Fire Emblem Heroes
US: 2 Feb 2017
I’m a relatively new fan of the Fire Emblem series. Like a lot of people, I came to the series through the 3DS game Fire Emblem: Awakening. Also like a lot of people, I was interested in the mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes. Now that Heroes is finally out, it can be compared and judged against the rest of the series, and unfortunately for fellow fans of Awakening, the mobile game ignores what made the 3DS game so special.
In addition to being a great tactical game, Awakening was a great relationship game. Characters who fought side-by-side became friends, then boyfriend/girlfriend, until they were eventually married. A couple in love got a stat boost, so it made tactical sense to send them into battle together, adding a layer of romantic drama to the war drama. And if tactical considerations forced one of the pair to fight alongside someone else, well, that’s just more fun relationship drama.
(This is where I again specify that I haven’t played any previous Fire Emblem games, so I don’t know if this whole relationship system was unique to Awakening or if it started in a previous game. I’m just attributing it to Awakening since that’s the one I played.)
Heroes loses all of that character development, while also playing on our established love for these characters. It assumes we’ll want to play with our favorite soldiers so badly that we’ll invest real money into the slot machine system that gives us our heroes. But while it tries to monetize our nostalgia, it does nothing to add to our nostalgia. In fact, it does the opposite; it purposefully reduces each character down to his/her stats.
The story is built around the idea of crossovers, but it never actually takes advantage of said crossovers. It goes: The Kingdom of Askran is at war with their former allies, the Emblian Empire. Askran has the power to open portals to other worlds, and Emblian can close those portals. In the past they had used these joint powers to… keep the peace or something, I forget. The important point here is that Emblian stopped closing the portals, and instead went through them, recruiting the heroes on the other side to populate their army. Thus, the story missions involve us hopping through these portals, into various game worlds, to fight the characters we know and love.
Unfortunately, all of those characters are bland and predictable and repetitive. Every Story Chapter goes through the same plot: You go into a world, meet a hero who talks a big game, you beat him/her, and then they’re suddenly and conveniently free from the mind control of the main bad guy and apologize to you. Then you move on to other worlds to repeat this little plot, or sometimes you return to previous worlds to repeat this little plot, but you’re always repeating this same little plot.
You spend the whole game crossing over into other game worlds, yet no character stays around long enough to make that crossover meaningful. Every appearance is just a cameo. These characters that were so well-defined in their respective games are, in this game, utterly devoid of any unique personality. They don’t offer to help you in this grand war of worlds; they don’t even seem all that interested in it. They’re not curious about their situation, or angry at their enslavement, or saddened by their actions. They’re not actually characters, they’re more like talking action figures.
Which makes sense, seeing as the gameplay treats these characters as action figures to be collected from a toy machine. You earn “orbs” from the Story missions, which you can spend to summon a random hero. Didn’t get the hero you want? Try again! Did you get a low-level version of your favorite hero? Try again for a better version! This emphasis on stats and rarity levels impacts how we view our soldiers.
For example, I loved Virion and Sully from Awakening, they became a power-couple in my game, able to kill any enemy with their teamwork. In Heroes, I quickly won a four-star Virion, who naturally went on to become the centerpiece of my strongest team. Soon after, I won a three-star Sully. Her stats weren’t bad, but they also weren’t great. They weren’t enough to earn her a place beside her one-time husband, so now she sits on the sidelines. When a character is reduced to her stats, her actual character ceases to matter. And so it goes with every hero.
Fire Emblem: Heroes acts as if it’s a love letter to the Fire Emblem franchise, but in reality it’s just a generic tactics game hiding beneath a Fire Emblem skin.