Once upon a time, it was a rarity to see a new Fire Emblem game get released outside of Japan. Flash forward to 2017, and not only is Fire Emblem thriving, but it’s a huge focus for Nintendo. At the same time, the Japanese company is expanding its horizons and branching into the mobile game arena. Nintendo has Super Mario Run under its belt, but that game has a fixed price more in line with what you’d expect from their console roots. Their latest mobile effort, Fire Emblem Heroes, takes a different path as it embraces the free to play model. Could Nintendo possibly deliver a free to play game that still manages to live up to its lofty pedigree? Fire Emblem Heroes allows you to summon the most famous characters from previous games in the series to join you in battle and save the day. You form a team of four party members, then set out into battle arenas that take up the space of your phone’s screen.

The smaller maps are a shadow of the more complicated battle situations presented in previous entries, greatly diminishing the more elaborate strategy element veterans may be accustomed to. On the flip side, despite their small size, you still need to put thought into your decisions, especially in some of the more difficult missions in the later chapters of the story. These smaller maps are also well-suited for playing in short bursts, so if you want a quick fix or you’re on the go, this is right up your alley. You can obtain heroes through a variety of methods, but the most common way is to summon them into your ranks via a currency called summon orbs. By spending orbs, you can summon a random hero from one of a few various specialties. You have a degree of control over what type of hero will join, but which specific heroes you summon and their overall strength are completely random. After spending your initial orbs, the game entices you to purchase more by offering a discount on summoning additional heroes during your current session.

Otherwise, if you leave the summoning screen, the cost will go back to normal. This is the core of the game’s hook to get players to drop some dough. You have a very limited number of summoning orbs to begin with, and though you can earn orbs by completing new missions or simply logging back into the game every so often, the random nature of who you summon could leave you with a less-than-desirable team. That’s because heroes are ranked from the lowly 1 star ranks to the all-powerful 5 star ranks. Though each hero levels up with experience and can learn new skills and abilities by progressing through the game, higher star ranks are naturally more powerful and beneficial to your success. Thus, if you don’t get your favorite hero or you get a bunch of low-ranked heroes, you might be inclined to purchase more summoning orbs. It’s important to stress that with enough time and patience, you can continuously earn orbs without spending any money, and you can complete the game without the use of 5-star heroes if you develop your team properly.

You can even raise a hero’s star rank if you accumulate enough items to get them to at least level 20. The catch is that trying to rank up a hero beyond three or four stars is an extremely lengthy process that we have yet to achieve over the course of our time with the game, even with the bonus gift Nintendo delivered to all users as a thank you. So for those who simply do not have the patience to put up with these restrictions, paying for more orbs is the faster and easier shortcut. Just remember who you summon is completely random, so it could be a costly gamble. Another major detraction for Fire Emblem Heroes is its stamina system. Virtually every type of mission, whether it’s in the story, a special map, or a training arena, costs a set amount of stamina to undertake. You start with 50 stamina, and you get 1 stamina replenished every 5 minutes.

There are potions that will add back 50 stamina instantly, but these are a precious commodity. Earlier missions don’t have a high stamina cost, but once you get into the thick of things, it’s easy to burn through all of your stamina in just a short time. You’re then stuck waiting for a refill before you can play again. It’s part of the now common mobile model designed to bring you back and pad out the real time it takes you to finish the game, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. It’s especially frustrating when many of the later and more challenging missions cost a ton of stamina, meaning a session can come screeching to a halt in a manner of minutes. Of course, you can spend money to refill your stamina if you’re all out of options. There’s not as much depth to the game’s core elements and mechanics as previous Fire Emblem games, but there’s still a decent framework in place.

The rock-paper-scissors system is still present, as is the ability to upgrade your primary attack and special abilities. Many of the different class types are present too, so there’s a good amount of variety. However, there are problems tied to the small map sizes and the limited four-member party size. While it makes the game more accessible, it’s still very restrictive. You’re left with a far more shallow experience than what you’d get in any of the other games in the series. The difficulty also ramps up in the later story missions to the point that some players might find themselves unable to win without 5 star heroes.

It is completely possible to overcome these hurdles if your team is sufficiently leveled, you’ve activated more advanced abilities, and you build teams suited to counter each mission’s enemies. This is pretty much the extent of the depth of the game’s strategy. To be honest, it’s not very compelling when you have to grind out extra levels for your characters, especially when you’re dealing with the stingy stamina system. When a full team of 5 star members can more easily accomplish the task than any amount of strategy you’ve cooked up, it’s a major turn off. The game does at least offer two small reprieves: first, there is no perma-death, so you don’t have to worry about a hero falling in battle, and second, you can spend an orb in almost any mission type to revive all your allies and avoid having to retry the mission from the start.

However, part of what makes previous Fire Emblems great is that while trying to complete each mission without losing a single member is brutal, it at least feels like a fair challenge. Here, it feels like losing a hero is a common occurrence, cheapening the cost of death. Not to mention, spending orbs can allow you to endlessly revive your team in any battle, so you can brute force your way to victory if you want. Which means if you spend enough cash, you can essentially complete the game with little effort or skill: the very essence of pay to win. Fire Emblem Heroes is a watered-down version of the traditional Fire Emblem experience. While it’s completely possible to enjoy the game without spending a single cent, it’s designed with the pay to win model in mind so that spending cash will ensure a quick and fast route to victory.

Coupled with the extremely aggravating and excessive stamina system, those trying to play the game for free will encounter numerous roadblocks and turnoffs. If you’ve never tried Fire Emblem before, this is a quick and easy introduction, but if any of its concepts appeal to you, you’re better off abandoning Heroes and jumping into any of the other great entries in the series. Easy Allies Reviews are made possible by generous viewers just like you. If you like what you see, check out patreon.com/easyallies to see our other videos and consider becoming a patron to help us make more.

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