So I've been playing a ton of FE:A and I'm really looking forward to talking about it on the podcast. I think this game's difficulty is an important point of discussion because I don't quite see the point in the harder difficulty modes. I played on Normal Classic until around chapter 9 and found the game way too easy. Hard Classic was quite challenging.... until I opened up the DLC and could grind for hours. After a few quick DLC maps, my guys were tanking and killing just like my crew on Normal, only they were substantially higher level. So now my question is, why should I keep playing on Hard? It will certainly take me longer, but I'm going to get the same result either way. I guess most strategy games are easily broken and grinding usually makes any RPG easier, but here it just feels like busywork on the harder modes. Not looking for a fight or anything (I like the game quite a bit), but it just doesn't feel balanced in a way. To be fair, FF Tactics had a similar problem in that a little grinding made the main quest missions easy as hell. Just looking for some friendly discussion here.
Yeah, the problem with Awakening's difficulty is probably a result of Int Sys trying to make the game more user friendly for people who aren't big fans of the SRPG genre. The DLC is probably the biggest game-changer since you gain access to it so early into the game (right after chapter 3 to be specific) but other things like the Paralogues, Skills, Reclassing, Supports, the Pair-Up mechanic, 2nd Gen Characters, buyable temporary stat boosters, forging weapons, the Barracks, Event Tiles, carried over Renown, random encounters, and Anna merchants really alters the balance as well.
In the game's Normal mode, the game has no specific counter to any of this, enemies are set primarily at the same difficulty curve as an earlier FE game would've been set at, and its purely at the discretion of the player to choose to make use of any of the above features or not.
In the game's Hard mode, the game will increase the price of Reeking Boxes to prevent players from buying random encounters without breaking bank (a Reeking Box costs 4800 before any discounts and random encounters can only net you at most 4000 in Small Bullion plus a possible random item from the enemy leader if its not a Risen), it will provide enemies in later chapters with skills and forged weapons (and better weapons in general), it will provide enemy reinforcements the ability to move on the turn they appear on versus the turn after (otherwise known as Asshat Reinforcements), and it will provide enemies with a small stat boost.
In the game's Lunatic mode, enemies will gain automatic A ranks in their weapon skills, gain access to forged weapons and skills earlier, gain access to skills exclusive to enemies of Lunatic mode and higher, will have even better stats than before, random encounters scale in difficulty based upon your progress in the plot versus the location they spawn in, and you can no longer grind in Spotpass DLC battles as all actions beyond healing and claiming Event Tiles yields only 1 Exp (though you still get the Renown and characters).
And in Reverse Lunatic mode, all enemies always attack first if they are able to, and enemy exclusive skills are even better than before, among other things that I would need to look up.
Anyways, the problem though is that what the player gets is still fantastic compared to what enemies get for pretty much the entirety of the main game, especially if one takes advantage of the stuff the DLC nets you like infinite gold, an Exp farm, infinite legendaries, a Silver Card to halve the costs of purchases, plus replayable stages that can net you two random items and/or prizes for completion such as an extra class for males or females, additional skills that can A) increase all your stats by 2, B) double the rate at which you gain Exp, C) negates effective damage to fliers, and D) increase all your caps sans HP by 10, and extra characters that may have skills that might otherwise be exclusive to a particular character in the story like Conquerer or Shadowgift.
The thing though is that where the game actually does get difficult even with all of that is within the very same DLC where Double Duel has you fighting increasingly stacked opponents in straight up 2 v 1 matches where you and a partner can only bring in 3 characters in your party of your choosing only using whatever they have currently equipped (not what they have in their inventory but only what they're currently armed with; unarmed characters can not participate); the final fight of which has six risen with mountains of stats and skills like Pavise, Aegis, Leathality, Sol, Luna, Astra, and worst of all Counter to insure any damage you deal to them will be taken back in equal measure (and there's nothing you can do to bypass the damage save for one shotting them which is insanely difficult without maxed out characters or DLC skills such as Aggressor and Limit Break). The other place is in the final DLC chapter Apotheosis, where you get to challenge five waves of enemies with personal cap modifiers that can surpass your highest potential caps and the best super-forges and skills available like Dragonskin, Pavise+, Aegis+, Luna+, Vantage+, and Hawkeye.
That said though, the DLC really makes it easy to just simply break the game over your knee with even the smallest effort. I mean, just taking the DLC map Golden Gaffe alone, you can easily demolish any challenge this game might have presented you due to the way the stage works (every time you enter, you face about 20 enemies or so of various levels and stats, some of which are among the weakest in the game; its possible to take a squad of the weakest, freshest SpotPass DLC characters and have them just take on the weakest enemies on the field and win, not only Exp to gain levels and fix their awful stats, but a Small Bullion's worth of gold for each one they down, and eventually more money when they get stronger).
And then there's the Supreme Emblem from maxing out the Renown counter and having maxed out cash at the start of the game. You don't even need any paid DLC to buy a maxed out SpotPass character or two from the Avatar List and arm them with some Legendaries acquired from the Renown Rewards and/or the Bonus Box.
The tl;dr is that the only way to get an honest challenge is to purposely restrain yourself. My current Lunatic run is using a gimmick of only using DLC characters and Chrom (since he's required and all that), with the caveat that whomever dies stays dead and I have to recruit a new DLC character to replace the old one. This means that I can't take advantage of Supports beyond the barest minimum (unless somebody has the Valkyrie's Support Boost+ skill), any stat boosters I dump onto somebody will be lost forever if I lose the person, and Pair-Up bonuses lose a bit of their edge due to the lack of Supports (Support Boost+ does nothing for this). Of course, given my progress in my previous file, I had unlocked Est for my Avatar List and used my starting funds to hire her right off the bat and she's been a pillar of my team ever since as she came as a Level 5 Pegasus Knight with Galeforce, Luna, Aptitude, Underdog, and Luck+4 for her default skills. It's still difficult since two capped characters can only do so much, especially without Supports.