You’re going to need more than a cool dragon transformation if you want to survive out in the battlefield. Thankfully, we’re here to help.

As you may have heard by now, Fates is way tougher than Awakening. I’ve had to readjust some of my thinking about how Fire Emblem should be played. I thought I’d take this chance to tell you guys everything I’ve learned along the way.

Know what kind of character you’re making

The options at the start of character creation aren’t just flavor text: they’ll actually influence how your character grows. Here’s a chart that breaks Boons and Banes down, courtesy of Serenes Forest:

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As for talent, that option will determine what class your character can attain when you level him or her up later on. Finally, the game will make sure to celebrate your birthday, so make sure to actually put yours in.

Play Birthright, then Conquest

I highly recommend playing both campaigns, if possible. As I explained in my “which to play” guide, each game has a different level of challenge, gameplay scenarios, and narrative outcome, so it’s worth giving both a shot. Given that Conquest is the tougher of the two, I suggest easing into the experience with Birthright first. Worth noting that you can get the other campaign at a discount once you purchase your first game.

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Consider turning permadeath off on Conquest

Wow, three tips in and we’re already suggesting total Fire Emblem sacrilege?

Listen. Conquest is soul-crushing. Even the early chapters can tear you down, and I say this as a Fire Emblem veteran. But I’ve wasted enough hours on tricky Fire Emblem Fates levels to feel confident in saying that the time I lost trying to make it work just wasn’t worth it. Conquest is built to test the player, and it succeeds in doing so through level design alone.

Permadeath especially doesn’t make sense when you consider that A) the game keeps key characters alive in the story regardless B) even without permadeath, you always run the risk of leveling your characters wrong and putting yourself in an unwinnable situation. You’re going to have enough to worry about, permadeath or not.

Be open to turning the difficulty down

If you’re not convinced by my tip about permadeath, at least consider turning down the difficulty if you’re having trouble. The difficulty options in Fire Emblem Fates are actually misleading. I tried playing Conquest on Hard, which is supposed to be fine-tuned for Fire Emblem fans. I found it too grueling and had to turn it down to Normal—which is supposed to be for newbies! Even then, I still got my ass handed to me plenty of times.

Fortunately, you always have the option of making things easier via the “Difficulty” option on the overwold menu. Before you commit to it by saving, try out a few missions with the new difficulty first. While Fates allows you to turn it down a notch, you can never turn the difficulty back up. (Paradoxically, it’s possible to play Fates on the easiest difficulty with permadeath on!)

Arrange your teams

Before a battle starts, select “view map.” Here, you can swap your units’ positions. Make sure everybody is standing where you want them to. I prefer putting more mobile units near the front, and healers / weaker units near the back. If you’d like, you can even pair units up before the match starts.

Give everyone health items

Every soldier should go to battle with a Vulnerary or Concoction, so you can raise their health if they take too much damage. Your healers can’t get to everyone.

Use the left shoulder button

Forget manually finding which soldier should take a turn next. An easy way to cycle between your available fighters is to tap L. If you highlight an enemy, you can also cycle through all your foes with that same button, too. That’s a good way of scoping out the competition, their weapons, and their loot. Any character with an actual name may either be a boss, or a recruitable character, so keep an eye out.

Track enemy range and movement

If you highlight an enemy and press “A,” you can see that unit’s individual range. This is great for strategizing, particularly for preventing unit overreach and making sure your characters are positioned in the right place. (You can also press X to see movement radius of the entire enemy outfit, but I find it’s more useful to know the specifics of what each unit can do.)

Know the Weapon Triangle

Swords and magic are stronger than axes and bows. Axes and bows triumph over lances and hidden weapons. Lances and hidden weapons tear down swords and magic. Remember! If nothing else, keep Sky Knights and Wyverns away from archers.

Support your characters

Units that are next to each other can eke out extra damage by attacking together. Plus, whenever a character fights side-by-side with someone, they’ll bond and become friends. Once a battle is over, if two characters have developed their relationship enough, they’ll actually talk to each other. The scenes are always cute or endearing, so they’re worth watching.

You can also pair units up for an increase in stats. A good rule of thumb is, make characters fight alongside each other when you want more power, and consolidate them into one unit when you want more defense.

Use Dragon Veins

Most maps will have glowing tiles which can be activated by either Corrin, or any of the royal family. Take control of them and use them to your advantage—Dragon Veins can totally turn the tide of battle.

In Conquest, play defensively

It may be tempting to play offensively, bringing the fight to your enemy whenever you can. Resist that urge! Few things will get you killed more than overreaching, or than sticking a unit’s neck out willy-nilly. Sometimes, it’s even a good idea not to attack at all. Try using strong characters as bait, to pull stronger enemies toward you. It’s much easier to kill foes when you can swarm them, and this is especially true of bosses. Above all else, don’t get into situations where most of your party has to play catch-up with your more mobile or strong units. That’ll get people needlessly killed.

Create choke points

Sometimes, limiting where your opponents can go and restricting who they can hit is the best thing you can do, especially if you have some good tanks lying around (like Effie!) If you do this, keep a healer nearby just in case, along with units who can either support your tank, or attack at range. Bottlenecks require patience, but they’re really worth it, particularly in Conquest.

Level up your weak fighters

Often, your weakest characters can grow into your strongest. But you’ll need to invest in them first. In Conquest, being mindful of how you distribute XP is particularly important, since you can’t actually grind. Every kill, and who actually lands that final blow, really matters. Make sure everyone is gaining a steady amount of XP every battle, else you might find yourself in an unwinnable situation full of underleveled allies.

So, yeah. You should definitely use Mozu. She’s basically the new Donnel, and will eventually transform from a useless character, into a badass archer.

Speed things up

You can make battles go faster if you press down A while they unfold. Or, you can turn off those animations altogether in the settings. I like watching kills from time to time, because characters sometimes have funny things to say, or it’s gratifying to watch tough units go down.

Use your abilities

Every fighter accrues specific talents as they level up. Get acquainted with these abilities, because they can be used to your advantage. It helps to know, for example, that a certain knight can heal itself every turn if it is near other units, or if your soldier has the ability to rally others around it. It’s also good to know when an ability actually hurts your character—Arthur in Conquest has something called “Gamble,” for example, which affects his hit percentage negatively. That’s one ability I’d rather turn off.

Look at your stats

Everyone is built with different affinities, so you should become aware of what those are. Sometimes a character design will make a character seem good or bad in ways they aren’t, numbers-wise.

Use Azura

The songstress might be meek, but her ability to give units two turns is very handy in battle. Just make sure to keep her safe.

Open chests

Oh, the spoils waiting around for you in Fire Emblem. All you need to do is kill whatever enemy character happens to hold a key (which you should scope out before battle). Heck, more stealthy units, like Ninjas and Outlaws, can actually brute-force chests open without keys. Just be smart about it. Sometimes beelining a single unit toward a chest is pretty dangerous.

Block enemies

Sometimes maps will spawn extra enemies mid-battle...unless a unit happens to be standing right over the door or stairway where these enemies spawn. If you find yourself retrying a stage multiple times, take note of where enemies spawn. Next time, make sure to block ‘em, or at least anticipate ‘em.

Reload if you get crappy stats

Your level-up bonuses are random, which means that sometimes you’ll barely get a single point to a useless stat. I can’t stand when this happens, especially when its my main character, so sometimes I’ll retry an entire battle just to get a better level-up. Hey man, stats really make a difference, especially in Conquest!

Grind, if you can

Birthright lets you do extra chapters and challenge stages, which is a great way of beefing up your troops (or meeting new characters.)

Get to level 20

Class upgrade items are plentiful in both Birthright and Conquest, but hold off on using them. You’ll gain the most from Master Seals and the like if you max out your character first, and then upgrade their class.

Play cupid

One of the most gratifying things in modern Fire Emblem games is watching romance blossom. It’s worth looking at the Support menu and seeing who can marry whom, so that you can then go into battle with the objective of pairing specific people up. Married couples produce babies, which can also be used in the battlefield. Nothing says parenthood like war. (Here’s a guide on what kids your characters can make.)

Of course, some people aren’t very cute together, so don’t feel like you have to settle down with the first people who hit it off. Shop around, see which duos have the best conversations together. This especially goes for you, the player. S-ranking someone means marriage, and whoever you marry is final. Don’t settle down unless you’re absolutely sure! Luckily, Fire Emblem isn’t old-fashioned here, and you can totally invite people into your ~personal chamber~ first before making a decision.

Invite the right people to your personal chamber

Fire Emblem may give you a master list of every available ally when you retreat to your personal chamber, but only the people with hearts next to their names will actually bond with you. If you want to increase your relationship status, make sure to select someone who is actually down to hang. Otherwise, sure, you’ll still get the up-close 3D model no matter who you pick, but you won’t actually benefit in a meaningful way from the encounter.

Use the mess hall

Cooking can give you an edge in battle, Monster Hunter style. If you have some ingredients lying around, stop by the mess hall and whip something up for your troops. Not only is it useful, depending on the chef, cooking can be pretty hilarious.

Check the Records Hall

The fortunes are hilarious.

Also, you can check your roster here, which is good for knowing when your favorite characters have birthdays. If you talk to characters on their birthday, you’ll get a bunch of neat goodies! Also, the Records Hall lets you learn a bit more about everyone in your army, which is nice.

Buy at a discount

Depending on the cashier, different things will go on sale in the armory and rod shop. There’s no reason to purchase anything at full price.

Give your healers Rescue and Psychic rods

They’re useful! So are the other rods, though there’s a limit to how much you can carry. I found that Rescue and Psychic saved my butt more times than I can count, especially in Conquest.

Give fighters Beast Killers and Armorslayers

Even the wimpiest fighter can take down strong foes with the right tool.

Heal wounds, no matter how small

Your healers don’t get very many opportunities to gain XP...unless someone is hurt. You’ll burn through rods faster this way, but really, XP is worth more than money. Plus, if you’re looting all the chests you can and are purchasing things at a discount, you should have plenty of moolah left over.

Let people die

If you’re playing with permadeath, the only way it’ll really make an impact is if you let people go from time to time instead of just reloading whenever you lose a unit.

Build your castle

Before you go wild trying to make a fancy castle, make sure you have the essentials first. It’s worth building an armory, rod shop, and mess hall before anything else, as these will grant you vital resources for battle. After that, I’d recommend erecting an arena, hot spring, lottery shop, prison, and an accessory store. These facilities will give you extra things to do every day. Once these are put in place, feel free to put up more decorative things, like statues.

Customize your castle

In addition to building your castle just the way you like it, you can also change its style, its music, your assistant, and even the castle’s name. Just go up to your butler or maid and talk to ‘em.

Play every day

Even if you don’t have time to go into battle, make sure to check in on your castle daily. Fire Emblem is now built more like Animal Crossing, where you can collect assets every day. These resources can then be cooked for bonuses, or traded for accessories. Plus, characters move in and out of your castle, and they sometimes have new and unique things to say to you. Be friendly!

Press “L” while on castle grounds

The top-down view is so impersonal...but you can actually zoom in and see everything modeled in 3D! It’s always nice to take a good look at your friends this way, or to marvel at your newest building.

Visit other people

Everyone has a castle, and you can check ‘em all out. Better yet, you can collect unique materials from other castles, too. This is how you can save up and buy that one hat from the accessory shop you really, really want. It’s also how you’ll get to meet characters from other games, which is always fun. Sometimes, you’ll even be treated to castles that are built with a more decorative flair.

If you want to visit specific castles, you’ll need a castle ID, which can be obtained via your in-game Crystal Ball. And, if you find a random castle you actually really like (read: castles that have materials you need), make sure to go up to that Corrin and save his or her Calling Card. Next time you go online, your saved castles can be accessed via a “Visit Castles” menu.

Finally, you’ll also get bonuses if people decide to visit your castle too, so make sure to build something hospitable! Feel free to use the comments here to share Castle IDs for this purpose.

Battle against other players

What good is a castle if it cannot be seized? Fire Emblem lets you duke it out in other people’s castles, and if you win, you’ll even get some decent bonuses. Try it out, see how you like it. You can even take on people who are higher level than you, thanks to built-in handicaps.

If you like online battles, make sure to feed Lilith daily, too. That’s what she’s there for.

Finally, if you’re having trouble forming relationships in Conquest, battling other players is a great way to fix your problem. While you can’t gain any levels here, you can still farm support with your characters.

Customize your card

Your Calling Card is your public face to the world of Fire Emblem, so make sure it says what you want it to. In your Crystal Ball, select “StreetPass Team.” There, you’ll have the option to edit your card. Here’s what one of mine looks like.

(Don’t judge me! I played Birthright to make characters kiss, so difficulty wasn’t a concern on this version of the game.)

Leave other people comments

If you visit someone and like what you see, let them know! Heck, you can even give other people accessories if you’re feeling generous.

Check your gifts

If you bought more than one version of Fire Emblem Fates, the game rewards you with a few goodies, including items that can permanently change your stats. Check “Bonuses” under your Crystal Ball and take everything the game offers!

Try your Amiibo

If you have any Fire Emblem amiibo lying around, put ‘em to use! Fire Emblem Fates can read these plastic figurines, and once inside your game, they’ll give you gifts. Actually, if you can best the character in battle, you’ll even be able to recruit them in your game.

Get the “Before Awakening” DLC

It’s free, and you can see some familiar faces, so why not? Oh, and make sure to bring Odin along with you. Trust me. (DLC can be viewed under the “Dragon’s Gate” menu.)

Contact the author at patricia@kotaku.com.