Photo Created By Larxinostic
'I'd rather be playing Super Robot Wars Z.'
That was the thought that constantly crossed my mind as I played through the end game of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. The desire had always been there, as any unfinished game normally does when I start a new one, but as the game struggled to find it's footing, the desire grew greater and greater. The following campaigns, Conquest and Revelation, had the same end result. What was the cause though? Why was I desiring to play a Japanese-only PS2 game over a first party Nintendo title? I loved Awakening when it came out, and constantly had gone back to it for the DLC lifespan of the title, so why was I having such a great desire to play another game? So I decided to fire up Awakening, to see if perhaps it was just that Fates was a worse game. It was fun for a while, but then it continued again. So I threw on the game, and quickly started a mission. That's when it clicked. The desire wasn't because of preference for sci-fi over fantasy, or Big O. No, it was something deep at it's core.
From a mechanical and gameplay perspective, Super Robot Wars Z was just deeply more satisfying and fun to play, even just focusing on core combat mechanics.
It was simple as that. Everything within the game just resulted into a more satisfying package, albeit with some very rough edges at times. I realized I wanted more, and proceeded to purchase it's sequel, Z3: Jigoku-Hen, which came out for the PS3/Vita and released in 2014. What I got was a game that took the many rough edges of SRW Z, and had polished them into a fine gem that far outshined what Nintendo was providing with Fire Emblem. It just felt better than Fire Emblem, in everything it did, which is amazing considering it's main purpose is as a god damn multi-franchise crossover game.
It's absolutely criminal though, however, that the series is mostly limited to Japan, we've only gotten a few license-free titles, with the last proper SRW title being in 2006 on the gameboy advance. It's also a damn shame of what the state of modern Fire Emblem is, slowly slipping into a waifu simulator. So I decided to write this blog, to show you why I think so highly of Super Robot Wars, and why my opinion of modern Fire Emblem isn't as high as it once was. So let's get started, where we will be focusing on the core basics of both games: Combat.
Author's Note: I'm absolutely garbage at explaining things in depth, which I felt the need to do since, as I said, we haven't had a proper SRW here in a decade(!), meaning many readers may not have experienced it before. The majority gameplay videos on youtube don't translate menus, explain the gameplay, or often cut out key portions that would need to be covered. If something seems unclear or seems like a portion is missing, please let me know in the comments and I'll gladly clarify.
SPOILER WARNING: This blog along with the comment section, and any further ones on this same matter, could potentially contain spoilers for many mech anime, including examples such as Big O, Gurren Lagann, the Evangelion movies, various Gundam series, various Macross series, Getter Robo Armageddon, and many more mech anime. You have been warned. If you want an exact list of what series, see here. In addition, there can be potential spoilers for SRW Z, Z2, and Z3, along with Fire Emblem Awakening and the three paths for Fates.
Local Man Dodges Drill That's Multiple Light-Years Long
Fire Emblem and SRW Z3 both play out near identical in terms of how combat works. Choose your target and then weapon in Fire Emblem, and vice versa for SRW Z3, then combat plays out, you attack them and they may attack you if they are in range, and the results are shown. Pretty straight forward. However, it's on the enemy's turn when things start to differ between the two. Once it switches over to the enemy's turn, they initiate combat, they attack you, your unit possibly counterattacks, and then the results show. The cycle continues until the enemy turn is over. Pretty straightforward, no real reason to pay attention to an enemy's turn other than pray to god someone doesn't get overwhelmed and killed. There is a defensive measure when partnered with another unit, but that will be discussed later.
In SRW, that's different. Whenever the enemy initiates combat, you're given three options. The first is to counterattack, which is exactly what you'd expect. You'll respond to their attack with your own attack, so long as you have at least one weapon that can target them(more on that later). The next is block. As the name implies, the unit will focus on blocking, reducing the damage they took based on the mech's armour stat and the pilots defense stat, possibly even nullifying it based on any further abilities. As a result however, they will not counterattack. It also drains from the mech's energy meter, which will be covered further. The last one is dodging. By giving up the ability to counterattack, the pilot focuses on evading, decreasing the opponent's chance of hitting, based on the mech's mobility stat and the pilot's evade stat. To balance this option out, the more times the unit is forced to evade in a single turn, the chance of them being hit increases with every subsequent attack.
Just those two additions alone make a world of difference. It helps emphasis the mighty glacier or evasive glass cannon nature of a unit, allowing the defensive side of those stats to shine, and to help stand out from a jack of all trades. It also means that you have to think things through with each enemy attack. Sure, you could counterattack this boss level unit that is engaging, but it's going to most likely leave your unit very low on health, and there's still a couple of nearby enemies that can take the shot. Do you take the risk, or do you play it safe and guard to reduce the damage? Did you overextend a unit and now they don't have a safe way back and are getting swarmed? Then all you need to do is have the unit evade and/or block. The mere presence of these two choices allows you to take more risks than you normally would with unit positioning, knowing that you have some safety on the enemy's turn. It doesn't sound like much, but once you've utilized it, it feels like a step down when you don't have that option. Hell, one could argue that the lack of a defensive option, or even one to just not attack, is a major problem in Fire Emblem, due to the presence of abilities such as counter, which penalize you for hitting a unit. Does it potentially make an enemy's turn longer? Yes. However, is it completely worth the option? Absolutely. I would willingly take that extra minute or two just to have that choice.
Fire Emblem's weapon system is generally kept fairly simple. In Awakening, it was a limited range of somewhere between 1-3 squares with few exceptions, with a limited number of uses that was unique to each weapon type. Weapons would have varying values for damage, hit, critical chance, uses, with some higher weapons giving special effects or stat bonuses. On top of that there was the weapon triangle, which has the three main weapons, axe, sword and lance, have an advantage and weakness to one another, like Pokemon starters. In Birthright, the uses was done away with, instead trading it for drawbacks of various intensities, while also adding on an evade stat. The weapon triangle was updated to include series mainstays of bows and magic, along with the new additions of shurikens/daggers. The ability to upgrade weapons also exists, and a ranking/skill level system is in place to avoid a player utilizing only the strongest weapons in the beginning. It's a fairly simple system, but there's not a lot to it. With nowhere else for your funds and materials to really go, outside of healing items and seals to change classes, you should arguably be upgrading the weapon with a good balance of uses and stats, or a good balance of benefits/drawbacks, especially since infinite resources exist for Awakening and 2 of the 3 paths for Fates.
In Super Robot Wars Z3, there is no weapon buying system. All units have a number of attacks assigned to each of them, with individual values assigned to each of them. These values are base attack, range, bonus or drawback to accuracy, bonus or drawback to critical chance, performance against different terrains along with the possibility of various status effects, a piercing effect, or being a MAP or ALL attack. For those wondering, an ALL attack indicates the attack will hit both members in a squad at once, as Gunbuster so kindly demonstrates in the gif above. Yes, it's as an incredible tool, and along with the MAP attack, which will be discussed later, allows the developerss to justify a larger and tougher enemy army. Although I can understand one looking at this and going 'But Torch, this sounds like it makes the game a cakewalk!'. You're right, it would potentially, however the attacks generally have multiple systems and drawbacks built in to help mitigate that.
One such drawback is some attacks cannot be used post movement. Meaning if you move even a square, you're unable to utilize it. This can result in a turn where your unit will only attack and that will be the end of it without the corresponding ability that allows a unit to move after an attack. This is a drawback that plagues Big O, as the only attacks that don't have this drawback are his two melee moves and a relatively weak, short-ranged MAP attack, meaning he often struggles with ranged enemies due to already being a slow unit. Sure he's a heavily armored unit, but if he can't engage then he's not helping. Roger Smith, its pilot, lacks the ability to move after an attack by default, resulting in Big O being a decent unit at best if Roger is left untouched.
Another is terrain effectiveness. There are four types of terrain or state in Z3: Land, Water, Air, Space. An attacks performance against an enemy is affected by the terrain rating. So if the attack has a C for air, and your targeting an airborne enemy, it's not going to be very effective. Likewise, if that said attack had an S for water, and you were targeting a submerged enemy, the attack would be very effective. However, should the attack not have a rating for a terrain type, that means it will not work. The best example of this is the Tuatha De Danaan, which is a submarine, from Full Metal Panic. Sure it has torpedoes that are great against submerged enemies, but they won't hit targets that are anywhere else. For those targets, you'll need to use its missiles, which can't target submerged enemies. By the way, better keep enemy units away from the sub, as all of it's weapons have a 2-x range, meaning if they're adjacent, then the sub can't target them.
This restriction system makes sense. An attack that isn't effective in a certain state, whether on land or in the air, should not be effective when used there or it shouldn't work at all. It's something that drove me mad when I played Fates after playing the first entry in the Z series. Why is someone with a sword able to hit a solo pegasus unit that uses arrows or magic? The logical sense would be to fly out of range and just rain down your attacks on the enemy. There's no reason to be on the ground where your enemy is unless you have a ground based partner that you need to support! For myself, this was most effectively demonstrated in the first Z and Z3 with Big O. For the first part of Z, Big O's melee attacks were unusable against aerial units, because logically how can the heavy mech reach someone way above it? However, upon reaching a certain point in Z, they become usable against airborne units, which carries over into Z3. How were they made usable exactly?
Get Over Here!
It fires anchors that embed themselves in the target and pulls them down so he can punch them. That's how the problem of hitting airborne enemies is solved while making it feel satisfying. Is it an S rating against aerial units now? No, but it's a hell of an improvement over not being able to attack an aerial unit at all post movement, especially considering its strongest attack for the majority of the game is one of its melee attacks.
Of course, the terrain restrictions, along with the possibility of movement restrictions, aren't necessarily enough to balance out the higher end attacks. As a result, attacks can potentially have up to three different systems implemented: Ammo, energy, and Will. However, there are the occasional weak attacks that are not tied to any of these systems, but are generally so weak they are meant to be a last measure.
Ammo is fairly standard. As you can expect, if an attack runs on ammo, then it can no longer be used once it has used up all of it's ammo. For some units such as Scopedog or the Gundams, the majority or all of their attacks will run off of the ammo system. You could say it's almost like uses in Fire Emblem, or PP from Fire Emblem. Energy operates like mana, in that it is a single amount shared among multiple attacks and abilities, and it's more often commonly used for the attacks Super Robots such as Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, however all units have an energy meter regardless. As you can expect, the stronger or more versatile the attack, the more energy it drains, with some energy attacks also having an ammo amount as well. Also a friendly reminder at this point that guarding, along with other passive defensive abilities, also run off of the energy meter. Suddenly, your strongest attacks become a liability to your defensive capabilities.
A good example of this is EVA-01. It possesses a passive ability from it's home series known as an A.T. Field, which acts as a defensive barrier that nullifies or reduces the damage it takes. The barrier drains 20 energy for each attack it nullifies or reduces. EVA-01's strongest attack is the Positron Rifle, which drains 100 energy per use. It has about 380 Energy three quarters of the way in after upgrades. It is incredibly easy to completely forget about that and have EVA-01's energy be completely drained in three turns if you're not careful. That's your greatest offensive asset gone, and one of, if not the, greatest defensive ability in the game unusable as well. While EVA-01, along with other Evangelion units, does have a passive ability that lets it regain 50 energy each turn, if the enemy does not let up on Shinji for at least two turns, which would be the minimum to have the Positron Rifle able to fire, it is going to become a major liability, potentially fatal for both it and your forces, and unable to reliably give the damage output needed later on in the mission.
This is why the game has you initiate combat by picking the attack first and then your target. It forces you to take a look at your options, see what can actually hit an enemy based on where you are, judge them based off of what their terrain effectiveness, along with how much ammo each has left along with your current energy, along with any specifics you need like piercing, ALL, etc. and then choosing an enemy within range. It's an effective system and it works.
'But Torch,' you cry out, 'Why not just use your bigger weapons right out the gate? Wouldn't this render many weaker weapons irrelevant? Wasn't this a problem you mentioned the skill levels in Fire Emblem were there to prevent?'
That is true. Without any limitations, you have no reason to utilize weaker weapons unless you can't use the stronger ones due to no ammo or low energy. That's where the Will mechanic comes in to play.
Will is an interesting mechanic, you could almost call it morale. Generally, most units start a mission at 100 Will. As a battle goes on, units take damage, enemies are defeated, other various factors happen. As this happens, each units will increases and decreases at varying rates. As it rises, it begins to trigger various effects, as well as allowing stronger attacks to be used as their minimum requirements are met. For example, Gurren Lagann's Giga Drill Breaker requires 130 Will before it can be used. If Simon, the pilot, can reach 130 Will, then the attack is usable. However, should he fall below 130 at any point, then Giga Drill Breaker will be unusable. That rule applies to anything that has a Will requirement, regardless of if it's a friendly unit or an enemy unit. There are alot of subsystems that also utilize the Will system, which will be covered at another time.
'But Torch, how does upgrading the attacks work?'
The main method of upgrading attacks is that in between missions, you can upgrade the mechs. I won't be going into detail about what can specifically be upgraded for now, but just a general premise for attacks. Attacks on a single mech are upgraded as a whole rather than individually, and there are 10 levels of upgrades just like the other stats. It will only affect attack power, nothing more, with the amount gained from a single upgrade increasing at later levels. Generally, the amount of money for each level depends on how strong the mech is already, along with how many attacks they have. This results in mechs like Scopedog being relatively cheap for attack upgrades, due to only have 5 attacks, while transforming mechs like Shin Getter Robo or Aquarion EVOL are expensive, due to the three forms each having their own attacks that count towards the total number of atacks that are being upgraded. There are other methods such as through the plot or from equippable parts, but plot is only for a select amount of units and specific attacks. Equippable parts on the other hand is exactly what it sounds like. Could the upgrade system itself be made more intricate? Perhaps, but I think it's something I can live with considering what the rest of the game is providing me with, especially given the size of the roster.
While Fire Emblem Fates focused on preservation of weapon along side situational awareness due to the weapon triangle, it was phased out for situational awareness entirely, by expanding the weapon triangle along with adding drawbacks to weapons. However, even with that shift, attacks just feel like there's more to them in Z3 compared to the other two. They have a ammo system that could be compared to the uses system in Awakening, they share many of the core stats from both Fire Emblem games (attack power/strength, accuracy, crit chance, and range). From there they just take it and build upon it further, bringing in ways to further balance out stronger attacks while also using more drawbacks to further form and enforce the type of role a unit should be taking in combination with the defensive stats and options. In addition, by balancing out stronger attacks with more heavy requirements, including potentially hurting defensive capabilities if abused, it ensures the player doesn't rely on a small pool of attacks and attempts to branch out for each unit. It also keeps the upgrade system simpler, allowing the player to upgrade units as needed if they are starting to have difficulties.
All three games have a squad system, that's both similar and different at the same time. The core concept for all of them is fairly simple: Pair two units together for advantages in mobility, offense, and defense. For Fire Emblem, pairing the units together results in selective stats buffs, along with the non-active unit acting as a potential blocker by chance, as well as an extra attacker to attack the main enemy unit in Awakening. In Fates, in order to have that extra attacker, the units need to be separated and in adjacent squares when combat is initiated, with one exception. In Fates, the potential blocker triggers when a specific meter is filled when two units are paired, and triggers a block when full. On top of this, units can separate and repair as many times as they please mid-mission, allowing one to adapt their team as needed. In addition, the game has a relationship system where, if two units are compatible, they bond as they go through battles, improving their relationship which increases the benefits when they pair up. An important note is that, during deployment, the number of deployment spaces corresponds to number of individual units, not number of pairs. You are also switch who is the main unit of the pair at any time.
In Super Robot Wars, a similar system exists. Units can be paired into squads, which can then assist in attack and defending, as well as switch role of main unit at the start of the turn before taking action. However, the functionality, and advantages of the squads begins to radically differ from there. First and foremost, during deployment at the start of the mission, the deployment is done by number of squads, not number of units. If a unit is deployed solo, then that counts as one squad to the total deployed. On top of this, you do not get to separate and pair units during missions. If someone loses their partner or is deployed solo, then they go solo for the rest of the mission. There is no relationships/bonding, as well as no stat boosting when paired with another unit, with the exception of certain skills and abilities that will be discussed in a later blog. In addition, while Fire Emblem allows members of a squad to move unhindered by each other, able to maximize movement and avoid terrain hindrances, it's not so nice in Z3.
When two units are paired together, you are given a preview of their movement capabilities in the squad assignment screen. There's two major items to be aware of. First, while the slower unit of the two can move it's full movement, the faster unit can only move the average speed of the two rounded up. It's nice that you paired a unit with 8 speed and a unit with 6 speed together, however that unit with 8 speed is only going to move 7 at max if it's the lead unit. Second, your effectiveness on terrain is defined by only what both units are capable of. Can both units manage land and flight? Yes? Then they are fine for moving through land and can ignore other terrain, and will be treated as aerial units. Oh, your squad only has one unit able to fly, and both of them are fine with land? Congratulations, your aerial unit is now considered land-based, and will be hindered by terrain such as water! Have fun with that! Granted however, an inconvenience in mobility is made up for greatly with offensive options.
Your sub-unit attacking is given options this time, and will almost always attack with you. First and foremost, all units, with a sole exception, have an attack designated as 'Assist', which is generally one of the weaker ones in their arsenal. Whenever they attack as the sub-unit, they will be using that attack, given that the enemy is in the range specified for the assist attack and it can hit the target based on their terrain (which was discussed previously). Otherwise, they will not join in. Sub-units will also not join in if you utilize an ALL attack or a MAP attack, with only one exception being granted for ALL attacks.
When you initiate combat, so you've selected the target for your attack, you will be given two options. You can either have them join you in attacking the leading unit, or you can have them attack the enemy sub-unit. Already this opens up possibilities. Do you have them join with you in the attack, possibly taking a tougher unit down, or have them go for the sub-unit, allowing you to possibly get two birds with one stone, or weaken up the sub-unit to a follow up attack from another one of your units? Just that simple option causes you to think for a moment before proceeding. There are three things to note here however. First, the sub- unit will always go first, regardless of target. So if the main unit needs to conserve ammo or energy, then it would be ideal to have the secondary one target the main unit. Second, if your secondary unit targets the enemy sub-unit, and you're in their range, the enemy sub-unit will try to smack yours if it meets the previously stated requirements, which is something to be aware of. Lastly, the enemy can choose these same options on you, and if they choose to attack your sub-unit, you may also select the block and evade for your partner unit. The two units in the squad are considered separate entities, meaning one is still able to attack while the other is able to block/evade.
However, given the proper ability, sub-units, and adjacent units, are able to intercept attacks, including the entirety of an ALL attack. However, the attack will deal damage to the intercepting unit, but at a reduced amount. To take it further, with a different ability, an adjacent unit can also join in on an attack, regardless of if both units in the squad are attacking or if it's an ALL attack. It should be noted however that, unlike Fire Emblems system where it's essentially unlimited triggers with no control, these abilities can only trigger x number of times per turn, and you can also cancel it if you do not want it to occur for one reason or another. It helps encourage careful placement of your units, and knowing their abilities when you pair them up. Further speaking of defensive capabilities, if an ALL attack is used on a squad that has two units, it takes a 25% damage decrease.
Now as I said, there is an exception to the system for ALL attacks. There is a system in place called Tag Tension. It's a meter containing two stars, and when certain conditions are fulfilled, such as destroying two units or a squad member levels up, a star will be filled. When the meter is full, you can execute a tag tension command. There are a total of five commands to choose from: Gain an additional move after you destroy an enemy squad, double the amount of Pilot Points received from the next battle (a currency we will discuss in a later blog), double the amount of Zchips received from the next battle (another currency that will be discussed in a later blog), the main pilots for the team recover 25SP (so many systems, so many blogs), and execute maximum break. Maximum break is your best friend for bosses, and is the sole exception.
When a maximum break is executed, the main unit may select any move they want, including an ALL attack, and the sub-unit will still join in. In fact, not only will the sub-unit join in, but the sub-unit can also have any attack selected, including another ALL attack. On top of that, the damage of both the main unit and the sub-units attacks are multiplied by 1.2 and they ignore any defensive abilities or defensive supports the enemy has. If you need to kill a boss or a stronger enemy, maximum break is your go to tool. However, there is one exception to the freedom maximum break provides for selecting attacks. Gimmy and Darry, the pilots of the mechs seen in the above gif, have a combination attack they can utilize if they are adjacent to each other or in the same squad. I have not tested it as adjacent units, but if they are in the same squad, use maximum break, and use the combination attack, then that will be the only attack used. There will not be a second attack of any kind. Burning the maximum break on their combination attack is not worth it.
Too long didn't reread of the past couple of paragraphs? Z3 actually takes the effort to make your sub/partner unit feel like it's actually part of the squad rather than just a free damage nullifier and a mindless extra attacker, who you've paired together for stat boosts and a child soldier after they fall in love and do it. It gives you some thought on who you'd pair with who, the upsides and downsides of that unit being a sub-unit and how it affect the performance of the squad, what you want them to do when you're on offense and defense, along with additional benefits for playing your cards right with it. It also helps act as a counterbalance to ALL attacks, helping act as a damage reducer, and when an ally takes the full brunt of an attack, they actually take some damage.
Everyone Gets Hit!
MAP attacks are the greatest things to ever exist. That is how highly I think of MAP attacks. As you can see from our example gif, it's exactly as the name implies: An attack that occurs on the MAP. They cover a wide area which generally varies from each one, generally cannot be used post-movement and have extremely limited ammo and high energy costs, they target all squads inside the target area, both members of the squad are targeted, and the majority of them do not distinguish between friend and foe. That feeling of power when you take out several units, only for it to turn into horror as you also took down and crippled some of your own is unparalleled. The biggest benefit of MAP attacks though: No counterattacks. Regardless of who you hit, with extremely few exceptions in the late game, you will not be counterattacked for the map attack. Partner attacks and partner defense abilities do not trigger for MAP attacks, and maximum break cannot be used for a MAP attack.
It's also the best way to help increase the difficulty and sense of power from a powerful unit late in the game. You thought Kallen's Guren hit a large amount at once? That was nothing compared to what bosses have. During Mission 52, you fight the Space Demon King from Tetsujin 28. Just him versus your army. Turns out, he has a MAP attack that can effectively cripple said army. First and foremost, it's covers a large area, with him at the center, with a radius of 7 squares minimum, meaning he's going to be hitting a lot of units since it's rare for anything to have a range of more than 7(and even then, there's no assist attacks with a range that large). It easily does a enough damage to remove a quarter health on the most heavily armored units, and on more lightly armored units at least half health. On top of it all, it drains energy, you know that thing you need for blocking, certain defensive abilities, and certain weapons, and it has a chance of inflicting a status effect that prevents a unit from attack in any capacity. This is on top of his own single unit attack, an ALL attack and personal abilities which include a counter-like ability that deals damage equal to 1/10 of a unit's health when they engage, including via MAP attacks, and two moves a turn. Suddenly that MAP attack is allowing him to keep up with your army, especially if you had already lost units earlier in said mission. It's a great tool for when you want to say 'This guy is the top dog and can destroy armies on his own' without having to make their stats ridiculously high.
Fire Emblem, as of late, has dabbled in MAP attacks, but it has never gone fully in. The closest that has happened was in Fates, where the various turrets could hit a group of units in a specified area. Outside of that, may as well not exist, especially given how situational and uncommon the turrets are at times, alongside the Enfeeble staff. I would give anything for MAP attacks, including sacrificing the children mechanic. It would be an excuse to have larger enemy armies, to have tougher defenses, to potentially create new unique classes and weapons, a new emphasis on positioning and potentially taking risks, and to create a more intimidating bosses for the endgame if it's handled correctly.
So there's what I think about Super Robot Wars Z3 in regards to Fire Emblem. It's just an overall better game in terms of combat and design in regards to pairing up units, expanding heavily upon the basics Fire Emblem has and adding on restrictions where needed in order to keep the games in check. The only thing Fire Emblem really does 'better', depending on your point of view, is raising the minimum requirements for upgrading new weapons. However, as most of you are probably aware, combat is only a portion of Fire Emblem and SRW, especially when portions such as support abiltiies, stats, plot, and other items have been clearly mentioned and left out. It's not really fair to focus on only one aspect when there are so many others now is it? Which is why I've got a lovely surprise for you.
This is only the first blog on this matter.
Oh I've got enough topics to make at least two more. Hell, I had to cut an entire section about optional content due to the size of this one, otherwise most of you would've stopped reading and jumped into the comments section. So on that note, we end the blog here. Next time, we'll be discussing how the games handle units that are in support roles such as healers, units that do not join in on missions, and how the games handle difficulty. Perhaps I'll also include the cut optional content comparison, or perhaps I'll save it for another blog, depending on how large the end result is. Until then, back to the robot wars I go!