Articles | Fire Emblem: Cat Heroin(e), a PvP'ers Journal
In this article I will be discussing and providing commentary for a large number of "replays" accessible in the mobile scam platform Fire Emblem: Heroes.
Much to the dismay of casual waifu farmers everywhere, a legend was indeed born a fateful day in October 2018.
Introduction to FEH
One doesn't need to be a gamer to get into the phone game market. Such is the attraction of the million and one east-asian firms looking to cash in on gullible Americans with pretty waifus and handsome husbandos. With deception and psychological warfare, games like FEH are designed to bait the unsuspecting into doling out real-world money for temporary, online-only jpegs with numbers attached to them in extremely simple gambling roulettes.
Let's face it - the only reason anyone gets into these games is for building harems.
Thanks to a ruling in China, we can see the gambling numbers for every gacha game and most similar counterparts, and they are impressively biased against the consumer as detailed in this article. However, in the aforementioned article I did not speak of Fire Emblem: Heroes in great detail, as I had planned to put much of my experiences with the title in a separate article as they are nothing short of hysterical and deserve to stand in their own right.
It took over 350 orbs to get Selkie on her own rate-up banner, which amounted to clearing all of the story and side quests with the exception of a small number of ultra-high difficulty ones, as well as a myriad of events. But how much does that make Selkie worth in real money?
To quote the nasally screech of the Leftiest dogwhistle, "Yikes".
To fully break into the humor, I'll need to introduce you to the basics of the game. Unlike most other gacha games I've talked about, FEH is in some part based on an existing franchise and, indeed, features many characters from those titles. Unlike FGO, though, FEH supposedly maintains some similairites to those old titles - but is dumbed down for the phone generation per the standard fare. Without any experience in Fire Emblem all I can tell you is that FEH has the potential for some extremely cheesy bullshit in it thanks to the fact there is customization that typically doesn't manifest in online games, phone or otherwise.
First, let's break down what exactly FEH gameplay is all about.
I level-up a flyer by packing her in with three casters that can only heal and never attack and throw it on auto combat. Eventually, the flyer gets trapped in a corner and can't attack anymore since the targets are adjacent to her but can't deal any damage.
FEH is a turn-based tactical strategy without resource management. You bring a prepared team to the mission and confront a prepared team in what is usually a random map (or a map determined by the mission if it's a story quest). The team usually consists of four units, but the match type we'll be discussing allows a maximum of six units (though most we'll observe contain five).
During your turn, you can both move and attack or use a support ability if the unit has one. Units also have cooldown-based Specials, which we'll discuss in a moment. The purple number on the unit tells how many "actions" are left for the special to be available, and it turns into a Star of David when it's charged. Units generate "actions" for specials when attacked, when attacking, and I think during certain support actions. Specials are entirely hands-free and can't be turned off or otherwise controlled by the players, most often providing some benefit for an attack that occurs with the special available. Some provided bonuses to heal abilities or damage reduction for one attack when hit.
The blue (or red, for enemies) number accompanied by a bar is health. The icons on the top right of the units denotes their type (Book = Magic, Staff = Also magic but usually gimped damage-wise, Lance (always blue), Sword (Always red), Beast, Axe (Always green), Dragonstone (Usually colorless but sometimes others).
Generally, when a unit attacks another unit, that unit will immediately retaliate if they are of the same range - melee or archer/caster (Weirdly enough, dragonstones are for "Breath" weapons, but they're actually just standard melee attacks that use magic instead of physical damage). Thus, you usually want to kill something taking advantage of Specials, defense ignoring/shredding or color advantage to minimize the damage you take, especially since only very specific units can possess healing abilities. How much damage you'll deal, of course, depends on stats. This is all pretty basic stuff you expect out of any game focused on numbers at this point. Let's have a look at what units have that isn't exactly in your face.
Units have stats, and to this day I'm still not sure how most of them work. They are pretty self-explanatory for this article, though - Attack is a damage modifier on "MT" from weapons (why is it "MT" anyways?), def is vs physical and res is vs magic. Some units deal magic damage (Namely books/staves and the swirly circular thing which is a dragonstone), but most do physical. You have the cookie-cutter counter system (Red vs Green vs Blue vs Red and then Colorless which is a loner diversity brownie point farmer) but also certain weapons have "Effective vs *" with * corresponding to the actual archetype of unit (Such as Lance or Magic). The archetype of unit determines their movement distance and type (e.g. infantry, cavalry, flyer). Archers are always effective against Flyers, but there aren't really a lot of other "Effective vs" weapons out there, so they're worth mentioning when they do come up.
More important than the stats is the skills, though. Most units have a special weapon that boosts stats in certain conditions, provides flat overall bonuses, or some other simple gimmick. A few have more neat gimmicks, like cooldown boosts for specials or all-range counter attacking. The special weapons are unique to their units and can't be inherited, so here's a place a lot of power creep shows up. Most skills below weapons can all be exchanged, or "inherited", between units - and is another realm where power creep shows up, especially since many skills can only be obtained by very difficult to roll limited-time units.
Unit stats can be increased by merging the same units together, and furthermore by using a very sparse time-gated resource called Dragonflowers. The former is whale bait with the exception of some 4stars you can buy with grails (currency from events and rare quests), and the latter is mostly an expression of time. The former is, of course, by far the strongest. If we ever find someone with a gacha-only unit at a significant upgrade level it means they paid hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. It's more common than you hope.
Let's have a look at some skills.
Big furdaddy has a bunch of shit that he comes with, but you can inherit other skills and craft "S" seals. Distant Defense 4 is one he starts with, with traditionally 3 being the highest. Other than the fact he is a cat, that was a major deciding factor in using him for my group since I normally don't use tanks due to their 1 space movement speed. The fact he neutralizes bonuses on ranged units (which can stack some stats rather high) and also massively buffs himself means his otherwise ho hum stats become kind of ridiculous. Vengeful Fighter means that when something hits him he should instantly charge a 2 cooldown Special. I initially gave him Glimmer (Straight damage boost) but later switched to Moonbow (Def ignoring) after several losses to tank groups.
The other skills are "look at me I'm fat and you're ignoring me so have some numbers you neglectful pieces of shit" kind of participation awards. If you really wanted him to be selfish you'd probably throw on Close Defense instead of Threaten Atk and something else for C. There's a few ways you could consider building this guy - for example, putting Vantage on his B to let him counter first against attackers could punish ranged units extra hard, but you'd lose the special burst.
Some tanks have abilities that kill skill cooldowns when attacked, and tanks are likely what my tank will end up actually fighting upfront. In such an instance, Vantage may be a better skill choice just so he gets extra damage in a bad situation and maybe kills a support trying to finish him off. It's a potential route for experimentation and alludes to the primary attraction of FEH - customization. While many heroes have "best" builds, only a few are supremely broken to the point they can handle everything in the game with a single set of choices.
FEH is a very typical cultural enrichment color wheel of counters, but even the counter system can be completely defeated by skills. Skills that proc based on turn order or attack order (or even attack distance) are all easily lost in the mix, and 99% of the players in the game don't pay attention to skills. The game is kind enough to actually tell you the results of your attack on a unit before actually attacking, though, if you pay attention to the top of this screenshot.
This image tells you the precise results of what's going to happen, accounting for all bonuses and even things like skills that change the order of attacks (Notably skills like Vantage which allow a unit to attack prior to an attacker's attack if they're below a certain HP threshold - very noteworthy skill since we'll touch on it many times in this article). So, when players suicide their units it's a decision that is either conscious or something that indicates they weren't paying attention to this display. I imagine it's almost always the latter.
If a unit has more Speed than another unit, it can usually attack twice. I think units with high speed can also counter-attack twice. I'm not entirely sure. A few weapons let you make two immediate attacks, like Roy's. Those two attacks go a long way to charging special skills, and the right build can make them extremely irritating. But, they're pretty rare to see people using because there's better choices.
[Aether keep image]
This article is predominantly about PvP, but the PvP in most games, phone or otherwise, is a joke. In Azur Lane, it's AI vs AI, the distances are inconsistent, and the attacker gets a huge damage boost.
In FEH, the Attacker is human-controlled.
I won't be showing games in which I was the attacker, but rather, games where I was the Defender. That means all of my units are AI-controlled and my opponents are real, living players (who usually don't use Auto combat in these matchups). You can almost think of it as like building troll levels in Mario Maker.
The goal of the attacker is to kill all of the defense units without losing all of their own. As a bonus, two Aether-related structures (which cannot be removed) can be destroyed before the end of combat to give the Attacker some Aether, which is a resource used to attack to begin with. In an ideal world, you always destroy those buildings, attack more per day, and get more ranking as a result. The defender's responsibility is, in theory, to kill you before you kill him.
The attacker can place buildings on the bottom panel, representing their territory, but the defender chooses the map and a bunch of other junk along with it. The attacker doesn't get much information about what he's walking into other than the lead unit for your group if he doesn't actually manually check the map prior to attacking. I try to make that unit as deceptive as possible - usually a flyer when my team consists largely of beasts and casters. Let'see what the defender has to work with.
[feh defense maker]
Aether Keeps have structures for both the attacker and the defenders. Buildings all die in one-hit, except for the Fortress. The Fortress is the dumbest part of all of the Aether Keep design mode - whoever has the highest level aether keep gets a stacking buff to all of their unit stats. Matches in which I lose are usually against people with double my fortress level using tanks. Tanks that end up with 70+ Defense - even after some of my buildings shred their armor! The same resource is used for both Defense and Offense buildings, so as a Defender once you reach ELO hell (which seems to start around tier 14), the attacks you can get hit with seem to be in large part from whales too incompetent to raise ranks but so overloaded on resources their fortress is unrealistically high level.
Even though other buildings can be destroyed, a very critical detail in Aether Keep makes choosing to do so risky in itself.
Aether Keep attacks have an extremely strict time limit of 7 rounds. That make seem like a lot, but when it takes 2-3 rounds just to kill a Surtr behind a bunch of buildings you realize most high-end players aim for unfun defense setups for a very good reason. I'm not quite that much of an asshole, but my defense has still made more than a few players have a mental breakdown. It all starts with the buildings.
All buildings can be upgraded with the exception of "Decorations", which are usually used to trap tanks behind walls of buildings and try to force attackers to time out or block off areas of the map and make them appear too time consuming or annoying to traverse.
"Traps", while also being gay, come in pairs - Fake traps, which include tomboys, and real traps, pioneered by Astolfo and Felix. Yellow traps deal aoe damage to everything remotely nearby when touched by enemies, and they ignore defense. Purple traps grapple enemies who fall below a certain HP threshold. The second one especially requires significant upgrades to be any useful, since the HP for most players units whom choose to stand on traps tends to be high since they're tanks used as sacrifical lambs.
The attacker can check what map they're up against as well as the layout of enemy units and buildings. I didn't even know this until I wrote this article - it sheds a very curious light on the decisions many attackers make when faced with my defense.
Catapults destroy buildings under their level. Since you can't predict where attackers or defenders will put buildings, it's basically a game of "Will they try to attack this side or that side and where will a valuable structure be?" The middle seems to be a good spot since most towers end up there, but every now and then you snipe a buff or debuff building. There's a structure that heals, too, but for Attackers it's not that valuable because its range is limited and pulling back to it is only viable if enemy units are chasing you. All "good" defenses have Surtr behind buildings and force you to race to kill him, so its usefulness is limited.
Both attackers and defenders generally want to use shredding buildings. These debuff either attack or defense units that have the highest stats. Very important. Most of my Aether Keep budget has gone into these buildings because historically tanks are the strongest units in the game, especially Surtr and Idunn.
As a Defender and a prospcter of science, my goal with defense is to create the most irritating and successful defense setup possible without resorting to methods I don't consider entertaining to spectate - namely the meta of sticking Surtr behind buildings. It doesn't help that despite my many efforts and hundreds of Orbs I've never actually rolled Surtr to begin with.
Surtr is a tank that deals 20 unresistable damage arbitrarily to all enemies around him. Skilling him for pure defense makes him virtually unkillable even to his "weakness" - Red casters with bonus to Armored, of which only a handful exist to begin with. Throw in Fortress level advantage and I've had my entire team destroyed by a single Surtr or similar tank. In cases where fortress advantage wasn't fucked, though, defense results were often hysterical - even the ones I lost anyways.
The maps the defender can choose have pre-built features, such as water/lava which are unpathable except for flyers, destructible or indestructible walls, or some cover locations that give a defense boost. AI is pretty dumb about destructibles, so I've generally stuck to the lava map. I'll explain my layouts when we get into the games.
Let's meet the gaggle of cuddly qts that consist of my defense group.
The Gang - Initial Build
When I first started documenting Aether Keep defense these were the units I used.
Important - these screenshots are taken after upgrades/modifications and don't reflect early games.
A loli that makes Schwa wake up in a cold sweat screaming night after night. Her special weapon prevents enemy retaliation and can be extremely irritating against squishier units. Although I possessed her for a long time I didn't use her much for Aether purposes because I didn't regard her to be that good. Once I realized you can swap out her healing ability for one that's ranged and give her two skills that deal defense-ignoring area of effect damage after attack, though, she quickly became my favorite.
Initially she used her base Special that buffs healing, but later I replaced it with Miracle - a very long cooldown Special that stops a killing blow (instead reducing her to 1hp). This makes her extremely irritating in longer fights since some slower enemies may try to finish her off but fail to do so.
Her base stats aren't very amazing, and although I eventually lucked with a duplicate, she often fails to kill anything on her own. The AoE damage she can do with the skillset I later give her is absolutely insane, though. But, more on that in a bit.
The AI plays Veronica mindlessly aggressively, which catches a lot of people off guard. Once I learned how dive-happy the AI tends to be, I structured my layout in such a way where the enemy is forced to take Veronica's aggression and, without dance (a support ability which gives an extra action to a unit) or a series of reposition supports, can't reach her prior.
Eir is a unit everyone gets when they start one of the later chapters in the game, but only a few people use her. She's an Assassin-type flyer, so she's very squishy to everything in the game and her damage against many unit types is not spectacular. However, she does debuff whatever she attacks, and most importantly she's a Mythical hero; in certain seasons she'll give my entire team a significant stat boost. I use her otherwise for one of her support abilities - at the start of every turn she heals whatever was damaged last. Some legendary units seem to deal huge aoe damage to my team at the start of combat, which she can almost completely mitigate. I can probably improve some of her skills, but I'm not sure how. I later got a dupe of her which helped her mediocre stats a bit.
In addition to being cuddle-sized, Lethe is a Beast. Virtually no one in the entire game uses Beasts, at least in Aether, because they can't be adjacent to a non-beast non-dragon to initiatie their special gimmick; transforming and gaining extra attributes. However, Lethe does such an absurd amount of damage to certain unit types and is so fast I can't think of anything I possess worth using instead of her. Late into my Aether trolling I tried out giving her Vantage - which allows her to pre-emptively counter enemy attacks if she is below a certain threshold - as well as giving her an aoe attack debuff, and this had hysterical consequences.
Sadly, many tanks she should destroy - including Surtr - often have so much defense that even with her isolation bonus she can hardly put a dent in them, even with her special. This highlights the ever-pressing need to have DEF shreds elsewhere in my composition, but they are hard to come by in a way that synergizes with her.
Just imagine being wrapped in those huge arms with coarse hair draping all over you. That's what it's like to have this tank stuck out in the middle of buttfuck nowhere against a team of only ranged units. This is another Beast unit, and his transform gives him Distant Counter - which allows him to retaliate against units other than his own range. Distant Counter used to be restricted to infantry sword units before eventually showing up on Hector and some other tank types that boast huge attack stats in addition to be sturdy. It was paired with a distinct squishiness in some cases, with Ike relying on specials that healed him to survive constant harassment. Caineghis isn't as good as many of the tanks in the game, and his counter relies on him to be transformed. Since tanks can only move one space, this means in a lot of cases he isn't transformed in my defense. But, his very strong Distant Defense - which gives DEF and RES bonuses vs ranged attackers - makes him absurdly annoying against some teams, and his damage is usually rather respectable.
As I progressed I swapped his Special with Glimmer (2 turn ATK boost) and then eventually a 30% defense-ignoring special (Moonbow). The shorter specials can allow him to surprise burst careless ranged squishies who try to poke him as one of his skills boosts special recharge when he's at high hp. And, just for good measure, I gave him an ATK shred for enemies who stand close to him and try to ignore him.
Once I got high enough in tier to get a 5th unit I put in a dancer (New Years Micaiah) in my group. The AI very often uses Caineghis' swap ability to bring Veronica backwards after attacking so Micaiah can reach her with dance on her for another absurdly strong aoe spike. While the AI isn't "smart" in this regard, the fact it ends up doing this consistently is one of the leading causes of attackers losing their fucking minds.
I could probably optimize the big cat by inheriting all selfish defensive stats, but since he's so slow he's often next to units like Veronica whom might get attacked by ranged, which is why I gave him some buffs instead.
How The AI Works
Building a successful defense team means understanding how the game works or putting Surtr behind buildings and hoping for a timeout. One takes effort the other takes luck. The AI isn't quite as braindead in this game as it is in most others, but it's fairly typical in that it has no sense of self-preservation at all.
- The AI hard focuses on color triangle bonuses. It appears that support skills (pivot, dance, healing etc) are mostly only used if something isn't in range or it's a disadvantage.
- The AI will always use those support skills if no target is in range but doesn't always pivot to move itself forward. Swap is more reliable than pivot which is why I use it. Often times as an Attacker I see a team full of units with Swap and Pivot and they do nothing but swap back and forth while one or two leak out and die pointlessly. Suffice to say, skills that work well for players don't work well for AI in many cases.
- Dance is decent on AI and they seem to predict how to best make use of dance to be competent enough to defeat units they otherwise can't, but often times the dancer (especially Micaiah) can get an easy kill on a very dangerous unit but will use dance instead and throw the entire fight.
- AI pathing especially when considering future unit placement seems alright.
- The AI has no sense of danger pathing. It'll gladly dive flyers into archers if it means attacking something in the back that has less defense or triangle disadvantage. As a result I try to avoid using flyers and archers. I used Lyn, Ike and others a lot when I started and almost all defenses were a loss. You need to have as simple and abusive a multi-purpose comp as possible and try to find ways to funnel attackers into where your AI can only make "good" choices.
- The AI can't play around tanks or baits at all. Losses to stuff like this is going to happen quite a lot, especially on most of the map layouts available. It seems yolo, high-speed teams with dancers are probably the most reliable to give the AI. As a result, conditional bonuses like adjacency shouldn't be depended upon, and "wave" abilities that proc on odd/even turns will likely get outplayed.
- Defense units won't aggro right away. They'll usually aggro once the opponent comes within range of the highest ranged unit. A lot of people wall their units in, but this is a mistake since it can give the attacker initiative on them with the ideal ranged unit (in my case Veronica, who'll splash their entire team). I'll discuss evolution of my defense setup as we go through the games and I learn more how to abuse aggro ranges, but right away we'll see it in play with how Lethe tends to get initiative on anyone who goes on the right side of the map.
Although I can't tell just by these screenshots, it's very possible this was my first "I figured out how to defend" game, featuring Veronica's AoE damage. The attacker is using a fairly then-meta composition with Hector (The Lancer) and a Legendary hero I don't know much about other than being tanky (the Rightmost unit). Note that I've placed the tank cat angular to the other units - transformation doesn't work if they are "Adjacent", which means top, south, east or west. Angular directions do not constitute Adjacent in this game, so when my turn starts the tank cat will immediately transform and usually swap positions with someone who ran past him.
Opponents with flyers usually open by destroying the tower in the middle so it doesn't hit them round 3, but the flyer usually dies for it.
As shown here - Veronica attacks the lead unit, splashing everything around him, then tank cat swaps her back.
The attacker blindly charges into the tank cat with his Beast flyer whom he never split off from his group and thus is missing a chunk of its power budget (At least, I think those ones transform, too, but I'm not 100% sure tbh). Thus he ultimately requires his other flyer to finish him off.
Whom promptly dies to Lethe, allowing Veronica to attack the others with impunity from behind a destructible decoration.
Although he destroys the decoration and kills Veronica, Eir finally catches up to help kill Hector and Lethe's isolation-bonus damage is able to kill the other tank thanks to the two buildings shredding his stats.
The opponent had all the tools necessary to easily defeat me but got trolled by the cat swap and tower.
The next game features another gacha-heavy team including Leahjerg (rightmost) whom evaded me even after a hundred orbs. She's mostly waifu material and not particularly dangerous in many cases, but he has a strong archer and hector as well as Axe Ike. His positioning suggests he wants to take Ike to the right, which would be folly since he's green and Lethe is red. Most of my team is colorless, so they don't gain much in the way of bonuses, but Lethe is the exception you must respect when she's likely to get the first hit on a slow tank.
So, of course, that's precisely what this lad does. He hands Ike over to Lethe and he dies in two hits. This was about the time I learned about aggro ranges on defenders, something I would abuse to extreme lengths later on. As it is, he split his team up suboptimally, probably to avoid the tower. This was someone who probably didn't check the map despite using two very slow units without a Skill to give their first movement extra speed.
Since Veronica isn't in attack range, the AI makes use of the inherited range heal to top off Lethe and move other units around. Curiously, it keeps tank cat transformed by not swapping Veronica. It likely has to do with the distances of the units and the pathfinding saying it's quicker to reach the left by moving rather than swapping to the right. A critical detail to manipulate later on.
Realizing his folly, the attacker tries to regroup while advancing forward. Eir is an extremely easy kill for his legendary archer, but Lethe perforates his flyer with cat barbs in turn.
And, of course, Veronica heals the cat again.
His tower procs, but it doesn't do much damage. My tower will proc next. He walks forward, steps on the stun trap, and Hector loses his turn. Yes - I have the fake trap in front of the tower because it seems a more obvious trap location. Thus, when it finally seemed he could recover from this disaster, all he did was tumble into a cat's burly embrace. Hypothetically, because these are his two strongest units, he could still kill Lethe and Veronica in spite of this. But, he didn't bother to try.
The cat barbs had already defeated him in spirit.
A team with Veronica in it! It's less common than I expected, but a lot of people prefer to use dancers over Veronica. At this tier, with only 4 units, it was common to just see all tank and caster stacks like this one. The two lolis on the left are both dragonstones with one of them being a flyer. Although it's hard to tell, one is colorless but one is blue and all of his units will be heavy on RES and half of them counter Lethe on color. His team basically hard counters mine. It's his match to lose.
Since I am retroactively going through these screenshots it's hard to recall precisely what happens between them. It appears as though he suicidally dove to the tower with his flyer. She still almost kills Lethe on retaliation alone.
But on the next turn the AI heals instead of attacking due to the high resistance stat on available targets, and Lethe divebombs the flyer, getting a kill.
He trades Veronica for Veronica, kills Lethe with the other dragon loli, and his first succumbs to the tower and Eir. He then proceeds to kill Eir with the other dragonstone, then hides at the bottom of the map until the very last turn. He's hoping his tower will lower the tank enough to kill it...
Facing an imminent timing defeat, he makes one last heroic dive into the barbs. Unfortunately, the barbs are prickly.