On January 18th via Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Direct, we received a look at a variety of new Fire Emblem titles including Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, the new 3DS remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, and the new upcoming mobile title, Fire Emblem: Heroes. As the black sheep of the series, FE: Gaiden took the classic SRPG formula and remixed elements with the inclusion of 3rd-person dungeon crawling, map exploration, etc., all of which will be present and fully revamped in this new edition: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. While I have no doubt that Echoes will be anything short of great, I have reservations about Fire Emblem: Heroes, the new free-to-play mobile game releasing on Android and iOS on February 2nd, 2017, a short two weeks away.
In Fire Emblem: Heroes, you take on the role of a “summoner” to call upon the various heroes throughout the Fire Emblem series. With your team of four heroes, classic and new, you will conduct battles akin to the FE series but on a much smaller scale. The game supports a 8 by 6 grid “designed for smartphones” and includes a very similar triangle weapon system found in the mainline titles.
From there, you will battle and train your summoned heroes to increase their power to take on stronger foes. Heroes will come will different numbers of stars attached to them, representing their overall ability and affecting the how high their stats can go. While some heroes may be summoned at four or even five stars, all heroes will have the ability to upgrade with the use of “special materials”. The details of these materials and how exactly you can acquire them is currently unknown.
As a free-to-play game, Fire Emblem: Heroes will use a premium currency model for select features. The main use of the premium currency, Orbs, are used in summoning heroes (at random). A hero costs five Orbs to summon, with the dollar equivalent sitting around $3 for a summon, but with each subsequent summon, the price per summon decreases, essentially you can summon five heroes with 20 Orbs all at once versus five heroes summoned individually for a total of 25 orbs. Orbs can also be acquired by playing the game and completing quests rather than through the shop.
On the discussion of Orbs, it’s highly likely they will serve purposes outside of summing, much like other mobile games before it. In the trailer, we briefly get a glimpse of a the user’s main UI, found in the image above at the top of the smartphone, where we can see our amount of Orbs with a “plus” symbol signifying it can be increased. From there, we see “feathers”, most likely the in-game currency, but also “Stamina” and three sword symbols, both of with are accompanied by the “plus” symbol. “Stamina” more than likely (most definitely but technically unconfirmed) a time-based meter that dictates how many battles you can play in a given time. And, much like other mobile titles we’ve seen, it assumed you will be able to replenish your stamina bar at the cost of an Orb or wait for it to refill manually. The “sword” symbols are a curious addition that, as of right now, has no obvious use, but I could potentially see them as token-like currency used to partake in Arena Duels or are the “special materials” referenced early in the video. Regardless, it’s apparent that the premium currency will serve for a variety of functions and if, handled poorly, can make or break Fire Emblem: Heroes.
Despite some concerns, I’m very excited to play FE: Heroes when it releases in a couple weeks. As someone who isn’t big on mobile games in general, Heroes appeals to me by hitting on a franchise I enjoy and making it available to me at any time. Only one mobile title has ever grabbed me, to the point that I’ve been playing for nearly three years now, and that game was Love Live! School Idol Festival, a fairly niche title where you build a team of idols to perform songs via a well-design rhythm game.
Love Live! SIF uses the common mobile “gacha” system of spending premium currency on randomly chosen prizes, a fairly unsavory system that banks on that gambling attitude of “one more try” that Heroes will use. How unsavory, however, depends on whether or not the game implements them in a balanced way. In Fire Emblem’s case, if the game is too reliant on your spending money to succeed and doesn’t have the right balance of in-game rewards then the game will fall apart by becoming a pay-to-win model.
The other big determining factor whether or not it sticks with me like Love Live! SIF and with people in general is dependent on if the gameplay holds up. My biggest fear is that the smaller scale of the Fire Emblem combat will feel too shallow to be worth playing in the end. Most of the hooks of interesting map design will be gone due to the small nature of the grid and that’s a big concern. Fire Emblem: Heroes has some obstacles ahead of it but I’m confident Nintendo can provide us with a mobile that, while it won’t surprise and shock the world, will be something worth playing. Of Nintendo’s mobile movement, this is the first game I’m willing to rally behind.
Thanks for reading and stay vigilant for more Fire Emblem: Heroes articles when I go hands-on with the game this February 2nd.