At last I finished playthrough 1, so here's some screencaps, stuff I learned, and ideas I'm taking into new game+. Gameplay and plot spoilers are at the end, so some things might look a bit out of sequence.
I went into my first playthrough purposefully in the dark; it was a combination of hubris from being a series veteran and the desire to have an unspoiled experience. As mentioned in gamefaq.
A stat growth rate (% chance of a stat boost on level) = fixed character rate + class rate. Not all characters and classes are created equal, e.g. third tier Dark Bishop has a net class boost of 20 while third tier Assassin has a net class boost of 60.
You can equip just a handful of skills and abilities (special attacks). The former is a carryover from previous games, but less prominent with a single screen and low difficulty. Many skills are identical to Fates and are gamechanging.
As mentioned in a previous post, the requirements for master classes don't follow a proficiency path that the other class levels stick to. This means you need to think way ahead if you want a character to get a master class. Some top tier classes also have very low growth rates, so they're best used sparingly.
For the most part, all classes can use all weapons, unlike previous games. The big split is magic/nonmagic, but there are some corner cases like not having a brawling pegasus rider. In a practical sense, each class has one or two weapon emphases that net you more XP for using them, so you're gently steered toward the historical mechanic that myrmidons use swords and bezerkers use axes.
Changing into a class for the first time permanently raises your stats to the class minimum, but changing out has no permanent effect. Caveat: each class has native stat boosts that apply so long as you're in that class. This seems to indicate you want to cert for a new class as soon as possible to get the free stat boost, then go back to the class you were mastering. It also seems to mean if you can get, say, a mage qualified for a tank build, you could give him a major boost in hp and defense.
Mastering a class (gold/purple star) gives you a stat boost while you are in that class (I originally thought this was a permanent incentive to master many classes) and permanently unlocks a skill and/or ability. So if you've mastered being a thief, you can always steal regardless of your current class. It also means you can go for some freaky builds, like trying to get a resistance-impaired tank the Tomebreaker skill.
Unlike Fates, there is no progeny mechanic in this game, so support is purely for the in-combat boosts and uninteresting cinematics. This is somewhat disappointing because it takes away some of the character build variety.
Many high-tier classes require a movement proficiency (horse, flyer) that can be leveled in combat (unless you aready have it). This is probably why you can study movement types and get a free weekly horse/flyer training opportunity.
Canto is back! Fates didn't have move, attack, move. Three Houses does. This is pretty significant for formation strategies where DPS units can attack then fade behind the tanks or terrain. And while cavalry units are subject to the game's ample use of difficult terrain, flyers have no such disadvantage. Cavalry also seems to get the short end of the stick for class growth rates. While flyers are susceptible to archers and the game's many ballistas, this can be mitigated with Stride, movement boosts, and simply dismounting.
As far as I can tell, there's no reason to recruit or use more than 12 units (other than having backups for RNG screws). The max deployment is 12 + 3 adjutants. And again, with the lack of a progeny mechanic, fielding more characters just dilutes the xp.
Bosses typically have an ability that lets them counter at any range. This means everyone participating in the attack has to be able to survive a counter, which is most often a physical attack. It also makes the Windsweep combat art pretty useful.
A few other thoughts
Having someone (other than Byleth) maxed out for each weapon type is a good way to keep the money, professor rank, and silver+ equipment rolling in. It's surprisingly easy to not have a top tier swordfighter.
It's mentioned somewhere, but cracking all four shields on a monster nets you a rare crafting material that pairs nicely with the rusted weapon they drop.
I used my upcycled equipment only once but it wrecked that wyvern.
For a semi-dating sim whose prequel had marriage and progeny mechanics, Three Houses really just skips over the romance. Considering the plot, that's probably a good thing, but the second generation mechanic was a really neat part of Fates. Of course, they do bolt on a relationship choice at the very end, "Who do you choose? You'll get a brief, shallow scene at the end of the game." Couldn't we at least get another tier of support that oscillates between S and "you know what's wrong"?
Cyril had Aptitude so I went with him on the chance that there'd be an uber Byleth kid in the next playthough. Oh yeah, idea: let players 'ship characters in pt1 and then have pt2 be the second generation. You get all the fun of deciding inherited skills and then don't have to ditch the older generation mid-story.
Really the game's dialogue and character development is all peaks and valleys.
Oh yes, I'm really happy about the new spell mechanic. Limited-use spells that replenish every battle keeps them from being OP but also means you're not saving your best spells (nor their accompanying xp) for a day that never comes.
New game+ is a nice way to ease in to a Madness run. A few high points:
Completion on hard nets you 6000 renown in addition to whatever you purposefully didn't spend at the end of the last playthrough.
Renown can be spent to do things like level skills and unlock abilities that were acquired in the last game. This is great for Byleth, but if you're playing a new house you'll only be able to buff characters you previously recruited.
For like 4500 you can set your professor level to A+, meaning you get maxed activity counts an can forge rusted weapons. Pretty good deal. There's a case to be made to set it to like B or something and have room to grow.
Some stuff carries over, most notably: battallions. Being able to freeze opponents is important for the Madness early game.
Some of the alternate appearances are neat. Edelgard is strutting around in her emperor duds like people have no idea what's coming.
My gamefaq research revealed - without plot spoilers - that there is an evil(?) path. This was an encouraging find since I was under the impression the next playthough would simply be the same but with different characters I don't care all that much about. I expect most of the battle content to be identical, but I'm not sure how this path will play out plotwise.
I was hesitant about if I'd be able to side with the baddie, but then during the final cutscene Claude said something like, "we're powerful because we have friends and support each other" and I realized the dark path really is the path for me.
Don't be insular, Fodlan!
So anyway, I'm joining up with Edelgard and interested to see how this plotline plays out. Of course, tinkering on endgame team comp is half the fun of this game, so I had to start with a list of characters that could be recruited by the Black Eagles and not bail when you decide go to the dark side.
Crimson Flower non/recruitables
Then it was a matter of looking through their crests, personal abilities, and stat growths to decide how to build the squad. This is a bit easier than Fates since there aren't hard class locks, but it also means I could have a character stifled while waiting on a weapon proficiency. My goals for this build:
Have four or more flyers. As mentioned previously, they're particularly useful in this game. Having one or two leaves them exposed if they dive behind enemy lines, but with a full squadron you can give them Stride and go wreak mayhem.
Two tanks is the right number. One dedicated healer and two mages with faith should do the trick.
Lethality (insta-kill on a dex roll) is fun, even if it's not the best for grinding xp. A max range lethal archer could be particularly useful against tough non-boss enemies.
Do something weird. If Caspar works out, he'll be tanky to both physical and magic attacks.
Wariness for classes with bad growths.
NG+/Crimson Flower lineup (10 of 12)
Final battle - gameplay but not plot spoilers
Basically if you're interested in recon on the final battle, here it is. Historically these have been difficult, multi-part epics and it was important to know what finale you were building for. This one isn't so tough, but it does favor certain builds.
With only a single part and no reinforcements, nukes, or other difficult mechanics, the last battle can be won just by being careful.
The map does its best to take gambits out of the picture; enemy units stay pretty well spread out. They aren't slouches and can one- or two-hit anyone in the level 43 range. This one heavily favors flyers due to the bushes and wasteland.
The final boss physical strikes and can counter at any distance. He does move under certain conditions.
Trapping him is nice because it means canto units can attack and escape to safety.
He did a good bit of damage to Cyril. Unfortunately for Nemesis, Cyril had Vengeance.
See ya later, dude, you were a mediocre final boss and a boring character. At least the emperor I beat two scenarios before had some flair.
Alois is the real hero.
It's weird to see Fire Emblem going down the path of Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey by deciding their medieval adventure is actually a distant postapocalypse. I do like postapocalypses, but this feels tropey, probably because those two games are the last two I played on 3DS - three if you count Fates which is now in this universe.
Oakland on the way up, San Jose on the way back, Seattle to Whistler by car. It was lengthy travel, but generally painless.
Shasta and Rainier provided some neat views on the flight up, Fire Emblem provided the entertainment.
Going with snowboarders inevitably means most of the trip is spent waiting for them to finish click-click-clicking.
On the flip side, they were above average in the sending it department. Since I didn't bring the SLR and only have a couple cell phone photos, a not-at-all-sending-it photo will have to suffice until Jon is done editing the trip video. Update: here it is.
The snow just about covered the spectrum: some two-day-old powder at the top, lots of groomers, hard chunky ungroomed snow, and ice near the (probably rained on) base of the mountain. Oh also rocks at Blackcomb - lots of rocks.
Sunday had light crowds in the morning and then 10-15 minute waits on every lift starting around 11. Word on the gondola was that Saturday was a mess because of crowds and wind-related lift closures. Monday we were able to ski onto every lift except the sunny side of Blackcomb. I guess Whistler is the Big Bear or Mammoth of Vancouver so it's best to avoid it on weekends. Unlike Big Bear and Mammoth, all the lifts at Whistler have a blue (or easier) track down, so there's no area that is immune to crowding.
The inter-mountain gondola was a trip. A couple miles of cable with a middle section that has no support towers for probably half that distance, all suspended far above the valley. I don't think I'd go near that thing in a gentle breeze - also Blackcomb was pretty mediocre because most of it was in constant shade.
Despite a few runs at the terrain park, the closest thing to an incident came when Derrick directed us down a gulley run (okay this is one of our favorite things). In contrast to some of the great creek runs at Kirkwood, this one had very little room to maneuver (or shed speed) and lots of obstacles. After giving the run a chance, Derrick and Jon hiked out like quitter snowboarders.
I pressed on until the few tracks dispersed and eventually turned to vague bootprints. Uh oh. The trees became thick and the slope was steep downhill on all sides. Google maps wasn't a lot of help other than to tell me I was not far from the piste, but below it and across stream from it. Some kiwi snowboarders arrived shortly thereafter and we decided to climb down into the creek and then back up. It wasn't pleasant, but it worked.
While it's mostly uninteresting blue groomers, the peak to creek run is a neat 3.5 mile/5000' challenge, particularly if you try to do it all in one go.
Somehow even with all the volleyball, skiing was pretty harsh on the quads. Because our AirBnB complex didn't have a functional hot tub, there was just irish coffee.
We spent the night before our flight south in Washington, Bok a Bok was mighty tasty after a long ski day and drive.
This year's Cape Run was a little different; Toronado (RIP) and Livewire were switched for North Park Beer Company and, depending on if you were the hares or tortoises group, Modern Times or Station Tavern.
As you might expect, there were a lot of turtles and plenty of ninja turtles.
Kafka was back in action, joined by Hank and Lanna. Once again, out of convenience I shot with evaluative focus for ease of use. There were some focus fails though e.g. when Jeff and Brian finally landed their jumping high five.
I also caught a lot of glare off my uv filter. I might just become one of those no-filter people.