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Fire Emblem Heroes Review: Conflicted Opinions for Nintendo's F2P Title

After Pokémon and Super Mario, it is a somewhat less popular license that Nintendo launched into the mobile market this month. Indeed, Fire Emblem is aimed at a niche audience, a license that is certainly growing since the 3DS episodes, but much less popular than the mustache'd plumber or the electric mouse. Does Fire Emblem Heroes succeed in convincing in a genre where competition prevails?
 
In the vicious world of free-to-play, the "Gacha" games have become a genre in their own right, with precise mechanics that are almost mandatory. As a reminder, the principle revolves around a system of luck where one draws characters to use them in combat, the strongest ones often being the rarest. Obviously, the resource that allows these draws is only available in small quantities, which can push the players to go through the cash shop. A terribly addictive principle that has made the days of titles like DBZ Dokkan Battle, KINGDOM HEARTS Unchained χ or Final Fantasy Brave Exvius.

So it is no surprise that it is the same system that governs Fire Emblem Heroes, system that orbits around virtual currency. If five orbs are enough to make an invocation, it is more profitable to use them in packs of twenty thanks to a group discount, allowing you to make five summons and thus save five orbs. Obviously, the characters to be invoked are the heroes (and pseudo-villains) of the Tactical-RPG series and so we find Lyn, Marth, Lucina, Tiki and many more with nearly 100 characters at launch and, it is assured, many regular additions.

Fire Emblem Lightweight

The usual background of Fire Emblem games is also found in the scenario, although, let's be clear, do not expect a great narrative art. The Kingdom of Askr once worked with the Emblian Empire to open and close the gates to other worlds. The former could only open gates, while the latter could only close them. At some point, however, the Emblians left the gates open for their own ambitions. The Askran royalty, unable to close them, formed the Order of Heroes to stop the destruction of their kingdom. The player is then brought into this conflict by the Kingdom of Askr as a tactician, but also as the only being able to summon heroes from other worlds. On the other hand, the Emblian Empire is having heroes from the opened gates fight for them (either through force or deception) with contracts that can only be broken upon their defeat. The dialogues as well as the reasons for the battles can be rather simplistic, with examples such as "prove your worth", "let's have fun fighting to death", and sometimes ending with lines like "I just misunderstood you". We've seen better ways to stage fights, but that's not the most important thing. One somewhat surprising twist was the fact that a particular "hero" decided to remain with the Emblian Empire despite the contract being broken.

In its structure, the title is divided into chapters themselves divided into various acts which each correspond to a confrontation. Each attempt uses up a certain amount of Energy that you automatically regain at the rate of one point per five minutes. Great classic again. While it isn't felt early on, the limitations are gradually more obvious as you advance through chapters. Players are indeed limited to a total of 50 Energy, and at some point, these become barely enough to have 3 fights. Once the Energy is all used up, you are left having to wait for up to 4 hours for it to refill. And unsurprisingly for this kind of game, the energy can be refilled instantly through the use of items or a swipe of your credit card if you have none left. 

Casual Tactics

Let us now turn to the main attraction of Fire Emblem, its gameplay, an element that has undergone changes in this mobile version. For starters, the fighting is done on screens of 6x8 tiles, which for the regulars of the series might seem tiny. And let's be clear, it is. With a team limited to four allies fighting against as many (or sometimes more) enemies, the tactical possibilities are few. Movements are also restricted to one tile for armored units, two tiles for infantry and flying units, and three tiles for cavalry units. If you've played a Fire Emblem game before, you'll know that some of the combat are somewhat based on a rock-paper-scissor system that corresponds to the weapons of the protagonists, with swords beating axes, axes beating lances and lances beating swords. Mages, archers and beasts (as well as kunai/shuriken users for the most recent episodes) are normally neutral, while healers can only heal. Thankfully, this concept remained in Fire Emblem Heroes, albeit with certain changes. Archers and beasts remain neutral, as well as healers who can now both heal and attack. The others are assigned colors, with sword users being assigned the color Red, axes getting Green while lances get Blue. The biggest change here is that mages can be part of either of these three colors, gaining the advantages/disadvantage of the main weapons. For example, while a red mage will have an advantage in battle against a green mage, it will most likely lose to a blue mage. Another feature taken from the main games is the fact that some of the weapons have an advantage over certain unit types. For example, Cherche uses a Hammer that gives her an advantage over armored units, while Marth's Falchion gives him an advantage over dragons.
 
Thus, on each trip, there are a whole bunch of calculations to take into account. How many enemies can reach you, how much HP can you afford to lose, how many enemies can you kill without putting yourself at risk, and so on. The advantage is that you can calculate everything in advance since there is no random element at this level. Damage is calculated using a simple formula: ATK * (Advantage / Disadvantage) - DEF/MDEF. Some will probably rejoice over the fact that the Luck stat is not present here. In fact, any notion of critical hits or precision rates is absent from Fire Emblem Heroes. A new step towards simplicity that will undoubtedly allow access to a wider audience.The notion of chance is also removed from the special skills or characters. Sol, for example, no longer depends on the RNG aspect, but will automatically activate after 4 actions (whether the character attacks or gets attacked). 

In the end, we end up with an accessible gameplay, which still requires a bit of reflection, especially in the Arena (PvP mode). To unlock the passive and active skills of your heroes, you have to use their AP, which the earn at each level up or by killing enemies. While useful in principle, and even if in practice, one should not expect a tree of very advanced options, your choices for character being very limited. Since you can not change weapons at will (your characters are definitely linked to their color code in the stone-paper-scissors system), let's just say that the customization aspect is to be thrown into oblivion.

Monotoneous End-Game

Another point, each character is rather mono-task, which can be seen as a disadvantage or a defect: the good point is that you can not do all the game with a single team and that it is better to count on a panel of varied fighters to always have four characters suitable for your next mission. The catch is that the leveling system is so boring that getting several different characters to level 40 turns out to be a chore. In combat, a character will only gain decent experience if it kills an opponent of a higher or almost equivalent level. As soon as you are a level above your opponents, the experience gain becomes negligible. So, in addition to having good characters, you need to have several characters for each category AND for each level of levels if you want to be effective. Incidentally, if you use a hero for his support abilities (boosting an allie's attack, for example), no exp is earned. To solve the problem, Intelligent System designed a system of gems that to boost the characters of our choice, but for now they are too limited to solve the problem. To make matters worse, if a characters dies on a map, all the experience earned since the specific battle started will be lost. Expect to regularly go through the training phases, which unfortunately spend a lot of energy for a fairly inconclusive and surly result.
 
As for increasing the number of units in your army, to summon a hero, you need to spend 5 Orbs. The Orbs are earned by playing through the story, by connecting regularly, participating in events, or by completing certain missions. And of course, orbs can also be bought with a swipe of your credit card. That being said, Orbs are pretty easy to get at the beginning of the game (but much harder later on) since when you finish the tutorial of Fire Emblem Heroes, you will have as much as 15 free Orbs on hand. It is strongly recommended, however, that you do not summon heroes immediately. Check our guide to know why.

So while the element of chance was removed from the gameplay aspect of the game, the summoning part will greatly depend of the amount of luck your personally have. Some players used up all their free orbs from the game without getting a single 5 star hero, while others are boasting dozens of them. A pure Gacha system meant to push players to spend money in the game.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Fire Emblem Heroes,  remains a small disappointment when we know the potential of the saga. If one understands the desire of Nintendo to open up to a wide audience on mobile, it seems just that the title of Intelligent System was not the right candidate in terms of gameplay. However, it remains playable and some confrontations are balanced, despite the fact that the reflection aspect is reduced whereas the fear and the suspense are for their part absent subscribers. 

7.1/10
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