The Challenges of Maddening
Posted by LazyPrinny | August 19 2020
3H Meta Contest August 2020 Runner-Up
So, before we get into tackling Maddening, we should first probably identify the likely problems a new player is going to have, that the rest of this guide is going to be discussing.
Number one, above all else is enemy quality. The enemies in Maddening are strong. Very strong. In fact, at many times, enemies are going to be outright stronger than your units, boasting higher stats and better equipment, while also having the luxury of dying as often as they like. Dealing with even basic enemies in Maddening can be a challenge; they are going to deal ridiculous damage to your units, take multiple hits from your units, and are going to be a challenge to even hit, especially if they are sitting on terrain.
Number two, is enemy skills. Few enemies besides bosses have any notable skills in lower difficulties; on Maddening, EVERY unit is going to carry skills that are going to change the way you approach them. Probably the most infamous, due to how early you encounter them, are the Thief enemy type, which carry Pass, allowing them to move past your units as if they weren't there and get at the softer units that make up your back line, but many similarly dastardly units await you later on. Get into the habit of checking the skills an enemy has if you are even somewhat in doubt as to what it does. Doing this can mean the difference between eliminating a unit, or marching one of yours to their deaths because you didn't notice that the enemy would counter before being attacked. You cannot afford to ignore these skills; they can lead to a combat forecast being terribly unreliable, testing attacking into a unit won't tell you if it is going to gain 6 Speed or Might when it attacks. Luckily for you, many of these units carry standardized skill loadouts for the class; most every Thief is going to have a functionally identical set of skills, so once you get used to them, you can predict what they are going to bring to the table in the future. sitting on terrain.
Number three is reinforcements. With the two outlined challenges above, proceeding with anything but your strongest face forwards sounds like a scary proposition. Unfortunately, not even that is safe, because this game has a certain love of suddenly putting a pack of the incredibly powerful units with game changing skills, right behind your lines and giving them a turn immediately. I'll tell you now, that unfortunately, there's no real counter-play to this. Your two options are to either memorize them, or much more reasonably, treat your Divine Pulse ability as insurance against this.
Number four is perhaps the most insidious, Maddening significantly reduces the experience units gain from killing enemies, especially on auxiliary and paralogue battles. An auxiliary battle providing MAYBE one or two levels to your entire army is not uncommon, and units significantly ahead in levels are going to see their experience cut to nearly nothing. This means that deciding who gets what experience, and how to squeeze out a bit more is a bit of a special consideration.
The Golden Rule: Damage Mitigation
The number one overriding strategy for Maddening, and that many points in this guide are dedicated to is minimizing the amount of damage your units are exposed to. This means outranging with bows, jumping through hoops to KO with one hit without being countered, or stacking every bit of protection on a unit you plan to expose to enemies. Check your enemy ranges!
On Divine Pulse
Divine Pulse isn't just a way to do a bad play over, it can also be used quite productively. Consider not using it the moment your turn rolls around again after a death, and instead try sending a few units out to their maximum range, to see if any reinforcements are lurking, or seeing how the next turn is going to go and troubleshoot a strategy, confident that you're going to pulse anyways.
First and foremost are your weapons. Carrying a few general archetypes of weapon on a single character tends to be a good idea; an accurate weapon, a light weapon, a weapon with high mt, and a weapon with 1-2/2 range is a very versatile loadout, especially since many of these are going to overlap. No one weapon type has an innate advantage over the others, though the high weight of Axes and low mt of Swords and Gauntlets can make them have trouble early on against specific enemy types.
Use your good weapons! This game is at its hardest early on, so the ideal time to use your good weapons is whenever they would help you the most.
Keep in mind that while the game tries it's hardest to convince you that relics can only be used by people with the right crest, it is lying to you. Using a relic with the correct crest grants only that relic's unique combat art or passive ability, or 1-2 range in the specific case of the Sword of the Creator. Any other unit with any crest can use a relic with no drawback. Any unit that does NOT have a crest, can still use the relic, but takes 10 points of damage after every combat. This damage will NOT kill them. As such, use them readily on whoever will do so the best.
Accessories or shields are yet one more thing to keep track of. Shields increase a unit's physical, or rarely magical damage resistance, at the cost of weight and thus Attack Speed. I could launch into a monologue about the pros and cons, but frankly that's unnecessary, since you can unequip them right from the equipment menu. Unequip them if the weight difference makes you miss out on doubling, or gets you doubled. Easy peasy. Other accessories are generally split into faux-stat boosters, or extra passive abilities. The same rules apply to the stat-boosting accessories that apply to other stat boosters, which I'll cover later, and the more complicated abilities require you to use your best judgement. I will suggest that any accessory with an HP recovery effect is best used on fliers or other units liable to go off on their own, where the automatic healing matters more.
Finally of note, never forget that Byleth has access to the convoy; Byleth essentially has access to your entire warehouse on their turn, as does anyone who ends a move next to them. Take advantage of this, if the ideal weapon for a situation exists, but is in your convoy, then get it. One post-final note, taken with a side of Cheese; immediately after the timeskip, all weapons (including completely broken ones) in the inventory of all of your units will be completely repaired. Take advantage of this; load spare units up with low durability, high value weapons or Relics.
Before you go assigning skills to people out of a hat, think about the role this character is going to play in your game. There are a few no-brainers. Death Blow, Hit +20, and Darting Blow are fantastic on any physical attacker, swap out Fiendish Blow on Magical units. The Mastery skill of the weapon type the unit is going to use the most can be a good pick. Any of the range or movement increasing skills are great, but are all endgame. There's list upon list of good or undervalued skills, I won't go into those details, but instead tell you to really think about the role of that skill on the unit. Renewal is a pretty decent skill, but it can end up much better or worse depending on the unit that receives it. If the unit is one of your mainline fighters, it probably won't do them very much good, as odds are there's going to be a healer patching them up anyways; on a character you want to go off on their own to accomplish things, it's much more valuable, as they may not have the luxury of a healer at their back every turn.
Newcomers and series veterans alike may take one look at the weapon durability cost, relatively minor increase to damage, and inability to double attack, and swear them off immediately.
On lower difficulties, you can just ignore them, but on Maddening, Combat Arts represent securing a kill without getting countered, outranging enemies, squeezing out a bit more hit, and more. The durability cost is minimal; weapons are plentiful in this game, as are materials to repair them. Combat Arts are just about the only thing you have decisively over the enemies of Maddening. Use them.
Of particular note, any Combat Art that adds a sort of "brave" effect; Swift Strikes, Point Blank Volley, Hunter's Volly, and Fierce Iron Fist come to mind, are all worth using on any unit that learns them. Their ability to secure kills is second to none.
Additionally, several Bow combat arts increase attack range by 1, Curved Shot most notably. With a little investment, every unit gains access to an incredibly accurate 2-3 range attack. This can be a worthwhile investment on many characters..
Battalions and Gambits
New to this game are Battalions, and their activated abilities, Gambits. Battalions are best thought of as a sort of equipment for your units that enhance their stats, and Gambits are attacks or support effects that this equipment enables.
On lower difficulties, you are largely permitted to basically ignore these, but not on Maddening. Every character needs a Battalion that compliments what you want them to be doing; a character that you anticipate taking a lot of physical hits should get a battalion that improves their Protection, a character that you anticipate attacking often should get one improving their Attack. It's up to you if you want to maximize strengths, or minimize shortcomings with these, but always think about them.
Gambits are another matter. Use them! Don't forget you have them. They cost you literally nothing to use, so don't be stingy! Gambits are incredibly powerful effects, allowing you to damage enemies, often reposition them, reduce their stats, and most importantly, immobilize them for a turn. Hitting a group of enemies with a wide-area Gambit can effectively remove them from combat for a turn, making it an incredible tool for minimizing the damage your team takes from groups of enemies. Gambits use Charm to determine their power and accuracy, so pay attention to who has a good Charm stat to give your best combat Gambits to.
Don't neglect the non-attacking gambits either, these fit marvelously on units with poor Charm stats, The utility of Stride, which grants +5 movement to characters in a wide area, cannot be understated, and many of the others like Impregnable Wall or Retribution are just as valuable. Making use of your gambits, and not forgetting that you have them is a crucial skill for surviving on maddening.
A final note, pay attention to how many Flying battalions you have. These are essentially the only limitation applied to Flying units; if you have more flying units than flying battalions, then the extras will have to deploy without battalions. There can be times where the trade-off is worth it, but keep it in mind before you tutor your entire house into Pegasus Knights.
A relatively minor point, Adjutants are a very useful tool in 3 Houses. Adjutants come in 3 flavors, Attack, Guard, and Heal, and this designation is based on the units' class. Guard, assigned to Armor Knight and Gauntlet classes, is the most immediately useful, as it always reduces the damage a unit takes on follow-up attacks by a percentage based on their support rate, but more importantly, outright PREVENTS such an attack from KOing the unit. Adjutant Heal is a reliable heal when the unit falls beneath half health, with supports increasing the number of activations, and Attack adjutants are generally unreliable, but can be useful for certain kills if you're willing to fish for RNG.
However, a secondary effect of Adjutants is that units assigned as adjutants will gain weapon, movement, and class exp when the unit they are attached to fights. This can be an excellent way of gaining class exp for a unit that would perform very poorly in a particular class, such as a magic unit in a non-magic class.
One can look at the vast array of things related to character stats in this game, the bases, the growths, the class modifiers, and come away very stressed. There's a lot of numbers, a lot of things influencing those numbers, and rng behind it that makes you worry about how you're going to match up against these enemies. However, you don't need to be too worried. People have beaten this game with 0% growths. That's right, 0%. You can do it with full.
A character's base stats are crucial, and are arguably the most important single aspect to them, as this largely determines the units performance in the first few chapters of the game, which are the hardest. Their growths help, of course, and some units do fall off because of exceptionally poor growths, but there's more to it.
First are certification adjustments. When a character certifies for a class, their stats are buffed to the minimums for that class whether they ever change to that class or not; this can allow characters with even poor levels in a given stat to stay competitive. fe3h.com has a full breakdown of these minimums, but a few significant ones: Fighter has 8 Strength, Armor Knight has 12 Defense, Thief has 11 Dex and Speed, Bishop has 12 Defense and 15 Res, Fortress Knight has 17 Str and Def, Paladin has 17 Str, Warrior has 19 Str, and Wyvern Rider has 18 Str. Most of these have either very manageable requirements, or are easy for certain characters to dip into along their progression to another class. Any character can benefit from this, keep it in mind when deciding what tutoring a character should get. A character already training axes can see a great increase to their Defense for nominal investment in heavy armor, for example.
Next are Stat Boosters, Those using the DLC will receive a collection upon beginning the game, but everyone will accumulate several over the game, and more significantly, the gardening mechanic can be put to use to grow them. The specifics of this are best handled by the dedicated page on fe3h.com, but you can consistently try for specific boosters that you want for one reason or the other.
The more important question is when to use them, and who to use them on.
There are two primary times to use your boosters. First and foremost, and mostly for the people with the dlc boosters, immediately. The early game is the hardest, and so using them to get someone off their feet early.
The other good time is after a character has certified for Advanced classes, or has surpassed the adjustment values for them; these classes tend to mark the highest point a character's stats will be enhanced by class certification, and boosters distributed before then may simply wash out from the adjustment.
Short term benefit or long term gain, essentially.
In either case, stat boosters are best applied to units with middling stats in an area to push them to a "good" stat, or heaped onto a unit with great stats to push them far above the standard curve. The sole exception to this is Luck, which sees the greatest value when given to units with abysmal luck, to help avoid facing crit from generic enemies.
Choosing Your Party
Choosing Your Party: Your choices are naturally going to be heavily dependent on which house you pick, but there are a few rude awakenings in store for people who have only played the lower difficulties in this game. Some characters are better than others. Much better, in some cases. There's certainly enough wiggle room to make any character play a role on a Maddening team, but you are going to have to be honest about the overall capabilities of certain units, and keep in mind which characters are worth using, and which are worth replacing from your starting pool of students. The game tends to be at its absolute hardest for the first few chapters, when your options for dealing with challenges are at their smallest, and you've had the least opportunity to create a few super-soldiers to tackle nearly anything. As a result, one thing to keep in mind are units with very strong early game utility. Generally speaking, this means units with high overall base stats, especially defense, or units with very powerful innate abilities for the early game. The former group includes units such as the house lords, Byleth, Dedue, Leonie, Raphael, or Sylvain, and so on. These units are vital for getting things done in the early chapters, though it is worth noting that some of them like the lords continue to be strong throughout the game, while others like Raphael fall off for one reason or another. The second group is a bit harder to generalize, as the powerful innates can have drastically different effects that are better or worse at different stages of the game. Whether it is Ignatz's boosted accuracy, Dorothea's free adjacent healing, or Felix' free 5 damage per hit if you don't give him a batallion (or, even better, don't even have a batallion to give him), pay attention to these characteristics about units, and maximize them. Other guides or personal tinkering can inform you which abilities and characters are worth taking advantage of.
Concentrate Your Efforts
A time-honored pastime of Fire Emblem is raising an entire squad of troops to function as a team in harmony.
While you certainly want the teamwork, throw the rest of that ideal out the window. You frankly do not have the resources to make an entire 10-man squad Maddening competitive, unless on NG+, or if you're a much better player than I. Focus on a smaller party of "core" units, and have the others take on more supportive roles. Good core units are those with excellent all-around stats, such as The Lords, Byleth, Felix, Leonie, and others like them, or units able to reliably deal large quantities of damage, like Lysithea, but you can get away with concentrating your effort on nearly anyone, so long as you use them as effectively as you can.
Your other units should fall into more supportive roles that help the team as a whole, and take advantage of their individual strengths if possible. This can mean dealing chip damage to bring enemies into kill range, using Gambits to shut down groups of enemies, taking an attack to lure an enemy closer, or healing their comrades.
Also, given the more supportive nature of the rest of your team, take full advantage of the powerful bones thrown to you; Catherine and Shamir are going to be fantastic units when you get them, and units like Alois and Seteth can be great later game units to swap out for any of your other units that are underperforming, so don't hesitate to take advantage of their stats right away.
Class It Up!
A common mindset in Fire Emblem is that characters have certain ideal or "cannon" classes; for example, Catherine or Felix are sword-users, who should focus on their swords. To smoothly transition into maddening, you need to essentially retrain yourself on what the purpose of a class is. A class is essentially a collection of buffs and an opportunity to learn a skill; it is NOT the defining playstyle of a character. Reclassing a character into Archer does not fundamentally change their role on your team, except insofar as the 1-3 range opportunities allow them to take advantage of situations they otherwise might not be able to. They can fight with axes, or whatever that unit's specialty is just about as well as before, just with the added benefit of putting class exp towards Hit+20%. Classes do not define how a unit performs, the unit themself does, a class is best thought of as a piece of equipment, rather than a total identity shift. The only thing to be wary of is reclassing magically focused classes into classes without access to it, as if their value relies on their magic, then they might be pretty worthless without it.
Developing this mindset will aid you tremendously in maddening. Reclassing a character into Priest does not make them a defenseless "backrow" character; if you reclass your main frontline character into priest, they are still fully capable of filling that role, just now with the added benefit of adding extra castings of Heal to your team. With that in mind, which classes are ideal for situating units in?
Well, your physical units are all likely to want to take a turn in Brigand and Archer, for the mastery skills Death Blow and Hit+20 respectively. Female units you intend to attack with should take Pegasus Knight for Darting Blow. Magic units probably want to take Mage for Fiendish Blow (though, it's unlikely that they won't take it anyways), and may want Hit+20 themselves, once you unlock Adjutants so they can actually survive life as an Archer.
Additionally, Armor Knight is good for other reasons, but Armored Blow can also be quite useful. In terms of combat potential, Cavalier and Pegasus Knight are generally fantastic picks for a unit not working on anything else, or just to get through a rough battle. Additionally, with what was said before, Priest can be a fantastic choice to grant more healing and support potential to your army, allowing your better units to not need to concern themselves with keeping their own health high.
Later on, Wyvern Rider is potentially the single most overall beneficial class in the game, with its direct upgrade Wyvern Lord being just more of the same. If you have a unit whose class plan isn't clear to you, you can almost never go wrong with Wyvern Rider and Wyvern Lord. Paladin, Sniper, Grappler, Bishop, War Master, and Dark Knight are all fantastic classes to be in, and are worthwhile goals for any unit to achieve.
A final note, do not concern yourself with the differences in growth rates. If the other benefits to taking a class are good, then absolutely don't worry about "ruining" your character by putting them in a class with a low or even negative modifier in a particular stat. Any differences caused by this are going to be very small in the long run, and are 100% fixable if you're that worried by using Gardening to grow the correct statboosting plants to correct for it. Which you should be doing anyways.
Additional Notes, With Extra Cheese
Experience Through Cheese
As outlined, keeping a smaller squad of "core" units can help use the experience you get in Maddening to its fullest, but, what if there was another way? The truth is, there is another way to bleed the stone that is Maddening for every drop of experience it has; how palatable this tactic is is up to you. The secret is White Magic. Healing grants exp to the unit casting the spell, and this experience is a set amount of the character's requirement to the next level. This means that reclassing a unit to Monk, or even better, priest, just to cast heal on your other units can help keep units in the game who would otherwise fall behind in experience, especially in the stingy auxiliary battles. Certifying for these classes is investing in a reliable way to grind for exp for units that you might not otherwise be able to keep up. It's yet another reason that any character not on a strict tutoring schedule should consider picking up enough Faith for Heal and Priest, at the very least.
Additionally, the Dancer runs on a similar principle; the Dance command grants a set percentage of EXP to the Dancer (only for the first 10 Dances of a battle, so you can't go TOO crazy). Whether you utilize this to powerlevel an already great unit to obscene degrees, or keep it on a bulkier character to, y'know, actually dance, but be able to tank hits is up to you.
If the above has your hunger for cheese activated, then there is yet something worse you can subject this game to. If in an auxiliary battle, you should manage to either pin an archer against walls and/or your units, find a priest without attack magic, or deplete an enemy's weapon durability, then you can grind weapon, movement, authority, and class exp by beating the poor soul with broken or rusted weapons. It is time consuming, it is not fun, and it makes one feel the cheese flow through them like little else, but this is war, and war has no rules.
Misc. Tips and Instructions
Finally, a handful of miscellaneous tips and instructions. Feel free to follow or ignore them as you see fit.
Female Byleth is nigh-universally better than Male. Earlier access to flying through Pegasus Knight matters more than any of the classes Male Byleth gets, and effortlessly recruiting Sylvain in other houses is just gravy. The difference isn't huge, but if you're trying to set yourself up with every possible advantage, Female Byleth is the way to go.
Speaking of Sylvain, try and recruit him early, before Chapter 5. Completing this chapter with Sylvain in your party (not necessarily deployed) will allow you to keep the Lance of Ruin by refusing to return it after the chapter. It has absurdly high mt for this stage of the game, and can help you run over bosses for chapters to come.
I will make a special note of the mighty Iron Bow+. Obtained by enhancing an Iron Bow at the blacksmith. This weapon has very little reason to not be in the inventory of every physical unit in your army. It has a fantastic mixture of versatility, ease of obtaining in large quantities at a cheap price, and accuracy.
In this humble player's opinion, The Golden Deer have the easiest overall time with Maddening for various reasons. Recruiting Sylvain and deploying him over Lorenz when forced is, in my opinion, the best early game you could ask for. If you just want to beat Maddening, and don't care how you do it, I recommend The Golden Deer.
Fire Emblem has integral to it a certain degree of random chance. If someone tells you that, say, Raphael tends to underperform and should not be a unit you focus on because of his low speed, but your Raphael has exceptional luck with his speed, or tells you that Dimitri is fantastic because of his generally high stats, but yours has had exceptionally poor levels, then use your best judgement! Don't count on statistical anomalies, but adapt to the ones you get!
Summation and an Ending Note
There's a lot of information to take in, and losing a detail here or there is inevitable, but to boil it down, just always be thinking of the following in the moment-to-moment.
Always scan a map to plan a strategy, and identify troublesome units, either those that are powerful or have annoying attributes, or simply those your team may struggle with.
Try and take out enemies without receiving damage, kill or otherwise neutralize units able to attack as they please, and always try to make sure characters able to tank damage have enough health to do so.
Concentrate your efforts.
Always be thinking about how you can improve the people carrying your team, and how to maximize their effectiveness, and how everyone else can help them accomplish this. Always be thinking where you want them to be, and what you want them to be able to do in both the short and long terms, and on both a unit development, and in-battle sense.
Don't just go on autopilot and expect your same plan to work every map, play the game presented to you.
And, the ending note.
There is yet one final challenge of maddening that is perhaps most difficult to address. Stress and burnout. With the perceived difficulty, the weight of your decisions, and just how many of them there are to make, this game can be a draining experience. Many a player's maddening session ends not when they reach an impossible map, but often around halfway through the timeskip, when the sheer amount of monastery exploration, tutoring, and auxiliary battles waiting to be optimized crushes their resolve to continue.
To this, all I can say is relax.
Remember. People have beaten this with 0% growths. You don't need to optimize every little thing, milk every single week to the fullest, or break your own spirit making sure everything is just so. You'll be fine, you can adapt to anything with a bit of ingenuity and planning. You got this.
You can get bored and not do any auxiliary battles for two months, not make that class certification in time, and just plumb forget to garden for a few weeks, and still do fine. I promise. Have mercy on yourself, and don't forget that you're doing this to have fun!
Uh, maybe stress a little for chapter 13. Make an extra save in chapter 12. Just in case.