Fire Emblem Heroes is a fun game, but one rife with problems (you can read more on that here). However, it’s not broken beyond repair. Even in the 3 months since its release, Nintendo has supported the app with new content, increased max stamina to create longer play sessions for more grindy goodness, and released new maps with enemy reinforcements and varied win conditions. Such commitment to Fire Emblem’s first mobile foray demonstrates Nintendo’s dedication to the app’s success, and with a steady flow of updates and the inevitable constant addition of fresh characters to play with, players might end up with a pretty decent game. But in order to accomplish this, Nintendo needs to take these 3 steps:
1. Make it Easier to Obtain New Characters
This entire game revolves around obtaining new characters, leveling them up, and integrating them into your teams’ strategies; in order for the game to work as intended, players need to have steady access to new heroes. Aside from lowering the cost of orbs, which is not likely given this is the game’s main source of monetization, the game could allow for a targeted selection of heroes when summoning them – say, being able to choose the color/weapon attribute, or letting players select a specific Fire Emblem game to pull from – could help alleviate frustration when the gods of chance look unfavorably upon us. Or maybe – dare I dream? – players could be guaranteed at least one 5-star character per set roll. There are many ways Nintendo could fix this problem, and it’s important that they do – gaining new, powerful characters is key to the game’s functionality, and without that the game cannot be successful.
2. Generate Investment in Characters
Nintendo needs to find a way to keep you invested in the characters you already have, and give you an incentive to play around with the new characters you’re (theoretically) continuously adding. An obvious way to do this would be to introduce a traditional Fire Emblem relationship system, wherein characters who fight together grow closer and become connected over time, both on and off the battlefield. Now, I would be fooling myself to think this will happen (I do recognize Heroes wasn’t designed to be another full-fledged Fire Emblem game), but without it the game lacks a key component of the franchise. We already have a castle interior where heroes gather and talk to the player – why not extend that and create character-to-character conversations? It would take a good bit of writing to make this work even on a basic level, considering the plethora of potential conversations, but it would generate so much more player investment in what currently feels like a group of loosely-affiliated, isolated individuals. Or perhaps we could see the return of permadeath in some form or another (is quasi-permadeath a thing?) so as to give you at least some incentive before you send your characters on a needs-of-the-many suicide mission. Regardless of the approach they choose, Nintendo needs to do something to make their characters more than a pile of stats if they want retain that Fire Emblem feeling.
3. Accurately Represent the Fire Emblem Brand
Nintendo’s mobile strategy is to create apps that entice new players to buy into franchises they otherwise would not have; think of them like free samples, intended to convince you to buy a full meal. This is a swell idea, but if Nintendo wants to serve up samples for their delicious Fire Emblem entrées, shouldn’t those samples be representative of the actual menu? In Nintendo’s defense, Super Mario Run does a great job of this – it has Mario, there are coins to collect, you complete themed worlds with levels and a castle at the end, Toad is there, and you’ll leave uncounted mangled turtles in your relentless march to the right. When you think about the core of the Mario franchise, it’s all right there in Super Mario Run. The same cannot be said about Fire Emblem Heroes. It has pieces of the formula – tile-based battles, leveling up characters, and distinctive audio and visual design – but the pieces never coalesce into a whole, and we end up with a few decent systems that feel as though they have no greater purpose.
Fire Emblem Heroes has some great aspects – simple and smooth gameplay, and the tried-and-true Fire Emblem battle system still retains all its joy. It also shines with the distinctive polish that’s made me respect Nintendo’s work throughout the years. Knowing that Nintendo cares about its products gives me hope that we will see many additions and improvements in the future. As one of Nintendo’s mobile vanguards, Fire Emblem Heroes sets the precedent for what is to come. With the right steps, we could see a future full of robust and lovingly-crafted mobile gaming from Nintendo’s classic franchises. With the wrong steps, though, Nintendo might not only fail to gain new fans, but they also risk alienating their pre-existing fan base and squandering their shot in the hyper-competitive mobile gaming market.