Nintendo proves they know how to bring their franchises to mobile with Fire Emblem: Heroes.
I should preface this review by saying this was actually my first Fire Emblem game, so I came into this game with fresh eyes on the entire franchise as well. As such I'm able to provide, I think, a truly honest opinion of how well this game works without being swayed by the fan service scattered throughout.
The first thing you're going to notice about Fire Emblem: Heroes game is just how beautiful everything is. The artwork, animation, and sound design here is on point. From the opening cut screen to the menu screens to the fantastic battle transitions and animations, this game just has a really great flow to it and played smooth as butter on the Google Pixel I reviewed it on. Fans of the series are really going to appreciate the loving care that the developers put into this — while folks like myself who are new to the series get a faithful adaptation to introduce them to the franchise's lore.
From the opening cut screen to the menu screens to the fantastic battle transitions and animations, this game just has a really great flow to it.
There are multiple modes of play, but the main one you'll start with is Story Maps — the main campaign for Fire Emblem: Heroes. As the story goes, the noble heroes of the Askran Kingdom are putting up a fight against Princess Veronica and the Emblian Empire, which seeks to to rule all worlds. A powerful summoner (you) arrives just in the nick of time, with the ability to summon and control Heroes from across all worlds to join the Askran army. You set off to different worlds to free the heroes who have been cast under Princess Veronica's spell by defeating them on the battlefield.
If you're familiar with Fire Emblem's battle mechanics already, you're going to love how well they work on a full touch screen. There's a lot of strategy and tactics to learn and master in Fire Emblem, but fortunately the learning curve is gradual for beginners. There are several different types of heroes, but the main three are red, green and blue, with colourless heroes thrown in as well. The first few chapters in the story mode really help to establish the basics of combat, while you learn the Rock, Paper, Scissors-style battle and figure out how to best position your heroes around the battlefield. It's simple and easy to grasp, and before too long I was developing my own strategy for moving my heroes into the best position to defend and attack.
Arena Duels are especially intriguing, as you're able to test your mettle against other players in quick battles, though it certainly won't feel like a PvP experience.
Once you've worked your way through the first few chapters in Story Maps, you'll unlock other modes: Special Maps, Arena Duels, Training Tower and a fifth mode you unlock once you've completed the main campaign. These modes allow you to train and level up your heroes and offer you more ways to play beyond the story mode. This really adds some much needed depth to the game, as you're also able to go back and replay chapters of the story mode with a new lineup of heroes if you wish to test out new battle strategies and tactics. Arena Duels are especially intriguing, as you're able to test your mettle against other players in quick battles, though it certainly won't feel like a PvP experience.
Nevertheless, if you manage to link enough Arena Duel wins together, you can work your way up the global player ranks. It definitely feels like this will become the centrepiece of the game once you've worked your way through the main storyline. If you've got friends who are playing, you can add each other by tapping the glowing stone in the bottom left corner of the home menu and adding them via their unique friend ID.
A big part of this game, as your role of summoner would suggest, is summoning other heroes to join your cause. This is done, first and foremost, by collecting Orbs by completing chapters in story mode — or through in-app purchases, though it is much more satisfying to unlock them through the spoils of victory. From the Summon menu, you're able to choose the color of hero you wish to summon, which certainly helps to balance out your army's hero types. You're able to assemble and swipe through five assembled teams of heroes — a mix of new characters alongside fan favorites from previous titles.
One of the only complaints I've had with the game so far is the lack of explanation for everything you can do from the main menu before heading into battle.
One of the only complaints I've had with the game so far is the lack of explanation for everything you can do from the main menu before heading into battle. Perhaps I'm just the type to rush into battle, but I was completely unaware how valuable it would be to upgrade my castle, which is hidden in the Shop menu. Doing so greatly increases the amount of experience points your heroes earn in battle, and is something you'll probably want to do early and often when you're first starting out. Beyond the previously mentioned Orbs, there's also a ton of other items and different currency items that you'll collect and have no idea what to do with them. Maybe that's just my own ignorance from being new to the series or not spending enough time digging through the menu system, but I'd much rather spend my time battling.
Battling is limited by your stamina meter which automatically refill, but you're also given 50 stamina points and missions costs are low, meaning you really won't run out too often unless you're really grinding hard. When that does happen, you can simply spend some time tweaking your teams and upgrading your heroes in the shop menu while you wait for the meter to recharge. There's always something to do.
After seeing mixed reviews from the iOS release of Super Mario Run, I must admit I was somewhat skeptical of what we were going to get with Fire Emblem: Heroes. There's many ways for a free-to-play game to be bogged down by lame mechanics that either force you to wait or pay to progress, but Nintendo has done a great job of keeping everything balanced and fun. From all that I've read and my own experience playing the game, this feels like a really pure entry into a franchise that so many people adore. It would have been easy to give us a direct port of one of the handheld Fire Emblem games or, worse yet, a watered down game that's been "optimized for mobile" (and profits).
Perhaps most important of all, it's clear even to someone with no previous experience with the Fire Emblem franchise that a lot of thought and care went into creating a fully fleshed out gaming experience for the mobile audience. In the relatively short time that I've spent playing Fire Emblem: Heroes since its release, I'm finding myself loving it more and more. Having not bought into the pre-release hype at all, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying this game.