“Fire Emblem Heroes” follows the story of you, the player character, summoned into the Askran Kingdom to help a group called the Order of Heroes fight off their rivals, the Emblian Empire.
While the story may sound like it has a lot of exciting pomp and circumstance, it really winds up being one of the weaker parts of “Fire Emblem Heroes.” “Heroes” is the first push to bring Nintendo’s popular turn-based strategy RPG onto a mobile platform (iOS and Android). Its beautiful presentation, surprisingly deep combat system and audience-friendly free-to-play model shows just how well done a love letter to fans of a series can be crafted. The game readily invites both series’ veterans and newcomers to fall in love with “Fire Emblem’s” classic characters and gameplay.
Within the lore of the game’s world, the Askran royalty, Alfonse and Sharena, have the ability to open portals into the worlds of “Fire Emblem” games spanning across the series’ 27-year-long history. However, only the Emblian princess Veronica can close those portals. Her refusal to do so–as she hopes to recruit heroes for her evil schemes–is the reason the player’s character has been called to help.
Though the game draws from source material that often boasts impressive narrative arcs, the small cutscenes used in between battles come across more like a convenient excuse to set up a character collect-a-thon than a serious attempt at worldbuilding.
The characters the player can collect are truly the cornerstone that makes this game shine. Though only about six of the 14 main series “Fire Emblem” games appear as of the launch of “Heroes” on Feb. 2, each character receives an immaculate amount of care.
Not only have various artists been invited to create three full-scale portraits of each character in the game (an idle, fighting and weakened stance), but there are also pixel art sprites for each that look incredibly accurate. Each character has unique poses and different weapons to choose from during the game’s battles. The varied art styles don’t betray each character’s personalities, which are still seen through their one-liners and referential dialogue.
As far as the game’s presentation is concerned, one of the only serious stumbling blocks comes from the fact that the voice actors for each character aren’t the original actors. While this doesn’t make a difference for characters from games that didn’t feature voice acting, it does make using some characters from recent titles like “Awakening” and “Fates” a little jarring.
Unlike traditional “Fire Emblem” games, heroes do not permanently die when their health drops to zero in “Heroes.” Because of this, there’s no penalty for training characters and trying out team combinations to find new strategies.
The variety of characters and skills available to the player opens up “Fire Emblem Heroes” to having a complex and strategy-driven gameplay style similar to the original source materials, even though it’s simplified for a mobile format.
The crux of the combat in the game, which occurs primarily in story or training modes on battlefields as big as an 8-by-6 grid, involves choosing four heroes out of the player’s collection to go up against an army of 3 to 5 opposing units.
The characters you can choose fit into a “weapon triangle,” something common in the “Fire Emblem” series. In “Heroes,” red heroes beat green heroes, green heroes beat blue heroes and blue heroes beat red heroes. The system is important enough for players to remember that it’s constantly displayed in the lower right-hand corner of every battle.
Adding to the nostalgia factor of “Heroes,” each battlefield is a miniature representation of maps in the “Fire Emblem” games that “Heroes” currently draws from. An original song from the game that the map corresponds with also plays over the battle at hand.
Another combat option comes in the form of arena duels, which involve playing against a computer-controlled team that has been put together by other players as a part of multi-day seasons. At the end of each season, players are awarded with a certain amount of “hero feathers” depending on their performances, which can be used alongside badges found in the game to power up your characters.
The game has daily and monthly events that come across as a somewhat superficial way to extend interest in playing the game, but more often than not, they provide benefits like items and new characters that make repeat visits worth the time.
While “Heroes” is free to play, there are microtransactions that can be used within the game. For example, 20 orbs to summon a full set of five heroes can be bought for $13, and the stamina bar and arena duel tokens (called dueling swords) can be refilled by paying for different items.
However, none of the microtransactions are required to play, and the game offers enough chances to receive otherwise purchasable materials through story missions, events and quests so there isn’t a looming pressure to spend money.
If it succeeds at nothing else, “Fire Emblem Heroes” is a great entry-level game for the “Fire Emblem” series. It’s simple enough for new players to quickly get the hang of and small enough in scale to not seem overwhelming. However, it’s also deceptively complex enough that those who know the series likely won’t be bored thanks to the largely customizable strategizing players can take part in.
Couple this with the game’s permeating nostalgia for veterans, wonderful presentation of characters, maps and overall sound design, and the player-centric game polish Nintendo is known for and “Fire Emblem Heroes” becomes a mobile game that’s hard to put down … at least, until you run out of stamina.