Many years ago, I played a game on iOS called War of Eustrath. It was in essence, Fire Emblem with mechs. While I had fun with it for what it was, it ultimately just made me long for the day when a true Fire Emblem experience would appear on iOS. It only took seven years, but better late than ever, right?
Nintendo’s marquee tactical RPG finally makes its debut on mobile phones with Fire Emblem: Heroes. Unlike Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run, this one is built on a very traditional mobile game monetization model. Is this worth the grind or your hard earned money?
Fire Emblem: Heroes is a game about defending the different realms and universes from an all-invasive threat. Or so I think. There are story beats throughout the main campaign, but they’re basically just wallpaper here, which I’m fine with. Essentially, it’s a loose justification for having every Fire Emblem character ever appear in this game. More on that in a minute.
At its core, this is still a turn-based tactical RPG in the same vein as the others in the series. You’ll manage a squad of characters as they fight against an opposing force. As you defeat enemies, your characters will level up, though your competition will get tougher as you progress through the campaign or play the tougher training missions.
Series veterans will notice that this game has been heavily streamlined. Combatants will not whiff attacks, nor will they land critical hits. You will not wear down the durability of your weapons or staves either. Even the size of the maps and the number of characters in your squads have shrunk significantly. Unlike the past game, where levels could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete, most levels can be beaten in five minutes or less.
At first, I was concerned that this was too light of an experience for me. However, I’ve really come to embrace it. You get the tactical thrills and challenge of a Fire Emblem game in a fast-moving game that makes perfect sense on mobile.
Besides the main story mode that has three different difficulty levels, you can also partake in training levels, which you’ll play to earn resources to help level up your characters, special maps that usually help you unlock new characters or other things, and there’s also a pseudo PvP mode where you face human-made teams controlled by AI. The games are essentially the same between them, but the rewards are different and they’re equally fun.
Things get weird once we start going into the game’s mobile hooks. For one, progress is limited through a Stamina meter. Playing levels costs Stamina, and if you run out, you’re going to have to either wait or pay with in-game or real currency. I’m generally okay with just playing until I’m out of gas and moving on with my life.
The cooler, yet more insidious part of Fire Emblem is the Summoning system. By cashing in Orbs that you earn in-game or with real money, you can summon new characters to your team. The problem is, it’s essentially a slot machine with weighted odds, as the best characters are the ones you’ll least likely get. Furthermore, characters have star ratings, which impact the game quite a bit. For example, a 1-star Marth is trash, as he has poor base stats and a low ceiling. However, a 5-star Marth is top tier, with excellent base stats and extra abilities at the start. While it’s awesome to have a chance of recruiting your favourite characters from different games onto your team, it’s going to be a grind or a bank-account-breaking proposition to roll the dice again and again in hopes of getting Thaja, Lyn, Ike or whomever your waifu or husbando is.
So far, I really like Fire Emblem: Heroes. The gameplay features that Nintendo polish while working perfectly on a mobile device. The monetization system might drive you to insanity, but if you can cope with rolling with the guys you get, you’ll be a much happier camper for it. Even if you don’t stick with the mobile game, this also acts as a great stepping stone towards the main games on other Nintendo platforms. It’s certainly worth at least some of your time and maybe even a bit of your money. But please, don’t go broke trying to get a 5-star Lucina.