When I first heard that Fire Emblem would be hitting mobile devices, it seemed a fitting choice. The series has never really relied on fancy control schemes, and strategy games are a pretty good fit for the platform, as can be seen with the success of games like Clash of Clans. Even so, I wondered — even worried — about how well Nintendo, DeNA and Intelligent Systems would be able to translate FE to a more bite-sized package.
I’m happy to report that after a few hours with the game, they did a fairly excellent job. Fire Emblem Heroes isn’t the full FE experience, but it adapts the series’ conventions and style quite well to the format, forming a fun and surprisingly substantial title.
The story and concept of Heroes is pretty much what you’d imagine – a vague excuse for crossover shenanigans. You, a tactician summoned to a world where two kingdoms battle, are tasked with assisting the forces of Askr as it battles with the vile Emblian Empire. The story is relatively light and unobtrusive, with some very minor development for both the protagonists and villains. I wasn’t expecting much from the story, and so far it’s as thin as I imagined it to be… but given that it’s a mobile title, it’s not a tremendous deal.
What does matter is the gameplay. FE is generally a game of careful, precise movements and long play sessions – but the mobile format necessitates quicker, less frenzied matches. And with some massive tweaking, the strategy gameplay we all know and love has been adapted very well. By reducing the number of units you deploy to just four, making maps fit in single phone screens, and removing RNG when it comes to hitting foes, Heroes shortens your typical FE map to a period of maybe five to ten minutes, or even less. And what’s pleasantly surprising is that it manages to retain a lot of depth, too.
The series staple weapon triangle returns, giving bonuses based on the weapons you and your opponents have. Besides that, certain allies will have support skills, ranging from standard healing to buffs to allowing allies to move again. Most characters can also attain a “critical skill” that activates after they take a certain number of actions, giving them a huge boost in battle if accounted for. There are even passive skills that you can assign to slots, and each character has their own pool of abilities to make them feel unique. It’s much more complexity than I thought there would be, leading to a couple moments where I had to sit back and think about my next move – yet no map was a slog either.
Heroes’ presentation isn’t the most stylish or special, but it’s certainly sleek and serviceable. It can be occasionally difficult to find certain functions under the mountain of menus the game presents, but for the most part I was able to navigate around without great incident. The music is mostly a feature of previous songs from the series, but they chose the finest tracks available for such an occasion, and the new vocal rendition of the Fire Emblem theme rouses my spirit whenever I hear it.
The game also has many game modes to occupy your time. Besides the story mode (which is very short at the moment – updates will expand it in the future), there’s the PvP arena, the training tower where you can grind, special maps in which you can recruit specific characters each day, and harder difficulties for you to test your mettle against. And for a freemium title, the game is tremendously fair with its stamina meter – I was able to play over three straight hours when I first booted it up without stopping, and in celebration of the game’s release all players will receive ten stamina potions that each refill the meter entirely; so unless you’re a lunatic with your play time, you should not stress to be able to play for the first few weeks at least.
Where the game does pull your money in is with the summoning system: the way in which you acquire new characters for your army. Summoning requires at least five orbs, which cost real life money (though you can acquire quite a few just playing the game normally). Following the price model structure known as “gacha,” Heroes confines its most valuable and famous Fire Emblem characters, giving you a low percentage point chance to acquire the highest ranked five-star heroes with each summon. While a single summon doesn’t cost more than a few bucks, ideally all summoning will be done in batches of 20 orbs, as that’s the most efficient way to roll the dice. 20 orbs costs about $13, so the costs can pile up fast if you’re desperate for your favorite.
It may seem like an abusive RNG (a concept the FE series is well acquainted with), but Heroes is actually quite fair compared to other gacha games. “Boosted” chances for certain characters shifts around every couple of weeks, giving you a better shot at collecting certain characters. The game slightly boosts your chances of getting a five-star hero every five summons you get without one, and if you’re unlucky enough to go a full 120 summons without acquiring one, the machine will show mercy and deposit a five-star into your lap. And even if you end up with lower star characters than what’s ideal, you can still rank them up with enough of the appropriate items. I’ve already acquired a five-star Takumi with only a few summoning sessions, and I’ve seen friends with two or three top-tiers already, so it’s not entirely merciless.
And the way the game treats the characters themselves is great. Like many Japanese mobile titles, Heroes brings on a variety of artists to offer new renditions of old FE characters, and voice actors to give them life. The handling of these aspects is particularly stellar – hearing Serra’s haughtiness, or Ogma’s vitality, or Hector’s brusqueness perfectly conveyed through both art and voice is quite the pleasure indeed. Nintendo took great care with how they portrayed many of these characters, and with a few exceptions they were all handled beautifully. I personally welled up with emotion upon hearing some of my favorites speak, and realizing that they sounded exactly as I expected them to.
The game’s roster is a little lacking at the moment, admittedly. With about 90 characters, nearly half the FE series (2, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10) have no representatives on launch, and those games that do tend to have sparing casts (FE7, for example) have less than ten characters to speak of. The game skews a fair amount towards the newest entries, Awakening and Fates, which may disappoint some older fans. I think the balance at the moment is actually fairly good, however – plenty of 3DS characters to placate the youngbloods, and enough of the old guard to tide series veterans over. Heroes is serving not merely as a giant nostalgia machine for hardcore FE fans like myself; it’s also a way for less experienced fans to get interested in some of the older entries. Already I’ve had friends ask me about characters like Hawkeye and Matthew, and upon my explanation (read as: ranting gush detailing how much I love them) they’ve expressed interest in going back and playing earlier FE games. And that’s one of the most beautiful things Heroes has to offer.
The game is not free of issues, however. Maps don’t tell you what units you’re facing ahead of time, but rather what weapons they possess. This leads to issues, as a Lance icon might lead you to believe you’re up against a pegasus knight (resistant to magic, weak against arrows) when you actually face an armor knight (absurd defenses, vulnerable to spells). This can be frustrating at times, as the limitations of your team size mean you likely won’t be ready to tackle every last situation. Some of the costs for certain features are also ridiculous – promoting a four-star unit into a five-star requires a ludicrous amount of resources – for example, 20,000 hero feathers, 20 Great Badges of the appropriate color. And, as with all mobile titles, there’s the worry that support going into the future will be lacking, leaving the game’s reception on the tail end of things. Hopefully steady updates and character additions will keep interest alive, but for now it’s big question mark.
After about a day of playing, however, I honestly think that Fire Emblem Heroes is about as good of a mobile FE could be. It gets the gameplay down pat, with simple controls and concepts that belie a great amount of complexity. Even with missing certain key facets of FE like supports or flashy critical hits, it delivers a fun, varied strategy game that’s appealing both to series faithfuls and newcomers. It’s certainly impressed me more than just about every other Nintendo mobile offering so far, and I hope that it will continue to grip me in the coming months.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try to get Lyn and inevitably fail. Again.Leave a Comment