I'm a pretty big Fire Emblem fan. That used to be a small group, but it's gotten to be quite large of late based on the success of the recent Nintendo 3DS releases. I know some fans aren't happy with the changes in the series that brought about that success, but I'm thrilled because I don't have to worry that Nintendo is going to smuggle it away to whatever closet or crawlspace they've locked Advance Wars up in. Fire Emblem Awakening was basically the last chance for the series, and was designed to be an epic last hurrah if things came to that. As I sit here today several years later, Fire Emblem is bigger than ever. So big, in fact, that Nintendo selected it to be one of their first mobile ventures. You really never know.

Of course, I doubt they chose it simply based on popularity. As successful as Fire Emblem is of late, Nintendo does have bigger guns in its arsenal. No, I suspect Fire Emblem was chosen because it is a good fit for the mobile market in several ways. As a turn-based simulation RPG, switching to touch-only controls wouldn't hurt the gameplay very much. But more than that, its nuts and bolts are well-suited for application to the hottest style of game in Japan right now: the social RPG. There are tons of characters spanning 15 games and 25 years of art design. One of the core gameplay elements involves recruiting new characters for your team and choosing your favorites to field. With only a few exceptions, the games all involve fighting a series of battles with story segments separating them. Even the idea of dimension-hopping cross-overs is well-established within the series confines by this point.

With that all being the case, I wasn't surprised when Nintendo stated that Fire Emblem Heroes [Free] would be free-to-play. It makes a lot of sense for the mobile market, particularly when you consider that Nintendo would still like to sell full-priced Fire Emblem games on their own hardware. I fully expected things like a stamina meter, random gacha draws for characters, and frequent internet check-ins. I understand that for some, those things are deal-breakers. If that's you, then yes, you probably won't like Fire Emblem Heroes. It's as much of a social RPG as games like Puzzle & Dragons, Monster Strike, and Final Fantasy: Record Keeper.

That doesn't mean, however, that this is not Fire Emblem. Indeed, it's impressive how well Nintendo and DeNA were able to adapt their formula to the social RPG model without losing the basic feel. This is a different kind of Fire Emblem game, to be sure. One more fit for those looking for a brief, pick-up-and-play experience. But I think it's a game that is going to please an awful lot of Fire Emblem fans, even if only between releases of the main games on Nintendo's hardware. Like DeNA's successful Record Keeper, Fire Emblem Heroes does a great job of paring down the concept to an easily-digestible mechanic and slathering a rich sauce of fan-service all over top.

There is a story which you can pay attention to if you like. The important thing is that it gives you an excuse to visit worlds based around each of the Fire Emblem games where you'll throw down in mini turn-based battles against their respective casts of characters. The maps take cues from the games themselves, right down to using music from each. These battles play out in a much simpler fashion than the main games. The map sizes are smaller, army sizes are limited to four for each side, and much of the variability that the series is infamous for has been drained out. There will be no surprise critical attacks or misses, level-up gains appear to be fixed, and you won't have to deal with any unexpected ambushes.

Instead of critical hits, units will use special attacks after a set number of turns have passed. The support and assist mechanics are gone, with characters instead having a variety of abilities they can spend their turn on to buff up their teammates. The weapon triangle remains intact, so lances beat swords, swords beat axes, and axes beat lances, but magic and dragon breath are now treated as part of that triangle as well. Characters can learn new passive and active abilities that augment their capabilities by spending SP, a resource accumulated through battles and fusion. Leveling up works the same way it does in the regular games. Smack an enemy for a little experience, kill them for a lot. Characters cap off at level 20, at which point you can use collected items to take them to a new tier.

The UI in battles is excellent. You can use the time-honored point and tap method that most strategy games on iOS use, or you can simply drag your character to the thing you want to kill, heal, or buff. Characters can't hold items or switch weapons, so all you really need to worry about is who should face off against who, and where to position them to make your desired match-up happen. Terrain effects count, and you can also damage walls to create new paths. The maps are just big enough to create some interesting scenarios, though one of my concerns is how well the developers are going to keep things fresh over a long period of time with such a limited canvas to work with. I've already run into some absolute clunkers in terms of map quality. Fortunately, they're the minority at the moment, but keeping it that way is going to be a tough job.

In addition to the story battles, there are other places to spend your stamina. There's the Training Tower, where you can beef your characters up by fighting against appropriately-matched enemies. You'll also earn materials from doing that can be used to give characters an extra experience boost without even fighting. The Special Maps section gives you the chance to earn specific characters for your collection. The Arena Duels area, which has its own separate stamina gauge, sees your squad face off against another player's team. The winner earns points towards a prize at the end of each season. There's one other area that I'm yet to open up in spite of being several hours into the game. I suppose we'll have to wait and see what it has to offer.

The game's monetization uses all of the familiar tricks of the trade, but in a much more lenient fashion than most social RPGs. You start off with a massive stamina gauge, allowing you to potentially play for a couple of hours without stopping. You can fully replenish that gauge with an item that is available on My Nintendo in exchange for platinum coins, wait it out at five minutes per point, or pay a premium orb to top it off. So far, the story stages cost two stamina points per attempt, while special stages cost four or more. I'm sure that will go up over time, but it's far kinder than a lot of other games of this sort.

We can see another example of its gentler approach in how its random gacha system is set up. Five orbs gets you one pull, but you can choose which type of character you'd like it to be. So while it may not be the exact person you were hoping for, and not the tier you wanted, you can at least decide if you want a much-needed axe-wielder over your fiftieth swordsman. Basically, when you choose to pull, you're presented with five different crystals to choose from. The color and shape of the crystal will tell you the element of the character inside. If you choose to pull a second character immediately, you can do so at a discounted price of four orbs for the next three pulls, with the fifth and final crystal costing you only three orbs. It works out to five characters for the price of four, which is pretty nice.

As in most games of this ilk, orbs can be used in a variety of ways. You can use them to continue, pull new characters, expand the size of your barracks (allowing you to recruit more characters past the initial cap of 200), and top off your stamina. You can also use them to upgrade your fortress, giving you a permanent bonus to your experience point gains. You can get these orbs as login bonuses, as a one-time reward for clearing a stage, or by checking off certain achievements. Naturally, you can also buy them via IAP. Usually in a game like this, the cost works out to about a dollar per unit of premium currency, but it's a little cheaper here, instead costing two dollars for three orbs. It's easy enough to assemble a decent team just from the free orbs the game gives you, but if you're chasing specific characters, well, you know the routine by now.

Thus far, I'm really enjoying Fire Emblem Heroes. I'm hesitant to give a game like this a review score based on only a single day of play, though, so we'll just say these are enthusiastic first impressions. Based on the parties involved, though, I'm confident that it will remain fun and reasonably fair. I'd certainly recommend any Fire Emblem fan at least give Fire Emblem Heroes a shot. You might not end up sticking with it, but I bet you'll have at least a little fun with it even if you do bail out at some point. It might not be the game that some hoped for, but it at least shows that Nintendo has what it takes to make a relatively faithful, enjoyable free-to-play game out of one of their long-running franchises.

  • Jason Flor Flook

    DeNa copied the FFRK model, we have gotten orb/mithril on a daily basis so far, while getting orb/mithril for each stage beat.

    But they aren't letting us raise the stamina cap, which makes FFRK much easier to play. Although the last 2-3 months the difficulty has gone up.

    But FE has pvp, based on the Avengers Alliance model, but I don't understand how refilling pvp works.

    • Michal Hochmajer

      3 dueling swords per day. One battle, one sword. Recharge swords by one orb. Depends on your rank, you obtain amount of feathers (upgrade hero 4* - 5* costs 20k feathers).

    • http://www.twitter.com/BB8orR2D2 David

      I think the difference is, it only costs 1 Stamina to play each Normal level. So you can literally play every Story level with one Stamina bar.

  • http://aggromagnetgames.com/ Aggro Magnet Games

    I've only gotten to spend about 15 minutes on FEH so far, but I've already noticed how some of the systems are reminiscent of FFRK.

    I eventually stopped playing FFRK when I felt like I'd seen what there was to see with the core gameplay, that is, the battles. It should be interesting to see how much staying power FEH ends up having in that regard, particularly with the smaller team and map sizes!

    • http://www.twitter.com/BB8orR2D2 David

      There was this one Nightmare Dungeon battle that took me 45 minutes to complete... the boss had three stages and it was by far the hardest battle I've ever attempted in FFRK.

  • mstacheef

    Great review and I totally agree. I've always loved he FE series, and Awakening and Fates are a couple of my favorite games period. I really despise the FTP mechanics but they did a great job of cutting this down to its core mechanics for a great mobile experience. And after 5 chapters it's actually getting challenging on even the easy setting but the harder settings are really tough. Haven't spend a penny and don't intend to but may buy a few orbs just to support the title so we get more.

  • Bliquid

    I think it did for me exactly what Nintendo wanted: make me want to play a full fledged Fire Emblem game.
    I think Heroes is average, and the only thing that sets it apart from the gazillion other Gatcha/Social RPGs is the battle system which is nice but a little too stripped down for my taste.
    I think as BS goes, Terra Battle is way better.
    But in its intentions, Fire Emblem Heroes delivers exactly what it set out to: a quick dose of Fire Emblem taste.
    I don't dislike Social RPGs at all, but this one really does very little that i didn't see before and mildly grew tired of.
    I may change my mind when Arian Grande becomes a character.

    • http://www.twitter.com/BB8orR2D2 David

      This. I also just ordered a 3DS Fire Emblem game to play. Super excited now!

  • Aaron C

    Just to note: Level up gains are definitely random not fixed, and there are some basic assist mechanics with some of the passive skills characters get. πŸ™‚

    • Michal Hochmajer

      I don't think so. Stats are predetermined. Tested.
      Matthew level 7
      second Matthew upgrade from level 1 to level 7 - same stats
      both upgraded to level 8 - same stats
      same for level 9

      • Aaron C

        Huh.. that's interesting! I swear I've levelled up a char once, lost the level (because they died), then got the level up again in a new fight and the bonuses have been completely different!

      • Michal Hochmajer

        I've read somewhere, that there are random variants of units. Imagine that you have Matthew and he has 5 predetermined variants.

        first Matthew - level one strength is 5, level 20 is 15, level 40 is 30

        second Matthew - level one strength is 7, level 20 is 18, level 40 is 33

        etc.

  • HelperMonkey

    Thanks, Shaun. I'll have to give it a go.
    (I know. It's free and I could just be trying it. But I'm the kind of person who will read all about the details and differences and features of a dozen different televisions before I ever go to the store. I could just go there and look at all of them in action in person and judge that way, but that's not how I roll.)

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Normally, I am doing the same. But do you know what convince me otherwise in this case?
      If you watch original dubbed trailer for FE Heroes called
      Fire Emblem Direct 1.18.2017
      on youtube
      time 13:45

      immediately as I saw happy heroine and owl with plenty orbs, i was 100% sure it will be ok... πŸ™‚

      • Themagicjesus

        It's almost like with the internet everyone does this.

  • Themagicjesus

    Don't care what "premium currency" normally costs but it's 5 orbs for one character in a mobile game which comes out to four dollars minimum. That's ridiculous. In any way shape or form even if it's more generous. Luckily the game gives out orbs like candy. Point still stands about the ridiculous overpriced currency in free to play games

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Generosity of Fire Emblem Heroes system doesn't lie only in amount of currency, they are giving away. Plenty other f2p titles can do that.
      It is in hero system and building party. You can level up all heroes to 5*. You can't have bad pull! Plenty my low level heroes have interesting abilities worth to upgrade them and exchange with my 5* for better efficiency/specific scenarios.
      Rest of the orb usage is typical poor f2p ecosystem (not that intrusive).
      If you want criticize something, then maybe upgrade system (feathers/arena) and low stamina (50).
      Yet, Fire Emblem Heroes is worthy to play as nice tiny addition to Fire Emblem and mobile gaming.
      But We are at the very beginning. We will see.

    • Shaun James Musgrave

      Admittedly, it's higher than the $2.50 per character they charged for FE Awakening, but it's a lot lower than the $10-12 they charged per character in Fire Emblem Fates. But either way, there is an established price for this kind of thing on mobile, and both DeNA and Nintendo have to be aware of it. They deliberately undercut it, which is either a nice gesture or a smart sales technique. Or both?

      • Michal Hochmajer

        There is counterweight of this "low" price. You need at least one character type of the triangle (every type), just to survive. Even 5* maxed hero can be easily overwhelmed by 2 enemies of the same color. And here lies real economy of the Fire Emblem Heroes.

        If you consider, that upgrading 4* to 5* costs 20 Great Badges, randomly generated in top 3 levels of training tower and beatable only with almost maxed heroes. Even my not that strong 5* almost maxed heroes barely stand against same colored enemy here. This levels costs 9 stamina and will rise back to 18 soon.

        And biggest problem. Feathers. As far as I understand, when you are playing decently (10k-30k ranking in arena without paying for orbs), you can obtain somewhere between 2k-4k per week (arena cycle). Which means 8 weeks (2 months) to gather 20k feathers to upgrade your 4* to 5*. Sure you can burn your 3* heroes for 150 feathers too. 4* for 300. One year from now, game wll introduce something like 6* I guess... πŸ™‚

        Hero drop rates are high for this type of game for sure, even if I have my opinion on this "random" generators, where as big companies hire army of developers/researchers, just to reinvent two lines of code. πŸ™‚

      • Shaun James Musgrave

        Granted, but in that respect it's hardly different from any other social RPG. I still can't envision any scenario where I spend more on FEH than the ~$160 FE Fates ended up costing with all the DLC.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        No doubt about it. That's why I call Fire Emblem Heroes "slightly better" and "relatively generous" f2p game.

        And I totally love controls! πŸ™‚

    • http://www.twitter.com/BB8orR2D2 David

      Orbs are worth $0.54 cents each if you purchase them, so a character pull is $2.70, going down to $1.62 when you spend 3 Orbs for your fifth pull in a series.

      The game gives you 160 Free Orbs in total... past that you'll need to pay money for them until new Story Chapters are added.