You're playing Conquest, and you understand that the game has limited time to gain experience. You could either choose to use some characters and ditch the rest in the interests of keeping your team competitive and alive through the chapters...or you can grind out every last drop of exp this game has to offer. This guide shows how to do the latter: how to optimize experience grinding, the best maps to experience grind on, and the best way to make sure your team can handle whatever Conquest throws at you.
For some this guide totally defeats the purpose of Nohr mode, which is supposed to be a game of limited resources and challenge. That's a legitimate viewpoint and I won't contest it; feel free to stop reading. This guide is meant for either those who view Fire Emblem as a dating simulator and so wants to use as many people as possible, or for those who consistently find themselves struggling on hard mode.
A nice bonus to doing this is increasing weapon rank, because no one likes being stuck on bronze weapons. As far as I have tested, grinding is the only legitimate way to get high weapon ranks with certain characters short of making sure they exclusively stay on one or two types of weapons throughout the game.
Once you've figured out the best configurations for grinding a target, turn attacking animations OFF. This will save a LOT of time in the long run.
Avoid weapons that can crit and then kill the target. Even if the chance is a 2% or so, by definition experience grinding involves hitting a guy multiple times, and eventually you're going to activate the crit.
Use any and every opportunity to heal, particularly with Elise. Heal staves are cheap (each single use of heal is a mere 25 gold), and if you are too conservative with Elise she'll easily fall behind. After she promotes, she gets much less experience from healing, and can attack people, so it's much less pressing. Any healer can be grinded for as long as gold allows on practically any map as long as an enemy is boxed in with units that can't kill it.
Certain units have personal skills that can help you grind by making you do more damage/take less damage/other benefits. These include: Avatar, Felicia, Jakob, Silas, Izana, Beruka, Camilla, Elise (very handy), Laslow, Gunter. Others technically exist but are not useful.
Try to let enemy healers heal, for obvious reasons.
Guard mode is very useful for prolonging your units' combat readiness, and can help the guarding unit gain experience very, very, very slowly.
Use poor magic growths to your advantage. Effie, for example, has fantastic strength growth, meaning that she can very easily kill enemies that could otherwise be grinded on. However, she has terrible magic growth; give her a Bolt Naginata, Bolt Axe, or Levin Sword to make enemies last longer. There unfortunately is no equivalent in reverse as far as I know (no magic weapons deal physical damage).
Grinding is particularly useful for underleveled units that you've neglected to use for a long time: they'll gain disproportionately large amounts of xp due to the higher level of their opponents. Don't plan on leaving too many people underleveled, however, or you'll find that you don't have the firepower to beat a chapter.
Dance with Azura until she's on the verge of a level before the end of every chapter. This way, you can guarantee that she has a good level on the beginning of the following chapter by resetting as needed. The same applies for any unit, but Azura's the easiest to apply this to as she can get experience whenever she wants.
It's harder to grind with ninjas (kaze, laslow alt, soleil alt) for a couple of reasons. First, all their weapons come with some sort of stat drop, making it too easy to have everyone else deal too much damage. Secondly, the Poison Strike ability quickly wears down enemies over time. Try to grind other units up and then using ninjas regularly. If you HAVE to grind with ninjas, consider reclassing them, or at least take off poison strike prior to the battle. Also brass/bronze shuriken/knife and the quill pen are the best choices for grinding. The quill pen only drops def/res by one, but it can crit; on the other hand, bronze daggers drop def by 2, but it can't crit and is thus the safer choice.
A word of warning
Your characters experience rapid drops from gains in experience when they level up too far, which is generally defined to be about 4-5 levels higher than the people they're attacking. Once they reach about 7 levels higher than their target, they stop gaining experience altogether. This means that most gains in grinding from earlier levels are lost over time--unless you're grinding on a unit you don't plan on using for a while. So, you can pick out a unit you don't like or find useful, grind them to level 20, and then ditch them until you need their firepower for a later chapter.
Earlier chapters have lower level units, and therefore have less potential to grind. If your units are getting 1 xp per attack and you're going crazy over how slow everything is, then stop grinding on that chapter and move on. There are better opportunities later on.
Below is a list of equipment for exp grinding and how they are useful.
- Bronze/Brass equipment and their magic equivalents: these weapons have low might and cannot inflict criticals, making them perfect for making enemies last as long as possible.
- Any weapon that can only attack once, grants a bonus to defense, or so on help make trapped enemies and your units last longer. Kodachi, javelins, hand axes and so on are good examples.
- Takumi's Shinai/Niles' Bow: neither of these weapons can kill. If the enemy you are fighting is just about finished but you want to reserve the kill for your puniest character, hit them with one of these weapons first. You can get one from visit points in castles.
- Cupid Bow: This bow HEALS its target. If Niles (your only early game bow user) can inflict less than 6 damage or so per round of combat, you have the potential to make an enemy last for as long as Niles doesn't get too many strength levels. In this regard, every time Niles gets a level that doesn't have strength, he's buying more time for the rest of the team to train. Later in the game, more bow users become available: Nyx is an excellent candidate due to her atrocious strength growth, allowing her to continually heal targets without hurting them too badly. Mozu can be an archer too (and so can anyone who marries/friends Niles) but her strength growth is decent so she eventually can't fill this role. You can get a cupid bow from castle events, or from battle points in castles.
- Blessed Bow/Lance/Mikoto's Yumi/Fruit Knife/other healing items: useful for fighting enemies that can't chase you: let your guys take a hit or two from powerful units, then retreat and recharge. Saves you money from healing staves if you already have leveled elise/jakob/felicia to an acceptable level.
- Enfeeble: if your units just can't make a dent in a strong unit, this will be a temporary fix. An expensive, temporary fix.
- Entrap: useful for trapping enemies on forts or thrones, where they can heal indefinitely. The Lunge skill fulfills a similar purposes.
Levels in which you can exp grind
Particularly good grinding opportunities are bolded.
- Chapter 3: Gift of the Ganglari. Technically speaking, the Hoshido units can benefit from the healing tiles and therefore can be grinded for a bit. In practice, they're too squishy to be able to grind efficiently. There are better options later.
- Chapter 4: Journey Begins. There's an archer/samurai combo on a fort in the north-east who do not move. If you kill the samurai, the archer can be used to grind out some more experience for jakob/felicia and avatar. Given Avatar/Jakob/Felicia's limited range of weaponry and the low def of the archer/samurai, you can't benefit too much unless you are extremely masochistic and intend on staying here for 300+ turns.
- Paralogue 1: Tragic Start. You need the Cupid Bow and finished Cold Reception for this. The boss does not move, and given that you've just gotten Niles his strength should be relatively low. I was able to grind Mozu (and everyone else) to about level 12 here thanks to Niles.
- Chapter 9: Another Trial. The boss, Haitaka, cannot move and is on a throne. He has good defense, too, and high dodge so he can last a nice long time.
- Chapter 11: The Shrine Maiden behind Hinoka can heal her 20 times, so that's a solid 20 turns of grinding if you don't OHKO Hinoka. Hinoka herself has Wing Shield, meaning that you can make her last for quite a while with Niles' Cupid Bow. The shrine maiden behind Hinoka is TECHNICALLY grindable as she is on a gate and doesn't move, but her puny defense, coupled with Hinoka standing right in front of her and the chapter ending the moment Hinoka is defeated, makes grinding here an act of extreme desperation.
- Chapter 12: You can't grind here, but I thought I'd mention that unless you've done some serious grinding on your other units beforehand, Camilla with a Dual Club might be your best hope of taking out Ryoma. Effie works well if you break some defense pots with her. That Secret Book he has is quite inviting...
- Chapter 13: On Normal you can herd Reina/Takumi onto a gate and then take advantage of them not being able to attack adjacent enemies to grind forever, but on hard/lunatic Takumi has Pass and Reina has a naginata. There are archers on the map that don't have pass, but they're too weak to lure to a gate, let alone exp grind on (unless you've gotten some truly spectacularly bad levels). If your units are tanky enough (Benny/Effie, for example), then you can corral one of the knights onto one of the gates instead. This is quite challenging to do, considering the number of enemies coming toward you initially and the simultaneous problem of the thief trying to rob the houses, but it can be very rewarding. The knights' defense, coupled with the bonus from the gate, is strong enough for most of your weaponry to do barely any damage, making them excellent for grinding. If your Niles is too high leveled to effectively heal-via-cupid-bow, consider reclassing Nyx to an outlaw. Her terrible strength works to her benefit here. Of note is that gates, for some reason, do not count as special terrain, so the knights with +2 def are better for grinding in the long term than the knights with indoor fighter or whatever it's now called.
- Chapter 17: Kotaro is on a throne, and doesn't move. However he is quite powerful and your units risk death if you flirt with lady luck for too long. Not worth it unless desperate.
- Chapter 20: Fuga is on a throne, and relatively tough, making him a great candidate for grinding. Watch out for the wind mechanic on the map. Most of Fuga's weapons are silver, and as long as you keep him on silver weapons, his strength will eventually reach 0 due to the penalties that come with using silver weapons.
- Chapter 22: Yukimura's on a gate, does not move, has good defense and resistance, and has seal strength. This is one of the last good grinding opportunities in the main story. He has a silver shuriken, meaning that his strength will drop to 0 over time if he attacks more than once every two turns.
- Chapter 23: Takumi is on a throne and does not move. However, his bow is deadly and he has a couple of very nasty skills, making battling him for too long highly dangerous. Units with Bowbreaker can grind here for a while if they have high enough skill/luck. You can also trap enemies on the forts in the south-west side of the map, though you'll need at least four highly defensive tanks to make this work out.
- Chapter 26: Treason. Iago is on a throne...but he is very dangerous for grinding due to his high chance to crit. Tomebreaker units can benefit, but it's still risky. He's quite squishy if you hit him so he's not ideal, but he's the last opportunity to grind.
Paralogues are useful because the grinding opportunities get better the later you unlock and play them. After a certain point, most bosses will be promoted and have silver weapons. Silver weapons are great because they reduce strength by 2 each turn, and these debuffs accumulate over time. A boss that's attacked enough times with a silver weapon in succession will have their strength reduced to 0, making them practically harmless.
- Paralogue 5: Bold Approach. There is one general who sits on a fort and does not move (there is also a Berserker, but the general is tankier and safer). Complicating matters are the suicidal villagers who love to do nothing more than do a dead sprint at the enemy. They will enthusiastically try to get themselves killed, and it's quite difficult to keep them alive without some careful planning beforehand. Losing them means losing a partner seal (that's ok, you can always buy more and money's unlimited) and an energy drop (not so ok, but that's why you're grinding, right?). The boss, Nicol, sits on a fort and can also be grinded on. Just keep bow users away--unless it's Nyx, who'll still do next to no damage under normal circumstances.
- Paralogue 6: Herbal Remedy. This is, without a doubt, the best opportunity for grinding in the game. Candace can be trapped on a fort, but the real prize lies at the end of the map, with two immobile, tanky generals sitting on forts. Bring the units most in need of grinding to this map.
- Paralogue 15: Hidden Bravery. There is a general at the end of the map with good defense and resistance, is immobile, and has Wary Fighter, making him difficult to kill and perfect for grinding. As an added bonus, enemies periodically spawn from set points. While they offer no experience, if any of your units have Salvage Arms this is a great chapter for grabbing some free items. Fun for the whole army! As an experience grinder, however, this chapter is marred by the fact that the general isn't sitting on a fort or other regenerating tile, forcing you to use Cupid Bows and eventually making him unviable once your bow users start getting too powerful.
- Paralogue 16: Abducted. Gazak, a relatively tough unit, sits on a throne and is immobile. But there are a couple of problems with this map. The first is that attempting to bum-rush rescuing Forrest requires good timing to avoid being swamped while also rescuing him before his executioner gives him the axe. The second problem is that Gazak himself is very strong and has a high chance of critting, yet takes a lot of damage. While he can heal himself quickly due to his Good Fortune and being on a throne, it's easy to accidentally kill him or get one of your units killed.
Assuming you don't have the Ghostly Gold DLC, there are still methods, albeit tedious ones, for getting gold.
Every third time you visit Lilith's Temple to give her food, she'll give you a gold bar worth 300g (so 1 visit=100 gold on average). You can visit her once after every battle: this includes DLC and castle battles.
Another, more effective way of getting money is to use the Profiteer skill. Possible users of the Profiteer skill include Mozu (who has good luck and can naturally reclass to merchant), Midori (doubly good due to her personal skill), Senno (if he is captured late in the scenario he'll only need minimal training to get it), the Avatar, Mozu/Midori's child from inheritance, and (if you're really desperate) a captured apothecary from Chapter 12.
Bring the profiteer people to the free "Before Awakening" DLC, and make sure that each time you go you beat it in seven turns or greater. Another useful person to bring is a rally luck person, boosting the chance of profiteer/make a killing by 8%, for a total of 32% extra chance per turn (you can have 5 people on before awakening, (5-1)*8=32). You can either capture a shrine maiden and then train her a bit, or if you're willing to wait, Izana after he's recruited. Several weapons give a luck boost, but none more so than Anna's Bow, which can handily be used by merchants.
Speaking of Anna, she is naturally a great gold grinder due to her personal skill, her ability to get profiteer, and her phenomenal luck growth.
Another way to earn money is to acquire Salvage Blow for your profiteer characters. The only way to get salvage blow without buying the skills is to make the avatar an Oni Savage, and have him marry someone to pass it to them (Anna!). Iron weapons can be sold for about 500 a pop, making this skill technically more valuable than profiteer or make a killing. You could also forge them at hoshidoan castles for a solid repetoire of reliable weapons.