Fire Emblem Heroes
Reviewed on iPhone 7 plus
By Daniel Lein
Free to play games can be hard to wrap your head around. Unlike most games, they must operate in such a way as to entice money from the player during gameplay, as opposed to before. Though this almost always has a negative effect on game design, it doesn’t mean free to play games are entirely without merit. In a world where everyone who owns an iPhone also owns a game console, the invasive free to play market reigns like no one else. It’s not all doom and gloom however, there are some diamonds in the rough, and It’s my job to scrape and claw through that rough to find the deeply, deeply buried gems. Is Fire Emblem Heroes one such gem? On the surface, it looks like just the right candidate, what with the franchise’s frantic fan base and Nintendo somewhere on the ship, if not at the helm. But will the doldrums of free to play prove too much for our valiant crew?
The answer to all those metaphor laden questions begins with the presentation, and promisingly I might add. Most free to play games live and die by an addictive, tactile UI, drawing the player in with flashy lights, pulpy artwork, and catchy elevator music. For Fire Emblem, its flashy presentation is one of the few things keeping it above water. Fire Emblem wavers between two art styles: a chibi style used for units on the battlefield and in combat, as well as a variety of more detailed styles used for character cards. The chibi style is serviceable for the quick paced combat, but it’s the character cards that truly stand-out. Nearly all the character cards are drawn by different artists, each of whom bring a different interpretation to fan favorite characters. I’m not a huge fan of fan art, but this is an example of it done well, especially considering it has that official Nintendo seal of approval. Though some artists don’t quite deliver, there are a great many more that bring plenty of character and charm to our favorite Fire Emblem Heroes.
FE Heroes does more well than just its art, it also excels in audio design. This goes back to that importance of a good UI. Nearly every button in the game feels clicky and tactile despite the smooth screen of my iPhone, and the actions that don’t are smooth and accurate. This is best showcased in combat where you drag units across the board to their destination or to new enemies. It feels fast, natural, and satisfying. The music isn’t so bad either. I’ve always been indifferent towards Fire Emblem music in the past. I felt it was always lacking the addictive quality that Mario or Zelda music has. That being said, FE Heroes cherry picks the best songs from Fire Emblem’s past and puts them together in a sort of “Greatest hits” soundtrack. It isn’t amazing by any means, but it is nice to hear those classic tracks again.
I’m going to spend almost no time on the story, because that’s about as much time as the writers spent. The tale that is spun in Heroes is lack luster at best. The twists are visible from a mile away, the characters are cardboard cut outs of their former selves, and the dialogue is about as interesting as filing taxes. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the opportunity to tell a ridiculous and fun story involving all our favorite Fire Emblem Heroes was traded in for a less than mediocre explanation for why everyone was there. Character mash-ups are often plagued by bad stories, but fans don’t care if anything meaningful is said, or if the plot makes sense, all we want to see is how these characters from different worlds interact, and sadly none of that is present in Fire Emblem Heroes.
Last but not quite least is gameplay, which is fun for a time, but largely void of motivation. Like most free to play games, Fire Emblem implements a grindy system of progression that is greatly sped up by greasy money transactions. The biggest and most enticing grind is for orbs, which are spent on acquiring a random new character. You can get orbs by signing in every day, completing challenges, or finishing story missions, but after a while the flow of orbs turns into an annoyingly slow trickle. This is where the micro-transactions come in, and though I didn’t spend any money I can see how it would be easy to do so, considering the more orbs you spend per five-character session, the cheaper those characters become. This boring to describe and boring to read grind is the real motivation for gameplay, which wouldn’t be so bad if the combat was more complex. I wouldn’t mind grinding for hours just for a few characters if the act of grinding was both challenging and rewarding, sadly it’s just a bit too simplistic for that.
Combat in Fire Emblem Heroes takes place in vertical orientation on a bite-sized battlefield. Both factors make the games quick and consumable; most matches don’t last longer than a couple of minutes. This isn’t all bad, as short missions can still be satisfying from time to time. The real issue comes in the form of the super simple strategy. Though obstacle heavy maps do a good job mixing things up, it doesn’t take a great tactician to win the day. With no critical hits or misses, there’s rarely any risk, and with just a small handful of stats to keep track of, Fire Emblem’s trademark rock-paper-scissors weapon triangle is really all you need to worry about. When you win it rarely feels earned, except in those close calls. And when you lose, it feels like the level of your characters is at fault, as opposed to your tactics.
Despite efforts made by talented artists and wonderful sound designers, Fire Emblem Heroes is an easily miss able title. The story is out right disappointing and the gameplay, though fun, fails to meet the repetitive needs of the grindy character collecting. It’s not all bad, as it’s enjoyable for fans, who get a chance to see and collect their favorite characters. And if you take the simple combat for what it is rather than what it very slowly achieves, then it can be fun for a short time.
Because the only thing players are sacrificing is time when they play a free to play game, I have chosen time as the scorekeeper.
Fire Emblem Heroes earns “A week of your time”/10