Fire Emblem was the first game I ever played on my Game Boy Advance SP (remember that thing?) when the first game in the series was released in North America; I was hooked. Since my teenage years, I have gone out of my way to play every Fire Emblem game possible that I could a hold of, and while not all of them are perfect, the series is near and dear to my heart.
Needless to say, I have been beyond excited to get my hands on Fire Emblem Heroes and dive into the first ever mobile version in the Fire Emblem series.
Story & Setting
One of the weaker points in the Fire Emblem series is its lack of originality when it comes to the setting in each game; unfortunately, Fire Emblem Heroes suffers this same fate. For those of you who aren't familiar with the series. I will give you a quick crash course. Without using any names, I can give you the backdrop that sets up practically every game in the series.
A prince or princess of one kingdom suddenly becomes the target of another kingdom because of some big event — the death of their parent(s) or a peaceful meeting between the two nations goes awry — which causes an all out war between the two countries. Then once you're about 3/4 through the game, the hero or heroine finds out who is actually behind the whole mess and you proceed to kick bad guy ass.
Fire Emblem Heroes doesn't break the mold when it comes to story — but after all, the game has been like this since 1990. Sticking with what works may not be as exciting as I would hope, but it does bring that classic Fire Emblem charm that I have come to know and love.
A genuine strength of Fire Emblem has always been the dialogue between characters, which although Fire Emblem Heroes has less scripting than the console games that came before it, the characters are brought to life by some stellar writing.
While lots of characters in the game are returning from older games in the series, the new characters — Prince Alfonse and Princess Sharena — really shine through as unique characters that progress the plot forward. In fact, I have enjoyed them so much, that I find it hard to put together a battle team without them, which is an excellent sign for newcomers to the game.
I have to imagine that Fire Emblem Heroes will be the first time a lot of gamers are introduced into this well-established universe and Nintendo has done an excellent job of giving newbies two fantastic brand new characters to gravitate towards right from the get go.
Fear not Fire Emblem diehards, seeing Marth, Roy, Lyn, and other legendary heroes famous in the Fire Emblem universe all in one game will undoubtedly give you the same warm fuzzy feelings of comfort that have been awarded to me throughout playing the game.
As a turn-based strategy RPG, Fire Emblem has long been regarded as one of the best game series to using the tactics style of gameplay, and Fire Emblem Heroes is no different.
Ever since I played Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War on my iPad, I knew that touchscreen controls were optimal for playing on grid-based battle maps. The controls are smooth and effortless to use.
Touch the character you want to move and drag your finger over the enemy you want to attack, and just like that, the game takes care of the rest. It feels so natural It's hard to imagine I ever played Fire Emblem using a directional pad to get around. Even when attacking with a ranged character — meaning you have to be a full square away — the game will move you into the correct position to mount your attack even if it means moving you backward.
The fluidity of the gameplay will make it even more approachable to new players, something that strategy RPGs with this amount of depth can struggle with at times.
The difficulty curve is also a high point in Fire Emblem Heroes. Since the battle system has a tendency to be slightly complicated at times, the game does a good job of easing the player into the game. The tutorial is comprehensive enough for anyone to pick up the game and play, allowing casual gamers to enjoy the experience and be challenged just enough to keep things interesting.
Don't panic. If you're looking for a challenge Fire Emblem Heroes can pack a serious punch, once you increase the difficulty level. So, if you're finding the story chapters too easy, go back and try them again on Hard or Lunatic mode and see how that fits your fancy.
There's no beating around the bush; Fire Emblem Heroes is packed full various items that are either time-gated, hard to receive without paying money, or given to you as gifts when Nintendo holds an event or feels extra charitable, which you will need to get to the deep reaches of the game. While this isn't surprisingly in a mobile game using the freemium model in today's world, I feel like Fire Emblem may have over complicated things by having too many items.
You'll need Stamina points to enter battles (story, training, and special battles), five different kinds of crystals to level up your characters — not to mention Hero Feathers to unlock their true potential — and Dueling Swords to compete in the game's PVP mode. Confused yet? I don't blame you.
Fire Emblem Heroes' saving grace is that most (for some reason not all) of these items can be replenished using the game premium currency known as Orbs. If you are the type of gamer to spend money to become the very best, Orbs are what you will be buying. Personally, I wish Orbs was the only thing I had to worry about, instead of all these other arbitrary items, it just makes the game seem a little disjointed.
There is good news. As far as getting through the actual story mode of Fire Emblem Heroes, you won't need to spend a single dime if you're willing to wait.
As I mentioned before you need stamina points to enter battles, and while stamina points are time-gated, you'll only have to wait five minutes to regenerate one stamina point, and one stamina point can sometimes be the difference between playing and not playing. I was pleasantly surprised that by using the items the game gives to you, and without spending any real cash, I have been able to progress through about half of the story chapters without having to put down my phone to wait.
As someone who values story campaigns over multiplayer, I'm considering this a win. Far too many games have insane wait times, but after a couple of hours away from Fire Emblem, I'll be ready to tackle a plethora of story battles before being forced to take to take a break.
Design & Sound
In a word: Perfect.
I know I shouldn't be surprised (did you see Super Mario Run?), but I was very fearful that a mobile Fire Emblem would ruin the classic aesthetic that makes the game series stand out.
All the cutscenes and dialogue show all the characters in their full anime illustrated glory and no detail is left out. The brightly colored suits of armor, the impossibly saturated hues of hair, and the insane eye-to-face ratio of each character is present and with abundance. The Japanese anime art style has been a staple in Fire Emblem games since the beginning, and Nintendo spared no expense in bringing that classic look to your phone.
What will be noticeable instantly to Fire Emblem fans is the graphics during battle look fairly different, but in no way are they less awesome. The 16-bit style sprites that populate the battlefield are gorgeous. Each character has a unique sprite, and it's easy to tell which unit is which just by scanning across the map. Even the horses and wyverns that the cavalry units ride are easily distinguishable from each other.
The animations during battle are fluid and stunning, and each unit attacks slightly differently making every battle visually entertaining from beginning to end.
The maps themselves are a tad bland — each one is only an 8x6 grid — but there is enough variety in the scenery that it never feels monotonous.
It's not just the visuals that will keep you invested in the game, Fire Emblem has always had a great soundtrack, and the mobile game follows suit admirably.
You'll get to hear some classic Fire Emblem themes throughout the game, and some new tunes that all help build up the excitement each battle. What impressed me sound-wise was the voice work.
Most of the talking in the game is just in dialogue boxes, during battle you get to hear characters make remarks as they make special attacks and move around the battlefield. Plus, whenever a character is in battle they make various grunts, jeers, and whines as they react to what's going on. All these noises and speaking add to the experience of the game, giving you a sense of being right in the throws of battle with your heroes.
This may sound like a minor detail that I'm highlighting for no reason, but the fact that Nintendo cares enough to include some voice acting I think speaks volumes to the amount they care about this game. Heck, even something as simple as the menus throughout the game looks pristine and carefully crafted. Nintendo made sure Fire Emblem Heroes got the triple-A treatment it deserves.
My Recommendation: 👍
Fire Emblem Heroes is a stellar game through and through. Whether you're a fan of the long-running series or a complete newcomer, Nintendo has beautifully designed a game that keeps both groups happy.
While game progression has all the hallmarks of a typical freemium game, such as needing to spend money to reach the top of the leaderboards or waiting various periods of time to unlock game items, you won't need to shell any money out to enjoy 95% of what Fire Emblem Heroes has to offer.
Fire Emblem Heroes is visually breath-taking, and it's clear to anyone who plays it, that Nintendo put a lot of time and effort into creating this game, which means I'm going to enjoy putting a lot of time and effort into playing it.
What do you think of Fire Emblem Heroes?
I want to know what you think! Love it or hate it, drop me a line the comments below or hit me up on Twitter!
Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.