The Fire Emblem series has only recently become a big seller outside of Japan where it’s been around since the days of the Famicom (NES elsewhere). My first dalliance with the franchise was on the Game Boy Advance and it was a fun game, but its harsh penalties for losing an ally (perma-death) had me restarting mission after mission in frustration. That unique gameplay hook is what many hardcore fans of the series enjoy, but – and this might be an age thing – as an adult with full time jobs I have less time to fully invest in a single game and it becomes all to easy to jump ship to one of the many games in my backlog. It wasn’t until an option to turn off that mechanic appeared in Fire Emblem Awakening that I really began to love the series.
When Nintendo announced that a Fire Emblem game was coming to mobile I immediately thought, “Oh no! They’re going to bring back perma-death and we’ll have to pay to revive our beloved characters.” Thankfully Nintendo did not take that approach with monetization. The game is of course free to play from the very beginning. In reality you never have to pay a single cent to progress through the chapters. However, it can be incredibly slow and tedious to rank your favorite characters up, and if you’re lucky you can leapfrog a lot of the grinding by acquiring a high-ranking fighter. This is facilitated through orbs, of which the game starts you off with about 20, assuming you’ve linked it up to a My Nintendo account, which is free to do.
You spend five orbs to pick one character from five spots. The game discounts the number of orbs needed for subsequent tries at new characters if you want to try again during the same session. The best deal is to spend 20 orbs to get five characters (basically buy four get the fifth free). The characters you’ll receive are randomized and could be high-ranked or low-ranked. The higher the rank, the further along they are in the stat department, which allows them to use more advanced weapons and tactics and will potentially save you hours of grinding to level them up to 20 and then to use an item to ascend them to the next rank. Needless to say, once you begin getting into the mid and late sections of the game, the amount of work needed to rank up a character can be somewhat extreme and it might be worth the gamble of just trying to land a good character. Nintendo knows this, and they’re hoping you’ll part with your hard-earned cash for a chance to obtain a rare character. It’s a lot like gambling, since you never know if what you win will be worth the money.
As I mentioned, I’ve grown to really like the Fire Emblem series over the past four years. The handheld games have had good stories, memorable characters, great graphics, funny writing, and relationship mechanics that made the games even more enjoyable. Obviously when it comes to a mobile game some sacrifices are expected. No longer are there big maps to explore and do battle on with big groups of enemies and allies. Instead, in the pursuit of fast battles, Fire Emblem Heroes restricts the map sizes to one screen and usually only four enemies and allies at a time. This makes sense because most people play mobile games for very short bursts of time. I completely understand the reasoning, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. As it stands, this is a very paired-down version of Fire Emblem. It has the same addicting “one more battle” that I love about the games, but the combat is almost too simplified here with very little tactics needed to get through the chapters.
Battling is at the core of the gameplay experience, and the same rules that governed the previous Fire Emblem games are the same here. It all revolves around the Weapons Triangle: Swords are powerful against axes, axes are good against spears, and spears are advantageous against swords. The game simplified things by adding a color scheme, so red beats green, green beats blue, and blue beats red (RGB). If you ever forget this, the developers smartly put the triangle in the lower right portion of the screen so you can always glance at it if need be.
Different characters will have unique attacks based on level and rank as well as type of weapon equipped. Many will need to scoot right up against an enemy to attack one square away, whereas others, like archers and magic users, can only attack if two squares away. The game cuts away to a side-view animated sequence to show the battles close up, but even before attacking a foe the top portion of the screen will estimate the damage you will deal and take by initiating combat. This can be very helpful to determine whether or not it’s worth being aggressive or not. Keep in mind, that like in previous Fire Emblem games, the character that deals the final blow gets the majority of the experience from that kill. Many times it’s worth whittling down an enemy’s defenses and then letting a lower-leveled character come in and kill it to reap the huge amount of experience points. It should also be noted that if you have characters that are high level fighting enemies that are low level, they might not receive any experience points at all.
Coming from playing Fire Emblem games exclusively with a D-Pad and buttons, I must admit I had a few irritating growing pains with the mobile version. At first I thought the only way to attack an enemy was to drag your character across the screen onto the same square as the enemy and then let go to commence the fight. The problem was sometimes I’d let go, thinking I could move my character to a different spot, and instead, much like the game of chess, once I had moved my fighter they stayed in that spot with no way to go back and change my mind. A little later in the game I figured out you can just tap your characters and then tap the square you’d like them to move to, which doesn’t end your turn until you tap again. This is the way I was accustomed to from the previous versions of the game and my preferred way of playing. I only mention this because veteran Fire Emblem players may have some of the same hiccups I did, and this greatly improved my sessions.
The story in Fire Emblem Heroes leaves much to be desired. There aren’t a lot of interesting things happening from chapter to chapter. Instead each one plays out like the prior one, with some character appearing from a prior game in the series challenging you to a fight over the course of several different maps. While it’s cool fan service to see some of these returning personalities, I can’t help but feel they could have been utilized in a much better manner. The developers could have at least added some twists and turns and some cool plot points to keep me entertained. It’s definitely a missed opportunity, especially with all of these returning characters all in one single game.
The presentation of Fire Emblem Heroes is fantastic. The graphics look crisp and colorful, and a lot of work into the various character models and portraits. The music is great and the voice samples all sound good, however I think several of them may be voiced by different people (Tiki comes to mind).
The core gameplay mechanics of Fire Emblem Heroes are still fun and addicting. It’s a great game to introduce new people to the series. Fans will find stuff to enjoy here, but I felt like it was just an appetizer to the main game, which never materialized. That’s precisely what Nintendo is trying to achieve with its mobile initiative: get people hooked on the mobile version of the game and entice them to migrate to the full-fledged experiences on their home and handheld devices. As someone who already owns every Nintendo machine and most of the games in the series, it just makes more sense for me to play through those titles instead of this new one. It’s a fun game, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing.
Fire Emblem Heroes Review
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5.5/105.5/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Fire Emblem Heroes is perfect for those completely new to the series. It features smaller battles and a bunch of characters from prior games. Fans of the franchise will also find stuff to like here, but I think it will wear thin very quickly and they’ll wonder why they aren’t just playing one of the traditional games instead.