Nintendo can make things that are either really, really good, or really, really bad. On the not-so-great end of the spectrum, we got the Wii U which sold a paltry 13 million units across its lifetime. On the amazing side of the spectrum, we got the Nintendo Switch and monsters like the Nintendo DS, 3DS, and Wii, which have become powerhouses. In recent years, Nintendo moved into the mobile gaming world, and with the titles they’ve launched, there have been similar patterns. Nintendo’s social app Miitomo has kind of crashed and burned. There was a little later down the line Fire Emblem Heroes, more on that in a second, and then Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing, to me, didn’t really capture the charm of the series as much as I would have desired. Fire Emblem Heroes, though, is literally a home run. It’s interesting that while the gaming industry raves about the Nintendo Switch, myself included, it’s forgotten to talk more about a title that’s in the Nintendo narrative as well, a little gem called Fire Emblem Heroes.
Ever since I got my mitts on a smartphone, mobile gaming was always there. There was originally Puzzle and Dragons, then to Brave Frontier, over to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, and now, Fire Emblem Heroes and (sort of) on the side, Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia. Fire Emblem Heroes is a remarkable and underrated gem which has a lot more complexity built into its game play. It still manages to feel like classic Fire Emblem while being its own standalone game at the same time, going well beyond the simple “rock paper scissors” formula, with the key being that it’s still easy enough to pick up anytime, anywhere.
Built on the “gacha” gambling system, the game introduces periodic summoning banners for new units from the franchise, and some seasonal units that mostly ended up from the Fire Emblem Fates and Awakening crew. The series has an immense history, from back in pixel era permadeath to, nowadays, fully-3D waifus that we can pet on our screens and “ship” with. For a game that utilizes the “gacha” gambling system, it does remarkably well, notably because Intelligent Systems does an excellent job providing ample amounts of in-game premium currency, orbs, much more so than any other game that I’ve played to date. From events that are literally stacked on just to hand out orbs, to new story chapters, missions, and monthly quests, the chances to go after that hero of choice are great. With the game at a decent 3% chance to roll the focus hero, and sometimes 8% for the legendary summoning banner, they’re bound to have pulled in a lot of money.
How much money did Fire Emblem Heroes pull in thus far? In just their first year, they’ve pulled in a pretty hot $300 million from in-app purchases, and won the award for Mobile Game of the Year at the 2018 DICE awards, sitting nicely with Breath of the Wild and a slew of other Nintendo titles that night. Their winning secret is not only their generosity, but for an incredibly well-designed game that still manages to provide plenty of tricks for even the most “whale” heavy players. From a user interface that is incredibly simple and provides the necessary information to the player, to menus that are easy to navigate, there’s plenty to praise about Heroes. What also can be praised are the artworks for the characters, which range from incredible (Ephraim, Legendary Lord comes immediately to mind) to incredibly unique (Arthur from Fire Emblem Fates). These artwork models have done an incredible job at fueling the nostalgia of seeing some of my favorite heroes come back, all in one place. I grew up on Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade when it came out on the GameBoy Advance all those years ago, and seeing Hector, Lyn, and Eliwood all together here is pretty cool, I have to say… even if Eliwood’s eyes are haunted looking. Combine it with the fact that the game even plays music from the appropriate era without remixing the tracks over.
So, I mentioned that the game is already well-designed. How so? Let’s dig a little further. Fire Emblem Heroes created this system of inheriting skills, where you can feed one hero to another and transfer up to three skills over. Characters already had skill sets to learn and master on their own, but when the Inheritance system rolled out, it opened up a flood gate of potential combinations that could be applied, giving even garbage heroes a chance to become top-tier. Let’s look at the story of Alm, the protagonist of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. When he first released on a brutally punishing week alongside Celica (also from Echoes) he was completely average. The inheritance system did little to save him this time around, until the game unveiled its new Weapon Refinery hub, which allowed select heroes to upgrade their weapons to stronger versions. Alm’s weapon literally jumped him from entirely average to a premier Dragon/Manakete slayer overnight. It’s these constant new features that makes the game so refreshing to play, and that’s not even going into the content. The units can all synergize in different ways, unless your name is Raigh. If your name is Raigh you can go pound sand. On the extreme end, you can have units that are so entirely broken that they become critical staples to any team, like the Brave Lyn who released as a Choose Your Legend hero unit, which the game even recommends choosing to new players, or you can be Reinhardt, who became a god-tier, S-rank unit because he was just so overpowered and accidentally made fairly easy to obtain.
The content has been great but not without its share of dry spells. From Arena battles to events like Tempest Trials, which are literally free orbs and character-raising sprees, there’s something in here for the beginner to the most advanced players who are hungry for more challenges. One of the things I’ve learned is that even with the premier units, I can still get my butt handed to me because I went into a challenge unprepared. These challenges exist as Grand Hero Battles, pitting you against heroes on punishing maps. The most recent Grand Hero Battle (ongoing at time of publication) featured a fallen, evil version of
Pineapple Takumi, in the most punishing mission to date. Not only were there two of this guy, but they were combined with extra reinforcements and healers that literally made everything miserable. It ended up coming down to something as intricate as the stat gains from my supports and the seal placement I had on my units. I like the Grand Hero Battle a lot because one wrong move is literally game over. Not only are they challenging, but they allow me to put a diverse cast to use, creating a unique puzzle that has several different solutions to solve the issue at hand.
Heroes is constantly adding to its pool of new and interesting features, with the most recent one being this rhythmic tapping game that had close to zero relevance overall, but was a welcome diversion. The game is also incredibly blessed with an all-star voice cast, featuring incredibly popular voice actors such as Yuri Lowenthal (Code Geass, Final Fantasy IV), Ray Chase (Noctis Lucis Caelum, Final Fantasy XV), Veronica Taylor (the voice of Ash Ketchum from Pokemon’s early seasons), and other prominent voice actors and actresses. Heroes already has a diverse catalog – adding voices to each and every one of these units is something else, and more often than not they nail the role. I’m going to look the other way on Zephiel though, who manages to sound way too hammy, and pretend that Lachesis didn’t get turned into a loli 12 year old princess who sounds like a very mature woman, though.
Even with some of the “downs” that Fire Emblem Heroes has had in its first year with some questionable choices (Ayra, we’re looking at you), there have been an incredible and highly surprising number of “up” moments molded into it. Considering that back in 2011, Fire Emblem Awakening was supposed to be the last game of the series, the franchise has come so far back from its failure that it’s hard to believe that the series was in any danger at all. It was actually a thing, though, as Awakening and Fates brought the game out of a terrible slump and made the series much more accessible to gamers. The decision is prominent even in Heroes, as a lot of the seasonal units are molded after the 3DS heroes, which can be both a blessing and a point of annoyance as well.
I’m really satisfied with the experience that Fire Emblem Heroes has brought out in its first year, and impressed that the game holds together so well. While everyone is talking about the Nintendo Switch’s first birthday and its well-deserved accolades, I just thought it was prudent to mention a slightly forgotten hero in the Nintendo narrative. Do you feel the same way I do? Let me know what you think of the game so far.