Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Fire Emblem Series's Flying Units' Weakness

I seem to be strangely over-critical of flying units in the Fire Emblem series.

One of the mainstay character classes of Fire Emblem is the flying unit. These are the ones where some fighter rides atop a pegasus, a wyvern, or, recently, a big honkin’ cockatoo in battle, and can travel over various map obstacles that other fighters can’t traverse, because, y’know, flying. Naturally, this makes these units extremely handy, particularly for accomplishing timed objectives during a battle which would otherwise be nearly impossible to get to in time. To balance these units out so that players can’t abuse their mobility too much, they always take critical damage from projectile weapons like bows.

This seems sensible enough at a glance. They’re flying units, so naturally the weapon you’d rely on to take them down would be a projectile, right? I mean, that’s how it works in real life. You need to take down a bird flying overhead, you’re gonna need something with a little more reach than a sword. But, scrutinize this system with anything lengthier than that glance, and you’ll realize that this actually doesn’t make any damn sense.

See, the problem comes back to the reasoning for why this would appear to make sense: flying enemies are outside our normal reach, so we would rely on a bow to take down, say, a pegasus knight. But the game doesn’t actually follow this logic, because a pegasus knight can be attacked using melee weapons just as any other unit can be! Get a ground-based unit with an axe up to a pegasus knight unit, and that axe grunt can attack the pegasus knight exactly as effectively as he can anyone else! The pegasus knight is no more or less evasive, takes no more or less damage from the axe, as any other unit would. The bow’s extra damage to flying units is founded on the core idea that a flying enemy can only be hit by long-range weapons, but the game doesn’t actually support this--the flying units are no less vulnerable to regular weaponry!

So why, then, should the bow be so deadly to flying units? It’s not like they’re significantly less armored than many other types of fighters in the Fire Emblem series. The regular horses that knights ride are just as vulnerable to an arrow’s damage. More, really, because any significant damage to the majority of a horse’s body is going to make the act of movement along the ground difficult or impossible for the horse, while in the case of a pegasus, a lot less of its body would need to be in perfect condition to keep moving through the air.

And what about wyvern units? Considering that these guys are dragons’ lesser cousins, their scales should make them far less susceptible to arrows than most regular units in the series, and the knights that sit atop them tend to be pretty heavily armored, too.

Heck, what about the issue of mobility? If anything, shouldn’t a flying unit be even harder to hit with a bow, since they have more space and distance when in the air to react and evade? Ground units are significantly more limited in their options for avoiding projectiles than those that can move through the air at will.

It just doesn’t make sense. If, in practice, everyone can attack the flying units with any weapon and not suffer any kind of damage or accuracy penalty, thus eliminating the theoretical benefit of a bow’s range in combat against a flying foe, then there’s just no logical reason why a bow’s arrows would be any more effective on a kinshi, pegasus, or especially wyvern rider than it would be on any other given fighter. I know it’s all in the name of gameplay balance (although I’m not actually sure whether this system even really balances flying units out very well to begin with), but that doesn’t mean it’s sensible on more important levels.


  1. Playing devil's advocate here (I don't actually agree with what I'm typing), but wouldn't the arrow cause more harm than a melee weapon like an axe because the flying unit would most likely be flying to avoid the arrow, so the attack is more unexpected?

    You mentioned before here that archers could shoot arrows at 5 second intervals, which would make it harder for flying units to dodge the flurry of arrows while airborne (I don't have that rant memorised or anything, but I thought I'd take a look at it anyway).

    If a random person on the street hits you, it'd probably hurt more (ignoring the perpetrator's skill in fighting) because you didn't expect it, compared to getting hit when at, for instance, training at a boxing club, because you could take appropriate measures to prepare for the attack in the latter situation.

    Actually, this is almost as incomprehensible Sarah Palin, so I'm going to stop here. Don't stay up late at night, kids.

    1. Well, yeah, being prepared to take the hit is going to help in a minor way, but past a certain level of lethal-ness of the weapon, I don't think it's gonna matter much (I could steel myself as much as possible beforehand and still be killed exactly as much by getting hit by a train, for example), and arrows are pretty lethal weapons. And even if the issue of being prepared does make a difference, I don't think a difference of 100% of the damage is appropriate.

      I'm pleased that a reader remembers my rant on archers, though.

    2. Do arrows do double- or triple-damage?

  2. Hmm I think your thinking about this a little to narrow on this one. First keep in mind that unless they are using range weapon they still need to get close to a person to actually attack so they can be counter attack. And if they are attacking at range they can tend to be in places where you can't actually hit them directly.

    Next remember stats. Flyers beside Wyverns tend to have high speed (dodge) while archers tend to have high skill (hit). Also keep in mind that axes (especially in the earlier games) has high strength but low hit and were also heavy causing them to be slower.

    Finally remember Gravity. It will hurt if you get nocked out of the sky by a good arrow shot and thanks to high hit (and crit) archers are very good at aiming at weak spots like wings. And if you watch how to train your dragon ... yeah.

  3. I totally feel where you are coming from and I agree for the most part.

    I will say that to a degree, Intelligent Systems did use stat gains and base stats to indicate natural abilities. Pegasus Knights have high enough natural SPD (which goes into AVD and EVD) to evade the aforementioned axe-wielding Fighters/Bandits as well as lower SKL sword-wielders, like Mercenary/Hero classes. (Mymidons/Swordmasters would still connect, though).

    The Weapons Triangle can be nullified by high enough evasive stats, which fliers tend to have. Though the RNG-goddess will have the last say everytime! ^_^

  4. It may not be an intuitive weakness, but I interpret it as being a balancing issue. Pegasus Knights historically subvert the normal flow of combat by ignoring terrain and being able to more freely choose their targets, leaving them less subject to the weapon triangle. Not only that, they tend to have a specific anti-mage role in their high Res. Wyvern Riders may not be so tanky against spells, but they're essentially slightly less sturdy Knights with 7/8 Mov. Either unit is a terror to behold when utilized effectively.

    Next to that, you have Archers who will more often than not exist solely to not OHKO their enemies, allowing them to feed other units kills. A useful role, but not one of personal profit. Add in their spacing limitations, and you have a Magikarp that lives to make other people become Gyarados, whilst splashing around for eternity.*

    Without both a check to the Pegasus Knight's and Wyvern Rider's free movement and virtual mage immunity/melee superiority as well as the Archer's general difficulty in dealing meaningful damage and scoring meaningful amounts of kills, you would end up with two types of units who are vastly imbalanced. Archers for being Exp generators for others with little relative threat potential, and flying units who could very well become minor boss characters.

    If nothing else, remember Smaug.

    *Inb4 Killer Bows like everyone else doesn't get access to Killer Weapons and more.

    1. But Splash is the best move now.

      I suppose you're right, but this won't be the first time I bitch about the realism problems of game balance, and it won't be the last where I stick with what I've said.

    2. Well, seeing as I come here primarily to see new and exciting whining, I can't rightly say I have a problem with that.

      Game balance is a fickle thing. Also Sun/Moon has a Z-move mechanic with once per battle held items that upgrade moves. Splash in particular turns into a +3 Attack boost. So, yes. Splash is a thing now.