Fire Emblem Heroes is a bite size turn based strategy game that never hits a sweet spot of an enjoyable challenge instead of what an easy push over of a game that it is. I’ve never played any other game in the Fire Emblem series, but I do enjoy the genre of turn based strategy. As a mobile game it feels healthy, even if it’s a shallow grind that never makes use of its mechanics. I’ve invested several hours without any sort of challenge on normal difficulty. It took hours just to have anyone from my army perish. Without any threat of permanent death or punishment, it makes an easy game even more stupidly forgiving either for children or people that like to turn off their brains when they play a strategy game. If you’re looking for play against other players, look elsewhere, because another player’s army is controlled by the computer.
Let’s start with the obvious and that’s the high production quality. Fire Emblem Heroes feels like a good experience to behold. It looks and sounds beautiful. The character artwork is amazing, there are three different variations for each with a dialog pose, an attack and a damaged. This incredible art is over top of a chibi battlefield that looks less impressive, but still good. The music is robust and there is top notch voice acting. The brief attack cut scenes look excellent, even if anyone would save time by disabling them in the settings. Last, but not least, there are a few videos that honestly make no sense, and they were far more frequent when the game started than at my current level. If there were less production, I’d be far less interested to keep going.
Since this is a turn based strategy, each battle puts you in charge of four units that you can select. It took me hours before I realized that I could change the units in my group. You take on several other troops until you or your rival’s group has been depleted. To add the least bit of diversity, some battles have a limited number of rounds that you need to either complete the battle or survive against an opponent that is invulnerable. The foe feels random, because their allies are at the same level. You can easily stall to wait out the six rounds.
Combat takes place on a grid. Troop movement is as easy as tapping the unit and dragging it where you want it to be or what you want it to attack. It feels good, easy and self explanatory. Everyone on your team gets a turn before your turn is over and it’s your rival’s turn.
Since the game is on a single screen, things are on a small scope. Walking units move two squares, mounted units on dragons and horseback can move further. Horses move a single tile through trenches. Crumbling walls can be destroyed and ranged units can attack over walls, mountains or pits
The game’s mechanics are solid for a mobile game. There is a rock, paper, scissor mechanic where red swords are better than green axes, which are better than blue pikes that are better than red swords. It’s simple and there’s always a reminder in the bottom right corner of any battle. On top of that, winged foes are weak to archery units.
Ranged units require a single tile of space between them, while melee fighters need to be next to their target. A defending unit will get to counterattack if they are still alive and in the appropriate tile to attack. Again, ranged units can only counter attack ranged units, and melee can only counterattack melee. To make things interesting many of my own troops can attack a second time after a counterattack.
Characters can have an ability assigned to them, but it never felt that useful, nor did I remember that often they had an extra skill. People can heal one another, give added defense to an ally, hinder foes and give damage. It felt like something that the computer made better use of.
All this depth means nothing, when for hours I was murdering each and every character on the battlefield in a single shot. It was rare when any foe could withstand any attack. This makes each story battle extremely short where it requires zero thought to plod through. To be fair, there are three difficulties that consist of normal, hard, and lunatic for grinding and replay purposes. To survive hard difficulty, you need to cake walk through normal which makes for a dull and hollow experience.
For the story maps, the dialog is weak, skipable and perhaps only used to show off the incredible character art. Each battle has four or so lines of dialog. Nothing resonated with me, but this is my first Fire Emblem game. There’s no real choice and no reason to pay attention to the story, plus the fact that you can play the three books at once, so you’re essentially jumping from story to story if you’d like and making it even more confusing.
Despite the story battles being so short, each book is excessively long. I bring it up to warn you that books end with a whimper. For a game that started out with videos, I expected something grander to conclude each book rather than two extra battles that count as preludes. They felt like typical battles and it felt like a waste of time to anyone that will get far enough to complete it. That summarizes the game in a good way.
After hearing for years that the Fire Emblem series has permanent death, I was a little bit disappointed to finally be crushed by a rival only to discover that all my characters are kept. Not only are they kept, but they keep their experience and levels earned from the battle they lost. There’s zero punishment for losing. It’s amazing. On top of an easy game, when the game does provide any kind of challenge, there’s no harm for losing.
Without punishment for losing, this lets the other modes be far more brutal and unbalanced. There are arena duels, towers, raids and other things that really up the challenge. Since you can see what level of foes you’ll be facing along with what unit types, that kills any mystery and it’s just easy to keep going with your A team rather than sending in your less seasoned troops.
To encourage the player into using different characters, destroying lesser foes doesn’t get you much experience. You need to keep fighting enemies at your own level. I suppose that creates challenge, but why would I ever change my four character group when I could wipe the floor with anyone for hours? Always using your best characters means you’ll spend less time watching the level up screen. It breaks the flow of combat and should be relegated to a pop up rather than having to view each stats increase. The battles would go by even faster if that were the case.
To add an interesting dynamic, you can play a type of story mode that chains maps together back to back. You carry on with those who survived from the previous map. It feels like a worthy and interesting challenge that add permanent death in a way. There are also arena duels that have teams from real players to take on. However, I assume these are mere ghosts and it’s the typical computer playing as the player.
When the game becomes too much of a grind, there is an auto battle system that lets you watch the computer take over for any battle you want. The game wants you to play so bad that it’s willing to play it for you. My mind is blown. Perhaps replaying battles should allow auto battle, but not every battle. The auto battler does a competent job except for the battles where you’re supposed to stay alive six rounds. Then it will be attacking the invulnerable enemy rather than hiding and stalling.
Fire Emblem Heroes desperately wants you to play and to keep playing, but to what end? It’s a free game and thankfully it’s polite with its micro transactions. You can purchase orbs without being in your face about it. Orbs are used for so many inconsequential things. You can use orbs to upgrade your castle to give your combatants more experience, but I quickly maxed out my castle.
You can also spend orbs to refill your stamina. It costs stamina to hop into battle. Most battles cost 2 stamina wile the further chapters of each story book will run you about 10. You have a maximum of 99 stamina and it takes a good deal of time to blow through the stamina. All you need to do is put the game down and wait. Go on with your life and come back. There’s no reason to use stamina when you replenish it.
If you badly need to keep playing when you’ve spent all your stamina there are other modes that let you play without any cost. Arena Assault will let you play at anytime and you go through seven battles back to back without using the same character twice. It’s different than the Arena Duel which is a single battle that costs you a dueling swords. These dueling sword items replenish over time, or you can spend orbs to get more. I’d much rather play Arena Assault with seven battles rather than the single battle, especially if the duels cost me something.
The last thing you can spend orbs on are random characters for your army. There are packs where you get the first character free, but then you need to spend 5 orbs per character and it keeps increasing from there. I was given so many characters for free that it was staggering. I have an overwhelming army and yet I only use my best four characters that I started the game with.
As an outsider to the Fire Emblem series, I can’t imagine this as a good entry in the series. If anything it is an advertisement that the series exists. The game was far too easy with no real use for its orb micro currency so its a failure on a lot of fronts. There’s no challenge and little fun. If anything you look at great art and immerse yourself into the world.