Nintendo dipped its toes into the waters of the mobile gaming industry last year with Miitomo and Super Mario Run, two very different and (relatively) successful game launches. With Super Mario Run in particular, Nintendo attempted to defy the industry’s conventions by charging a one-time premium price for a polished product with no micro-transactions. The results were a game with over 100 million downloads, but only about 3% of which converted to payments.
Now Nintendo is changing up its market strategy with the newly revealed Fire Emblem Heroes, a mobile title that’s the reverse of Super Mario Run in a couple ways. For one, Heroes will be free-to-play with micro transactions, a model Nintendo avoided completely with Run. Heroes will also become available for pre-registration on Android first, a move that can be seen as a peace offering to the Android users still waiting for their version of Mario. One key feature that the two Nintendo games will share in common, though, is quality. Heroes is a fully fleshed-out Fire Emblem experience with an obscene amount of features for a free game. Let’s dive in to everything we could uncover from the reveal trailer.
First and foremost, Heroes is boasting a new, original story in the Fire Emblem universe featuring characters that span the entire franchise. Fan favorites like Chrom, Marth, Lyn and Acura are all present and accounted for, and each hero has voice acting as well as new art and brief character descriptions. While the mobile title surely won’t have a story as involved as the mainline series, it’s still nice to see a plot and story missions of some kind in the game. Aside from Story Missions, Heroes also features Special Maps (seasonal events), Arena Duels (high score trials), the Training Tower (where players can train their team for experience and rewards), and one other mode that hasn’t been revealed as of writing.
The real meat of any entry in the Fire Emblem series is the classic tactical rpg gameplay the franchise is known for, and though perma-death won’t make a showing in this iteration, the gameplay mechanics still look fun. A simplified, mobile-centric version of combat sees players building a party of four to battle in short skirmishes on 8×6 maps. The tiny maps fit the phone screen perfectly while still allowing for strategic movement across at least four different types of terrain. The “drag and drop” touch controls give players the option of either dragging a hero directly to an enemy to attack, or moving to the space next to an enemy before attacking in a more traditional Fire Emblem style. It’s somewhat disappointing that the only win condition for normal matches is “Defeat all Enemies,” but variation comes in the form of month-exclusive quests that have more specific win conditions (the example in the Direct was “KO Flying Foes”).
Fulfilling these special quests is one way players can net orbs, the in-game currency that unlocks up to 200 different heroes as of writing. It’s here that Nintendo hopes to fall in line with many other mobile game developers– for those who’re too impatient to unlock heroes through battle, orbs can also be purchased through the in-game store. Prices range from $1.99 for three orbs to $75 for 140 orbs, and beyond. Seeing as how summoning a hero (which is randomized) costs five orbs, these optional micro transactions may prove to be a smart inclusion on Nintendo’s part and, if successful, will likely carry over to the eventual Animal Crossing mobile title. It may also be possible to purchase stamina, since the player has a stamina bar and likely loses some after every battle to keep players from blowing through the game too quickly (a common practice in mobile rpg’s).
To explain the player’s ability to summon heroes from across the entire franchise, they’re given the title of Summoner. Summoning in Heroes is a somewhat intricate process. First of all, there’s a specific focus for summoning sessions (ex. Focus: Legendary Heroes) that presumably changes regularly. There are also different appearance rates for different heroes, which will likely further drive fans to pay money for more chances to unlock their favorite characters.
The hero summoning system is similar to catching Pokémon in Pokémon Go in that a player can acquire different versions of the same hero, with higher ranked heroes coming with better stats and weapons. These rankings and stats can be improved over time but, just like Pokémon, the hero with the better base ranking will always be more powerful. All heroes can equip different weapons and skills, though, which injects an unexpected amount of depth into the battle system. Players who don’t want to pay real money for more chances to summon high level heroes will be happy to know that occasional special timed encounters will occur where players can challenge exceptionally tough enemy heroes and, if able to defeat them, can recruit these heroes free of charge.
Nintendo is accomplishing two objectives with Fire Emblem Heroes. They’re delivering a (albeit simplified) taste of Fire Emblem to the masses while also putting themselves in a better position to make a much larger profit than they did with Super Mario Run. The company promises new characters and other content down the line in “timely, free updates,” something that itself is nothing but encouraging for those anticipating Nintendo’s further mobile ventures. The real challenge now? Converting future Fire Emblem Heroes fans to Fire Emblem Switch fans.