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Defined Design: Hidden Depth in Fire Emblem Warriors

Defined Design: Hidden Depth in Fire Emblem Warriors - Article

by Paul Broussard , posted on 16 October 2020 / 962 Views

Depth and complexity are concepts that often take a while to become apparent. Take Fire Emblem Warriors, which on the surface might seem like an expansion of the idea behind Hyrule Warriors; lift characters, settings, and a few surface level mechanics from a Nintendo series, and then slap it on top of a Warriors title. In theory, the result is not particularly complex; Fire Emblem Warriors mostly plays like a Warriors game with a couple of minor wrinkles. But Fire Emblem Warriors goes above and beyond this simple idea and manages to craft a particularly compelling gameplay system which embraces a concept not seen enough in this style of game, evolving the formula with small changes that add up to significant shifts in player thinking.

The core, moment to moment gameplay of Fire Emblem Warriors probably looks pretty standard at first glance and, depending on how much time you’re willing to sink into it, you might play it like one too. The game functions within the parameters of a simple hack and slash-esque game, and mostly revolves around defeating large numbers of fodder enemies, beating back the occasional tougher baddy, and taking over various points of interest along the way. Combat is accomplished entirely with two buttons and each character has a not terribly extensive move list. 

With all this, it might not seem like the table is set for an interesting combat system and, indeed, the simple story mode can be beaten fairly easily by mashing buttons. But like many other action games, the bulk of the content comes outside an initial story playthrough, in the game’s myriad of challenge maps. There's a surprising amount of depth that the game all but requires the player to use in order to complete and rank highly on later, more challenging maps.

One ever present part of the Warriors series of titles is the existence of a “stun” gauge, which appears over certain enemies' heads after they perform an attack. Depleting the gauge allows you to perform a more cinematic attack and deal a substantial chunk of damage. This is present in FE Warriors as well, but it appears with a unique twist thanks to the inclusion of Fire Emblem’s Weapon Triangle mechanic.

In most Fire Emblem games, using units with certain weapons against those with other types of weapons grants some form of advantage, and that is represented here by making the stun gauge appear. If you engage an enemy unit when you have the weapon triangle advantage, your attacks can cause the enemy’s stun gauge to appear and deplete quickly. Fighting a unit with the same weapon type also allows the gauge to appear, albeit it depletes more slowly and the attack at the end does less damage. And, finally, fighting a unit when at a disadvantage means the stun gauge won’t appear just by attacking them.

This is significant, as many of the tougher challenge maps and requirements for high ranks demand meeting various time conditions; if you’re spending large chunks of time endlessly hitting an enemy to kill them, you won’t make it (or you may even just die from expending resources and taking damage). As a result, ensuring that you’re consistently fighting units you can manage to take down quickly is essential, and it drives the design of many of the later maps.

By itself, this might have been simply an interesting little novelty, but the game expands on it with the ability to both command and seamlessly switch player control between four different units in almost any given battle. This provides the player the ability to both dictate where their units are throughout the course of the battle, as well as take charge of any given unit when necessary. While FE Warriors isn’t the only Warriors game with this feature, the addition of the Weapon Triangle means that a strategy element comes into play. Players can focus on planning out routes for units to take in battle, where they’ll be at various points in time, and who they’ll need to take out.

As an example, one map might see three units commanded at the start to move around the map in order to reach tougher foes they have an advantage against, while another stays behind at the player’s control to take out fodder enemies to help reach the kill quota for higher ranks. Then, when one of the other characters reaches their destination, the player can take control of them and dispatch the enemy as quickly as possible, before switching to another unit, and so on and so forth. Figuring out where your units need to be and being able to effectively plan how to move them and when to control each one is quite satisfying.

This marriage of light strategy and fast-paced combat works surprisingly well together, and it’s made it tougher for me to go back to previous Warriors titles which lack a similar concept. Perhaps it’s ultimately a testament for how much a simple mechanic like the Weapon Triangle, which really just amounts to a glorified version of rock paper scissors, can add to an experience.

Fire Emblem Warriors is by no means a perfect game. If you look at it as an opportunity to celebrate the entire Fire Emblem series (as many rightfully did), it can certainly seem disappointing, with a limited roster size and focus on specific titles. From a pure combat standpoint, however, I would argue it performs quite well, and even stands out as one of the better titles in the already excellent Switch lineup. But perhaps more than that, it stands as an example of how much a seemingly insignificant change can alter player approach to a game. A weapon triangle system obviously won’t work in every game, but similar small alterations to formulas can really do a lot to liven up an experience that might feel a bit old and samey otherwise.

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Soren0079 (on 16 October 2020)

Hmm sounds like a nice evolution of Samurai Warriors Chronicles on the 3DS.
I've got Fire Emblem Warriors for the new 3ds but I haven't played it yet. Maybe I finally will some day.

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GoOnKid (on 17 October 2020)

Nice article!

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