Fire Emblem Heroes has been my most anticipated Nintendo-published mobile app in a while, primarily out of interest in seeing what it said about its view of mobile as a platform for traditional gaming experiences. Fire Emblem, as a turn-based strategy series suited well to touch screen control, made almost too much sense on mobile. I wanted to see if we would get a full Fire Emblem experience or something totally different.
Ultimately, we kind of got both. Fire Emblem Heroes is a relatively representative, if slightly streamlined and condensed, version of a traditional Fire Emblem game. While concessions were clearly made to appeal to a free to play-focused audience on mobile, the microtransaction model feels relatively fair, not hampering gameplay progression for players wishing to play entirely for free.
Sure, it’s a little simplified and sped up for play on mobile, but sessions feel the perfect length for picking up in-between bus stops or while waiting for a reply to a tweet.
The control scheme also translates really nicely to mobile. Hold your finger on a character to see where they can currently move to in one colour, and where they can attack from those positions in another. You drag your character to where you want them, and if you want to attack too, you then continue that movement from the square you’re travelling to the enemy you’re attacking. Holding your character on the attack position gives you information on what damage will be dealt to both your character and the enemy fighter.
Gameplay sessions feel the perfect length for picking up in between bus stops or while waiting for a reply to a tweet.
At its core, this is still a Fire Emblem game. Turn-based strategy battles are orchestrated by moving soldiers from a top-down perspective across a grid, with the end goal usually to wipe out the opposing army with at least one unit left in play. Players build their armies out of unique units with differing tool sets, from horse riding, axe wielding powerhouses designed to quickly close distance and attack up close. to magic wielders trying to always stay just far enough out of reach to deal damage without being harmed. The core gameplay revolves around positioning the heroes for maximum effect.
What this reduction in scale accomplishes is allowing tightly strategic scenario design, while keeping gameplay short enough to jump in and out of on mobile.
The biggest difference between this and a handheld or home console Fire Emblem is scope. Army sizes are dropped down to 4 warriors per side, maps are shrunk down to fit your phone screen without scrolling, and the focus becomes moving units within tight spaces and winning individual skirmishes within set confines.
What this reduction in scale accomplishes is allowing tightly strategic scenario design, while keeping gameplay short enough to jump in and out of on mobile. Each interaction feels concise and distinct from the next.
The standard single player campaign has a fairly thin story about worlds being mashed together, you being from the real world, and characters being made evil by some big bad. It’s light on interesting narrative and mainly serves to pull you from encounter to encounter. That much is a bit of a shame.
You can also battle against other players, test the strength of your team in training, or replay single player missions at higher difficulties. The last of those is particularly useful, as I found myself levelling faster than the base difficulty curve of the game, so retrying levels gave a better sense of challenge.
While early content can be almost painfully easy, later stages had me really needing to think carefully about team builds and positioning, barely scraping through numerous scenarios.
As Fire Emblem Heroes is a free to play game, it’s important we talk about the monetisation systems in place when playing.
The game features a premium currency called orbs. This premium currency can be earned in-game by completing story missions, replaying missions at higher difficulties, completing in-game quests regarding play style and through daily rewards. They can obviously also be purchased using real money.
Orbs are used in Heroes to purchase additional characters to play with, revive fallen comrades in battle, upgrade your castle and affect the rate at which experience is earned, or unlock additional playtime (each match played reduces a stamina bar which limits how often you can play the game in a given play session before either waiting for the bar to refill or paying money).
After playing Fire Emblem Heroes for several days I have yet to feel the need to pay for additional orbs. Stamina refills fairly quickly, castle upgrades are not necessary for game balance, losing a battle has no long-term consequences to force revivals, and characters can be unlocked through routine gameplay. So long as you’re willing to be patient and allow orbs to build up for a while before using them, and you think about what you want them for before pulling the trigger, you should be fine.
Just bear in mind character unlocks require orbs, and are random. You may spend orbs to buy a character and get a duplicate. Duplicates can be broken down for different in-game resources, but it still sucks to save up your orbs and get something that’s randomly selected and not new to you as a player.
Heroes isn’t a full Fire Emblem game, but it’s an adaptation that keeps in mind the system it is on and makes smart choices to fit into that ecosystem. It’s not perfect, but it’s a surprisingly fun and fair entry in the series well worth a look.
Platform: iOS / Android
Developer/Publisher: Intelligent Systems / Nintendo
Price: Free to Play (With Microtransactions)
Release date: Out Now
- Maintains series core gameplay
- Streamlined and concise for mobile
- Fair monetisation system.
- Random character purchases only
- lacks some scope and depth
Heroes is an admirable mobile port of Fire Emblem. Concessions for the mobile market are minimal, and it’s a fun take on the series core.