FIRE EMBLEM HEROES Review
Watching Nintendo’s IPs blossom on mobile platforms is a beautiful thing, but this foray into uncharted territory hasn’t been without its tumbles. MIITOMO somehow managed to be an even simpler social distraction from your regular social distraction. SUPER MARIO RUN (why?) pushed hard with its scant free mode and $9.99 price tag, but only ended up delivering a watered-down version of one of the most accessible classics out there. And that’s not even counting the hype death of POKÉMON GO after consumers discovered it was mainly developer Niantic’s property. Nintendo hasn’t exactly been failing with their expansion into John Q’s phone, but they need a truly killer app if they’re going to stick around.
Enter FIRE EMBLEM HEROES, a mobile game waving the flag of Intelligent Systems’ turn-based strategy franchise. HEROES seems like a surefire hit, considering most everyone with a phone now has some kind of virtual army in their pocket. It was only a matter of time until phones got covered in anxiety-ridden palm sweat resulting from the loss of various wyvern rider waifus. Yeah, chess this ain’t! There is no worse pain than seeing your trusted great knight get disintegrated by a loli-turned-divine dragon, but no better joy than discovering that victory tastes like roasted Pegasus wings. The main challenge for HEROES is to provide a full-fledged experience on mobile that’s at least comparable to previous games. Of course, being a free download on the App Store means there will be limitations, but this series could never produce a hollow cash grab, especially with Intelligent Systems onboard. Right?
No! It’s not just like Pokémon starters! Shut up!
First off, the premise takes fan service to an extreme. Rather than sporting a personal avatar, players instead wield a portal gun that uses orbs to summon characters from all across FIRE EMBLEM’s history. The story, which is a dead ringer for SUPER SMASH BROS. BRAWL’s campaign, is an unnecessary excuse for fantasy football minus the football. Voice over, true-to-character dialogue, and unique designs give enough depth to get one invested in their troops past the numbers. Many ‘member berry peddlers, like AWAKENING’s Chrom, are charmingly spiced up with new art styles from a collection of different Japanese artists (HARUHI SUZUMIYA’s Noizi Ito!) Each character is portrayed by an distinguishable chibi avatar in battle, and seeing these cuties quench their bloodlust is all sorts of rewarding.
However, not everything is exactly as fans will remember. The marriage and children options, a recent series staple, are sadly thrown out so as to save storage space and discourage the inevitable fan fiction. Even more notable is the choice to cut the series’s most notable trait, permanent death. Though it initially feels like a betrayal, this decision ultimately shouldn’t miff many. Rather than being rationed out in calculated quantities, most characters are attained via orbs rewarded for progressing through the story, meeting special conditions in battle, or purchased through microtransactions. As with YU-GI-OH! DUEL LINKS’s cards, the sheer surplus of characters is HEROES’s defining feature, and to temper that abundance with permadeath would be a mistake.
Pretty much how all my first dates go
Basic features that did stay are a bit stripped down. But even with downsized 8×6 grids and a four ally limit, HEROES still feels like a genuine FE game. During battle, the famous weapon triangle is always at the bottom right corner of the screen. The array of different terrains mixing things up, such as forests and mountains, make a return, as do the myriad of stat boosts and abilities. Any and all methods used in previous games are perfectly applicable here. You can still stack crits with lady samurai Hana and then have Pegasus-riding narcissist Subaki rain death from above. Miraculously, executing the perfect strategy is just as satisfying here as it is in the main series.
Classes and level progression are present in HEROES, but due to the free-to-play nature of the game, a great emphasis has been put on the grind. Every hero summoned starts completely from scratch. You can place them in a party with similarly noobish allies to level up in a training tower, or spend shards earned in said tower corresponding to hero type to upgrade them as well. Consequently, it isn’t particularly difficult to train a fairly threatening army, but it does require a lot of patience. And it goes without saying that watching a favorite hero grow from the bottom up tightens your warrior/waifu bond.
“You were the chosen one!”
Bonds with other players are a different story. Arena duels don’t really add much at all to the game. The idea of climbing ranks and seeing what heroes people fill their rosters with is intriguing, but the system loses its appeal when you realize you’re simply going through the motions against an auto-battle version of someone else’s team, rather than facing a real-life opponent. Preying on the same low-tier newcomers or seeing the same overpowered character(s) being used in the higher ranks is equally tedious, and it won’t be long until you move on to more fulfilling challenges.
What’s much more promising are weekly events showcasing new characters, which promote community and hopefully continue the endgame. I really can’t wait for Seth to come out of retirement and teach Frederick a thing or two about princess-protection. Despite only retaining the basic elements of past efforts, this game definitely scratches the FE itch and then some. Having gone through its first big update a few weeks in and finally finding its footing, FIRE EMBLEM HEROES pleases as much as its predecessors and is definitely one of the best free games out there right now.
Reviewed on iOS