The route to mobile requires unparalleled strategy and tactics.
Fire Emblem is one of my top three Nintendo franchises, so saying that I was worried about its move to mobile. The series has made questionable decisions before, but becoming a free-to-play game opens up a whole new set of potential problems. Although the systems can be abused, Fire Emblem Heroes is a good game and works well as a mobile title, as it’s almost friendly to a fault.
The story in Fire Emblem Heroes is best left forgotten. You are summoned to Askar, where you need to aid the kingdom in battle against Emblian forces. The trio of Sharena, Alfonse and Anna will guide you from moment to moment. Askar has gateways to the various Fire Emblem kingdoms and the evil princess Veronica wants to control all of them. It is your job to visit various locations from the main Fire Emblem games and set the heroes living there free. You do this by participating in the strategic battles the series is known for. Although there are some neat character ineractions, most of the story can be easily skipped, especially the conversations with your opponents.
Where the game succeeds is translating Fire Emblem to the smaller display. Turn-based strategy games can take a long time and require a huge time commitment from the player. Fire Emblem Heroes cracks down on that need by bringing compact maps that are displayed in the vertical position. The room to roam around is limited, and you can only bring four characters at most into battle at a time. This changes the game as it is more about close encounters and striking at the correct moment. The console Fire Emblem games take a long time because of the meticulous planning needed, but Heroes’s smaller maps mean the options are limited. It is a solid compromise though, and allows the gameplay to live in a fresh play environment. What helps is that Fire Emblem Heroes is fun to play. The touchscreen controls perfectly gel with the mentality of the franchise, which makes it enjoyable to quickly play a map on the go. You drag them around, drop them on a spot to attack and see the action unfold before your eyes. You will keep going until the enemy units all fall at your hand.
As this is a free-to-play mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes uses Orbs as a premium currency. The Orbs can be used to expand your roster, get more experience or make room for more characters. That last part is where you will spend most of your time as the need for better characters grows. All of them have a star ranking from one to five, which impacts their statistics and how well they can perform in harsher circumstances. The trio that you start with are all two stars, which isn't too hot. You can upgrade those over time, but that may be more trouble than it’s worth. Upgrading characters is, however, a key component of the game. You can teach them skills by using the special points earned at leach level-up. Spending the Sps will teach them new skills or upgrade their weapons. Next to that, there are crystals with which you can level up characters, so you can skip doing all the hard work.
What you want to do is complete story missions, earn log-in bonuses and have a spin at the wheel of fortune. When you use Orbs, there are five colored slots to choose from. These will rotate in and out, and offer various types of warriors to add to your team. Red slots offer up the possibility to get sword characters, while blue slots net you characters that use a lance. I am pretty annoyed by the system as a whole, as it can take multiple draws to get specific characters . Beyond the color choice, you are never guaranteed of what you are really hoping for. It’s even possible to draw the same character twice in a row, and it usually won’t be a five-star unit.
It took me way too many attempts to get Lyn, who happens to be one of my favorites. There are plenty of great characters in Fire Emblem Heroes, and they are voiced with nice-looking artwork which makes it really rough for long-time fans that don’t get what they want.Naturally, Nintendo sees this as your chance to buy a whole bunch of Orbs, which are quite expensive for the amount you need. Ultimately, if you don't care about what you are getting, it should be a smooth experience for you. Some players will definitely be frustrated by not getting the five-star characters, as the starting odds are incredibly low. For most though, you will be okay with the Orbs you are getting directly from the game.
Heroes is not a difficult game, though – I sailed through the game in a day or two. The opening sections can be a bit tricky, but a combination of quick grinding in the Training Towers and some good draw made things a fair bit easier. I even managed to complete the game on all three difficulties (Normal, Hard, Lunatic). My experience isn’t typical, but less committed players can still clear the game quickly. There’s no permanent death, since that would be absolute madness combined with the free-to-play mechanics, and only experience earned in the current battle is lost. There’s less risk, but the payoff is the same.
Luckily, there is enough content to keep you engaged for a while here. There are 45 story missions (48 if you count the prologue) with more being added. At a later point, Fire Emblem Heroes will also start adding Paralogues in the mix, which will see you traveling to unique locations. The Training Tower sees you collecting materials and lets you level your characters even further. In the Arena, you will battle other players for major rewards. It is here where you will find the true meat of the game and find reasons to constantly return. I found it fun to see the strategies people in my friendslist came up with, which made me want to get additional Dueling Swords items. The least amount of fun I found was within the Special Maps. The characters earned with a win are seriously underleveled and the rewards you get aren't special. The Orbs you get from the launch celebration are nice, but beyond that, it feels sort of throwaway.
Fire Emblem Heroes is a streamlined experience that is made for mobile and it doesn't shy away from that fact. It’s the closest thing Fire Emblem has to a bite-sized experience. Don't expect a lot of depth or difficulty from Heroes, but they did make some fine compromises. It helps that it plays wonderfully on a smart device and that the amount of content here is impressive. With 45 main missions (and counting) and a host of other features, they want to continue welcoming people with open arms. The story is really the biggest bummer of the experience. It was a neat idea to bring the Fire Emblem worlds together, but they never really embrace it. That is strange, considering they gave all the characters voices and unique art. The characters still drive forward what this is free-to-play mobile game is all about, and that is gameplay.