“Sir Jagen is a paladin; the champion of Altea! He may be old, but he's strong as an ox. Still, you can't have a champion like him do everything; that's not fair to all your would-be future champions! Let your other units fight and gain experience, or you may find yourself in a real fix down the line.
—A Villager in Prologue III in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Experience Stealing is a fan term for the poor distribution of Experience between units in the army.
When an enemy is defeated, the character that killed them gains Experience. Experience gained is determined by their current level and class tier and the level and class tier of the enemy they defeated. While experience is given in large quantities, disproportionate EXP can be given to characters who do not need them. For example, using experienced soldiers like Jagen in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon usually nets an easy kill in early levels of the game. However, by doing so he gains significantly less EXP than if Marth had defeated the same enemy character. In the short term, these have little effects, but down the line, the experience lost to already strong characters is effectively wasted.
While not a debilitating problem, it is worth taking Exp distribution when it comes to training units in order to maximize army strength. Otherwise unit lopsidedness can occur and be more impactful in overall performance.
Overlevel Experience StealingEdit
Overlevel Experience Stealing occurs when a character of a level far higher than the enemy it is fighting kills the enemy. Due to the way experience in the majority of Fire Emblem games works, a character of a much higher level will receive a lot less experience from killing the enemy than a character of a comparable or lower level than the enemy. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, as a lot of the time the lower leveled character is worse than the one who "stole" their experience.
- Killing the brigand closest to the start of the chapter with level 2 Cavalier Lowen gives Lowen 30 experience points.
- Killing the brigand closest to the start of the chapter with level 20/1 Paladin Marcus gives Marcus 3 experience points.
Here, 27 experience points have in effect been lost, or 'stolen' by Marcus from Lowen, if Marcus is made to kill the brigand. This is the kind of Experience Stealing most commonly associated with Jagen characters however they are still useful in killing large threats that your other units cannot reliably kill.
Unique to The Blazing Blade, it is possible for the reverse situation to occur, where a character who is higher level gains more experience compared to a character who is at a slightly lower level. This situation only occurs in the Normal modes of Eliwood and Hector's tales.
For example, take a Level 9 Archer from Chapter 23 of Hector's tale:
- Killing the Archer with a Level 9 Hector nets Hector 44 experience points.
- Killing the Archer with a Level 8 Eliwood nets Eliwood 33 experience points.
Here, 11 experience points have effectively been lost. This phenomenon occurs whenever a character's Level is close to (or slightly higher than) the enemy's Level and has a greater effect for higher Level enemies. It can perhaps be thought of as rewarding players for keeping characters close to the average enemy Level.
Another kind of Overlevel Experience Stealing occurs when a character who cannot actually gain experience makes the kill. Because either they're at max level, or not allowed to promote for story purposes, no experience is gained at all from the action, attack, or kill. Similarly, experience is often stolen by allied units, and units marked as 'Other', who generally cannot gain experience even if they are recruitable.
Wasteful Experience StealingEdit
Wasteful Experience Stealing occurs in two situations. Firstly, when experience is given to a character the player does not intend on using, it is considered stealing. Secondly, when experience is given to a character which is sub-par compared to other characters, it is also considered stealing. Unlike Overlevel, Wasteful does not imply that any experience is lost, merely that it has been given to a character when other characters would have made better use of it.
While poor experience management can lead to difficulties with managing an army, it cannot lead to unwinnable games entirely on its own. Overusing a prepromote such as Marcus or Jagen may seem like an unwise decision, but each of the games themselves are made so that you can win regardless of how poorly your units grow.
Every Fire Emblem game (with the exception of Lunatic+ in Awakening) has been completed using hacks that reduce every character's growth rates to 0%. This means that characters would not grow at all, or that all EXP is as good as "wasted", since it will not go towards making a character stronger bar the usually difficult option of promoting a unit. Despite this, every single Fire Emblem game has access to prepromotes, units that come into your army pre-trained and promoted without wasting a promotion item. Their draw of usually high, effort-free bases are incredible assets to a team and their usual weakness of comparatively low bases or growths do not matter, as no other character will reach their level of performance ever.
In addition, many games have systems set in place to allow unit growth outside of stats. Fire Emblem: Fates has access to stat tonics to temporarily boost stats a certain amount, as well as massive support bonuses boosting certain stats a certain amount, allowing units such as Xander to run through most of the difficulty modes without ever leveling up a stat. Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword has access to stat boosters, small yet permanent boosts to one stat that can be used either to bring a middling stat such as Speed above a desired threshold, or to make strong frontline statistics like Defense even higher.
The fact of the matter is that most Fire Emblem games give you enough units with high bases and enough ways to fix bad levels (stat boosters, tonics, forged weaponry, promotion bonuses, etc) that tiny amounts of experience going to "waste" simply will not harm the army in a significant fashion.