How does the first Fire Emblem mobile game fare…?
Isn’t it delightful to see Fire Emblem finally hit the big time? Famed for its deep strategy, it took over a dozen entries spanning more than twenty years for the series to grow into a million-selling franchise, and now it sits comfortably as one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises. So much so, in fact, that it was granted the honor of representing one of Nintendo’s very first mobile outings in Fire Emblem Heroes. A free-to-play title conceived by the series’ original developer (Intelligent Systems), Fire Emblem Heroes stands worthy of the series name.
Let us make one thing clear: this mobile entry is not nearly as deep as the home console/handheld Fire Emblems that came before it, as the map sizes are reduced quite considerably, and you’ll only see, at most, ten units per battle (typically eight in what are four-against-four battles). However, Intelligent Systems translated enough of the familiar gameplay into Heroes to render Heroes just as addictive. The weapon triangle (swords over axes, axes over lances, and lances over swords) remains in effect, there are still skills to learn, terrain to take advantage of (Pegasus Knights can still fly over mountains and lava, for example), various difficulty modes to tackle, and yes, you’ll continue to be left at the mercy of RNGs via level-up.
Those only passingly familiar with the game may’ve heard it subscribes to the “Gacha” model of mobile play, so an explanation is necessary. While many characters from Fire Emblem can be recruited into your army, they can only be invited via summon circles, where you can call up to five characters to join your party. Orbs can only be obtained in story missions, special events or as purchasable packs, so you won’t be summoning your favorite units willy-nilly. There are other “costs” as well: for example, participating in battles takes away from your stamina meter, and you cannot participate in any more once it runs out unless you either use a Stamina Potion or simply wait it out.
While many have noted an eventual pay-creep in requiring payment to continue, I’m of the opinion it’s not that terrible. You can feel it gnawing at you given the absurd costs of Hero Feathers and the like, but I’ve found it requires patience and careful flexibility more than anything. For example, maybe your stamina keeps getting drained by the difficult final chapters, and its slow rejuvenation won’t cut it anymore. Where can you go from here?
This is currently how I’m handling: my gold five-star Takumi, who plowed through chapters with bow-and-arrow ease, is meeting his match with high-defense enemies like axe knights, so I’ll have to go back and train defense-lowering ninjas and maids like Matthew or Felicia. Since I’ll have to venture through lower difficulties, it’s a process requiring less stamina. It’s a balance that reminds the player not to stick with just one team, and with the constant item-winning special events populating the game, you won’t always be hurting for Orbs and their ilk.
In that respect, Fire Emblem Heroes retains that tantalizing “just one more game” difficulty of its console brethren while also maintaining its own identity. You’re constantly experimenting with units within the game’s various modes (Story Mode, Arena Duels, Training Tower, and Special Maps), and by shifting through them all for their exclusive benefits and prizes, the game becomes an organic hub of activity. Need to level up Olivia and require some Shards? Just hit up the Training Tower. Want a challenge? Try out the Hard and Lunatic difficulties for the Story Mode Maps and earn some Orbs along the way. It’s a content-filled experience that’s only just scratched the surface in what it has to offer, and I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of new units (Path of Radiance characters, when?)
It helps that Heroes has a charming presentation, inspired by the same Awakening cloth of celebrating the series’ legacy. All characters are represented by both gorgeous portraits by various Japanese artists and chibi-forms when in battle (the latter’s design owing more than a little to Paper Mario, being from the same developer and all). Players familiar with both JP-only releases and the localized Fire Emblem titles should delight not only in hearing their favorite GBA and GC characters speak for the first time, but in spotting little details like how the maps are drawn from previous series battlegrounds. (On a semi-related note, it’s interesting the NA release retained the “rubbing units’ heads” feature after it was cut in last year’s Fire Emblem Fates. Still a little weird, but oh well.)
Heroes is hardly perfect: the barebones story is little more than an excuse to bring all these characters together and the way it distributes prize-winning items isn’t perfect. But these are flaws I’m hardly noticing; every day, I continue to find new ways to fill my inventory and strengthen my army, and I’m just as hooked as Fire Emblem games past. Fire Emblem Heroes is a game that’s only just beginning, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to seeing how Nintendo and Intelligent Systems will build upon it in the years to come.
(Also, when will I finally get Lyn? I need Lyn. And Odin. And Abel. And…)
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Mobile (reviewed); Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Intelligent Systems; Players: 1 ; Released: February 2nd, 2017; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: Free-to-Play