Review | Fire Emblem Heroes

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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!

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