Fire Emblem Heroes Has Lost Sight of What Makes it Great

Fire Emblem Heroes has gone the way of the great Taylor Swift. What started as a feel good story thats only real sin was a lack of originality has since turned into a multi-million dollar titan slowly drifting further from what made it loved by so many.

As a Fire Emblem/Katy Perry stan, it’s disappointing to see that inevitable transformation. Fire Emblem Heroes made the strategy-RPG franchise accessible to millions of people, showing them a sliver of what makes its world so wonderful. But somewhere along the way, it lost that magic. I don’t think it’s possible to ever bring it back.

Regardless, I’m holding out hope that it can. The Fire Emblem franchise changed my life, and I’m not alone. This series means so much to so many people – which, now that I think about it, is another striking parallel to our fallen pop icon.

Put simply, Fire Emblem Heroes needs to get away from “Reputation” and get back to “Fearless”. It might not heal Heroes, nor drive new fans to the app store, but Fire Emblem needs to reestablish itself before Three Houses launches next spring.

Heroes Will Never Have Great Gameplay, So Stop Asking For It

This type of mobile game is the only exception to the age old rule that gameplay comes first. That sounds blasphemous, especially to Nintendo fans (get bodied Sony/Microsoft fans), but understand that Fire Emblem Heroes could never truly have great gameplay. The game feels as shallow as that graded poem you threw together 15 minutes before English class. Major contributors include 6 x 8 maps, no hit rates, no permadeath, countless characters of the same archetype, and skill inheritance. That said, it has to be that way to please mobile audiences and Fire Emblem fans.

Short bursts are the name of the game in the mobile space, hence the removal of hit rates, permadeath, and sprawling maps. How fun would it be if you were sitting on the toilet during your bathroom break, only to have Tharja miss a spell and ruin your otherwise perfect strategy? Sure, that works great when you have time to consider the risk/reward of casting said spell, but mobile players don’t have that luxury most of the time.

EDITORS NOTE: If you find yourself with the time to consider the risk/reward of casting said spell, I recommend you buy literally any other Fire Emblem game. They’re all way more fun than Heroes, and you don’t have to worry about joining Gambler’s Anonymous at the age of 19. Need Help? Get Help.

The same goes for the maps. There’s only so much you can do with an 6 x 8 grid, and eventually all maps start to feel the same. Nothing Intelligent Systems comes up with can change that, not even their greatest 21st century innovation: Defense Tiles.

The larger Grand Conquests Maps lack inspiration. The problem does extend beyond smartphone restrictions.

With 318 heroes, each assigned to one of eight weapon types (weapon triangle color differences excluded), the actual units you can use also lose originality fast. Every hero can inherit just about every skill from other heroes, so you can run just about any skillset with any character. I can tell how long you’ve played the game based on the number of Blarblade+ sets you run. It’s optimal for nearly every fast mage, and has been since April 2017! There’s rarely a character that serves a unique purpose, and there’s hardly ever a unique role to fill. If you’re not one round KOing your opponent, you’re not playing the game efficiently. Intelligent Systems refuses to address this, instead answering by creating “challenges” that have you facing off with enemies with stupid high stats.

This is a monstrosity

I get it, it’s hard to make the game difficult organically. The game has to be beatable in bite-sized pieces, so forcing players to come up with real strategies isn’t a great option. Unfortunately, that leads to maps that require the ole Guess and Check method. For the record, Guess and Check has always been my favorite method of solving multiple choice questions. Really carried me on the math portion of the SATs. 

Regardless, I am willing to deal with countless retries because I didn’t know that a swordsman was going to appear right next to my triangle adept Performing Arts Azura. I understand that it’s impossible to make this game balanced, and that some challenges will feel unfair at times. It just doesn’t make for good gameplay. Still, I’m more than willing to suffer through numerous demises in order to get Sacred Stones’ Prince Lyon. The character at the end makes the slog worth it.

As Azama would say, “Death comes for everyone”. That said, I’d love to hear some of your solutions to Fire Emblem Heroes’ gameplay problem. I don’t have a great answer for you. Call me a fatalist – it seems to me that this devolution is inevitable in a game built on Heroes’ premise.

Gacha Stinks, But Nintendo Has to Make Money Somehow

Nobody likes Gacha. We would all rather get our favorite characters for free. Obviously, Gacha never was what made Fire Emblem Heroes great.

Hot take though: Gacha helped more than it hurt. The orb prices are ludicrously high given the odds of drawing the hero you want, and the monthly “deals” feel like getting a 99 cent soda off the value menu when you know damn well that Ronald’s only paying 2 cents to sell it to you. But the fact that there’s no guarantee of a character keeps you playing – and meeting new faces along the way.

200+ characters in the summoning pool is a lot though. When Heroes launched, it seemed as though characters would be excluded from certain summoning banners. They listed every hero in the banner, which at the time was every hero in the game. Still, the common thought was that some banners wouldn’t have Selena or Laslow in them. Maybe the 5-star non-focus heroes would rotate from banner to banner. This system would have been amazing for players, and I think it would actually increase spending. It’s discouraging to know that you have a 50/50 chance to get a random 5-star rather than the character you want on a banner. At least throw us the crumb of decent pity-breakers!

The Gacha system needs to be reworked, not removed, to bring Heroes back. Bringing different heroes to each banner is an easy fix that should have been added a long time ago.

Heroes Needs to Bring Characters Back Into Focus

I apologize to every English teacher I ever had – I really buried the lede on this one. It’s important to understand that Heroes’ foundation is shakier than Smash Ultimate’s netcode before arriving at this point.

Fire Emblem Heroes

The one pure thing about Fire Emblem Heroes is the characters. They are what makes this game great. You can bring characters from different generations together to create dream team ups, experience more of their stories, and reunite with them in what feels like a class reunion you actually don’t have existential dread about attending.

Heroes functions best when it emphasizes individual stories. It was a long time ago, but an early Tempest Trial focused on characters from Blazing Sword. Hector’s dialogue with Lucina left me feeling some type of way. In it, and spoilers for Fire Emblem: Binding Blade if you’re still working your way through it, Lucina confirms that Hector will die in battle. Being the hero he is, Hector says he’s ready to embrace that future, as without that fate he would not be able to save his friend Eliwood. It’s a genuine moment, one that fans of Hector would love.

Legendary Hero Ephraim’s level 40 conversation inspires the player to become a stronger person. The events of Sacred Stones have already transpired, and he is king of Renais. In the conversation we learn that he still hasn’t become the king he aspires to be, despite adulation from his people. It almost feels like an epilogue to Sacred Stones.

The main lords aren’t the only ones with great lines. Reinhardt and Olwen, from the Japanese-exclusive-turned-meme Thracia 776, have become adored by players who never met them prior. Thanks to great art, writing, and dialogue, new players can develop connections to characters whose games they’ve never played. That’s the beauty of Fire Emblem Heroes. It serves as a gateway into Fire Emblem’s vast universe..

Character Alts Are Ruining Fire Emblem Heroes’ Magic

When they write the obituary on Fire Emblem Heroes, historians will point back to January of 2018 at the Sacred Stones banner. It seemed innocent enough, featuring L’Arachel, Myrrh, and a variation of Eirika where she used a Red Tome. Eirika never uses magic in Sacred Stones, but this version came from an alternate universe where she studied with Lyon.

This banner didn’t serve as the John Wilkes Booth to Fire Emblem Heroes’ Lincoln, but it was the first to feature an alt of an existing character alongside a few newcomers. Intelligent Systems didn’t believe people would summon on a banner with L’Arachel and Myrrh alone, so they put a familiar face on there to tempt people to summon. It must have worked, because now every single banner featuring new characters also has an alt of an existing character. We have flying Nino, sword Reinhardt, green mage Olwen, about 19 Corrins and 300 Camillas. That latest Fates banner was the worst offender – two Corrins, Camilla and Mikoto as the lone new unit.

What about Hayato and Mozu? Not having Beast units has become a meme of sorts, so embrace it and put in Keaton with an axe! Anything’s better than the 5th Camilla alt. Seriously. We have five Camillas, and she hasn’t been a Legendary Hero yet. You know she will be.

I understand that recognizable characters sell, but they have hurt the game overall and are preventing Heroes from showing the full scope of what Fire Emblem is.

The current Christmas banner really crushed my spirits. I’m perfectly cool with seasonal banners. Fire Emblem has always had some elements of fan-service, and it’s sometimes fun to see these characters in funny get-ups. It puts you in the spirit of the season. But this year we got yet another version of Eirika and Ephraim, two characters I never thought I’d get tired of. Well, Ephraim at least. Give players Christmas Alm, Celica, Gray, and Mae. If you don’t think those characters sell, make them really powerful! That will convince people to buy them. More importantly, it will give them a chance to learn about them. Maybe they’ll be intrigued enough to go buy Fire Emblem Echoes.

Fire Emblem Heroes Should Tie Into Three Houses

Like the fourth act of Les Mis, this has dragged on long enough. Just as Jean Valjean left Cosette wisdom, so shall I leave you: Fire Emblem Heroes can take a step in the right direction by tying into Fire Emblem: Three Houses a few months prior to release.

Fire Emblem Three Houses

Alfonse and crew should meet the leader of each house, and give us a little taste of their personalities. Just something to whet our appetite. Then, release them as playable characters with spoiler free dialogue that sets up Three Houses’ premise. When Echoes launched in May of 2017, Heroes missed a great chance to hype up the game. They can mend that wrong with Three Houses.

If they miss that chance, the game would be better off diving headfirst into the whirlpool like that quitter Javert.

About The Author

Tyler Kelbaugh
Nintendo Writer

Tyler Kelbaugh is a Nintendo writer for The Outerhaven Productions. He fell in love with gaming at the ripe young age of 4, a passion born from years of consistently failing to survive Marble Zone. If you mention the words "Fire Emblem" around him he'll talk your ear off. He's also a pretty competent Smash Bros. player, and a passionate sports fan.