Image: GamesPress/Nintendo

‘Fire Emblem Heroes’: a reflection, four years on

Fire Emblem Heroes (also known as FEH) was the second but vastly more lucrative venture for Nintendo into mobile gaming. It drew in $2.9 million on its very first day of release, but – four years on – how has it been getting on?

2 February 2021 was the fourth anniversary of the game. Time has certainly flown by, yet it feels as if this mobile game has been around forever, which is probably a symptom of me being a player since day one. Regardless, after four years, the time has come to reflect upon Fire Emblem Heroes as a whole and upon the leaps and bounds it has made since its release, the improvements being particularly conspicuous this year.

I would not be surprised if you did not know what I am talking about, as this is a niche topic, being my discussion on a spin-off game from a relatively niche series.

The main ‘story’ part of FEH has come a long way since its release. Some interesting paths have been introduced by the developers, although they have not been fully satisfying. Book I focused on the nations of Askr and Embla, and was rather basic, while Book II introduced the kingdoms of Nifl and Múspell. Book III dealt with the realm of the dead, with Death herself appearing, and Book IV went trippy by introducing the dream realm of Ljósálfheimr and the nightmare realm Dökkálfheimr. The current Book (V) has introduced the exploration of the dwarven-like kingdom of Niðavellir. 

Some lingering questions remain over the characters Fjorm, Sharena, Zacharias, and you, the summoner Kiran. These may be answered in the future, but the contrary might also happen. Book IV teased a lot but ended on a flat note, with just another teaser over what Loki had been doing since the events of Book II.

The largest advantage of FEH is that, being a mobile game, it can continually be updated and expanded, meaning that the story will continue for much longer than normally happens with the mainline games, even if it is nowhere near as captivating or deep.

Gameplay-wise, Aether Raids has become the META (Most Efficient Tactics Available), and the main focus of the game. Personally, I have been stuck at tier 20 for over a year now, which is incredibly frustrating. As for the other game modes, special mentions have to go to Chain Challenge, Squad Assault, and Blessed Gardens, for the great reason that I hate them – they are just too difficult. Meanwhile, Tactics Drills – a later addition – is pretty good and gives you a bit of a taste of traditional, mainline Fire Emblem strategies.

Events are the highlight of FEH, although the central gacha system, necessary to summon your favourite Fire Emblem characters from the mainline series, taints this. Special mention goes to the game mode Mjölnir’s Strike, a recent addition, which has  – with the anniversary – been expanded to include the formerly absent Summoner as a playable character, who leeches off your already acquired units. Pawns of Loki is the newest and least Fire Emblem-like game mode, but it is still great fun, although this only became the case after the game developers addressed some of its awful imbalances and its unfair elements. Hall of Forms is a game mode that provides you with FORMA Units, which you then slowly build up as unique units with rare skills; importantly, for the fourth anniversary, us players even got a Forma Soul, which allowed us to keep one of these units in perpetuity, something which would usually cost about £30. 

If you look back to how the game was when first released, it is basically unrecognisable nowadays.

This is a testament to the hard work that the developers at Intelligent Systems have put into keeping the game fresh and exciting. You can tell they love the game. This was most evident in 2020 and on the occasion of the fourth anniversary, with the developers providing multiple updates attempting to iron out many of the in-game kinks. Notably, this has included testing multiple ways to combat the Power-creep tendency – which, if left unaddressed, would have rendered units obsolete, even if less than a year old.

With the recent update provided in light of the fourth anniversary, players have been blessed with even more quality-of-life and summoning changes, and have been promised even more in the upcoming months. Through the updates, the developers are even addressing their own problems with FEH; for example, the issue of new ‘legendary’ heroes being vastly more powerful than the originals, which was fixed by going back and updating their features. The developers really do seem to cherish their game. As for the issue of Power-creep, generally speaking, they are employing different means to combat it – this has been most evident in 2020; and although it is not enough, it is certainly going somewhere.

However, not all is good. Marth – that is, Mr. Fire Emblem himself – lost out the top male spot in the Choose Your Legends 5 vote to a NPC character, Gatekeeper, who, frankly speaking, has no part in this game beyond being inept at being a gatekeeper. This outcome highlights a worrying trend, in that many long-term Fire Emblem fans are being pushed out by those who have only played FEH or Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Fans used to complain about people who had only played Fire Emblem Awakening, and now Awakening fans are among those getting upset by the mass entry of people to their cherished franchise, which has been fuelled by the high accessibility provided by mobile games.

My solution to this is to suggest that Intelligent Systems should give more games the Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia treatment (the latter being a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series), and hence remake many of the older games, which have never left Japan to start with. The idea is to give them a Western release for the first time. Overall, how Intelligent Systems combat the problem of the tribalisation of Fire Emblem fans into new-and old-player camps is going to be key to the future of not only FEH but of the whole franchise.

As a final note, I highly recommend this mobile game to any Fire Emblem, JRPG, or Gacha-games fans. In 2020, the developers of FEH were able to put new life into it, dragging up what was at one time a very basic game to a level at which it is able to mostly stand compared to the games of the main series. Fire Emblem Heroes is unique, full of charm, and presents both the casual aspects and the evilly-hard challenges you would expect from the Fire Emblem series, just in a condensed form.


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