Back when Nintendo announced they were going to start developing some games for mobile platforms, my mind instantly went to the Fire Emblem series. The turn-based strategy series seemed perfect to pull out of your pocket and play for a few minutes. Nintendo, even on their mobile outings, polishes all of their games to a high sheen and Fire Emblem Heroes is no different. The main question to be answered here is if t has been able to overcome the free-to-play traps that generally make me bounce off of similar smart phone titles.
The Fire Emblem series has always been about the relationship you have with your troops and their journey to becoming seasoned soldiers. The main series does this by permanently killing a character that falls in battle. Fire Emblem Heroes thankfully does not permanently kill your soldiers, but chooses instead to make the main loop of the game increasing the strength of your team. Each hero you unlock has a rarity level, ranging from one to five, which indicates the potential of that unit. Five stars is obviously best, but four is still good and three is doable if a bit underpowered.
The combat in the game feels very much like classic Fire Emblem, implementing weapon triangle of the main series. The main difference are that the maps have been shrunk down to fit on a single smart phone screen. This succeeds in both preventing unnecessary scrolling and shortening matches to a much more manageable amount of time. Simply dragging your units on top of an enemy initiates an attack and the whole experience feels natural and fun. Leveling up your heroes and steamrolling the unwitting enemies is also just as satisfying as the main series.
The game does come with a full story mode spanning nine chapters each with five battles to complete. The story itself is a little silly, but provides a framework for what you’re doing in this world. Once you make it through the story, there are two other difficulties to get through, so there is plenty of single-player content to last you a little bit. The real challenge in the game comes with the arena battles however, which pit you against teams constructed by other players. You’re not playing against another active human, but some of those teams present quite a challenge to beat. I found myself losing, but rarely feeling as though I never stood a chance, which kept me coming back for more. You can do these battles three times a day, or more if you redeem a specific item.
The real addiction begins with finding the heroes you love the most and bringing them to their max potential. The main currency of the game which allows you to get new heroes is called orbs. The game starts you off with enough orbs to summon five random heroes, each with a random star level. Five star heroes are incredibly powerful, but insanely rare and you’ll never get below three stars when spending orbs. The game offers plenty of opportunity to gain more orbs so you can pull that slot machine handle, but this is also where the free-to-play mechanics get really weird.
The only things you can buy with real money in Fire Emblem Heroes are orbs. The amount of money they’re asking for orbs seems just silly with thirteen dollar getting you a mere twenty orbs, though they do throw in three extra as a bonus. Since your orb heroes are random, sometimes you just need to stick with what you have and upgrade their star level. This can be done with an enormous amount of other collectibles, but what is more shocking is that you can not buy any of them. Getting a character from level three to four isn’t too difficult, but upgrading your hero to five is nearly impossible. It seems like a missed opportunity on their part to not include this feature, as I would be much more tempted to spend a few bucks to get my favorite hero up to five stars.
The game has been out for less than a month thus far and Nintendo has made it pretty clear that they intend on supporting it well with updates. Consistently announcing special events and offering special battles to unlock new heroes daily, there is always a reason to log in each day. Quests offer special rewards for completing specific tasks and they have added new ones multiple times in the short window since its launch. If they continue with this pace of support for Fire Emblem Heroes, I could see myself continuing to play for quite a while.
- Combat has been simplified perfect for mobile devices
- Free-to-play hooks are addicting and not frustrating
- A decent amount of single-player content to enjoy
- Some missed opportunities for micro-transactions
- Energy mechanics are never very fun
- Upgrading to five stars seems nearly impossible
Any time one of my favorite series gets the bloody hooks of free-to-play jammed into its sides, there is always cause for worry. Easily, you could be left with a game that is so concerned with getting you to pay that it ends up not being any fun. Thankfully, the core game in Fire Emblem Heroes is a ton of fun. Nintendo still doesn’t quite seem to grasp how those free-to-play mechanics are supposed to work, but at the very least it does not detract from the fun of play this Fire Emblem game. Since you’re getting in on the ground floor for free, I would heartily recommend Fire Emblem Heroes to anyone that has a device that plays it. Speaking of that, Fire Emblem Heroes is available now for iOS, Android and Google Play. Go get it now!