Fire Emblem: Heroes – Great Mobile Game, Mediocre Fire Emblem

Released on: February 2 2017

Available Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free (Has loot boxes and an optional subscription service)

Published by: Nintendo Developed by: Intelligent Systems

I have always loved strategy RPGs ever since I played Ogre Battle 64: Person of the Lordly Calibur on the Nintendo 64 way back in the day. One series that had escaped me until I was in my teens was Fire Emblem, having learned of the series through Super Smash Bros. Melee (since Marth and Roy of Fire Emblem were characters in that game). It was Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance on Game Cube that got me into the series. Since then, I played Fire Emblem: Awakening, Fire Emblem: Fates, and am currently playing through Fire Emblem: Three Houses. When Nintendo announced a mobile version of Fire Emblem, I was onboard. Having a mini Fire Emblem with me at all times appealed to me. So, is Fire Emblem: Heroes a title worthy of the Fire Emblem name?

As with most Fire Emblem games, our story begins with two kingdoms at war. The player is summoned by Anna, who explains that they are in a world where the player can summon legendary heroes to aid in the fight against the Emblian Empire. With the Grand Hero (the player) at their side, the Askrian Empire now stands a chance against the Emblian Invasion. When it comes to mobile games, their story tends to be immediately shallow. Fire Emblem: Heroes, fortunately, has a relatively engaging story. Even though the plot is decent by mobile game standards, for Fire Emblem, it is weak. In a series where character relationships affect the game and the story, Fire Emblem Heroes ignores that philosophy entirely. It is a shame really…

How convenient!

Fire Emblem: Heroes’ visuals are bright, colorful, and charming. I like the miniature renditions of the characters when on the battlefield and while fighting. The character portraits are well-drawn and appealing. Unfortunately, Fire Emblem: Heroes fails to impress graphically beyond well-drawn caricatures and game sprites. The portraits reflect the character’s low health, but other than that, I struggle to find anything else worth praising or critiquing when it comes to Fire Emblem: Heroes’ presentation. Well executed, but unexceptional.

While the portraits and the sprites are well done, they do their job, and that’s about it.

Those familiar with Fire Emblem will know what to expect from Fire Emblem; Heroes. To the uninitiated, Fire Emblem Heroes plays like a game of chess. The player selects a character, then tells that person to advance on the enemy, later they watch the battle play out, then they hope to be victorious. Characters gain experience points from either fighting or using a skill (healing or dancing, for example). When they earn enough experience points, they level up, which increases the player’s stats, along with giving them SP. SP is used to teach specific characters special skills or upgrade their weapons. The main thing to note with Fire Emblem: Heroes is that it is heavy on combat. The player does not have to worry about which characters like each other, because in Fire Emblem: Heroes, it barely matters. While not bad, it lacks meaningful depth.

The maps in Fire Emblem: Heroes are a lot smaller than traditional Fire Emblem games too.

A common weakness I see in most mobile games is that, at some point, the player will run into what people refer to as a “paywall.” Paywalls are a point in a game that is so difficult, that overcoming it without spending additional money becomes extremely difficult. Fortunately, I have not run into this issue with Fire Emblem: Heroes. All of the missions from Book One, I was able to beat without spending a single dollar. 

On the subject of missions, there are so many available to the player. The story mode alone has enough missions to keep the player busy for a while. On top of that, there are training missions the player can embark on to level up their units and event missions that grant them exclusive rewards. I’m sure I’m missing some things, since Fire Emblem: Heroes keeps adding more content. The myriad of things to do is Fire Emblem: Heroes’ most significant asset.

Unfortunately, like all mobile games, Fire Emblem: Heroes has some glaring weaknesses.

For instance, the amount of upgrade options the player has to give to one unit is overwhelming. The player can: use crystals to level up a unit, use SP to teach skills to a unit, sacrifice one ally to have another inherit one of its skills, upgrade their rarity,  use Dragonflowers to increase an ally’s stats, combine duplicate allies to make one of them stronger, refine their weapon and add a permanent bonus effect with a blessing. Whew… that’s a lot to keep in mind.

It’s time to address the elephants in the room. The first is Fire Emblem: Heroes has loot boxes (gacha mechanic). The player can use orbs that they earn by playing missions or by buying them with real money to get new heroes. These heroes come from other Fire Emblem games. While I am a sucker for crossovers, Fire Emblem: Heroes uses this idea to sell orbs. While it is far from the most egregious form of loot boxes I have seen, it is worth mentioning.

In Fire Emblem Heroes, the loot box in question are the orbs that let the player summon heroes.

The second elephant in the room is that Fire Emblem: Heroes recently added a subscription service. Fire Emblem: Heroes is the third Nintendo mobile game that adds the subscription service model, and I am already sick of it. Fire Emblem: Heroes’ subscription service gives the player: special five-star heroes and an optional skin for the said hero, the ability to undo the last turn, expands the Fire Emblem: Heroes’ exclusive characters’ story and give the player the ability to autoplay individual maps to get their rewards quicker. I have significant issues with subscription services, and Fire Emblem: Heroes is no exception.

I honestly have no idea why anyone thinks this is a good idea…

The last point I want to touch on is that Fire Emblem: Heroes feels shallow. I always have this idea that if I am playing a game that makes me want to play another game, then the game I am currently playing is doing something wrong. Seeing all the heroes from full Fire Emblem games reminds me that I am playing, what is essentially, a discount Fire Emblem. The maps are much smaller, the characters feel hollow, and there is a distinct lack of life to what are otherwise decent characters.

For a mobile game, Fire Emblem: Heroes does a lot of things right. It has a decent story, doesn’t force the player into paying for microtransactions, and has charming visuals that are engaging enough to want to come back. As a Fire Emblem game, however, Heroes lacks meaningful character interactions and deep strategic gameplay. It also has loot boxes and a subscription service. Fire Emblem: Heroes is like potato chips: cheap, decent for a quick break, but unsatisfying for those looking for something more fulfilling. 

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