In The Beginning…
Mobile games are a tumultuous subject among gamers. Some ridicule them, others despise their very existence, but no one can doubt that millions of people around the world play through these short, entertaining experiences day by day. While their quality varies from the mediocre to the iconic, the majority of them can barely hold a candle to the quality of your average console based developer with years of experience behind their backs. Flipping the script, if these console developers tried to enter into the mobile market they may find themselves lost and confused, crafting games that may be based off of their most successful franchises but are nowhere near the level of quality they maintained. It’s been like this for years with this newfound medium, with nary a few being able to copy the success they once had. Console and mobile games just didn’t seem to mix that well. Translating a game between each medium just felt like either a watered-down experience or something that didn’t belong there. Was there any franchise that could possibly work? Yes, there was. A recently revitalized series of video games that worked perfectly in the palm of your hand, Fire Emblem.
A Celebration In The Making
After 20 long years of hard times, nearly ending with their franchise’s demise, Intelligent Systems and Fire Emblem were on a roll. Merchandising, spinoffs, cameo appearances, and the full backing of Nintendo as a new major IP; Fire Emblem was now the gaming industry’s latest hottest commodity. Everyone wanted to work with this critically acclaimed franchise now more than ever; and Nintendo was looking for the series latest prospects. This came with the news of a partnership between the publisher and Japanese mobile gaming provider DeNA. Nintendo wanted to enter the mobile phenomenon faster than any of its competitors at Sony and Microsoft and felt that DeNA, owners of the uber successful Mobage platform, were the right partners in this effort. At the time, they announced two titles, an Animal Crossing mobile game and a brand-new Fire Emblem title courtesy of Intelligent Systems themselves. They wouldn’t let just anyone take hold of their brand, they would be responsible for this. Incidentally they had been thinking about making a mobile Fire Emblem game for years so this new opportunity from Nintendo was one that they had been waiting for. Co-directed by now franchise director Kouhei Maeda and Shingo Matsushita of Nintendo SPD, this fresh take on the Fire Emblem formula seemed like a simple thing to make. They could have just thrown a bunch of their older characters, the series famous battle system, and a simple story together and call it a day. And yes, they would do that, but in the best way they possible could.
Unlike many Fire Emblem titles that had veterans like Tohru Narihiro and Yuka Tsujiyoko, the majority of the team would be comprised of people who’d worked on Fire Emblem Fates and Awakening. Hiroki Morishita was the main composer of the title, bringing much of the style that the series had developer over the past 4 years to the forefront. Kouta Nakamura, Satoko Kurihara, Yuu Ohshima, and Kouhei Maeda himself would decide on how to make a Fire Emblem story work on the go. And lastly, Yusuke Kozaki returned as lead character designer, a key position needed for one of the most important features of the game, the entire franchise’s lineup of heroes. There were new characters for this adventure, for sure, but the crux of the whole project was bringing many of the classic heroes back to life to introduce them to modern audiences, an idea they had been tinkering with in Awakening and Fates. The best part of this, though, is that they would all be voiced, many for the first time in countries outside of Japan, with new and exciting designs created by the very best artists in the Japanese industry. Wada Sachiko, Ueda Yumehito, Himukai Yuji, Fujisaka Kimihiko, Hako, and so many, many more lent their talents to make each and every character look visually distinct from one another with Kozaki, especially, drawing the main characters to go along with Fire Emblem’s established style. As this would be Fire Emblem’s first consecutive global release, the art wasn’t even half of it. The voice acting, now that was the difficult part. They needed to gather hundreds of actors together for the 39 countries they were releasing in combined, with each voicing the little quips that gives each character a personality. Intelligent Systems wanted this to be a celebration of all things Fire Emblem. If the characters didn’t feel like their original selves, then it would all be for nothing. But mobile development isn’t as taxing as other mediums so they were able to get the game out right on time.
Fire Emblem Heroes
Fire Emblem Heroes, releasing on February 2nd, 2017 worldwide, was the Fire Emblem you knew and loved, simplified for mobile convenience. The story is different from your standard Fire Emblem fare. You play as the summoner, a hero who has been summoned from another world to save the Kingdom of Askr from the evil Emblian Empire and their leader, Princess Veronica. The world you enter is very unique from other Fire Emblem realms as the two warring kingdoms possess the ability to open and close portals to classic Fire Emblem worlds and either recruit or steal the heroes that live there to fight by their side. Joining the Order of Heroes alongside Prince Alfonse, Princess Sharena, and their leader Anna, it’s your job to free the heroes of these worlds and defeat the Emblian Empire… and that’s about it. Other than a few cutscenes here or there there’s relatively no story at all. You just go through the various worlds, fight and free the heroes held captive there, and rinse and repeat. While it’s said that there will be more chapters added down the line, at the moment, Fire Emblem Heroes is the most simplistic and dull story that Fire Emblem has ever told. But this game was never really meant for that. The gameplay and heroes were what were most intriguing.
Unlike the plot, the gameplay was essentially the same. Using the weapon triangle system that they’ve had for the past decade and a half, it was only tweaked in the sense that all of the weapon types were now color coded, making it easier to understand what each of them was weak too. Fighting was made even easier too as all you have to do is simply move an ally over to the enemy using athetouch screen and, depending on their stats and weapon of choice, you either win or lose; just like any other Fire Emblem title. Permadeath, unfortunately, was completely thrown out to prevent frustration from new Fire Emblem fans, with Hard and Lunatic level difficulties being unlockable over time. When you aren’t in the mood for playing through the main story there are other modes like the Training Tower where you can gain more EXP, shards, and crystal to level up, Arena Duels that let you fight against other player’s teams, Special Maps that let you recruit a new character each day alongside other events, and lastly Paralogues which will eventually play out as side stories like any other Fire Emblem game.
Heroes also only uses four units on the battlefield, as the maps were made to be 8×6 grids so they could easily fit onto the screen of a smartphone. But this team of four is a customizable as any other Fire Emblem game. With over 100 heroes to choose from that either consist of the classic games, like The Binding Blade, or more recent ones, like Fates, the ability to pick your favorite characters from across the decades was something to behold; each with a bio that told you exactly who they were and where they came from. Yet you couldn’t just choose your favorites from the start, oh no you had to pray that the summoning ritual would bring forth the one that you desired with a good star level to match. Stamina was another feature, or hindrance, that came into play that stopped you from playing for a time unless you either waited or coughed up some cash. You see just like any other mobile title; Fire Emblem Heroes was laden with microtransactions and the orbs were Fire Emblem’s method of choice. While you could earn one a pop by playing through each of the story’s nine chapters, along with several challenges and events, there was always the option to take the easy route and pay for more orbs to gain more heroes. Thankfully Intelligent Systems built the summoning ritual as a completely randomized mechanic. If someone decided to pay say a thousand dollars they might not even see all of the characters in the game; leveling the playing field between players. Kouhei Maeda and his team wanted anyone to have a chance to play a Fire Emblem title, which is why they made it free to play. However, they didn’t want anyone to steam roll through the game just because they were rich. That’s why everything else, the shards and crystals that help level you up and the hero feathers and badges that increase your character’s star level, the features essential to the gameplay, are free and have to be earned through your own hard work and determination.
A Glimpse Of History
Fire Emblem Heroes was definitely a Fire Emblem game, for sure, but its mobile inner workings might have hindered it a bit. This was a necessary evil, however, as how could a free game ever make money without them? Even if some people may play it for free, forever, the other fans are certainly content to spend their hard-earned cash since, as of this moment, Fire Emblem Heroes has raked in 2.9 million dollars globally on the first day no less. This little app is definitely an enigma in the long line of Fire Emblem titles. Its story is nearly non-existent, its gameplay is forgiving at times, and its characters take forever to obtain. Still, Heroes stands as a celebration of all things Fire Emblem. People who had never played any other games outside of Fire Emblem Awakening and Fates and others who never even guessed there were Japanese only Fire Emblem titles out there could catch a glimpse of history. Fire Emblem Heroes is a vehicle for the entire series to be introduced to the world and for everyone to find out what they’ve been missing. If anything, we must at least be thankful that they all will find out what a glorious franchise Fire Emblem truly is.