Nathaniel is dissatisfied with the tougher difficulty modes in games like Fire Emblem: Awakening and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. At what point does a challenge become too intense to bear?
I consider myself a big fan of turn-based strategy games. I haven’t logged as many hundreds of hours (or even dozens of hours) in Civilization as some, and there are key franchises I haven’t even touched yet, but I loved the recent XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Until I beat them and tried the higher difficulty levels, that is.
I just started the Lunatic difficulty on Awakening a few hours ago, and I’m unhappy. I’m not even an hour in, and already the game seems next to impossible. I had the exact same problem with XCOM.
I’m certainly not whining about them being too hard. I loved the seventh Fire Emblem for Game Boy Advance on its maximum difficulty, and I played through a few select chapters at least two dozen times each just to get through without anyone dying. But with FE7, I had no need to rely on dumb luck just to beat the game on anything higher than the normal difficulty.
See, FE7 was perfect in its “Hector Hard” mode for a few reasons: The enemies were never more than a reasonable match for the player though they had advantages in number, placement, and a few particular items; these advantages could be combated purely by strategy. Even if things got out of hand, the random number generator (RNG) was only seeded once for each level, meaning that repeating the same actions between multiple attempts of a level would yield the same “random” numbers. This made it possible to continuously make progress at every attempt, however slight.
Fire Emblem: Awakening ditches this concept. (XCOM does as well, but since the reasons are similar, I’ll use only Awakening for convenience.)
The enemies are stronger than the player’s units from the very first chapter, with high stats and steel weapons pitted against your allies’ bronze. Even as new recruits join, it seems that a single enemy will run in to attack anyone with a guaranteed two-hit kill whereas an ally might get lucky with a three-hit kill. And there are almost twice as many enemy units as allied ones. This demands extensive use of the lone promoted character provided at the very beginning, which seems extremely uncharacteristic for the franchise.
If you haven’t played a Fire Emblem game before, most of them give the player one character who is overpowered initially but has mediocre growth stats and gains very little XP. Using this character heavily early on leads to a very underpowered team later in the game. This is less of a problem in Awakening because characters can be reclassed to non-promoted classes, but still … .
The RNG in Awakening fixes the “problem” that FE7 had, so on one attempt, I barely got hurt by the final enemy, and in the next attempt, I got destroyed by the first one. I ultimately can’t make any progress in the level despite how many times I try it. Eventually, I might get lucky on a couple dozen dice rolls and win.
I’m not opposed to having extreme difficulty levels for those who want them. What I’m saying is that on Normal or Hard, Awakening is fairly tame and forgiving, but on Classic or Lunatic, it’s absolutely brutal. I’m left with no reasonable challenge, and I’m unhappy. Both of these games were phenomenal on the first playthrough, but the only reason I have to go back is to try to optimize my team at the same difficulty I just beat the game on. I was hoping for a bit more challenge, which would encourage my meticulous team-building, but if there isn’t one, I’m content to merely think about the games instead of replaying them.
Regardless, you should pick up and play both of these games if you haven’t already. Just don’t expect a fair fight if you’re looking for a challenge.