An Interview with the Directors of ‘Fire Emblem Heroes’: On Events, Design Challenges, and the Possibility of ‘Advance Wars’ on Mobile

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With the arrival of the Choose Your Legends event in Fire Emblem Heroes (Free), we had a rare opportunity to speak with the game’s directors and ask them some questions. Most of the talk centered around the development of the game, with some extra questions to try to get at some of the team’s future plans for mobile. A big thank you to Nintendo of America for arranging this interview and facilitating it, and to Mr. Maeda and Mr. Matsushita for giving up their time to talk to us today. Before we get to the interview, I’d like to talk a little bit about the subjects.

Mr. Kouhei Maeda is from Intelligent Systems, the development team behind such famous franchises as Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Paper Mario, and Pushmo. Mr. Maeda in particular has worked on the scenarios for several Fire Emblem and Advance Wars games since the Game Boy Advance era. He also served as the co-director of Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, Fire Emblem Awakening, and Fire Emblem Fates. He takes a similar co-director position on Fire Emblem Heroes.

Mr. Shingo Matsushita is a planner from Nintendo of Japan and has worked on series such as Fossil Fighters, Style Savvy, and Xenoblade. His roles on those games were typically as director, assistant director, or sub-director. He also assisted with the development of Platinum Games’s Wii U titles The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2. He’s the other co-director on Fire Emblem Heroes.

TouchArcade (TA): Fire Emblem was Nintendo’s second mobile game releasing following Mario, which is a very big property. How was the decision made for Fire Emblem to take such a prominent position in the lineup?

Kouhei Maeda (KM): Taking the position as the second game was a little scary, and I’m not exactly sure how we ended up in this wonderful position. But I think when you look at Nintendo’s different franchises, the Fire Emblem series, the gameplay of the series fits well with mobile devices and mobile gameplay. When we started talking that this was going to be our (Intelligent Systems’) first mobile game, we looked at Fire Emblem and we thought that it seemed to be a good fit for mobile.

TA: I’m not sure if anyone present can answer this, but did the response to Super Mario Run affect anything about the design of Fire Emblem Heroes? I know it was well into production by then, but did anything change from that?

Shingo Matsushita (SM): It had no effect at all! Actually, development on Fire Emblem Heroes started before Super Mario Run, and we kind of stuck with our development plan. So it really didn’t affect us.

TA: What were some of the challenges in adapting Fire Emblem for mobile?

KM: When you think about the Fire Emblem franchise, you’ve got that hardcore strategic gameplay, and when you think about games on smart devices, generally you’re thinking about something that’s quick, that’s light, that’s easy. But if we were going to bring Fire Emblem to mobile, we really couldn’t lose what was important about Fire Emblem, that strategic gameplay. That was going to be the big challenge for us. So we took a few months and tried different things and experimented. That kind of got us to where we are.

TA: Fire Emblem Heroes, I think, has been really successful. Did the response to the game surprise you in any way?

KM: Yes, it was kind of surprising to see that people are that passionate about Fire Emblem all around the world.

SM: It was really surprising to experience again just how many people really love the Fire Emblem franchise. This really feeds our development team and gives them a lot of energy.

TA: Fire Emblem Heroes uses a lot of familiar social RPG elements like stamina meters, gatcha-style draws, and friendlists. But I think it uses them in unusual ways. For example, the stamina meter doesn’t increase based on a player level, it’s fixed for everyone. The gatcha has that unique system of being able to choose from a group and draw the rest at a lower and lower cost. What was the thinking behind subverting the normal ways of using these systems?

SM: When we started work on development for Fire Emblem Heroes, with it being a smart device game we did look at other smart device games on the market. So of course it does carry over some of the same essence of smart device games. But one thing that makes Fire Emblem Heroes a bit different is that we were thinking about how we could make the best experience for the player. For example, when you’re looking at the characters, it’s nice for the player if they can get the ones that they really want. Especially with Fire Emblem, as I’m sure you know, there are a lot of characters from the series that people have strong attachments to. We also want players to get to know all of these different characters, so by using a summoning mechanic where you don’t know what you’re going to get, that’s also kind of interesting. I guess what I want to say is, we want to make a game that the player finds interesting. So when we’re developing, we’re always thinking about how we can do that.

TA: Fire Emblem Heroes has gotten a lot of really great updates since it released. Lots of new modes, lots of new play types, lots of new rules have been added through these updates. What I want to know is if all of these modes and play types were planned from the start, or were any of these a response to what players were asking for after the game’s release?

KM: The majority of the updates are probably content based on looking at user feedback. Of course we had a basic plan, but as we started to look at the feedback that the players were sending in, we began work on new modes and new features that went along with that.

SM: As an example, you can look at the Arena. The Arena rules and different parts of the Arena changed based on player feedback, and even the additional mode we added, the Arena Assault, wasn’t something that was originally planned. That was included based on the feedback that we were getting from players.

TA: With regards to the Choose Your Legends event, it’s based on polls that were conducted before the game was out about people’s favorite characters. I think those polls were collected worldwide. Did the final results surprise you at all with regards to which characters were popular?

KM: Some of the results were expected, and some of them were very unexpected. For example, Dorcas from Blazing Blade was one character that we didn’t expect to rank so highly. But you know, hearing that information, hearing what characters the fans feel are their favorites, that’s really good info for us.

SM: We did not expect Lyn to get first place. We knew that Lucina was very popular, but we never expected Lucina to lose to Lyn. One other thing we noticed is that characters from the Game Boy Advance era tended to be popular, and that was a little unexpected. Also, because the final results were a little unexpected, it also meant that development for the Choose Your Legends characters took a bit more time than expected.

TA: That’s interesting. Yes, Lyn is very popular among Western fans. So for both you, do you have any personal favorites among the heroes?

KM: Playing Heroes, I’ve grown to love Ephraim from Sacred Stones. I’ve been working on making my Ephraim much stronger, and by using him so much I’ve come to love him quite a bit. What I think is so great about playing a Fire Emblem game is that you do grow to love the characters.

SM: I’m working on trying to get a +10 Effie. Since Amelia came out, I can really use Effie in the Arena (Shaun’s note: Amelia gives some great bonuses to armored characters like Effie when she stands beside them). I can go all out using Effie now, thanks to Amelia.

TA: There have been lots of summoning events, with lots of new ones arriving all the time. I think just about every game in the series, except maybe Thracia 776, has had a summoning event. With all of these games having had their summoning event focus, what’s the plan for getting people excited about future events?

SM: There are still characters from the Fire Emblem series that haven’t arrived yet, ones that the fans frequently ask us for. So we’d like to think about the requests from the fans and give those characters a little time in the spotlight. On the other hand, we know that the fans have really responded positively to some of the special seasonal summoning events that we’ve had like the Spring Festival or the recent swimsuit events. Fans are asking for those special outfits for characters that they like, so we have much, much more planned. We hope everyone looks forward to it!

TA: Since I’ve got someone from Nintendo and someone from Intelligent Systems here, I have to ask. With Fire Emblem‘s success on mobile, is there any chance at all of seeing a mobile Advance Wars game in a similar style?

SM: It’s not a zero percent chance, but we would need to think about what would be the right idea and the right concept for bringing Advance Wars to mobile. Of course, that’s stuff that we really have to think on. It would really give us a lot of encouragement and energy if we heard from the fans that they want it. So please keep asking for it and tell us what you’d like to see!

TA: I probably already know the answer to this question, but here goes: Nintendo does Virtual Console services on their own systems and hardware, and many of the past Fire Emblem games are available through that service. Now, I know a lot of games that are originally played with buttons aren’t a good fit for mobile, but is there any chance of the classic Fire Emblem games getting a Virtual Console-style release on mobile?

SM: The Fire Emblem Heroes team doesn’t really have any insight into the plans for Virtual Console, so we really don’t have an answer we can give you at this time.

TA: Okay, thanks. I had to ask, lots of our readers are interested in it. One last question, this time about the mechanics of Fire Emblem Heroes. Some of the players feel that the sizes of the stages are a little on the small side and it’s kind of hurting the variety. Are there any plans or ideas of maybe making larger stage sizes at some point, or is this going to continue with how it’s been set?

KM: As for the map sizes, we feel like what we have now is the optimal size for smart devices, but we are always thinking about what’s going to be fun or what’s going to add variety to the game. So we’re not really thinking just about variety through map sizes, but bringing variety to the entire game.

TA: Well, that’s all the questions I had. Thank you so much for your time. If you have any final message you want to give to our readers, feel free to do so now.

KM: We’ll continue to look at user feedback and work on the game, so we’d like to thank everyone for their continued support.

SM: Thanks for thinking about the Advance Wars series as well, and supporting that series as well as Fire Emblem.

TA: Thank you so much.

Well, there you have it. I’d like to once again extend gracious thanks to the staff of Nintendo of America, Nintendo of Japan, and Intelligent Systems for giving us their valuable time. Now, let’s start ringing the lunch bell for Advance Wars, everyone!

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