TL; DR(eview) - Fire Emblem Heroes boils down the strategic combat formula of the franchise to its essence. As a result, the game lacks a lot of the diverse systems that help it stand out but it makes for a nice occasional diversion you might look for from a mobile game.
When Fire Emblem Heroes was announced as a mobile title I think I originally scoffed at it. Not that I thought it would be bad, but it just probably wouldn’t be for me. I was only really introduced to the series with Fire Emblem Awakening (which I really enjoyed) and then Fire Emblem Fates (which I really did not) so I just figured I’d skip it. Great that it’s there for fans of the series, but I’ve already got my daily check-in with Final Fantasy Record Keeper. But then the flurry of social media hit when the game launched last week so I figured I’d at least download it and give it a shot.
The premise behind Fire Emblem Heroes pits two warring factions against one another. One faction can open portals to other dimensions (i.e. games from the Fire Emblem franchise) and the other can close them. They use to work together in tandem but recently the faction that can close the portal has refused to do so, instead taking their armies into these portals to conquer them and hire the heroes from each realm. Each Chapter of the “Main Story” focused on a different realm and pits you against the heroes from the associated game, forced to fight you as they are under contract with the opposing army. Only once you’ve defeated them in battle (and finished each chapter’s five-part battles) will that realm’s heroes recognize you as a worthy hero yourself and cease their fighting. At launch, the game features nine chapters and each one drives the overall story arc a little bit further introducing allies that have gone missing and starting to introduce why the opposing army decided to start this war but answers are few and far between so far.
Outside of that narrative, you are playing as the Summoner, a character brought to this world with the mysterious ability to summon heroes from each of these other realms. This, of course, ties into one of the hooks of the game, the ability to collect random characters from across the assorted Fire Emblem titles. You can then battle with and level up these characters through combat via the story missions, a training area, asynchronous duels against other player teams, etc. As in the core series, characters gain experience through successful attacks or by defeating enemies but experience is awarded proportionally based on the level difference (so fighting enemies a few levels below your character ends up pointless with no new experience gained).
Another simplification to the combat is the removal of perma-death (a staple of the franchise). Characters dying in a battle does not have the same level of finality possible in some of the other titles, which is an absolutely understandable and appreciated tactic for a more casual experience in a phone game. But the game doesn’t tell you this up front so I was panicking during my early campaigns, dreading the idea of accidentally losing a character that I’d spent time leveling up. But when it finally happened and the character still showed up in my party after the end of the battle, that stress was washed away. Losing a character in battle can easily turn the tide of the fight against you leading to a Game Over screen when all are lost but the only real effect of this is a loss of the Stamina spent to initiate the fight, with Stamina being the “currency” spent engaging in each battle and slowly regenerating over time (or fully replenished with special items).
Characters do not grow bonds by fighting together like in the core series either, meaning the composition of your various four-person teams can be much more mix-and-match focused on the needs of a given fight, rather than worrying about establishing a team that receives perks because they have fought together a lot. So instead the simple battle triangle with characters identified with red, green, and blue weapons winds up one of the most pertinent strategic components. If the battle you’re attempting shows a lot of blue opponents, bringing green allies to the fight will give you an advantage (with red having the advantage over green and blue the advantage over red). There are also the colorless characters (bows, shurikens, staffs) that don’t fall neatly into the cycle but have their own advantages and disadvantages.
All of this content can be enjoyed completely free charge and new daily challenges introduce opportunities to collect new low-level characters. Characters are ranked on a 5-star rarity system with 1-star characters being the weakest compared to a 5-star version of the same character. Five-star characters will have higher base level stats and they are also able to learn better skills or obtain stronger equipment. For example, my five-star Marth came equipped with a Falchion sword that does better damage than his other weapons and restores 10 HP every few turns. A character with a lower ranking can potentially be upgraded to a higher ranking at Level 20 or above, but also requires extra components to make that shift.
The other way to collect new characters comes from the game’s Orb system. Completing story missions for the first time and achieving other potential milestones will add to your supply of Orbs (or you can spend real-world money to buy Orbs). And the most common use of these Orbs is summoning new characters to your army. For five Orbs, you can unlock a character which, depending on the Summon promotion going on, will have different percentage chances of unlocking three-star characters or higher. Five different colored summon stones will be presented at random and you choose which color hero you want to obtain. You can then keep summoning from the other stones (at a discounted rate of four Orbs for the second, third, and fourth summons, and only three Orbs for the fifth summon) or you can back out and spend five Orbs to summon a new hero from a fresh randomized batch of stones. Special mini-cinematics play for key franchise characters but this can create a sense of false excitement. On two separate occasions, I’ve gotten a special video showcasing Fire Emblem Awakening’s Robin, only to be awarded a three-star iteration of the character. And the rates for a five-star pull are - so far - really low at around 3%. I’ve probably summoned upwards of 30 heroes and only gotten the aforementioned five-star Marth. But the Orbs have been prevalent enough that I haven’t felt the need to spend any actual money. But I’ve already playing through the entire Story Mode to date on easy and I’m halfway through the Hard iterations (with a Ludicrous difficulty-level to follow) so there will come a time when Orbs are significantly more difficult to come by. But I also don’t know how much longer I’ll invest the time anyway.
All in all, the game is absolutely worth checking out if you enjoy the Fire Emblem games. Don’t expect the depth of the franchise, but they get enough of the basics right that the combat feels satisfying playing through a few fights here and there. And there’s ample game to explore without ever spending a cent and certainly ongoing support to come in the weeks and months ahead.