Nintendo could have another mobile hit on its hands.
As a fan of the Fire Emblem series and its special brand of turn-based strategy combat, I was skeptical when Nintendo announced that it was taking the franchise to mobile. After spending some time with the iOS version today after its launch (it’s available on Android too), I’m a believer that Fire Emblem belongs on the platform.
I also think it could help Nintendo make a lot of money in the $36 billion mobile games market.
At its core, Heroes feels like a standard Fire Emblem game. Battles take place on a grid-based map, and you take turns against the enemy moving heroes and attacking. You must be aware of the weapon triangle, Fire Emblem’s paper-scissors-rock mechanic where certain weapons do more damage against others. For example, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. The game even puts a small diagram on the bottom of the screen that helps you remember these weaknesses.
Nintendo did apply some smart changes to make Fire Emblem work better on mobile. Fights take place on a smaller map, so everything fits on one screen, and it’s easy to drag-and-drop your heroes with your finger. The touchscreen works great; you can easily slide units across the map and attack.
You also only carry four heroes with you into battle, so fights don’t drag on as long as they do in traditional Fire Emblem games. This makes it so you can fit in a quick, 5 minute fight during a bathroom break, instead of having to set aside 30 minutes for one battle.
It’s a much more graceful transition than Mario had with Super Mario Run, where Nintendo had to turn the game into an auto-runner so that the platformer could work for smart devices.
Gotta catch ’em all
The premise of Heroes also provides for Pokémon-style collecting. You are a hero summoned to the game’s world, and you have a special gun that can summon other fighters (yes, a gun that shoots out Fire Emblem characters). These other warriors come from past games in the series, and you can unlock them through a shop with in-game currency or real money.
What you’re really buying is a random hero, so you’re hoping to unlock a rare fighter each time. You’re gambling, but you can’t really lose. You just have a lesser chance to unlock the series’ most iconic characters, like Marth and Robin.
It appeals to me in the same way Overwatch’s loot crates do. I enjoy getting new characters without knowing exactly what I’ll end up with.
The sights and sounds
Heroes is a good-looking game. Nintendo didn’t just replicate the art or reuse assets from recent Fire Emblem games like Awakening and Fates. It’s going for a more colorful, cartoonish look. This works well for mobile, since the brighter colors and larger heads make it easier for the large cast of characters to stand out as individuals.
I also love the music, which has new versions of classic Fire Emblem songs. When you start the game, you’re treated to an operatic (and wonderfully over-the-top) version of the series’ main theme. You also hear a riveting rendition of the franchise’ iconic “Together We Ride” song when you’re unlocking new characters.
Conclusion (so far)
I’ve only just started Heroes, but I’m impressed. It manages to feel like a traditional Fire Emblem game, with all of the changes made helping the strategy-based combat work better on mobile. So far, the free-to-play mechanics have not frustrated me by locking me out of combat or staggering my progress.
Sure, I get the feeling this won’t be as deep a game as Awakening or Fates. Perma-death is gone — as we reported — a sad omission that I can understand (you don’t want to frustrate players by taking away characters they paid for after they die in battle).
It’s still fun and requires you to be smart. It gives you plenty of room for strategy, including picking which heroes to take into a fight and agonizing over their placement during each round.
Already, this is Nintendo’s best mobile effort yet.