I love a good challenge. When I completed my first playthrough of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I immediately restarted a new game on the Classic difficulty with Ironman enabled. In Defense Grid: Awakening and Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, I would complete all of the challenges and mission difficulties, and I would ensure that I perfected them: no leaks allowed. It’s a time consuming process filled with many bouts of hair-pulling frustration. But when I succeeded, it felt worth it because I had achieved the victory by myself using my own tactics, creativity, and planning.
In Fire Emblem: Awakening’s highest difficulty, Lunatic, I don’t get this satisfaction at all from successfully finishing the opening chapters. There is only one way to play: you must use Frederick, and you must pair him up with Chrom (when paired up with Freddy, Chrom gives a high enough speed bonus to allow Freddy to double up on most enemies). If not, at least one of your heroes will die while you are completing the mission.
The first true test of your Lunatic mettle is in Chapter 2. You start the mission out in the open, surrounded by 6-8 enemies that are about to flank you. I was stuck on this chapter for almost 3 hours, trying to keep everybody alive by camping them in a defensive formation on the bottom right forest. Each time, at least one person will get killed, either Vaike, Miriel, or Virion. I almost resigned myself to the fact that in order to progress, I would have to accept someone’s permanent death (I’m sorry, I always play on Classic). I decided to google for a solution just to see how others did it, and landed on this IGN page: http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/02/28/fire-emblem-awakening-surviving-lunatic-mode
The author’s solution was incredibly simple. Pass Virion’s elixir to Freddy, pair up Chrom with Freddy as always, and… just send Freddy right into the middle of the map to draw aggro from all the enemies. Use the elixir to restore his health when low, and just repeat until everyone kills themselves from trying to attack Freddy. Repeat again for the top half of the map.
So much for the “tactics” in turn-based tactical games. The beauty of XCOM is that even on the highest difficulty, you are given the freedom to carve out your own victory. It’s possible to play with six snipers and snipe everything on the map to oblivion, or use six heavies to suppress and lock down any enemy you see. There is no absolutely “right” or “wrong” way to play the game. In Awakening’s Lunatic mode, you are forced to play Frederick Emblem. If Freddy somehow dies due to some RNG misfortune, you are already dead. There is no backup plan, there is no other way to win without losing more heroes. And even if you succeed, so what? You are giving so much (diminished) experience to your pre-promoted unit and denying the rest of your army the chance to level up and grow. Once you reach missions such as Chapter 6, where tonnes of enemy mages start to appear in a multiple-front battle, even the strongest Freddy pairing in the world won’t suffice.
Many users on the GameFAQs message boards say that you have to purchase the EXPonential Growth DLC to grind and level up the rest of your army in Lunatic. That works, but why must I purchase a DLC to make an existing difficulty playable? I’m very sorry, Fire Emblem fans, but this is not good game design in my book. If I want to play a puzzle game in a turn-based strategy RPG, I’d rather just play Professor Layton or the Zero Escape series instead.