The Fire Emblem franchise is a perfect fit for mobile, with its quirky characters, simple battle interface, and fast, yet deep, strategy; it was only a matter of time before Nintendo brought this popular series to the mobile sphere. And at first glance, Fire Emblem Heroes seems to fulfill everything fans of the franchise could ask for in a mobile adaptation: a horde of familiar faces to build a team with, the strategic mix-up provided by a variety of map layouts and team combinations, and, of course, the ability to grow your characters in that satisfying Fire Emblem way. As a long-time fan of the series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Nintendo’s newest foray into the mobile market.
And for the first few days – weeks, even – the game delivered. Nintendo did an excellent job in creating a fast-paced and addicting spin on the time-honored gameplay of the franchise; they worked hard to fuel that addiction with all the orbs and stamina potions you needed to earn new characters and level them up in battle. Then there were all the missions, quests, and story chapters to keep you challenged; naturally the option to replay them on Hard and Lunatic difficulties for new rewards kept you coming back for more. Because after all, you needed to make sure your team of heroes was in tip-top shape for the Arena battles, where players could fight it out to see who created the superior team.
But then I stopped playing. One day I looked at the app shortcut on my phone’s screen, thought about the daily orb log-in bonus, and decided it simply wasn’t worth my time. Despite the perfect fit of the series to its mobile format, the options and support Nintendo put into the game, and my own love of the Fire Emblem franchise, I found I had grown bored.
How had it come to this? How had a game I had been excited to try for months somehow morphed into more of a chore than anything else?
1. There’s No Connection to the World or Lore
Fire Emblem fans know and love the story of their favorite games. With deep lore, numerous characters, and intricate plot maneuvering, it’s hard not to get involved in the well-crafted mythos. But, as with most mobile experiences, I did not expect too much in the way of a proper story, despite the game’s roots. There’s no time for lengthy cutscenes, character depth, or tales of elaborate betrayal on mobile, and it’s good that Nintendo recognized this. However, we ended up with a bare-bones plot line that exists only to justify the game’s core feature of giving you access to characters from all of Fire Emblem’s separate universes. Gameplay only gets you so far with a series that is known for both gameplay AND storytelling; fans will inevitably begin to miss the second half of the Fire Emblem formula, and be left without a reason to be invested in battles.
2. The Heroes are Stagnant
Traditional Fire Emblem games give you a lot to do with the characters in your barracks: you can change their arsenal of weapons and useful items, swap and equip skills to change the bonuses your characters get in battle, choose to buff them with magical items to change their class, and even play matchmaker as you decide which characters to pair on the battlefield. Some of these features make their way to Heroes, like the ability to gain new skills, and the level-up system that still feels as satisfying as ever. But all interactivity of the characters is gone, and this cripples the game right out of the gate. What happened to the chitchat between party members in the barracks after battle? With the lore of this game encompassing ALL the universes in Fire Emblem, there were plenty of opportunities for interesting interactions between characters. What would happen if Panne and Lethe met, or Lucina and the Black Knight? Or what about allowing characters to grow together on the battlefield? Heroes’ gameplay mechanic of building teams with different characters would have worked perfectly here; players would have had a reason to experiment and try out new combinations of heroes to see how their strategies evolve over time as relationships between them grow. Instead, creating teams becomes a routine of making sure your bases are covered strategically. While this might create compelling gameplay, it removes any emotional connection to the characters you send to the slaughter – a connection that’s foundational to Fire Emblem’s success. And without the threat of permadeath, there’s just no reason to care about your immortal heroes’ fates.
3. Limited Access to Good Characters
Maybe Nintendo was going wide, not tall; instead of giving us character depth, they instead tried to give us as many characters as possible to experience. This makes sense for a mobile game, especially in terms of monetization. We can’t fault Nintendo for monetizing the game – they have kids to feed too – but the problem is HOW we gain access to new characters. While this slot-machine style is built on a tried-and-true gacha system (which is quite successful in the Japanese mobile market), it simply does not work in Heroes. While you can get orbs to purchase new characters in a variety of ways, players will eventually find themselves lacking the amount they need. This is normal in free-to-play games, but Nintendo needlessly limits accessibility for most players. It costs around $12 to purchase the 20 orbs you need to unlock a full set of 5 characters, but the player is not in any way guaranteed to get a single decent character. Sure, you might get a cool character, or one you played with in a previous Fire Emblem game, but if they don’t have that rare 5-star ranking, they can never reach their full potential. And naturally, there’s always the chance you’ll get a duplicate hero.
Aside from spending incredible amounts of time grinding for orbs or continuously engaging in Arena seasons to slowly gather Hero Feathers to upgrade your characters’ ranks, most players will find themselves with a restricted number of low-rank characters that just aren’t interesting or good enough to care about. But if you spend enough time (or money) to get the characters required for a powerful team – and level them up by blowing through the paltry story maps – at least you have the Arena so you can compete with other top players and prove your mastery of battlefield strategy. Surely that won’t be a complete waste of time, right?
4. The Arena is a Complete Waste of Time
What should have been the reason players stayed invested in the game instead turned out to be an annoyance. With no real goal other than a chance at earning a modest amount of Hero Feathers, the only reason to battle in the Arena is to see how high on the never-ending leaderboards you can climb before you realize other people will always be better than you, and that no matter how many Stamina Potions you chug, your inevitable mediocrity will provide no real accomplishment here. And that might have been ok, had this been a fun, Pokémon-style system in which two players’ teams are truly pitted against each other in a battle of skill, strategy, and wits. But Heroes settles for a dumbed-down AI that controls other players’ teams, resulting in battles that play out like any other Training Tower or Story Map you’ve already completed. So instead of actually engaging in PvP action, the Arena serves up the exact same gameplay against the exact same AI that you fought in every other game mode, except the enemies are incredibly beefy, since, as you’ll recall, everybody else is better than you. This results in an unsatisfying and ultimately pointless cap on what could have been a great way to extend the life of the game.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! Nintendo is a company that takes great care in its products, and with updates already being implemented, I trust that Nintendo will do all it can to improve on Fire Emblem Heroes over time, and make it the best game it can be.
What do you think about Fire Emblem Heroes? Do you agree with the problems I have? Do you have any of your own? Leave a comment below!