage with your force intact—essential if you’re playing on Classic mode. “With the army focused, the brave will not advance alone, nor will the fearful retreat alone.”
Appear strong when you are weak, appear weak when you are strong
“The Way of War is
A Way of Deception.
True, you’re not going to be striking fear into AI hearts no matter what your line looks like. But the tactical advantages of your formations will still be yours for the taking!
Group your units into a solid, combined force when trying to protect weak or injured units. Revisit the cross or diamond formation: place weak or injured units placed in the middle of an impenetrable wall of tanks. Then let the enemy break its teeth on your defenses while buying time for the injured units inside to heal.
On the other hand, break your troops up into scattered forces when you’re confident of the strength of each pairing or small group. This allows you to divide and conquer an enemy force and cover ground faster.
Divide and distribute
Is the same as
It is a question of
As the story progresses, you will recruit more characters (and more yet if you successfully unlock your paralogues). Two common mistakes in managing your units as your team grows are:
- Getting excited about new recruits’ and throwing them right into battle without sufficiently familiarizing yourself with their abilities and limitations
- Sticking to your favorites to win a battle easily, at the risk of creating a huge level gap between them and lesser-used characters
It’s probably overly simplistic to advise you not to get overwhelmed with your choices. But hey, you’re the kingdom tactician! It’s your job to take a deep breath and break down ever-bigger jobs into the same small tasks. Make your preparations using the same steps: review the enemies on the map, select your units, equip accordingly. Plot how to use the terrain to your advantage, group and scatter your units as is wise, and carry out each turn in an order that benefits all the units.
And again, know your allies! Use the paralogues and challenges in between chapters to level up and get to know your newest recruits. In actual battles, pair your go-to units with your newer ones to spread the XP around, and let the newbies get the last hit when it’s safe.
The Art of War is a classic, timeless strategy guide that works in so many situations, ranging from real-life military maneuvers, to Plants vs. Zombies, to business, to personal relationships. Applying it to a fun tactical role-playing game is just another perfect venue to apply ancient principles that never actually get old.
I still have a lot to learn about Fire Emblem. I’m not a risk-taker. I’m a perfectionist. And there’s twelve games’ worth of practical knowledge that I still have to catch up on in order to max out my characters to their fullest potentials. Someone way more experienced would probably read this and laugh at my cautiously-cobbled strategies—though I maintain that players of every level would benefit hugely from Sun-Tzu’s wisdom.
I don’t know a lot of things, but at the very least, I do know how to win a battle.
This is the Art of War.
“With an understanding of
Like a millstone
Cast at an egg.”