There were a lot of questions on everyone’s minds back when Nintendo first announced that they’d be entering the mobile game scene. Would we see a truly massively-multiplayer Pokemon? (Yes, kind of.) Would Mario show up? (Sure did.) What other franchises would Nintendo bring to our phones and tablets? Well, along with Super Mario Run, Pokémon Go, and whatever Miitomo was supposed to be, we’ve now got legendary strategy-RPG Fire Emblem on our phones with Fire Emblem Heroes, and it’s…well, it’s really interested in your cash.
Let’s get the most important part of this review out of the way first: Fire Emblem Heroes is a “gachapon”-styled mobile game. If you’re not familiar with the concept, this means that the characters you use ingame will almost all be obtained by spending Orbs on a sort of slot machine. While you get some Orbs for free by playing the game, they can only be obtained in significant quantities with real money, meaning that this is a drastically different experience in terms of cash outlay than any of the other Nintendo mobile games so far. Hero summoning isn’t an especially generous process; if you’re the kind of person who has to have the best of the best in games, you can expect to spend a significant amount of dinero on a powerful team. Naturally, beloved Fire Emblem heroes like Marth and Lucina are some of the rarer and more powerful prizes.
As is standard for this sort of game, the quality of the heroes you end up with has a significant effect on your experience with the game. Lucky players who draw a bunch of high-end units right from the start are going to find a significant portion of Fire Emblem Heroes to be a cake walk, while less lucky or rich players will have to struggle a bit more. The game’s player-vs.-player options highlight this discrepancy, with extra-rare heroes proving vital to success. While Heroes’ implementation of this system isn’t quite as predatory as some other games, it’s still hard to deny that you can pay to win the game to some extent, and that’s bound to put some players off.
Heroes’ gameplay is a boiled-down version of the series’ traditional grid-based strategy format. Move your units around and make them beat up enemies, then repeat until you’re satisfied, keeping in mind the sacred Weapon Triangle rock-paper-scissors system that governs the life and death of Fire Emblem units; don’t have your lancer attack an axeman if you know what’s good for you, in other words. Units have special skills they can use to improve their combat prowess, and thankfully Heroes lacks the permanent-death mechanic that typifies the Fire Emblem series to many players.
Generally speaking this is an easier game than the main-series titles, due in no small part to the much smaller maps that each stage takes place on. Completing maps unlocks more maps as well as more difficult map variations; Heroes only really comes into its own as a strategy game in this more difficult format, since it’s otherwise possible to have the game’s auto-battle option handle most of the fighting for you.
Something ought to be said for how the game looks and feels. While the super-deformed aesthetic used during battle might not appeal to all players, it’s impossible to deny that some love was put into making Fire Emblem Heroes look great on both iOS and Android. On the sound side, you’ve got voice acting and music that fit the Fire Emblem series as expected. It’s certainly the sort of premium mobile experience you’d expect from one of Nintendo’s most prominent franchises, though this also means that the game features a lengthy secondary download and install shortly after the tutorial.
Heroes isn’t terrible if you’re looking for a cute bus-ride or lunch-break version of Fire Emblem. It certainly scratches that itch better than the more strategically intense 3DS games, and you can expect to finish most maps in five to ten minutes even without using auto-battle. This is also a very polished game, especially by mobile standards, and you’re sure to find it a pleasure to play.
At the same time, the Hero Summon system can be frustrating and expensive, especially if you’ve got a favorite Fire Emblem character and the game just plain refuses to give them to you. The gameplay can also be a little too easy to hold series veterans’ attention, but it’s pretty clear the game is meant more for beginners (at least, to snag as many converts as possible). Bottom line: if you’re willing to take what Fire Emblem Heroes dishes out, it makes for a nice distraction. Those seasoned gamers looking for some depth might want to look elsewhere…especially if they don’t have a ton of cash to throw at Nintendo’s growing mobile empire.