Hits to Kill: what's the "sweet spot"?

2022.01.28 22:09 XamadFP Hits to Kill: what's the "sweet spot"?

(Inspired by RodmunchPHD's post
A while back ago I asked about HP in the FE series, and while the discussion was somewhat small, I feel like there were some pretty valuable comments that others had made. That said, a salient point ended up being that "hits to kill" was a more relevant metric, with HP itself (and relevant stats) moreso determining how easy it is to shift this other metric. The hits-to-kill metric tends to be a major factor in determining the overall speed and pace of the game as well; the faster you can kill enemies, the further you can safely move through the map. This, of course, fluctuates often due to the variety of different stat compositions player and enemy units can have, as well as terrain and all manner of features.
Fire Emblem in general also has an interesting relationship with this metric due to the existence of counterattacking and follow-up attacks. For the sake of this discussion, we'll be taking a look at the "average" hits to kill, when units are roughly even in level, assuming no crazy skills or the like are involved. We'll also take a look at how easy/hard it is to shift into another threshold using things like skills, weapons, and the like.
1HKO: The Effective Zone
Even in faster-paced FEs, this threshold tends to be a rare one to achieve, and usually takes quite a bit of investment in an offensive stat to reach. Even when the standard threshold is a 2HKO, getting enough Str or Mag to push it into a 1HKO tends to be easier said than done unless your name is Effie in Conquest's early game, or Lysithea in the late game as examples. That said, there are also certain matchup-dependent cases where this dynamic is more common, eg. axe-wielders vs. mages, and with effective weaponry. In general, this zone tends to be reserved for special cases; after all, if every unit could just casually one-shot each other, there wouldn't be much reason to go for "stronger" unit types.
The only game I'd say where this threshold is especially common is Shadow Dragon, due to the obscene power that comes from being able to forge effective weapons—the Wing Spear, the Ridersbane, etc.—as well as how common enemies that are weak to them are. For those in the game that have access to them, this turns the game into a frantic-yet-fun case of rocket tag gameplay, especially on higher difficulties where enemies have high offenses, but Def/Res stay the same. For those that can't reach the 1HKO threshold in these situations, however, their options tend to be relegated to chip damage or playing it super-safe, which isn't really as fun. So overall probably not the healthiest to make the "average" threshold.
2HKO: The ORKO Zone
This is a threshold that tends to be much easier for units to reach, player or otherwise. Most games tend to have the average kill threshold fall either here or in the 3HKO area. Due to the existence of the doubling mechanic, this can end up being functionally the same as a 1HKO threshold in the sense that it only takes one unit-to-unit interaction to eliminate the other. Now on one hand, this can make gameplay go quite quickly, which also usually tends to make it more fun and exciting. However, the baseline is a 2HKO and it's very easy to double/outspeed, this could potentially hurt the gameplay. After all, if I can just throw someone into a horde of enemies and know they'll all get ORKO'd, why bother thinking? This is a fate that games like Blazing Blade, Sacred Stones, Path of Radiance (on lower difficulties), and Awakening can suffer from. If you add range dynamics to this, then this basically means you can delete enemies without really interacting with them.
In more of an edge case, having a 2HKO be the baseline can also potentially make offensive play disadvantageous due to the existence of counterattacks. If you're fighting someone that can counter, you both hit each other the first round, then on the second round, the enemy kills you before you can hit again. This is more of a fringe case in normal gameplay, but I have a feeling it might also be part of a reason why PvP often fails in FE; if making the first move will get you killed, no one will want to make a move in the first place. Again, more of a fringe case, but possibly worth mentioning.
Moving a 1HKO down to a 2HKO tends to be quite easy, as 1HKOs are hard to achieve anyways, while 3HKO thresholds are also not far off; often when we aim for a 2HKO, we're looking for just enough attack power to hit it, not too much more. This means that just a bit of extra defense can throw these off into a 3HKO. Overall not a bad choice for an average KO threshold, though it can be a bit volatile.
*3HKO: *
A threshold I'd wager is about as common as the 2HKO threshold for most games. Critically, this is the point where a unit no longer ORKOs enemies even if they double, instead leaving them with roughly enough health for either a) a counterattack to finish them off, or b) another player phase unit to finish them off. Not doing the latter means you potentially have to deal with the former, which means taking a hit yourself.
Moving from a 3HKO up to a 2HKO can take a bit of effort, such as smart use of buffs, skills, and combat arts, but the difference in HP often isn't so high that this is super difficult. Still, requiring that effort means that you do, in effect, need to work for your 2HKOs and ORKOs, which can arguably make them feel more satisfying.
Personally I'd be inclined to call this the ideal average threshold, as it gives your units a bit of leniency so that a single mistake doesn't result in death, but can still reach the ever-efficient 2HKO/ORKO with some effort. You gotta think ahead to secure efficient kills, but not so much that the enemies feel like meat walls.
4HKO: The 8 Strength Gang Zone
The home of the base Bernadetta (w/o her prf skill active), Ashe, Ingrid, and Ignatz from Three Houses. Hitting this threshold often means your unit is slightly deficient in strength or other forms of power. That said, being stuck here isn't usually the end of the world—if a unit has enough speed to double, being in the 4HKO area means your unit can still 2RKO, which isn't bad. but not great. With these, however, the 4HKO isn't very far off from a potential 3HKO—it's usually only off by around 2–3 HP, or just a combat art or two to push this zone into a 3HKO. Other cases of this I'd say are mainly from Genealogy of the Holy War due to that game's generally inflated HP values.
Functionally not exceedingly different from the 3HKO threshold in regards to what kinds of strategies are usable here, but this I'd say is the point where bulk starts becoming noticeable. Depending on the damage per hit and the actual deficiency from that third hit to kill, reaching a 2HKO might even be possible from here with enough effort, but usually it will net you into a 3HKO area. Due to the generally low damage values that would put one in this zone, however, even a slight bit more Defense on a unit's part can shift this into the 5HKO zone. Having this be the average threshold would be... acceptable, but not particularly engaging, I think.
5+HKO: The Gaiden Zone
From my experience, I'd say there are only about to games where this threshold is the norm: Gaiden/Shadows of Valentia, and Path of Radiance Maniac Mode, the latter of which is near-universally despised for its combination of this and its absurd enemy density.
Gaiden and Shadows of Valentia are examples I'd say more have experience with, but there it's somewhat mitigated by the general ease of doubling; only needing 1 more speed than the enemy, combined with generally low enemy speed, means that, in effect, a lot of these 5+HKOs are in practice 3RKOs that can border on 2HKOs with a little help from another unit. Gaiden/SoV also generally has much lower enemy quantity than Path of Radiance Maniac Mode, which eliminates one of the major factors that makes that mode so unfun.
The problem is, if you don't reach that speed threshold, your damage output plummets, making combat feel like a real slog. Try getting base level Kliff to kill a level 1 Brigand by himself. He takes 6 rounds due to his speed being tied with them. That said, even your stronger units like Alm still take multiple rounds to reliably kill enemies. Shadows of Valentia improves this overall through access to more weapons, forging, and combat arts, meaning that mid-game onwards, this zone becomes a thing of the past, especially given that Attack growths tend to slightly outweigh Defense growths. That said, needing to go through this portion to begin with still isn't the best feeling.
This zone is... not really all that fun. Similarly to the 4HKO zone, any more Defense on a unit's position will drop damage taken and increase hits-to-kill at a significantly higher rate, up to the point of juggernauting. The only times I think this zone would feel alright is a) against bosses, b) against armoured units, and c) when a unit is under the effect of a particular defensive buff, where being bulky is kinda the whole point of them. That said, those areas aren't exactly what fit into my previous "units are roughly even in level" descriptor from before. So this is not at all a good place for the "average" hits-to-kill threshold to be at all.
Conclusion
Overall, having units die quicker on average is generally more enjoyable than having them die slower. I think most players will agree with that sentiment; it feels more like you're making real progress when you can move forward instead of being bogged down by hordes of enemies you're not even close to killing efficiently. That said, I feel like having 1HKOs or ORKOs be too easy to reach for either side has some risk in making the game too easy or volatile, or even in making some classes' niches feel obsolete; after all, why would I bother with a higher Str Fighter when even a below-to-average Str Mercenary can still secure most kills?
Since this is once again just an opinion piece from myself, I'm interested in hearing what you all have to say. Was there anything I might have missed in this post?
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