Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo's second game for smartphones and the first one to be released in 2017. It's first attempt at making mobile games, Super Mario Run, was quite successful even though it cost $10 (Rs. 800) to play all levels.
Fire Emblem Heroes takes the conventional route for mobile games - it's free to play with in-app purchases that let you speed up your progress. Fire Emblem Heroes isn't officially available in India but it is possible to download it if you're an Android user. As we've already mentioned, the game requires an always-on Internet connection and that means it's not suitable for playing on the go in most places in India, as loading times stretch out and take the fun out of the game.
Fire Emblem Heroes is a turn-based strategy game with character levelling from role-playing games. The game is essentially a series of battles, interspersed with story scenes. You control up to four heroes, and on each turn, you make carry out one action per hero - moving, attacking, or healing friendly characters, all count as one turn. Once you've made all four moves, your turn ends, and the enemies take their turn. As you keep battling, your characters gain experience and start levelling up to become stronger warriors.
In Fire Emblem Heroes, you are known as a master tactician, and you've been summoned by the heroes of the world of Askr in desperation. The evil Emblian empire has conquered a bunch of worlds already, and many of the universe's best heroes are under its command. You need to defend Askr and head out to various worlds to free its heroes from the clutches of the Emblians.
At first we were quite intrigued by the game's lore and wanted to spend all our time in story mode. However that changed as we spent more time playing Fire Emblem Heroes. The story started feeling repetitive, and by the time we reached the fifth world we found ourselves skipping all the dialogues and just heading to the combat part.
Your goal is to command heroes in battle and to ensure that you're exploiting your enemy's weaknesses. The combat itself takes place on a top down grid, where you can see your four heroes, and the enemy army. There are three basic types of units (red, blue, and green). Red is strong against green, which gets an attack bonus against blue, and blue gets an attack bonus against red, so battles are a bit like a game of rock, paper, and scissors. You try and get the upper hand through matching your units with enemies they have an advantage over.
Before each battle you can check the types of enemies lying in wait and choose a suitably matched team of heroes. The AI is quite strong even on the lowest difficulty setting, and just a couple of wrong moves can pretty much result in defeat. Terrain plays a big role in how battles progress. Often you start in a weak spot and you'll have to move your heroes to safer locations to avoid a rout. Many times the only way to attack enemies will be through a narrow bridge so you can only move one hero at a time and that means you'll have to send in your tank (most powerful hero in physical combat) up ahead and use a ranged unit for support. The map does end up defining how battles progress.
Even if you're good at strategy and manage to clear the levels on the first try, you'll eventually find that enemies are too strong and your heroes can barely keep up. That brings us to in-game currencies. The basic currency is orbs and these are used to buy stamina and other items, and to summon heroes. These orbs are pretty hard to earn in-game - you only get one the first time you clear a map in the story, and you can also get them as a login bonus, or on completing certain milestones. By the time we reached world 7, we started to have trouble clearing levels. Fire Emblem Heroes has two other currencies - stamina points and duelling swords. These are both timers that slowly replenish.
You can have up to 50 stamina points in all, and you get one every five minutes. You spend these to attempt levels - story mode battles start off costing one or two stamina points, but that increases to seven or eight per stage as you progress. This means that you'll be out of stamina after just five or six battles, and you either wait for it to slowly replenish, or pay real money for additional stamina. Similarly, you get three duelling swords every 24-hours and you need these to battle other players for in-game rewards such as hero feathers, stamina potions, or shards. In these fights, you take on a team of heroes put together by another player like yourself and they are AI controlled.
These currencies are how Fire Emblem Heroes makes money. You can buy orbs and use them in a number of ways, including getting rid of wait times. Three orbs cost Rs. 160, and you'll have to shell out Rs. 500 for 10 of these. Replenishing your stamina costs stamina potions, which can be earned by completing in-game tasks, and summoning new heroes is one way in which you're going to need to spend a lot of orbs.
Once your initial batch of heroes hits a wall - and they will - you'll have to head to the Summon section and use five orbs to summon a hero. There are three levels of heroes - bronze, silver, and gold. The heroes are granted randomly, but we got one five-star gold hero once every two or three summoning sessions, and these heroes are well worth the orbs you spend.
Fire Emblem Heroes became a lot more fun to play once we found one five-star gold hero (Roy). At Level 5, Roy was already as strong as our Level 10 Alfonse, Sharena, and Anna. Roy also levelled up incredibly fast and eventually we reached a stage where the AI would easily destroy three of our heroes and Roy would defeat four or even five enemies single-handedly. Ideally want a five-star gold hero of every type - red, green, and blue, and a range unit such as an archer or a mage.
Summoning these heroes means you'll run out of orbs soon and thus begins the grind. You do things like log in on weekends and complete daily challenges to gain orbs, and just wait until you have enough to get what you need, or you can pay. Fire Emblem Heroes shows that Nintendo can definitely make a great game that's also optimised for monetisation.
We can't fault Nintendo for trying to monetise the game, but right now the timers are quite annoying. On the plus side, the game is completely ad-free.
As a turn-based strategy game that focuses on tactics, Fire Emblem Heroes has everything one could ask for. It's let down by a bland and repetitive story, and the need for an always-on Internet connection.
If you were expecting a premium game where you pay once and play, you're better off looking elsewhere. If you've never played any Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Heroes is a pretty good place to start. Its controls are well-designed for smartphones and the art is quite good too. The Fire Emblem games on Nintendo consoles are a lot better overall and you'd eventually want to move on to those.
That pretty much sums up what Nintendo's doing with its smartphone games. Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, and to some extent even Pokemon Go are all solid smartphone games, but far better games with the same IP are available on Nintendo consoles. These mobile games are definitely going to drive some users towards purchasing Nintendo hardware, and that can only be a good thing for the company.
Overall rating (out of 10): 7