I’ll be honest, my first introduction into the Fire Emblem world was Fire Emblem Awakening, a game I really enjoyed playing despite my lukewarm approach to anything turn-based. Its rich characters and fantastic art style were what drew me in and its addictive gameplay and relationship system made me enjoy my stay. The grid-based gameplay offered a vastly attractive approach to strategy, allowing you to corner, bottleneck or flank your opposition. Fire Emblem Heroes attempts to offer this same approach to its gameplay, albeit in a condensed and very streamlined way, even if it does feel a bit watered-down.
The story offered here is paper thin and centered around heroes of Fire Emblem combating each other via a few maps here and there. Veronica, the daughter of Emperor Embla’s first wife, is the main antagonist of Fire Emblem Heroes. She is a young princess of the Emblian Empire and enslaves various heroes to do her bidding via contracts. Each chapter usually has you come face to face with a popular Fire Emblem hero who spouts the same “Veronica is making us battle you” speech and it repeats throughout all nine chapters. I’m sure that more chapters and better storytelling will be added in eventually, but as it stands, the story is the least impressive aspect to Fire Emblem Heroes.
Each Chapter has five maps and three levels of difficulty; Normal, Hard and Lunatic. Each completed map grants you an orb, the game’s currency that I’ll dive into shortly, and replaying those maps after completion will net you some much-needed experience. Apart from the campaign, you have training maps that allow you to grind experience for your heroes, special maps that grant a new character upon completion, and a PVP mode that allows you to battle a group of characters that belong to other players. Note that you don’t actually battle a player in real time, you battle a team they have left up for PVP.
Fire Emblem: Heroes doesn’t shy about the fact that this is a free-to-play mobile game designed around wanting you to fork over some real money to summon your favorite characters from the vast history of Fire Emblem. You’ll do so by way of a currency called “Orbs”. These orbs can be used for a variety of tasks; Summoning new heroes, leveling up your castle, and resurrecting fallen heroes in battle, should you run out of the standard resurrection item.
You summon heroes via a pretty decent system that forces you to save up your orbs instead of just going purchase happy after collecting five orbs for a character summon. Each character you summon in the same summoning circle gets cheaper the more you purchase. You can also purchase orbs with real money but they are drastically overpriced considering there is no way to know if you’ll unlock a 1-star character or the elusive 5-star characters that are all the rage. But seriously, a $105 dollar option? Really?
The star rating a character has is indicative of their stats. 5-star characters will hit harder and survive longer than lower star characters and many players have been restarting their game over and over again to earn better drops when you earn enough orbs to summon a full team for the first time. You can also use other currencies like badges and feathers to raise the star level of a character that isn’t a 5-star beast already. My only current 5-star character is Camilla, one of my favorite characters in all of Fire Emblem, and boy was I thrilled when she was summoned.
You can only take four characters with you through each skirmish and this will put a tight grip on who you can bring with you. Usually, I would make sure I had a close combat fighter, a ranged fighter, a healer, and then someone with high defense. Characters also wield a variety of weapons and Fire Emblem’s triangle system, despite there being far more than three different types, is in play here. This system is as follows; Swords are better than Axes and Axes are better than Lances and so on. There are characters that also wield staves, books, ninja stars and more. To attack one of the enemy units on the field, you swipe ahead of your character to where they can move. Some characters can attack only a few spaces ahead of them where ranged units with a bow or those on a mounted horse or dragon, can attack further spaces ahead.
The gameplay of Fire Emblem Heroes is far simpler than what we have played via the 3DS and other versions across other Nintendo consoles and handhelds. Instead of giant sprawling environments that allow for some complex and deep strategic play styles, you have tiny maps that only offer a few paths to take, making battles feel far more repetitive than they should feel in a game about strategy. The battles can still be fun and fairly addictive, but I can see the game losing a lot of interest very soon. Sure, it can be fun to level up your characters and make them strong enough to take down harder chapters later on, but stamina costs have been halved during this launch window and when they go back up and have their costs applied to other in-game systems, I can see a lot of frustration setting in. Stamina currently limits how much of the game you can play at one time and it is only going to get worse.
Currently, to partake in story missions, bonus events, and training maps, you use stamina, a depleting currency that is consumed via different amounts for various activities. Stamina will eventually be added to other systems like learning skills, which currently allows you to just learn new skills with only SP needed, a point system that is gained each time you level up.
Each character has a variety of skills to learn and equip, offering boosted stats or area of effect attacks that can deal out some massive damage to groups of close-ranged enemies. The systems here are fairly simplified in contrast to what Fire Emblem has offered before as you cannot simply just equip armor or weapons to your character, and instead, having to rely on the small handful of upgrades offered here. Some characters will see you upgrade their iron sword to a steel one, or boost their range or attack stats.
You can add friends to the game as well, but being Nintendo, they sure love their friend codes. These 10 digit codes are your basic identity and adding friends allows you earn a few feathers each day. These feathers are an upgrade currency that can also be earned via the PVP events.
Fire Emblem Heroes needs some more content and a far leaner stamina system to stay relevant. The game is fun, and its cast of popular Fire Emblem characters certainly has charm. It’s pretty basic on story elements and I am sure that we will see further updates added that includes many missing or sorely needed features. The version I have reviewed is android 1.0.2 and it is possible that the game has been updated by the time you read this review.
Thankfully, Intelligent System’s game director Kouhei Maeda had this to say about the future of Fire Emblem Heroes:
“We plan to add new stories continually after release, at a pace of about two a month or one every two weeks. We also plan to add things like new characters and skills, as well as new game modes that go in different directions from the current gameplay.”
So, that’s pretty cool.