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Fire Emblem Heroes devs on swimsuits, Sacred Coins and ‘power creep’

Six months into Heroes, the developers answer questions fans have been dying to know

Nintendo / Intelligent Systems
Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

It’s been more than six months since Fire Emblem Heroes launched on mobile phones. It’s proven to be a massive success, earning more for Nintendo than Super Mario Run, despite having fewer downloads. Just before the game launched, Nintendo hosted a voting event, allowing fans to select their favorite heroes from the breadth of the series. On Aug. 31, special versions of those heroes will be released as part of a Choose Your Legends bonus banner.

In time for the event, we sat down with Kouhei Maeda, director of Heroes at Intelligent Systems, and Shingo Matsushita, the director of the game at Nintendo, to discuss some of the more pressing questions dedicated fans have been asking about Heroes.

How do you choose which artist works on each new hero?

Kouhei Maeda: With each character, we think internally at [Intelligent Systems], if this character was a hero in Fire Emblem Heroes, which illustrator would really bring out the best in this character? What would make the most appealing character? This is something we decide at [Intelligent Systems] but sometimes we ask [Nintendo’s] opinion as well.

Some of the character art, especially during the summer swimsuit events, has been pretty risque for Nintendo, which is traditionally known as being family-friendly. How do you decide what’s appropriate for the artwork in the game?

Shingo Matsushita: If you look at the Fire Emblem series since Awakening, we’ve had DLC that involved characters in swimsuits. So this isn’t exactly a new concept. And, as you mentioned, Nintendo does have a family-friendly image. But within all of Nintendo’s franchises, Fire Emblem is generally played by people that are a little bit older. So when we make games for this series, we keep that in mind.

It’s not that we’re making heroes in swimsuits just to have swimsuits. Fire Emblem Heroes is a game with a lot of deep strategy and gameplay, but at the same time there are a lot of great characters, so we want to give back to the fans a little bit of fan service. This is something we’ve had a positive reaction to in the previous games. So when it came time for Fire Emblem Heroes, the development team really wanted to include that as well.

We’re also talking about the design. When we’re thinking about the design for these characters, we’re definitely trying to be very careful about it. One thing you could say [is], we’re trying to maintain the dignity of these characters that we love. If you think about Fire Emblem characters, a lot of times they can be very serious, a lot of times they’re fighting, but sometimes it’s very nice to let the characters hang loose a little bit and let their hair down.

It seems that certain teams, like all-cavalry teams, have become quite powerful and maybe overpowered. Is that something you’re looking to address?

Maeda: As the development team, what we really want to achieve is something where the players are using lots of different teams or lots of different characters. If we see a situation that appears to be unbalanced, we want to address that by looking at ways to make other heroes more appealing to use. Of course we gather data from the players and how they’re playing, and we’re able to analyze that.

You mentioned the parties using mounted-type heroes. We acknowledge that, yes, those can be very popular. There are fans out there that are very passionate about mounted parties. But when we look at the data we have, it only seems about 20 percent of the most passionate players are using teams like that. So we feel like it’s still a situation where there are lots of different teams you can use and lots of different characters. But we’ll continue to look at the data as we move forward.

Gatchapon games are known for suffering from “power creep,” where newer units get increasingly more powerful as compared to units that were available at launch. How will you address this? Will players have to leave their older units behind?

Matsushita: Of course power creep is something we’re concerned about. But we are taking action to prevent that from happening. I think you’ll see some of that in future updates. While I can’t go into what those future updates are at this time, I do want to let you know that we understand that people love Fire Emblem characters, and we do want to respect the feelings those fans have towards those characters.

People want to be able to keep using the characters they love. So I think going forward, of course you’ll see some characters that look really strong, but you’ll still be able to use the characters you have from the beginning that you really love. As a side note, I am a huge fan of Ephraim, and if I couldn’t use him anymore, I’d be really sad. That doesn’t go just for me, but the rest of our development team, who have characters they love. So it’s something we think about as well when we’re working on the game.

Players seem to be frustrated with the experience of summoning colorless units, given that many of these units are not very powerful or useful. Is this something the development team is working to address?

Maeda: We do acknowledge that it seems that healers from the colorless heroes are not as popular as some others. We are thinking about some ways that we could address this.

Boons and banes are a controversial topic within the Fire Emblem Heroes community. There have been many requests to have the option to change a unit’s boons and banes. Is this something you would be open to?

Matsushita: We have heard fans’ opinions about the individual stat differences on summoned heroes. This is something we’re looking into right now. The stat differences was definitely something that we had planned. We had expected players to make the best use of these. But we do know that there are some fans who would like to be able to change the individual stats that get increased, the boons and banes. However, if we had that it could also lead to some other problems. So it’s something we’re still looking into.

Sacred coins were introduced several weeks ago, but their purpose is still unknown. Could you shed some light on that?

Matsushita: I’ll ask you to wait until October, and you’ll find out then. But there’s no disadvantage to collecting them now, so keep at it!

Having units support each other in conversations (and maybe even have children together) has become a major part of the Fire Emblem series. Is this something that may come to Heroes?

Matsushita: I’ll ask that you look forward to some upcoming updates. I can’t say any more at this time, but I would say you should look forward to them.

[Edit: Nintendo reached out to say we should expect something in September.]

Are there any plans to allow larger map sizes in Fire Emblem Heroes?

Maeda: For the map size, we feel like the current map size is what’s optimal for a smart device game. But we are introducing a lot of variation via the gameplay. For example, this is something that comes from the Fire Emblem series as well. We have turn-based maps, defensive maps. Other things that add variation to the gameplay without changing the map size. So we’ll continue to look at ways to add variation that way.

Where are Xander and Camus? Will they ever be returning?

Maeda: I don’t have a set date that I could give you right now, but these heroes will appear again in Grand Hero Battles.

There are many currency systems in Heroes, and some of these currencies seem to be piling up for players. For example, badges and great badges. Will players have a use for these items in the future?

Maeda: We do realize that players might have collected badges or great badges. We are looking at ways that people are able to use those in the future. And while I can’t give you any details right now, I want fans to know that these items will have value. So just hold on for now.

Who will you be selecting as a free hero in the Choose Your Legends event?

Matsushita: You ask us a very difficult question. I really want them all, but if I have to pick one, I really have trouble deciding between Ike and Lucina. If I have to pick between them, then I guess Lucina? And the reason is, I like her more.

Maeda: I want all four, so I’ll probably try really hard to get all four, including some summoning. But to pick one, I guess I’d go with Ike? I love all of them, but when I think about gameplay, Ike’s really strong and I want to be strong on the battlefield.

We’ve seen a lot of information about Fire Emblem Warriors, but is there any additional info you can share about next year’s new Fire Emblem game coming to Switch?

Maeda: I can’t release any information about the new Fire Emblem game for Nintendo Switch, because the producer would get really mad at me. I do know the development team is working really hard, and while it may take a little while, I hope fans look forward to the new game.

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