Small-Scale Strategy

Hot on the heels of Super Mario Run and Miitomo, Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo’s third big mobile offering. The Fire Emblem franchise has come a long way to earn this spot. Though the first entry shipped on the Famicom back in 1990, the first Western release was 2003’s Fire Emblem (a.k.a. The Blazing Blade), the seventh game. Thanks to the success of Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, the series has gained acclaim both inside and outside Japan. Fire Emblem Heroes is an attempt to capitalize on FE’s growing popularity, and it does so with simplified turn-based strategy and a costly hero-summoning system.

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No Fire Emblem crossover game would be complete without Marth.

Unlike other Fire Emblem games, FEH is light on story. Prince Alfonse and Princess Sharena of the Askr Kingdom must fight against the opposing Emblian Empire. Along the way, they visit different worlds from the series’ universe and battle their armies. Each chapter consists of the same premise: the world’s characters oppose you, then recognize your strength after you defeat them. It’s a far cry from the series’ intricate storylines and character development, which are usually what compel me to finish these games. As it is, this story is forgettable fluff. As an upside, the tale doesn’t appear to be complete as of this review, so perhaps the story could improve in updated chapters.

At least the classic turn-based strategy gameplay returns in FEH—sort of. The game’s mechanics are simplified for the mobile platform. You take turns moving your heroes on a grid to attack the opposing army’s units, just on a much smaller scale. Instead of large maps filled with dozens of enemies, FEH features two armies of four dueling on 6×8 grids. Missions end within minutes, which is perfect for the on-the-go phone gamer. Each unit is limited to two spaces of travel. Skillfully outmaneuvering enemies and navigating around map obstacles can prove tricky, especially if you’re outnumbered. Once your unit reaches an enemy, you can see how much damage each character will inflict, then decide if you wish to carry out the assault. This continues until one army is completely defeated.

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Good old strategy RPG gameplay

The iconic weapon triangle is also in full-force here. Red units (swords, red tome magic users, etc.) have an advantage over green units (axes, etc.), who outdo blue (lances, etc.), who in turn do well against red. Meanwhile, colorless units have no weaknesses or strengths. Ranged fighters, flying opponents, and enemy counterattacks are also important to consider. Essentially, the series’ core parts survived the transition to mobile.

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Multiple gigantic swords – unofficial strongest in the weapon triangle.

There are numerous missing elements from the main games, for better or for worse. Paired units? No. Support between units? Nope. Items? Nada. You can’t choose where each unit starts on the map. Even critical hits and misses are absent, though you could argue that removal of random elements is a good thing. There is one mechanic that I’m glad is gone, especially since heroes are hard to come by: the series’ notorious permanent death. If your units fall in battle, they won’t keep any experience points, but they thankfully won’t disappear forever. Between the smaller maps and the removal of certain mechanics, FEH serves its mobile audience and provides a fun, accessible entry point into the series. But in the process, the game has been stripped of the parts that made it unique. As a result, the gameplay becomes stale after the initial high.

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Here’s why Lon’qu was so desirable in the Nintendo Direct.

There are a few modes outside the main story. You can play practice maps in the Training Tower to level up your heroes or attempt a continuously changing array of Special Maps to earn rewards. In particular, the latter features some difficult challenges in which you cannot let anyone fall in battle. By far, the most interesting mode is the Arena, in which you face off against computer-controlled versions of real players’ teams. The drawback is that you’re limited to dueling three times a day. Additionally, the unbalanced power between units is quite apparent here. For instance, the character Takumi is notorious for being an overpowered bow-user who can counter at both far- and close-range. If you want to do well in the rankings, you’ll need teams that specifically counter these prevalent units. Due to these unfair advantages, winning boils down to having a strong team as opposed to playing strategically.

The difficulty is otherwise easier than traditional FE games for the most part. In Normal and Hard difficulties, the computer’s AI is somewhat predictable and lured fairly easily. Once you reach Lunatic difficulty, you may hit a wall. If your maximum level units can’t even dent your opponents’ armor, you may have no other choice but to rebuild your team. This is much easier said than done, since FEH is also a “gacha” game.

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Gacha catch ’em all!

“Gacha” refers to a game style prevalent in Japan where you pay in-game currency to receive a randomized prize. In FEH, you pay orbs to get playable units that are categorized by colors (weapon type) and stars (strength potential). When you decide to summon a hero, you are presented with five random colors. You can choose which color to summon from, but you have no control over which character or what star ranking you receive. You’ll likely want to pull someone from the highest ranking five-star pool, but they have a very low chance of appearing. Even then, not all five-star heroes are created equal. And though four-star units can be strong, they may not carry you through the toughest maps.

The problem lies in how you get the orbs. Early on, in what could be called the “honeymoon phase,” you can earn over a hundred orbs by completing story chapters. The game also offers free orbs upon daily log-in. However, aside from a few special maps and rare rewards, orbs quickly become scarce. There is one option left: you can purchase orbs with real-world money. While it’s unsurprising for the game to ask for your money, the gacha system rarely pays off. It costs five orbs for one summon, though that number goes down for subsequent summons performed in the same session. The minimum 20 orbs for a full five-hero-summoning session costs roughly US$13, and you are essentially gambling for random prizes. It’s exciting to get lucky and pull your favorite characters, but it’s frustrating when you sacrifice hard-earned orbs, only to receive mediocre units.

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Though I’m critical of the gacha system, I got pretty lucky here!

At the very least, summoning isn’t necessary to beat the game if you put some work into enhancing your own units. You can boost a unit’s strength regardless of its star ranking. By defeating enemies, your character level up their stats and skill points (SP), which can be used to upgrade weapons and learn unique game-changing skills. You even have the opportunity to unlock a unit’s potential and increase its star ranking, though the cost is astronomical. To upgrade a four-star into a five-star unit, you must pay a separate in-game currency – 20,000 feathers. Putting it in perspective, the easiest way to gain feathers is through winning in the arena, which only pays a couple thousand each week.

As if the gacha system weren’t enough, FEH has a stamina meter that just screams mobile game. You have a total of 50 stamina points, which deplete when you play a map. Your stamina continually recharges every five minutes, so early maps that cost one or two stamina won’t be a hassle. During the early honeymoon period, you can easily plow through multiple chapters of five maps each. But once you get to later chapters on higher difficulties, the game screeches to a halt. You might blow almost half of your stamina on one difficult map. If you can’t beat it within two tries, you’ll have to wait another few hours just to attempt it again.

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As maps get harder, stamina becomes an issue.

At the end of it all, despite my criticisms, the app itself is rather solid. While I’m not a fan of the gacha mechanics, FEH is admittedly cheap compared to the competition. As far as mobile games go, FEH is comparatively polished. I didn’t experience any bugs. The menus load quickly, and the user interface is intuitive. The app’s castle area is a great hub for reading announcements and talking to your friends’ heroes. Since you’ll likely be playing in short, intermittent bursts, FEH is fair in terms of using data and battery life. Though be aware that you need to be connected online to play. Completing specific missions, such as beating a certain level with a bow-user, adds replayability and offers good rewards. The game is fairly generous with items that boost your playtime, though it’s easy to hit a wall hours in. By that point, even if you stopped playing, it’s a solid several hours of a free game with traditional Fire Emblem mechanics.

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Special abilities are a treat to watch!

The visuals are eye candy, especially if you are a fan of the franchise’s anime artstyle. The designs are inconsistent due to different artists, but most of the characters’ reimaginings look good. There are multiple portraits for each character based on their attack and critical condition stances. On the map, units are represented with cute in-game spritework, and the super-deformed battle animations are appealing to the eye. The music is top-notch, borrowing from the mainline entries’ wonderful soundtracks. Finally, each character has a small repertoire of voice samples. While they sound great, get used to hearing a lot of “Ready,” “Yes,” and “On it” during a single play session.

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Settle it in Fire Emblem!

Conclusion

If you’ve always wanted to try out Fire Emblem, this free, streamlined version is a great start. You’ll probably be less inclined to gamble your money away for units if you’re not familiar with the characters. It’s a harder sell for hardcore Fire Emblem veterans who may not like the simplified strategy mechanics, unbalanced units, low pay-off summoning system, or lackluster story. To the game’s credit, the very basic strategy gameplay is still intact, and the quick skirmishes work well for phone gamers. As with Super Mario Run, Nintendo did a good job translating core tenets of Fire Emblem to the mobile market. With continual updates, Nintendo can potentially continue to improve the experience for both early adopters and newcomers.

Score: 7/10

Note: Version 1.0.0 on the iPhone was used for this review.

What are your thoughts on Fire Emblem Heroes? Are you a fan of the Fire Emblem series? Who are your favorite and most-used units? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below! Thank you for reading!

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42 thoughts on “Fire Emblem Heroes (Mobile) Review

  1. Reblogged this on Miketendo64! The Place To Go For Anything Nintendo and commented:

    Hey everyone! Mr. Panda here, with a review of the free-to-play Fire Emblem Heroes, available on iOS and Android! It’s a divisive game, combining the tactical RPG gameplay of the Fire Emblem series with what is essentially gambling for heroes you want. Find out what I thought of this long-running series’ transition to mobile in my review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I’ve known about the Fire Emblem series for a while but never really got into it. Not until FE Heroes, that is. It was actually kinda nice being introduced to a simplified battle mechanic and weapon triad. I soon found myself playing the app consistently. And then I asked myself: why don’t I play real Fire Emblem? I have since begun FE Awakening and am totally hooked! It’s ironic that this mobile game was my gateway drug into the franchise, lol. The app has a lot of momentum in the beginning with the easier maps, but it certainly drags by the end. My team currently isn’t strong enough to beat the last map of the final chapter, even though I have a 5-star Takumi! I use up all my stamina pretty quickly…and then go back to Awakening. It’s not as easy to level up characters in the Training Hall as I had hoped. And summoning random characters when all I really want is Chrom is rather frustrating. It takes days just to build up enough orbs. That said, it’s still a lot of fun and it introduced me to the real deal, so I appreciate Heroes for what it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a bunch as always! And yes, I am well aware of your addiction to Fire Emblem Awakening (admit it). 😛 I’m glad that you enjoyed Fire Emblem Heroes though! It’s a game that actually works to introduce newcomers into the franchise. As someone who’s played every Western release of Fire Emblem, Heroes was a good, basic version. But once the honeymoon period of orbs was over, I did lose interest. I still play it everyday, but I don’t find myself having as much fun as I used to. It’s okay though, because I had a good time with this, and it was free! I’m not a fan of gacha, even though I ironically like trading cards. It seems like a scheme, even though I know it’s just an attempt to monetize the otherwise free game. Power to the people who do pay money for this game. Although I wouldn’t, it does seem fun, sort of like the lottery. Shame you’re having trouble with your 5-Star Takumi, though you should be glad you at least have one, haha! Anyway, I hope you at least enjoy Awakening (even though I already know you’re so addicted to it). I hope you someday get Chrom in Heroes! Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK, I admit I’m addicted to FE Awakening. But it never would’ve happened unless I played Heroes first! Now that I have tasted the real thing, I see how different Heroes really is. I’m not much for gambling, so I don’t like gacha either. If I’m gonna pay real money for something, then I want exactly what I paid for, not some random surprise. Sure, I’m lucky to have a 5-star Takumi, but you’re the one who pulled TWO 5-start Takumis and a 5-star Camilla in the same session! If only it were possible to trade heroes… Anyways, it’s time to go back to Awakening, so gotta go. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

      2. At least you admit it. 😛 But either way, I’m glad that Fire Emblem Heroes reached you in such a great way. I think that’s its best quality, attracting newcomers with a streamlined strategy game. I’m obviously not a fan of gacha, but I know it has a following, especially in Japan. Going back to the trading cards thing, I think I’m fine with that mostly because at least I get the physical product whereas here you get a digital hero that won’t get use if it’s not good. I actually love your idea of trading heroes. I mean, people trade the real capsule toys from real-life gachapon machines. Why not be able to trade digital heroes? And while we’re on that topic, I wish they would finally add trading in Pokemon GO, haha! Have fun playing Awakening! I can’t wait to hear what you think when you beat it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Another awesome review! 🙂

    I’m not happy to read this game is light on the story. I loved the story elements in the traditional Fire Emblems I’ve played. I also cringed a bit when I read about that awful mobile game stamina mechanic. Even with those two shortcomings, I do plan to try it out someday. I think I mentioned this in your Super Mario Run review, but I test cell phones as a job so I don’t really like looking at phones in my spare time, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thank you so much! I truly appreciate it! 🙂 It’s such a shame that Heroes has such a basic, light story. It’s so forgettable that I had trouble remembering what it was about when I wrote this. I would have liked some kind of worldbuilding where characters from different series talk to each other. I would have even liked some in-jokes between characters from different universes. Instead, we have a very simple world tour type of story. It’s not even as well-developed as the first Kingdom Hearts. At least in KH, there’s a complete tale in each Disney World.

      The stamina mechanic is indeed cringeworthy. If the game had just stamina or just gacha, I might have been okay with it. But the combination of the two means it takes a long time to get anywhere, at least after the initial honeymoon period. I know that there are fans of gacha games, and for those that get into it, more power to them. I admit to enjoying getting good pulls, but once I stopped getting anything good, I started to lose interest. I do think it’s worth a try, considering it’s free, and I hope you enjoy it! I did have fun with this, despite what this review may sound like. I just have criticisms of how this game was presented.

      You did mention that you test cell phones, so I hope you can still enjoy looking at a phone after a long day, haha! Thanks again for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The mobile app looks pretty solid. I just finished reading this review. Although I have not played the game yet judging from the youtube gameplay trailer it looks like a decent Fire Emblem addition. The animated picture before attacking and the shaking of the screen does do a decent job of keeping me interested. I do wish the player knew what they were buying before actually getting it, “the gacha” part is the only thing I would change especially because what I get, may be not what I need. Is there a cap for how much can be spent?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for checking out my review! It’s decent, for sure. Don’t get me wrong. The basic gameplay of Fire Emblem is still pretty good, though it’s a far cry from what veterans of the series have come to expect. Regardless, if you don’t mind that, then you’ll have fun with the gameplay itself. The gacha mechanic is also my least favorite part of the app, however. I’d pay to get a specific hero I want, but I’m not big on gambling for a random hero, especially when there are so many bad ones.

      That’s a good question! According to the game’s FAQ, you can only have up to 999 orbs. The highest amount of orbs you can buy at one time is 140 orbs, which cost US$74.99. I assume you’d be able to keep buying orbs until you would exceed 999. That equals a hefty amount of cash!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not sure if I’ll be checking this game out, but I’m glad it exists, as it is getting even more people interested in the series. It’s really cool watching it become more successful as the years have gone on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely wouldn’t blame you for avoiding this one. It’s not for everyone, and the pay structure and summoning systems are overall more annoying than it is exciting. I’m glad that it exists too. It’s a testament for how far the series has come. If you think about it, people have to appreciate the characters in the series enough to want to buy them. Good for Fire Emblem!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Three five stars, including two Takumis? I’m guessing you sold your soul to the devil when doing that summon 🙂

    I’m enjoying this game a lot, even if the absence of support cut scenes is disappointing. I too wish you could position your units prior to a battle. In one level my axe user was trapped in a room with a sword wielding boss. I was not amused.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! The funny thing is, I was jealous of my wife who had gotten Takumi first. Then when I started this ridiculous summoning session, I got a Takumi and showed it off to her. Then suddenly, I got Camilla (my second one, by the way) and then a second Takumi, and laughed so hard. I’m not a fan of the gacha system, but darn it if I’m somewhat lucky with it, hahaha.

      Support conversations are some of my favorite parts of any Fire Emblem. It gives characterization to my units and make me feel like they’re all one big family (of fighters). Without it, my characters are like lifeless fighting robots. The weak story doesn’t do them any favors either. Not being able to position fighters is silly, particularly in those separated-room levels. It kind of reiterates the point of unit strength over strategy. “If your unit is good, it shouldn’t matter where they are.” That’s just not true, and that disappoints me. I suppose you could technically change their position by memorizing their positions, surrendering, changing their order in the units screen, then wasting stamina to try again with the correct positioning. I sighed out loud while writing that sentence…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Initially I didn’t want to give this a chance being a mobile game, but I’ve been hearing so much about it, not that it’s amazing or anything, that I just had to try it. Again I’m not blown away by it but it’s kinda fun every now and then. I personally hate pay to progress, but i think this game balances things well enough that I can easily go through the story without needing to buy anything and the game is not overly difficult.

    The artwork is cool, the high res character paintings/pictures look great, even if they are just eye candy. I do find it humorour when Marth is presented as your foe and being the enemy at that time, he looks so damn happy and cheery, but whatever.

    The summoning is cool as it’s showing me all sorts of FE characters that intrigue me that I’ve never seen, I’ve only ever played awakening so this is cool to me. I see this game as something for Nintendo to really just push the FE name out there, which is fine, the more it sells the more FE games we get so i think in the end the true fans really win from this.

    Again cool game, i’m surprised that i’m actually enjoying it from time to time, oh and not to mention, if you have it linked to your my nintendo account, you are able to cash in points for rewards as discounts for Nintendo games from time to time. Not the best deals out there compared to other platforms, but seeing as nintendo never puts their games on sales, i’ll take anything!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your awesome comments! I wasn’t expecting too much from FEH either, and the result is honestly better than I would have initially thought. I don’t really like pay-to-win and clearly don’t like gacha. All things considered, it’s a pretty decent game. You’re right. It doesn’t blow me away like Awakening or Fates did. But it doesn’t have to. It does its job of presenting a streamlined FE game that pushes the name out there.

      I’m very happy that you enjoy the art and characters! One of the series’ strength is its rich array of characters, and most of them look great. The art does them justice, and the random draws do embellish the characters.

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the game, in general! I like the game and still play it daily, despite my criticisms of its mechanics. And yes, you can get discounts for Nintendo games with My Nintendo! I unfortunately (or fortunately) have all of the games that My Nintendo has to offer, so I usually just let the coins pile up. But thanks for reminding me about it! My Nintendo is definitely a big part of these mobile games, and I look forward to see what they do with it for future games. Thanks again for your comments!

      Like

  8. 20,000 Feathers? In this economy?!?! Looks interesting, but I’d probably be more inclined to try Super Mario Run first. Still, I admire the ambition Nintendo’s showing with these mobile games. Nice review too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know it sounds outrageous, but yes, 20,000 big ones. Forget Starbucks this week. You’re going to be blowing those feathers on Fire Emblem. I don’t even want to know how many birds suffer as a result of this game.

      If I’m correct, you haven’t yet played any Fire Emblem? Since Super Mario Run isn’t out on Android yet, I would recommend this as the Nintendo mobile title because it provides a good introduction to newcomers. You wouldn’t have to worry about the gacha system either if you were content with the heroes they give you. Either way, Nintendo is making some serious moves in the mobile market, and I’m interested to see where they run with their next game. Thanks a bunch for reading and commenting! Let me know what you think if you try any of these mobile games!

      Like

  9. I’ve been wary to try out this or Super Mario Run given the letdown of Pokemon GO, but perhaps I’ll give them a try. I really dont like the Stamina mechanic you mentioned, but I can get past that if the game is solid overall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As far as gameplay goes, Fire Emblem Heroes’ is better than Pokemon GO’s. I found the latter more fun though for its originality and comparative ease of collecting everything. As someone who likes to collect as much as I can in a game, the paywall is a huge detriment in FEH. Although the normal and hard difficulties shouldn’t be a problem to get through, lunatic and the arena are dependent on you having the right units. That said, the game is otherwise solid as I talked about in my review. Between Super Mario Run and FEH, I would start with the latter since it’s free. I’d love to hear what you think if you try it out! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! If you’re open to trying it and are not familiar with the characters, I think this will be great for you! The characters look great and have such varied beautiful artstyles. So any pull would be a great choice. And it’s free to try, so there isn’t much risk. I’d love to know what you think if you decide to get it! Thanks again for your kind words! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It does look like a beautiful game! I am definitely open to trying new things, and I think from a newbie standpoint, it’s probably better that I don’t know many of the characters! And you are welcome, I always love reading your reviews! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Aw thank you so much! That means a lot to me! 🙂 The characters are always my favorite part of Fire Emblem games. While I’m glad that so many are represented so beautifully in Heroes, I’m disappointed that their characterization doesn’t truly shine here. I can see newcomers get excited about the characters and want to know more about them though. My wife started playing Fire Emblem Awakening because she was so interested in the characters from Heroes. Now she’s actually very hooked on the game. It makes me laugh so much, and I’m so happy she’s enjoying it a lot. I definitely have Heroes to thank for that!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I know, right? I’m very happy that she got into it and did not expect it at all. Fire Emblem Heroes helped ease her into it with its streamlined system. It also helped that she got lucky and rolled characters that she was interested in! Nintendo’s strategy to garner new Fire Emblem fans is clearly working!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Your review is seriously on point!! I’ve been playing FE Heroes since launch and absolutely loving it. Agreed it is really a watered down version of the main line games but I think being a huge fan is what attracts me to it over and over again. ESPECIALLY due to the fact that I can summon and use characters from across the franchise.

    Nintendo’s really been putting a lot into the game recently though with regular updates and even events so things are starting to look good 🙂

    Once again, amazing review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate your glowing comments! 😀 I still log in, though I haven’t played much since the Switch launched. I think FE Heroes looks better with all the new bells and whistles. It’s still a watered down version, but it is appealing and has found an audience, which is awesome. If I could pay extra orbs for a more definitive chance at a character I liked, I think I would have a more positive impression. But as it is now, the gacha system is not for me, at least here. Now if they made a Zelda Heroes or something along those lines… Hmm…

      Thank you again for your awesome comments! I’m happy you’re enjoying FE Heroes! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This is the only review I’ve looked into for this game. Sounds like I could actually play it for free rather than demo it for fee like Super Mario Run. But… I don’t know if I can take on another daily game at the moment. Though it WOULD give me something to spend my ridiculous surplus of platinum My Nintendo coins on…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. FE Heroes is certainly beatable without getting the best heroes or paying for it. It doesn’t stand out as far as daily games though, unless you like Fire Emblem. Though you are right that spending platinum coins on this works well! I got some nice bonuses from My Nintendo.

      Like

      1. I’m unfamiliar with Fire Emblem outside of Smash Bros so there’s not nostalgia to pull me in. I just have so much to juggle daily for games like that… I’m not sure I could do more. As far as My Nintendo rewards… I honestly feel like the past half a year or so has been really sad. They started out offering full games for gold points and discounts for platinum. Now it seems like all you can get are discounts, backgrounds, and stuff for the mobile games. I’ve got 40 gold points that are going to be wasted because they won’t put out something I can use. I guess it’s dickish to complain about freebies but it could be so much more.

        Liked by 1 person

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