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Friday, October 24th, 2014
Sonja Has Gone Too Far


As a long standing CO of the Advance Wars series, many of us are familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of Yellow Comet CO Sonja. First introduced in AW1, her advantages in FOW and against human opponents caught the eye of many strategists. However, she gradually lost the favor of some players (including mine) as she was continually revised into ever more powerful versions. The cause for this trend has a lot to do with inherit balancing difficulties that are brought on by having a CO specialized for FOW combat. Regardless, most players believe that, sadly, the AWDS version of Sonja is simply too powerful, both in and out of FOW. I also think that the current Sonja has gone too far in her abilities and the purpose of this rant is to demonstrate why I believe this in addition to examining the trend that led her to her present state.

It is best to start at the very beginning so we have something to compare the later versions of Sonja to. That means looking at her AW1 stats which are actually quite humble. Her day-to-day abilities were +1 vision range, Hidden HP, and very chronic bad luck (roughly -20) while her COP further increased her vision range by +2 spaces and gave her the ability to see into woods and reefs. The piercing vision of her COP, along with her day-to-day +1 vision, made Sonja excellent at countering enemy ambushes in FOW while her Hidden HP could be used to play a variety of mind games with human opponents that often forced them to waste precious fire power. However, it is quite clear that the +1 vision and Sonja's COP did little for her outside of FOW while the Hidden HP was utterly useless when fighting CPU opponents. Yet her weakness in the form of very bad luck was ever present even though her strengths were situational. All of these factors presented a very serious problem for Sonja since they meant she was really only balanced in FOW but was clearly underpowered outside of it.

In AW2 Intelligent Systems (IS) tried to make Sonja more versatile by giving her a new ability that functioned outside of FOW in addition to toning down her bad luck. The new day-to-day skill she received was the very impressive 50% boost to her units' counterattack damage. This made her Direct Combat units excellent at wearing down the enemy's attacking units. Furthermore, Sonja was now equipped with a five star SCOP, with her COP being priced at three stars, that gave her units the unique ability to have first strike counters which is, unquestionably, useful both in and out of FOW. Her only loss was that her CO Powers granted her +1 to her units' vision range instead of +2 but the ability to see into woods/reefs remained. Despite this we still see a shift in Sonja's level of balance. Beforehand she was more or less fine in FOW but now she was noticeably overpowered. This is because her reduced bad luck, now only -10, did little to compensate for her +1 vision, Hidden HP, and 50% counterattack boost. More frightening was the fact that her SCOP also had all the benefits of her COP along with first strike counters. Kanbei's little girl seemed to be all grown up now and capable of dominating anyone in FOW. Yet outside of FOW Sonja went from being underpowered to being more or less balanced. While the bad luck still did not fully justify the Hidden HP and the 50% counterattack boost, the fact that her COP was largely useless and the counterattack boost from Counter Break was not worth five stars helped to balance her out nicely. Thus, AW2 Sonja was quite an enjoyable and even challenging CO to use outside of FOW.

Somehow these changes were not enough and Sonja saw herself go through yet another revision in AWDS. The biggest change was the loss of her 50% counterattack boost which was replaced by the ability to reduce enemy terrain stars by 1. This made Sonja more of an offensive CO than her AW2 version since she was now capable of assaulting enemy defensive positions with good results. Furthermore, her CO Powers were enhanced by giving her COP the ability to reduce enemy terrain stars by 2 in addition to its other, unchanged, effects. Meanwhile, her SCOP was given the ability to reduce terrain by 3 stars in addition to first strike counters and the vision benefits of her COP.

At first these changes appeared to be for the better since it seemed to make Sonja more balanced day-to-day, made her CO Powers more useful outside of FOW, and reducing terrain fit her intel theme quite well. Yet the 1 star terrain reduction is more effective than meets the eye. It is essentially a situational 10% attack boost to all of her units. However, it is very wide spread situational 10% attack boost and far easier to implement than Jake's, Kindle's, and Koal's situational attack boosts since using terrain defensively is such an important factor to most AW battles. To make matters worse, IS programmed this skill's effect in such a way that it universally affected all COs, not just the CO that Sonja's units were attacking. Furthermore, reducing terrain also made Sonja the ultimate anti-Lash CO since its effects greatly diminished Lash's offensive and defensive capabilities, both day-to-day and during her CO Powers. To top this all off the +1 day-to-day vision boost and Hidden HP remained but Sonja's bad luck was actually further reduced. Now it is just a paltry -5. Finally, Sonja does very well in the new Dual Strike system of AWDS. Her short SCOP allows her to Dual Strike often with her team mate and the effects of Counter Break make her excellent at reinforcing the team's position. Yet she was also given starred affinities with three COs and her tag with Kanbei is very broken because of the 130% firepower modification and the +15 luck generated by their three starred affinity.

All of these changes caused Sonja to shift even more into the realm of brokenness. In FOW, Sonja is more powerful than her AW2 version. She can now not only see her enemy but is also able to rob them of their defensive cover. Thus, trying to ambush Sonja in FOW is even more of a liability since you can no longer get the benefit of terrain defense that woods at least provided in AW1 and AW2. Sonja can still continue to use her Hidden HP to confuse human opponents and her formerly noticeable bad luck is basically nonexistent now. The more depressing reality is that Sonja is now overpowered outside of FOW. How overpowered depends on the situation. In a 1v1 match against a CPU opponent (that is not Lash) Sonja is slightly overpowered. The reason for this is that -1 to enemy terrain stars is very good day-to-day boost, even by AWDS standards, for having only -5 to her luck. Against a human opponent in a 1v1 match, Sonja is more overpowered because she can now utilize her Hidden HP, which is less effective but still potent outside of FOW, in addition to her terrain reduction skills. In a 2v2 match, Sonja's side has a clear advantage since the army that is allied with her also receives the benefits of terrain reduction at no extra cost to themselves. In a FFA match, Sonja alters the pace of the game with her universal terrain reduction which helps out any offensive and luck based COs. Finally, multiple Sonjas on the battlefield will further decrease the terrain of the map and put other COs at a distinct disadvantage.

Thus, over the course of three games we saw a balanced/underpowered CO become a nearly broken/somewhat overpowered CO. Part of this is simply Sonja's curse of being a FOW specialist while the other part is the many attempts by IS to make Sonja more usable in non-FOW games. This has proven disastrous since Sonja's weaknesses have only been reduced while she has been getting additional and very effective strengths. The result is that she is now considered one of the more overpowered COs in AWDS. I can only hope that a solution can be devised by the next AW game that will help Sonja reach some kind of equilibrium between her FOW specialties and her skills that can be used outside of FOW. For the time being, I will play a game of AW2 if I want to use Sonja outside of FOW and a game of AW1 if I want to use her in it.

Tronn Bonne
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