As a series, Fire Emblem has been experience something of a renaissance lately. Last year saw the release of Fire Emblem Fates, which consisted of two games – Pokémon style – and a DLC game that tied concluded both these stories. Popular Fire Emblem characters have begun to appear in other games, such as the Atlus published JRPG Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE on the Wii U. With the announcement of Nintendo’s upcoming Switch console, we got the announcement of a Fire Emblem Warriors game in the same vein as Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes. This was quickly followed up with a ‘Fire Emblem Direct’ livestream, in which a remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem game was announced for Nintendo 3DS titled Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, and a brand new entry into the main Fire Emblem series was revealed to be in development for the Switch. But the main focus on the event was to showcase the features of the Fire Emblem mobile game titled Fire Emblem Heroes – which was so soon to be released that it’s now out.

But is it any good?

Of all the Nintendo properties that could be adapted easily to smartphones, the Fire Emblem series seems like the best fit. It’s turn-based, methodical player inputs coupled with a large character roster makes it excellent to play on the go and the wealth of different specific characters from across the franchise lends itself well to the idea of collecting. In Fire Emblem Heroes this concept of collecting your favourite characters (and ensuring they have the best randomized stats) is a big draw of this game, but we’ll get back to that later.

If the story is an important aspect of the Fire Emblem games, then I’m sorry to say that Fire Emblem Heroes is a little lacking in that department. The ‘barely there’ narrative is basically a flimsy framing device involving cross-dimensional portals that simply serve as an excuse to get all your favourite characters from across the series in the one time and place to fight each other. There’s also some bullshit about making pacts with the enemy that can only be broken through combat to explain why canonically allied characters would be fighting you. Yes, I did actually read all this dialogue and no, it wasn’t worth it. But that’s not what this game is about. It’s about forming an ultimate team of sexy/cute anime characters to steamroll your foes on the battlefield.

Yes, Fire Emblem Heroes is actually ‘Squad Goals: The Game.’

If you’ve ever played a Fire Emblem game, then Fire Emblem Heroes plays in very much the same way. It takes the formula of the series and pairs it down nicely for mobile by limiting your army of characters to just four and designing maps that can be played in just a few minutes. If you ever thought Fire Emblem battles were too long, but otherwise fun, then this game might be worth looking into. It’s a really nice game to dip into for a few minutes whilst waiting for the bus or even just to get a nice, bite-sized taste of what the main franchise Fire Emblem titles have been doing for years.

For those who haven’t played an FE game, allow me to elaborate on how the game functions. From the main menu, players form a party of four characters from the roster they’ve unlocked and choose a battle to take them into. Battles are fought on outdoor maps, featuring a host of terrain and obstacles to navigate, which is divided up into a grid. If you’re having trouble visualizing it, imagine a chess board but with mountains, rivers, forests, and walls. Units are broken up into different categories depending on the type of weapon they use. For melee attackers there are axe, spear, and sword users – each having an advantage over one and a disadvantage over the other, like rock paper scissors. The weakness’ and resistances are displayed in an easy to read triangle at the bottom on the screen during battle. Ranged types are broken up into archers, ninjas, and red, green, and blue mages – who again, have advantages and disadvantages in certain circumstances. Although, disappointingly, the game does a very poor job of explaining the pros and cons of the units outside of the sword, spear, and axe wielding trinity of melee fighters. Other units include the transforming dragon people, healers, and people who ride on the backs of horses and Pegasus. As characters perform actions on the field they gain experience, allowing them to level up to lessen the impact of their weaknesses and make full use of their strengths (or even just get a slight edge over enemy units of the same type). But keep in mind that if the battle is lost, all experience gained in the battle will be reset.

Each battle requires a certain amount of stamina before you can begin – which is where the monetization of this free-to-play mobile game comes into play. Stamina restores itself gradually over time, but can be instantly recovered if you use certain expendable items like the stamina potion (which the game rewards you with on occasion) or the orbs. Orbs are awarded for the first-time completion of each story battle in the game and are also given out as part of daily sign in bonuses –operating as a sort of universal currency for most things in the game. Getting enough orbs to do things can be a slow process, especially as the levels get harder. But one sure fire way to get lots of them is to buy them with real world money.

Whilst stamina restores itself quickly enough over time for players to not worry too much about spending orbs, where players are likely to find themselves spending a lot of orbs is on the acquisition of new characters. Remember what I said about collecting before? Well, Fire Emblem Heroes asks you to feed multiple orbs into what is essentially a digital gumball machine that will assign you a random character from a chosen set, with an assigned potential of bronze, silver, or gold that affect stat increases with each level up. These potentials are also randomized. Combine this with the fact that you can get doubles of characters – and that buying characters in bulk, five at a time, gets you a discount – and suddenly you have a situation where you can easily see how someone might spend 20 orbs that they painstakingly saved up without spending a cent, end up with five complete dud characters, and then decide that it might be worth spending a little of their own money to get another shot at the payoff they feel they deserve. It’s a bit like the way Pokémon cards work, but it’s also a lot like how gambling works. I’ve personally managed to draft some pretty great teams without giving the app my money, so it doesn’t feel too unfair in that regard. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that this game is explicitly set up to profit from gambling addiction. Perhaps some sort of cap on the amount of money you can spend on it would make things feel a little fairer?

Despite the things I don’t like about it – both mechanically and ethically – I still find myself recommending Fire Emblem Heroes to people I think will enjoy it. If you’re after quick mobile strategy game with an anime aesthetic, you’re going to have fun here. If you’ve always been intrigued by Fire Emblem as a series but been put off by the difficulty, length of battles, or the feature where characters permanently die, then Fire Emblem Heroes is definitely worth a download. Just be wary if you have problems with addiction.

About The Author

Angus is a writer, a worrier, and a digital media wanker. He is a devoted fan of Dark Souls and Bayonetta with a profound weakness for alt-games, visual novels, and cute anime trash. Firmly supports diversity, video game accessibility, and believes there’s a game out there for everyone. Tweets and shitposts @angusuow.