Fire Emblem Heroes is out on iOS and Android today, making the role-playing game franchise the latest to get Nintendo’s mobile treatment. As Fire Emblem makes the move to smartphones, longtime players and total newcomers may both be wondering what to expect. Is Heroes in the same vein as the series’ recent Nintendo 3DS entries, or will it cater more toward a mobile-first crowd?
The answer, according to Nintendo, is both. In the company’s recent financial results briefing, president Tatsumi Kimishima said that Fire Emblem Heroes is meant to accommodate people with a range of experience.
“We developed Fire Emblem Heroes to be a quality title that fans of the series will appreciate and play thoroughly,” he explained. “At the same time, we hope to provide a chance for consumers who have never played Fire Emblem before to experience the appeal of the series.”
Recent previews, including our own, suggest how Heroes manages to draw in both parties, doing so by both following and deviating from the standard set by Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, the handheld titles that reinvigorated interest in the series, particularly overseas. Below, we chart some of the key similarities — and differences — that could either attract or repel fans and new players.
Familiar heroes ...
As the title suggests, Fire Emblem Heroes is all about the vast array of fighters that comprise the RPG series. While Heroes doesn’t seem to emphasize any particular game’s cast over another, players of the recent 3DS games will quickly find the bulk of their favorite characters present. Want to play as Lucina again after falling for her in Awakening and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U? She’s in there, as are all of her compatriots.
... and some less familiar ones
By that, we don’t just mean the rest of the folks from Awakening. We mean pretty much every Fire Emblem character ever, although you’ll have to spend some funds to acquire them. This is a good reminder that the series is far bigger and older than Marth’s debut in Super Smash Bros. Melee, back in 2001. Fire Emblem as a franchise dates back to the Famicom days; the first one came out in 1990. Many of these games never made it stateside, and it’s only in recent years that Fire Emblem has broken through overseas. Although hardcore players will recognize characters from games like The Binding Blade or Genealogy of the Holy War, they’ll be totally foreign to anyone who’s only played the games officially released in the West. That puts a bunch of players on equal footing when starting Heroes, even if they have played Fire Emblem games before.
Characters’ personalities still shine ...
Arguably the most popular feature that Awakening introduced to the series is support conversations. Outside of battle, players can get to know their party members through a number of humorous and revealing scenes. These are gone from Heroes, but each character does still have a number of voice lines that players can check out outside of fights. With a cast so big, this is a nice replacement that preserves their unique personalities.
... but there’s no time for romance
Chatting with fellow heroes in Awakening and Fates is a charming and fun side activity, but it has real benefits for battles, too. Support conversations are meant for building deep connections between the games’ casts. Characters can pair up together on the battlefield in the two 3DS games, protecting each other from death if their relationship is strong enough. If two eligible heroes reach their maximum point of affection, they even shack up and have kids; think of support conversations in these games as a dating minigame. None of this is present in Heroes, unfortunately. Players can’t pair up heroes on the battlefield, and they certainly can’t make them date each other.
Combat works mostly the same way ...
Fire Emblem’s combat is based around a weapon triangle. Swords beat axes, axes beat spears and lances, and spears and lances beat swords. Nailing this is crucial for success in the RPGs, although Awakening and Fates simplify the process by warning players of the likely outcomes of their match-ups. In Fire Emblem Heroes, the weapon triangle returns. That makes for familiar gameplay that veterans can jump into with ease. Helpfully, the weapon triangle is a constant presence on-screen in Heroes; it’s in the lower right-hand corner at all times, so there’s no reason to forget which party member is best suited to take on which enemy.
... with some key changes
Another well-known element of Fire Emblem’s battle system is permadeath. In most games in the series, it’s important to keep your warriors alive throughout battle. That’s not just because seeing your faves die is tragic — if they die, they’re gone for good. Awakening shook things up by introducing an optional Casual mode, where all heroes are revived at a fight’s end. Heroes takes that one step farther by dumping the permadeath mechanic altogether. This is presumably because gathering heroes costs real world funds, and spending cash on the lottery system that dispenses characters only to lose them forever would really, really stink.
The trickier weapon degradation mechanic is also gone. Almost every Fire Emblem title limits the amount of times a fighter can use a weapon before it breaks. (Fates and Fire Emblem Gaiden, which will make it stateside as the reimagined Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia in May, forgo this element.) This is not part of Heroes at all, so no one has to worry about replacing their characters’ weaponry.
Striking the balance between new and old
With an equal number of familiar elements and downsized ones, Fire Emblem Heroes seems like an apt introduction to the series based on everything we know thus far. As big fans of the series, we still expect to find the game engrossing. We’re just as excited to see total newbies fall in love with their very first Fire Emblem game.
Below, watch video producer Nick Robinson recount his own experience going hands-on with the mobile game.