Dan is a contributor to ComiConverse. His interests mainly lie in video games, but he has previously written articles on film, television and other aspects of popular culture. He can be found on Twitter @dangoad
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Bringing together characters from previous games in the series, can Fire Emblem Heroes make the jump to mobile and free-to-play? ComiConverse contributor Dan Goad has this review.
Game Review: Fire Emblem Heroes
When it was first announced that Nintendo was developing mobile versions of their classic franchises, the Fire Emblem series always seemed like one of the most logical choices. The touchscreen controls, turn-based combat and simple mechanics are an ideal fit. Has the developer, Intelligent Systems, managed to recreate their popular series on mobile?
The answer is, sort of…
Whilst Super Mario Run adopted a demo then one-time payment model, Fire Emblem Heroes has instead opted to go full free-to-play. While this model can be both a blessing and a curse, in this instance it means the removal of much of what made Fire Emblem so popular. The RPG elements have mainly been taken out; so no romances, no weapon degradation, no inventory management, and no team-ups. Gone also is the specter of permanent death – characters can not only be revived after the battle, but they can also be revived mid-battle with the right items. On the flip side, chance now has a greater impact on whether you will get to something good.
Also gone is anything but the simplest of plots, so this version of Fire Emblem Heroes has only the thinnest narrative to hold it together. The player is the long foretold Summoner, with the power to call heroes from across the different worlds of the Fire Emblem series. An evil empress is taking control of heroes and invading worlds. The player must use both their summoning powers and their tactical prowess to defeat her and free the heroes. That’s pretty much it. This very brief story ends without ceremony nine chapters and 45 battles in, without much of a resolution. Presumably it will be continued with future content.
For fans of the series there are still some recognizable elements. The Weapon Triangle remains — a simple rock-paper-scissors approach to certain weapons having advantages over others in combat. Players can also upgrade their castles to give boosts to their heroes, but these need to be purchased with premium currency. All battles take place on a single screen map with an 8 by 6 grid, which takes a few minutes to finish. Whilst there is some variety over the layout, with obstacles such as rivers, destructible walls etc., practically speaking there isn’t much difference between the various maps and none of them are memorable. These maps repeat throughout the campaign and again through the other modes. Other modes include a training tower and an arena that pits your group against another players’ (AI controlled) heroes. There are also daily challenges, which allow you to unlock a hero and other rewards.
Another addition from the free-to-play world is stamina. Players can only battle a certain number of times before they run out and have to recharge. Since the game is not aimed at long in-depth play sessions, I rarely found myself running out of stamina and having to wait. These features mean the game lends itself to casual play on the go, but the constant need for an internet connection hampers this a little. I didn’t notice a significantly high data usage when not on wi-fi, but battery drain is a problem.
The paid elements of the game are not as intrusive as they could be, but are present enough to cause frustration. Like a lot of games in this model, a more accurate description might be “free-to-start” rather than “free-to-play.” The game is generous with heroes and currency at the beginning, but becomes a huge grind once you get to the last 2 or 3 chapters. It’s here that you feel the urge to spend money and finish the last few maps. Leveling up characters is an essential element of any RPG game, and the same is true here. Winning in this game is 10% tactics and 90% power, so strengthening your group is a must. Heroes gain levels through experience, but also have a star rating from 1 to 5. The free characters you are given are all in the 1-2 star variety, and you will have to use premium currency to buy 3-5 star heroes. The chance of a 5 star hero varies, but usually it is around 3%. I ended up with a lot of 4 star characters, but no 5 stars.
You can raise the star level of your existing heroes, but this system is another grind. When a hero gets to level 20 they can be upgraded using hero feathers. Raising a hero from level 3 to 4 costs 2000 feathers, but raising from 4 to 5 jumps up to 20,000 feathers. You can’t buy feathers, but you can win them in an arena, with a maximum weekly reward of 1600 feathers. To get to the maximum reward you’ll have to spend money on extra arena battles, which are usually capped at three per day. At best you’re looking at around 3 months to upgrade a single hero. You can earn extra feathers through discarding heroes and other promotions, but the rewards are usually so small they will barely make a difference. This mechanic is probably the worst aspect of the game, but thankfully can be largely ignored due to how powerful a fully upgraded 4 star hero can be. Just don’t expect to have many 5 star heroes unless you are prepared to drop a lot of money on the game.
On the positive side, the game looks great. The graphics are simple but effective. The tiny battlefield sprites are distinctive enough so you know exactly who is who and the battle animations are better than those in many similar free-to-play games. Outside of battle, every character has a lovely hand drawn portrait, even if some of the female characters suffer from standard JRPG fan-service costumes. It’s worth playing with the sound on as the music is great and the proper voice acting is a real treat on mobile – although the limited number of lines become a bit repetitive after a while.
Whilst Nintendo continues experimenting with their mobile offerings, I would have much preferred a premium approach and a full Fire Emblem game on my phone. If you are after a deeper TRPG experience on mobile then stick to X-COM or Final Fantasy Tactics. Fire Emblem Heroes, in its current form, is rooted in the casual gaming sphere. The game will be great fun for Fire Emblem fans and the addition of recognizable music from other games is a nice touch. For players new to the series, I don’t think it does enough to stand out from the legion of free-to-play TRPGs currently available. Nevertheless, it has a polish that those other games lack and, for a few hours of easy fun, it is worth a download. Just don’t expect to be playing it in a month’s time.
Daniel Goad is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow us on Twitter: @ComiConverse
It lacks depth, but Fire Emblem Heroes will be a fun slice of nostalgia for fans of the series. There may not be enough to keep the attention of people knew to the series however.