Normally, I should hate something like Fire Emblem Heroes. I should despise the simplification, the gatchapon, the incessant demand to grind for your favorite characters. Yet here I am, still playing and with intention to continue playing well beyond the initial launch and into the foreseeable future. The question is…why?
Strategy Made Lite…
Don’t expect anything groundbreaking going into Heroes. The story is about as basic as it gets; Warring kingdoms, plot twists you can see looming like skyscrapers in the distance and generic (but likeable!) characters. So what “does” it do well? As it turns out, the core gameplay.
Heroes has done an incredible job of boiling down the core Fire Emblem experience into an easy-to-digest mobile game with maps you can handle in the span of about five-to-ten minutes, depending on difficulty. The ever-present weapon triangle (Swords > Axes > Spears > Swords) is now more brutal than ever, with counters being damning if you flop on your face or bring the wrong party. In addition, limiting your squad to four heroes means every decision counts. While perma-death is absent, slamming your head against a wall is only going to waste stamina.
The Fire Emblem license also comes into play beautifully here. Old favorites like Lyn and Marth clash with the new hotness such as Lucina and Ryoma. A character roster spanning several games all appear, from the pot-wearing trainee Donnel to the hulking armored lord that is Hector to the busty and protective Camilla, any fan of FE can find their favorite hero. Each hero is lovingly made real with wonderful art ranging from a painted “Final Fantasy” style to a cartoony, heavy-brush style.
The story campaign is also quite robust. With around forty-five maps of varying difficulty and three difficulty levels, you’ll have some time to spend. In addition, expect seasonal maps, PvP, and maps to grind to raise your heroes from low-tier-trainees to high-tier-titans. By all accounts, Heroes could be the mobile game fans have been waiting for between 3DS releases, right?
…Grinding Made Heavy
For the unaware, Heroes uses a “gatchapon” system of unlocking. By paying orbs (Five for an initial unlock with a cost up to twenty if you unlock every orb on your screen), you can fish for new heroes to find your favorite character. Each orb is color coded depending on the triangle so you can semi-hone your search. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take away the grindy RNG aspect of trying to get your favorite hero. Don’t let my picture fool you: I’m a lucky S.O.B. for pulling a Roy and Lucina in the same pack. Doubly lucky they’re both five stars, as you can get major heroes in lower star variants.
In additon, the rarity system takes forever to grind. Feathers can be acquired by daily log-in and arena bonuses. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get your three-star Robin to a five-star. It’s just going to take ages. There was a bandage fix released that gave a ton of feathers for players recently but in the long term, the grind will increasingly turn players off. Especially when you’re only allotted three PvP battles a day and have a fairly draconian energy meter.
Speaking of the arena and PvP, balance is a tad off at the moment and there are some real standout heroes. Takumi in particular is a colorless (and neigh-counterless) bowmaster who will shred anyone who comes within two spaces, all the while boasting good stats. Expect to see a LOT of Takumi, either from lucky people or those who were grinding hardcore. Thus we get to the other problem: Getting orbs post-campaign is impossible, meaning if you want a new hero you’re -going- to have to shell out money. While fun, Heroes will burn out quickly and go the way of Pokemon: Go if it doesn’t receive a steady stream of updates.
As with many mobile games, Heroes shows promise. In a perfect world they’d lower the grinding, make orbs better available (albeit no replacement for microtransactions) and add more maps and heroes. It could very well be the perfect starter game for someone who wants to try Fire Emblem and lead into a new age for a franchise brought back from the brink of death.
In the opposite world, Heroes could expand the grinding, break balance even further and release updates that favor paying users over the standard, casual player. It would die a slow and painful death while draining a bit more money from whales in the short term rather than bank on long term success. It’d also greatly damage the Emblem brand, hurting sales for future games as this is the first forray into the fantasy worlds of Fire Emblem.
Only time will tell. For now? I recommend you try it. It’s a fun, free strategy game. Just don’t spend too long playing it otherwise you’ll burn through content like midnight oil.