Estimated reading time: 18 minute(s)

In July 2020, I published a specious article arguing that video game strategy guides should lead players into error and thereby teach them how to avoid error. I illustrated my misleading argument with an anecdote about my having made a serious error in one of my favorite games, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Specifically, I accidentally left the game’s main character within the attack radius of a skull-masked horse-riding gentleman named “Death Knight” – the results were predictable. That Fire Emblem mishap came in the later stages of the game. A couple of months before that error, I had a mishap in the earlier stages of that same play-through. However, that mishap had not only ended well for the character in question, but it alerted me to a novel strategy to clear a difficult map. This is the story of the time that Lysithea, a small and frail 15-year old magic-wielding girl in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, served as my physical tank against hordes of axe and sword-wielding bandits.

(Article for those who miss the joke in the title.)

November 19, 2021 update: Fixed errors in the article related to how Lysithea’s stats came to be.

December 3, 2021 update: Fixed spelling errors and tweaked conclusion.

What is Fire Emblem: Three Houses?

I begin with a brief introduction to Fire Emblem: Three Houses, for I have no reason to believe that the majority of The New Leaf Journal audience is familiar with it.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a Nintendo Switch game that is part of the broader Fire Emblem series. It is a strategy game featuring turn-based combat on a grid-based map on which the player and computer-controlled enemy take turns maneuvering their army units.

Lysithia and Byleth meeting at the bell tower in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Lysithea has a conversation with the main character. Image captured from my Nintendo Switch.

Similarly to the Persona series, which I have discussed on site, Fire Emblem: Three Houses has time-management aspects. In this game, the player character (“main character”) is a professor at a military academy. He or she has many opportunities to spend time talking to people around the academy, going to seminars, engaging in optional battles, and instructing students in various combat-based abilities.

Stats in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

I would normally refrain from discussing how stats for combat work in this type of article (with some exceptions). However, I must provide a basic explanation, for it is very relevant to how the diminutive Lysithea turned into a physical tank for one battle.

Each “unit,” such as Lysithea, in Fire Emblem has stats that inform how he or she performs in battle. Units have unique base stats (i.e., the stats they start with). How do these stats increase? Every time a unit levels up, there is a certain percentage chance – based on the character’s innate characteristics and the type of unit that he or she is when he or she levels up – that a given stat will increase.

Since this article is primarily about Lysithea, I will use her growth rates to illustrate how this works. Any person with passing familiarity with games like Fire Emblem can ascertain from looking at Lysithea that she falls within the “magic-using glass cannon” character paradigm. Her growth rates reflect this:

  • Hit Points: 20%
  • Strength: 15%
  • Magic: 60%
  • Dexterity: 60%
  • Speed: 50%
  • Luck: 15%
  • Defense: 10%
  • Resistance: 25%
  • Charm: 30%

How does this work in practice? Without any class-based modifications, Lysithea has a 60% chance of seeing her “Magic” and “Dexterity” stats increase when she gains a level. Conversely, she has only a 10% chance of seeing her Defense stat increase.

This system makes any given Fire Emblem play-through a bit random. What the random number generator gives one character it may take from another. As we will see, the random number generator blessed Lysithea on the play-through I will discuss here.

My Play-Through

I purchased Fire Emblem: Three Houses in September 2019, shortly after it was released. The game comes with three difficulty levels: Normal, Hard, and Maddening. Because I already had experience with the Fire Emblem series, I completed by first play-through on Hard. Having found that not too difficult, I decided to play my second on Maddening. For those who are familiar with how this works, do note that I did not use New Game+, which allows players to carry over certain accomplishments from a completed play-through to a new one. I played Maddening from scratch.

The reason why this game is called Three Houses is because the main character chooses among three different houses to lead foward from the start of the game. In the play-through in question, I chose the Golden Deer, which features Lysithea among its eight starting members.

Plans for Lysithea

One of the challenges of Maddening is that it requires some foresight in how the player will develop his or her units. From the start, I had big plans for Lysithea. She eschews the jack-of-all-trades archetype for being very good at one thing. Lysithea is the best magic-attacking unit in Fire Emblem: Three Houses – tied for the highest magic growth rate and having an excellent list of learnable magic attacks.

Tea time with Lysithea in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Tea time with Lysithea. Captured from my Nintendo Switch.

In Maddening difficulty, having strong ranged attacks is important – especially in the early game – and Lysithea is one of the best ranged attackers.

If her attacking strength was not enough of a selling-point, Lysithea also features the best support-skill in the game – Warp – which allows her to send an adjacent character to a different location on the map.

Lysithea also benefits from an obtainable item called Thyrsus. This gives any character who wields it two extra range skills on his or her magic attacks, allowing the character to safely attack enemy units from a distance without being subject to being attacked in return. Two characters – Lysithea and fellow Golden Deer Lorenz, also gain defensive utility from Thyrsus. Finally, Thyrsus grants Lysithea and Lorenz the Pavise and Aegis abilities – the former sometimes reduces sword, lance, axe, and brawling damage by half, while the latter sometimes reduces magic and bow damage by half. The likelihood of these abilities activating is based on the unit’s dexterity stat.

For Lysithea, my interest in obtaining Thyrsus as early as possible was solely to extend her attack range. While Pavise and Aegis are nice abilities, Lysithea’s low defenses make keeping her out of harm’s way advisable. Pavise and Aegis are more welcome to the comparatively bulky Lorenz.

But as we will find, things work in funny ways sometimes.

Some Notes on Battles in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

In the next few sections, I will discuss specific battles from my play-through leading up to the battle where Lysithea served as a physical tank. Before continuing, there are a few points that are important to understand.

First, Fire Emblem allows players to enable “permanent death.” This means that if a unit dies, the unit is gone for the rest of the game. The death of the main character and the “house leader” always result in game over, as do the death of a featured character in certain side-missions called paralogues. But other than those cases, the game continues with the deaths of other units on the player’s team.

However, permanent death does not mean that one must play while losing units left and right. Like most people who play with permanent death, I treat it as a challenge requiring me to not lose any units while completing a mission. That is, if I cannot avoid losing a unit, I consider it a proverbial “game over” when I do and restart the battle.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a bit more generous than other Fire Emblem entries regarding permanent death. It comes with a new feature called Divine Pulse. Each battle, the player has a limited number of Divine Pulses. Using Divine Pulse allows the player to revert the battle to an earlier turn of his or her choosing. The number of Divine Pulses available for each battle can be increased throughout the game, maxing out at 10. I usually tried to complete battles without using Divine Pulse and used it only in the latter stages of a long mission. I recall that I had four or five Divine Pulses available for the tank-Lysithea battle that this article will focus on.

Prelude to Lysithea the Tank

I settled into my Maddening play-through without too much difficulty as I adjusted to dealing with enemy units that had significantly higher stats than they did on Hard.

In the early game, the Main Character was at the center of most of my strategies. His stats were buffed by a few items that I received for having purchased the expansion pack to Fire Emblem. I was able to consistently use the Main Character to safely draw fire from enemy characters while mitigating the amount of attacks that the rest of my units took at lower levels.

Lysithea was one of my best offensive characters from the earliest stages of my play-through. As I noted, ranged-attacks are important on Maddening – especially in the early game. It was for that reason I gave many of my units bows – even some who do not ordinarily specialize in bows. Lysithea needed no weapons, however, for she comes with powerful ranged magic attacks from the outset of the game. Due to Lysithea’s frailty, I had to keep her out of range of being attacked, but that was also true of several less frail units in the early stages of my run.

I was not strongly challenged until Paralogues – optional side missions – became available as I moved into the middle third of the game. Paralogues vary in difficulty, but some are quite challenging, especially if the player endeavors to take them on as soon as possible. They tend to come with rewards for victory, one of which was quite important for Lysithea.

“Land of the Golden Deer”

The Thyrsus item, which I mentioned above, is the reward for completing the Land of the Golden Deer paralogue. Although I wanted the Thyrsus for Lysithea, the paralogue is part of Lorenz’s story.

I took the paralogue on as soon as it became available in order to equip Lysithea with Thyrsus as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I found my units other than the Main Character to be under-leveled for the task. There was simply no way to keep all of my units alive to the other side of the map.while fighting from my starting point

Fortunately, there was a loophole to completing Land of the Golden Deer paralogue that allowed me to clear the mission despite being under-leveled. The victory condition for the mission was eliminating a single enemy on the opposite side of the map – across a river – from the player’s starting point.

Map for "Land of the Golden Deer" paralogue in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Map for the mission. Player’s units are blue, enemy’s units are red. Image credit: Fire Emblem Wiki (CC-BY-SA)

Lysithea had acquired Warp – an ability I mentioned earlier – shortly before the battle. I was able to have Lysithea warp the main character from close to my team’s starting point across the river to face the boss character. Because the Main Character then eliminated the boss character in a single turn of combat, I was able to win the mission in a somewhat cheesy way, procuring Thyrsus for Lysithea.

Lysithea’s Moment in “A Black Market Scheme”

There is a DLC (additional content) consisting of side stories for Fire Emblem: Three Houses that can be purchased separately if you have the base game. Completing a separate side-story then gives the player access to new content in the main game. This content includes four new characters, a new area to explore, several side-missions, new items, and four new classes that are available to the new characters and original characters.

I had previously completed the DLC side-story in between my first and second Fire Emblem play-throughs, so I already had access to the new content in the main game.

One of the newly available paralogues from the DLC is called Black Market Scheme. I had an interest in clearing this paralogue because the reward for doing so benefited Balthus, who had become a key unit in my campaign.

I was not sure if my team was ready for Black Market Scheme, but I decided to make a run at it soon after it became available. As it would turn out, my team was not ready, but I would discover that a single great warrior – who happened to be a small 15-year old girl – was able to cover for many deficiencies.

The Lay of the Land

Before I tell the story of the battle, we must first understand the mission.

Most Fire Emblem battles allow the player’s units to start in the same area of the map. Black Market Scheme scatters the player’s units all over a map full of enemies. Three units: the main character, Balthus, and Hapi (who bears some similarities to Lysithea), are mandatory units for the battle and start in the bottom right of the map. Beyond those three units, the player is given seven additional spots, but these units must be placed in scattered positions across the map, left to fend for themselves against many enemies.

Map for "Black Market Scheme" paralogue in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Mission map for Black Market Scheme. Main character, Hapi, and Balthus are the blue units with icons on the far right. Other blue unit spaces are for units the player chooses to bring. Red spaces are enemy units. Image credit: Fire Emblem Wiki (CC-BY-SA)

On Maddening, there are 26 enemy units on the map at the start of the battle. Throughout the battle, these 26 enemies are gradually buttressed by reinforcements – which also total 26. Unlike Land of the Golden Deer, there is no quick way to complete the mission by taking advantage of something like Lysithea’s Warp. The mission is to “rout the enemy.”

A key point in the battle is how the reinforcement units work. Reinforcements on the map are triggered by different events such as defeating a given group of enemies, advancing past a certain point, or a certain number of turns elapsing. On Normal and Hard, reinforcement units do not attack on the same turn that they appear. On Maddening, reinforcements can attack as soon as they appear on the map. Since several of my units were susceptible to falling in one turn of combat, this proved to be a challenge for me.

Unsuccessful Early Attempts

I abandoned my first couple of attempts at the paralogue rather than taking full advantage of Divine Pulse (which I concede I had not used enough to realize that it fully recharges after every battle).

For my first two-to-three relatively short attempts, I brought in all seven additional units that I was allowed in addition to the three mandatory units. After my first attempt, I managed to place my units in places where they could hold their own against the enemies that surrounded them. However, my outlying units could not also cope with the reinforcements. I found that keeping ten units alive was a great challenge.

What was the cause of my problems? Firstly, while the game’s recommended level for the mission on Maddening, as well as Hard, is 17, level 17 is not sufficient for coping with the enemy units on Maddening. Many of my units were in the 16-19 range, meaning that they were at best fighting on even terms with individual enemy units while being out-numbered.

Another issue was that my team lacked in “tanky” units, meaning units that could take a number of hits well. My two best units in this regard were the main character and Balthus, but as I noted, those were two of the three units that had a mandatory starting position. I did not have many other units that were well-equipped to survive on a proverbial island against multiple enemies and reinforcements.

A Discovery About Lysithea

I used one of my available unit slots on Lysithea in all of my attempts. In some ways, she was not well-equipped for the battle given her ostensible inability to take hits, but she was one of my highest-leveled units (beginning the battle close to level 21) and she was capable of doing the most damage. I started Lysithea toward the East-center of the map, hoping to have her cross over to the main character without taking damage.

At one point on my second or third attempt, I made an error and left Lysithea within range of an axe- or lance-wielding unit. I assumed that this was the end for poor Lysithea, but I let the turn play out despite my apparent error. To my surprise, Lysithea took a minuscule amount of damage before eliminating the enemy when it was her turn to attack.

What happened? How did Lysithea of all characters take a hit better than Balthus and the main character on the far right side of the map?

I confirmed in a few additional encounters that this was no fluke. Lysithea(!?) was shrugging off axes, lances, and gauntlets – when they hit her at all – like they were nothing.

What in the world was going on?

Why Was My Glass Cannon So Tanky?

I tried to figure out what was happening with Lysithea. I determined that her strange defensive utility was owed to several factors. Before I list these factors, see the following screenshot of Lysithea’s stats from after I successfully cleared the mission:

Lysithea's battle stats at level 23 in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Captured from my Nintendo Switch.
  • I had promoted Lysithea to the Warlock class shortly before the battle – that class required a minimum level of 20. That class comes with a minimum defense stat of 12, although due to my having good luck with Lysithea’s growths generally, I was not too far below 12 prior to the promotion.
  • Pavise was activating with regularity due to Lysithea’s naturally high Dexterity stat. She could take hits decently well without it, but Pavise made any damage to Lysithea minimal.
  • Lysithea received a chance to attack after the enemies first attempt when she was on defense. Unlike most of my units, she was able to defeat most enemy units with a single attack. This allowed her to quickly reduce the number of units that could attack her.
  • If there is a more than 4-point speed difference between an attacking unit and defending unit, the attacking unit can go twice. Lysithea was fast enough to avoid being “doubled” by everything except reinforcement Assassins.
  • Lysithea’s avoid rate was fairly high, allowing her to dodge a decent number of attacks entirely – especially from axe-wielding Brigands and Warriors.

I had some units in the corners of the map that I could not salvage when I discovered Lysithea’s tankiness, but my discovery about Lysithea gave rise to what would be my winning strategy.

The New Game-Plan

Having discovered that Lysithea could defeat hordes of enemies without much help, I came up with a new plan.

First, perhaps counter-intuitively, I opted to bring only five additional units to the three mandatory units instead of my full allotment of seven. The reason for this was because at the time I took on the battle, I simply did not have seven units that could reliably hold their own, and trying to fill every slot created problems rather than solving them. For this reason, I left the western-most unit slots unfilled. One particular issue with those slots was that they were the ones I was having the most problems with reinforcements. It is worth noting that this was the only battle that I opted to strategically leave unit slots unused.

(The full unit list will not be of interest to most readers, but for Fire Emblem fans out there, I brought Lysithea, Claude, Marianne, Catherine, and Shamir.)

My plan was to have the five units I placed in the center of the map execute a fighting retreat to join my four units on the far right side of the map – main character, Balthus, Hapi, and Marianne (Marianne’s role was primarily long-distance healing). Lysithea would hold up the rear of the retreat, and thin the ranks of the enemy before being the last to cross over.

With this strategy, I would not be ambushed by reinforcements. Reinforcements would appear on the corners of the map and come to meet my full army through a small bottleneck. I planned to force all the enemy to confront Lysithea and my full team, clear them, and then move to confront the boss enemy in the south-center of the map.

How the Strategy Worked in Practice

Mike Tyson once famously said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Fortunately for me, my plan survived punches, swords, lances, axes, and bows to the mouth.

In my first two-to-three attempts, I figured out how to manage the enemies around the main character, Balthus, and Hapi, the latter of whom could not take hits at all and thus had to be handled with great care. Although out-gunned, I used the tools at their disposal to clear the right side of the map and to unite them with Marianne, who I also placed on their side.

Regarding the center of the map, I very carefully maneuvered Claude, Catherine, and Shamir toward the right side of the map, taking fights on my terms and only insofar as I needed to keep them moving in the right direction.

Remarkably, Lysithea was the only character I could handle with little care at all. She could easily eliminate most enemies in one turn from distance, but she also had nothing to fear from being attacked first because of how well she took hits. For this reason, Lysithea conducted the slowest fighting retreat, attracting enemies along the way in order to thin their ranks.

The Reinforcement Problem Arises In a Different Way

As Lysithea made her way to join her seven allies across the bridge leading to the right of the map, I came to understand that there was one challenge I had not fully appreciated in drawing up my plan.

To be sure, I completely eliminated the issue of being jumped by reinforcements by ensuring that I did not have any units where reinforcements spawned. Having nothing to do when they appeared, reinforcements were left to stand in confusion before slowly proceeding in the general direction of my units.

What I had not fully appreciated was the sheer number of reinforcements. My fighting retreat eliminated most of the units that were on the map at the start, but each of those units was replaced by reinforcements on Maddening.

There were two additional points that I did not fully account for.

Firstly, many of the reinforcement units are the advanced class versions of the original enemy units. While Lysithea was able to deal with these as well, she could not deal with them as easily. Warriors, the advanced axe-wielding versions of Brigands, took a larger chunk out of Lysithea’s health when they landed their blows. Assassins, the advanced version of Thieves, were fast enough to get two attacks in on Lysithea instead of one. These problems were not insurmountable, but they made these units far more dangerous to the non-Lysithea members of my army and put more stress on my healing.

Secondly, I did not quite envision somewhere in the range of 10-12 reinforcement units joining together in the middle of the map and advancing toward my position en masse.

Hanging On For Deer Life (Pun Intended)

My plan to force all enemy units from a narrow pass to confront my full army was sound. But there were enough enemy units in that pass that I was left with a bit of a puzzle. My original thought was that if I was fighting four-to-five units at a time, Lysithea could pick off one while the rest of my team dealt with the others. When there is more than 10, I was required to have Lysithea absorb the attacks from a large number of units – being that she was the only one that could survive them – and then try to thin the enemy ranks after that.

To manage the situation, I relied heavily on Lysithea’s strange ability to take hits. I needed to keep Lysithea from falling to death by paper-cuts and to keep any of the enemy units from coming within attack range of my less durable members. To this effect, I made ample use of Gambit attacks – which freeze enemy units for one turn when hit. I very occasionally lured attackers with my main character and Balthus, who could generally take at least one hit, although not as well as Lysithea.

Marianne and Hapi were busy with healing.

In the end, my plan worked, and Lysithea never got below 9 or so hit points due to the many attributes that I described above. Lysithea eliminated the majority of enemy units as she had done for the entire map, with help from allies.

I used no Divine Pulses in clearing all enemies except the boss unit and its two helpers on the center-southwest of the map.

Winning the Mission

Having eliminated 40 or so units, I proceeded with my whole army to confront the boss and his two helpers. I had not realized that doing this causes a monster to appear.

Of course it does. As if I had not done enough.

I ran into a small issue with the monster. It is not necessary to go into great detail here, but Gambit attacks are especially useful against monster units – both because they open up weaknesses to exploit and also because they ensure the monster attacks the unit that used the gambit. I recall, without details, that my use of gambits at the bridge left me a bit short on gambits to confront the monster.

Now at this point, given the time I had put into the battle to barely survive and that it was already 1 AM, I was more-than-prepared to make ample use of my divine pulses. I recall having to use two to undo mistakes and plans that did not quite work out, but ultimately I defeated the monster to win the mission.

Epilogue

This strange paralogue stands as my most memorable Fire Emblem story from hundreds of hours playing several Fire Emblem games.

It stood out for the novelty of my approach. Lysithea, one of the most defensively frail characters in Turee Houses, served as tank while being in a magic-wielding class that provided no defensive bonuses. A novel approach to the paralogue was necessary in part because I attempted it while being generally under-leveled.

It was also memorable for the fact that I discovered Lysithea’s tankiness by accident. Had I not had her end up in range of an attack (I recall it was because she missed an attack on my turn), I may not have realized how well she was taking hits. It simply never occurred to me that Lysithea would, at any time, stand up to powerful attacks from Warrior and Assassin units.

Having ultimately completed the run, this battle also stood out for being a very unique case. Lysithea’s health and growth grew sparingly after that battle, and she eventually reverted to being a frail unit..

Lysithea's battle stats at level 27 in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Note that Lysithea gained no points in Defense from levels 23 to 27. At the end of the game, her defense stat was 20 at level 45, but that was with the benefit of a few items to give her a slight boost. Image captured from my Nintendo Switch.

While Lysithea was my most valuable unit over the course of the play-through, narrowly out-pacing the main character for most enemies defeated in the run (337 to 335), it only took a few chapters for Lysithea’s defenses to become inadequate for anything beyond taking occasional physical attacks poorly. In the late game, I had to give Lysithea a few defense-boosting items to ensure that she could continue to take a rare physical attack if absolutely necessary (she tends to take magic attacks much better than she takes physical attacks).

The battle was archetype-defying. I discovered a strategy by accident. The strategy turned out to be a one-time thing that worked due to a strange confluence of factors.

Memorable indeed.