As longtime series fans know, the real goal of any Fire Emblem game is to make it to the credits without anyone in your party dying. For the most part, well-planned tactics and well-trained troops will get the job done. But the newest Fire Emblem—an excellent full-blown DLC campaign for Three Houses called Cindered Shadows—poses a hurdle even the most experienced players will struggle with: the final boss sucks.
But it’s not invincible. And if you’re looking to get through with all of your units still standing, this strategy should help.
Spoilers, obviously, for Fire Emblem: Three Houses - Cindered Shadows
A caveat: In Fire Emblem, as with life, the path from A to B has infinite permutations. However you made your way to Umbral Beast is bound to be different from how I got there. Perhaps you equipped Hilda with a sword. Or maybe you used upgraded iron weapons instead of regular steel ones. Who knows! The following strategy worked well for me—somehow, I was able to defeat Umbral Beast without losing anyone or backtracking with Divine Pulse—so maybe it’ll work for you, too. If you’re stuck, hey, give it a try.
On your first turn, don’t rush headlong into the fray. Instead, move your entire team up as far as possible while also keeping everyone out of Umbral Beast’s range. Those attacks deal a ton of damage, and you don’t need any units taking some—at least not yet. (Your main goal for this fight is to avoid taking significant damage unless you’re in a position to give as good as you get. So, definitely not the first turn.) Keep Lindhardt, the DLC campaign’s only truly effective healer, all the way in the back. If he falls, there’s no way you’re walking out without at least a few more casualties.
At the end of your first turn, Umbral Beast will summon three illusions of Aelfric, the ostensible “good guy” with a secret evil agenda that’s hilariously transparent. Yes, these Aelfric clones are a damage-dealing nuisance. But the truly frustrating thing is that Umbral Beast can siphon health from them, too. So you’ll want to take each out as quickly as possible. I’ve found that Balthus can tackle one easily in a single turn. Yuri’s fancy swordwork seems to do the trick, too. Whatever works for you. In future turns, Umbral Beast will conjure up one or two of these clones, so keep two people on Aelfric-killing duty for the remainder of the battle.
When it comes to dealing damage yourself, start by picking a high-HP fighter and moving them directly in front of Umbral Beast’s bottom-middle yellow tile. Then, use a gambit. Depending on who you use, you’ll weaken two or three of the yellow tiles. Subsequent attacks will shatter them, opening Umbral Beast to massive damage—if you attack those shattered tiles. What’s more, the gambit will draw Umbral Beast’s attention, ensuring it won’t train its sights on any less-sturdy fighters (i.e., the fliers, the magic users, Ashe). Anyone with 50 HP or more should survive a hit with plenty of health remaining. Hilda works well for this. The guy on the horse with the questionable middle part is also a good choice. Both come with high HP and powerful gambits.
After you’ve shattered two or three yellow tiles, you’ll have two turns to really deal some massive damage. Move your heavy hitters up and do your worst. (This is why you want to break two or more yellow tiles at once. It’ll give you more space on the battlefield to work with.) Since Umbral Beast is a flier, Claude and Ashe deal boosted damage. Edelgard’s monster-killing combat art, “Monster Breaker,” is also fantastic here. Lean hard on them.
Every two turns, Umbral Beast will use “Umbral Surge”—a move that is, frankly, bullshit. First, it hits every tile on the stage, and is unavoidable. Second, it randomly shuffles the placement of every unit on the stage, player and enemy alike, muddling any hope at long-term strategy. Third, it “repairs” the yellow tiles beneath Umbral Beast. (That’s why you want to dish out as much damage as you can while you can.) Fourth, it’ll deal 15 damage or more to all of your units. And finally, as a player, every time Umbral Beast uses Umbral Surge, you get the sense that the game wants you to fail, that the developers have a secretly sadistic urge to see the students of Garreg Mach get tossed headfirst into the abyss. It’s maddening. A certain Greek legend comes to mind.
But, to steal a line from Claude, don’t give up! While you’re attacking Umbral Beast, keep an eye on everyone’s HP. Don’t let anyone dip below 16. Vulneraries, Concoctions, Lindhardt’s amazing Physic spell. Whatever you need to do to keep everyone’s HP over 16—20, if you really want to play it safe—do it. Play defensively if you need to. Don’t sweat it if you can’t dish out much damage during your turns. You’ll have more chances to hurt Umbral Beast. Your primary focus should be on keeping everyone afloat.
After your units are reshuffled, heal anyone who needs it, then pivot back to the original strategy. Move your strongest people up. Use their gambits. Take down the Aelfric clones. Once you drain Umbral Beast’s health bar four times (why the developers didn’t go with the time-honoured video game tradition of three is beyond me), victory, and a cutscene about how Fire Emblem characters fight for their friends, will be yours.
No, there isn’t a tougher second form.