Nintendo has released their next mobile game installment and this time Fire Emblem is the franchise being featured. Fire Emblem has grown a lot in popularity lately, thanks to the huge success of Fire Emblem Awakening. Fire Emblem Fates was released last year to help further build on that, and a recent Fire Emblem Direct has revealed to us that there is much more to come from the franchise. The first of those is the mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes for iOS and Android devices. Unlike with Super Mario Run, where a one-time charge fee gave you access to the entire game, Fire Emblem Heroes is a free to play game. It’s an interesting mix of things, but surprisingly, Fire Emblem Heroes could very well be the biggest mobile hit for Nintendo.
Fire Emblem Heroes is a free-to-play game on mobile. Meaning it’s free to download, but options to spend exist within the app. Before we go into what you pay for, let’s discuss some of the game’s mechanics. If you’ve played a Fire Emblem game before, it should feel similar, but a bit more simplified. What Fire Emblem Heroes takes from the core Fire Emblem series is it’s turn-based strategy layout, where you move units across a map and position them to take out enemy units. Unlike traditional Fire Emblem, you’re only limited to bringing four units to battle. The famous weapon-triangle comes into play during these battles, where swords (red) beat axes, axes (green) beat lances, and lances (blue) beat swords. These weapons are also categorized into colors for magic users. There are colorless units that exist and gain no penalties from the triangle. No extras can be found here like character supports or buying things like healing items. The core focus of Fire Emblem Heroes are the battles and the units you use.
Like typical Fire Emblem, when you engage in battles, your units will gain experience. They gain enough and they will level up. And just like in traditional Fire Emblem, the stats they gain will be a bit random. Even having moments where they won’t even gain any stat increases. They will also earn SP during each level up, which you can use to unlock new skills for your unit. The max level for a unit is 40.
Speaking of which, the units you can obtain is what’s tied to the game’s optional money spending. The game makes use of a gacha system that is seen in many free-to-play games. What that is, is a randomized drawing system that you spend in-game currency on in order to better you team. In order to gain units in this game, you need to summon them using orbs. You’ll need five orbs in order to begin a summon. When you summon, five stones will appear. The color of the stone will tell you what unit it will possibly be, like a red stone will be a sword user or any other red unit. The stones that appear are random, and you get to choose one of the five stones you wish to use and you’ll then randomly receive a unit. After, there will be 4 stones left. If you choose to continue, the cost will then be four orbs. It will also be four orbs if you summon the third and fourth stones. For the fifth and final stone, the cost will then be three orbs. In total, it will cost you 20 orbs to summon units from all five stones. You could also choose to back out at any time after your first summon.
As I said before, everything is random. Not only the stones that will appear, but the units they summon will be random as well. This is the hook that Fire Emblem Heroes has. This is a Fire Emblem themed game and while there are a couple new characters, the units you are summoning are the characters that fans have grown to love from all the Fire Emblem games. Characters like Robin (male) from Awakening, Azura from the recent Fates, Marth from the first ever Fire Emblem, and even Lyn from the Fire Emblem game on GBA. Lots of memorable characters to possibly earn. Each of these character units have their own set of stats and skills to gain that help set them apart from others. Even more, a star rating is tied to the character. 5-stars being the highest rating, with 1-star being the lowest. No worries though, you can only gain 3-star to 5-star units when you summon. As you’d expect, getting units with a 5-star rating will be a rare occurrence, and not all characters in the game can even be summoned as a 5-star. So you can expect your team of units to differ from everyone else’s.
If you desire more units you can always keep summoning for more, as long as you own the orbs. Orbs can be obtained through a daily login, and also through completing Story Maps for the first time. However, there will be a point where it can become a long while until you earn enough orbs to do a summon again. If you desire a quick way to get orbs, then that’s where you can start to spend money. By spending real money, you can purchase more orbs for more summons. It may sound a bit unpleasant, but this is actually a free-to-play model that has been around in many other mobile titles. Also, as a side note, you won’t lose your units in battle if they die. While that is a key mechanic of Fire Emblem, I can kind of understand why it was omitted. While interesting, it would feel pretty bad to suddenly lose something that you may have spent money on.
So let’s go a bit into the pros and cons while still explaining the game’s mechanics. Starting with the cons.
THE BAD: This is a free-to-play game, so the usual mechanics of those games can be found here. One of which is a stamina meter. Every time you enter into a battle, it will cost you stamina. With higher level maps costing more stamina. This stamina meter is maxed out at 50 and you regain one unit of stamina every 5 minutes until it’s back at 50. This isn’t new for free-to-play games, and the 50 stamina is actually enough to gain a few hours of play time depending on how it’s used, until you get to a point where you’ll need to wait. And of course, using an orb will regain you 50 more stamina without waiting, but there are also items you can earn from logins or quests that will regain you another 50 also. The reason I put this down as a con is because of how limited that 50 stamina gets for the later parts of the game.
After spending hours into game and being able to do more difficult levels, the stamina costs start increasing. So there becomes a point where you go from playing 15-20 maps until a refill to only just five or so. Now, the aim of the stamina meter is to help increase the longevity of the experience, so the user can’t just complete everything in only a few hours. However, my time with the game sure has lessened in these later stages due to how much stamina is being used to even play. Going from around an hour play sessions to only half of that or even less. So my con is that the 50 stamina limit becomes more restricted the longer you play the game, and it would be nice to have the ability to increase that stamina limit in the future. Although, Nintendo has been quite generous with their login bonuses and quests that you’ll have a decent supply of stamina potions to extend play if you’d like to.
My other cons are a bit more simple, but have more to do with how bare bones this experience is compared to traditional Fire Emblem games. You still get the usual projected stats when attacking an enemy like how much HP each unit will lose, so you can see how exactly the match will play out and plan out your strategy from there. In Fire Emblem Heroes though, the concept of attacks possibly missing or getting a critical hit are completely gone. Fire Emblem has a reputation for the random, but things seem more precise this time around. I wouldn’t necessarily call it terrible though, cause it actually brings about a different kind of strategy, which I’ll touch up on later.
Other things notably missing are character stories and interactions. The story itself is a bit simple, but that is to be expected with a free to play game, since the game is meant to be updated in the long term. So it’s not unusual for a story to not be fully fleshed out since it’s a bit incomplete. More wouldn’t hurt though, and this can even be said for the characters. There are new characters, but you don’t get much out of them outside of the main story plot. No chance to gain special back stories or even have them interacting with the huge cast of characters present from past Fire Emblem games. So it is a bit disappointing that you this setup where characters from all parts of Fire Emblem are present, yet they don’t interact or even acknowledge each other, which has always been a neat thing I enjoyed about Fire Emblem.
THE GOOD: While things are a bit more simplified, it does make the game more accessible and also easy to relax with. Since all attacks have the ability to hit with additional damages only coming from skills and advantages, you don’t have to worry about any kinds of randomness interfering. This actually makes the Fire Emblem experience feel more like a chess game in some sense. Because you are only limited to bringing four units on the field, it’s all about the unit match ups and also using the terrain of the map to help give you some advantages. Things were simple at first, but the difficulty goes up in the later chapters where you really need to think out how you want to spend your turn in order to avoid causalities and the possibility of losing the battle.
This chess-like strategy becomes more apparent in the Arena Duels. In these arena duels, you pit your team against another user’s team in a four versus four battle. You’ll face the actual teams of other players, but they will be AI controlled. Facing off against just as powerful units as yours will really test your ability at strategizing and reading out situations. It’s pretty fun, but you’re only limited to three per day. And yes, there are ways to refill if you wish.
While the layout of it all is new to series, this still feels very much like Fire Emblem. The music featured in the game will be recognized by long-time fans because they are actually from past Fire Emblem games. Not only with the music but some of the maps you come across may also look familiar, because they were inspired from actual maps in the Fire Emblem games. While the units do have a unique artstyle from previous games, I actually found it to be one of the main attractions. Units in battle have their own look, but the character portraits are done their own way as well. So you’ll actually see all these familiar faces being done in new artstyles, and not just of one kind since these were done by multiple artists.
Also, all the characters in the game are voiced. A good majority see their returning voice actors, but there are a couple with a new voice behind them. This also means that characters who haven’t had a voice before, now have a voice. It’s actually kind of neat to see all these characters across the series being in one place and with all these new features to them that weren’t present before. The gameplay may be a bit simplified, but the presentation sure isn’t lacking.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: While I had quite a bit to say with the cons of the game, I actually really enjoy Fire Emblem Heroes. My big pro over everything is that it’s just lots of fun to play. And my main complaints with it is just that I want more of it. The game just launched, so it’s still a bit early to say how good this game will be in the long run, but I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve played so far. Experiencing parts of the past with the story maps, training units in the Training Tower, getting chances to earn new characters with the Special Maps, or just facing off with a difficult team in the Arena. There’s quite a bit you can do, so I do hope the stamina does see an increase in the future.
I’m pretty much just looking forward to the future in general. Some Fire Emblem games have yet to be featured, and even games that are featured are still missing some characters. So there’s a lot of room for updates and additions. I’ve already spent a lot of time with the game since it released and I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon, especially since I know more is on the way. And yes, I have already found myself spending money on this game. I don’t have much issue with it though since I feel I already got a lot out of it as if I paid for a regular game. So I have high hopes for the future of this game and for Fire Emblem. For those curious, I certainly would recommend it, and being that it’s a free game, you’re not losing much from just checking it out. It’s definitely a nice treat for long-time fans but can also serve as a nice introduction for many into the legacy of Fire Emblem, whether you started getting into it recently or even for the first time.