A better ‘gacha’ game than Pokemon Duel, but that isn’t really saying much.
Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo making an attempt at getting the free-to-pay formula correct. And for the most part they do a decent job of it. There are however a few issues.
Gameplay is a Fire Emblem reduction, complex mechanics boiled away in the hopes of hooking casuals. That and an ‘auto-battle’ system for those of us that suck at strategy. Also, there is no permadeath, because that would be horrendous after spending real money to unlock a character.
Weapon advantages boil down to rock-paper-scissors (Spears beat swords, swords beat axes, axes beat spears) Each of the weapons also are color coded, so casters fall into the same ‘weapon triangle’. Archers, thieves and healers fall into a separate category and don’t fit into the weapon triangle but have other effectiveness in battle (for example, archers are better against flying units).
There is one problem with combat that I’ve encountered. Sometimes, my characters cannot possibly damage a target, for example my healer sometimes cannot do damage. The enemy either has too high of a resistance, or too much defense, or something. However, there is no way to see what the enemies stats are prior to attempting a battle, so you just have to hope that your characters are up to snuff. You will be given a approximate level for the encounter and be shown the number of units and their types as icons on the encounter.
Heroes are acquired at random, with popular main characters being particularly rare (such as Marth, Roy, Lucina, Lyn, Chrom, etc.) However some of these characters can also appear as lower power versions. Raising the rarity of a character raises their overall stats, stat growth on level up and gives them access to more abilities. However, raising the rarity is going to take some time, with the ‘grand badges’ only becoming available in the training tower after finishing chapter 6 in the story (and having a team that can consistently beat level 30ish enemies) as well as grinding for ‘hero feathers’, which is the -real- stumbling block. To upgrade a 3 star character to 4 star requires 2000 hero feathers. Which you get about 10 a day from your minions, and can get some once a day from each of your friends on your friends list. You also get them from the Arena battles, but only at the end of the ‘season’ (weekly reset). But even then, the very highest tiers only give out 1600 for top level offense, 400 for top level defense and 5000 for being the highest ranked player. Oh and to upgrade a character from 4 star to 5 star requires 20,000 feathers. On top of grinding out grand badges (seems to be a static 20 badges/grand badges to upgrade).
The game utilizes a stamina system like other free-to-pay games, but during the launch window it is being ‘generous’ with stamina refill items. Gameplay wise there are a couple of modes. Story mode has you going from world to world, trying to stop the ‘Emblian Empire’ from binding heroes to their will., Training tower is for level up grinding and items to advance the rarity of your heroes. Arena battle allows for you to fight against other players teams, but those teams are piloted by an AI. There is also a daily ‘special’ map which provides a moderately challenging fight to give you… wildly underpowered characters. One further map icon exists, but as of chapter 8 in the storyline, has not unlocked.
Make no mistake, levelling your characters a lot will beat out the strategy portion of the game, and higher rarity characters will undoubtedly beat characters of the same level but lower rarity. There do not seem to be any major stakes in the pvp, so it’s not really pay to win, unless you are really bent on being ‘the very best, like no one ever was’ at Emblem-mons. If you are a long time fan of fire emblem, this might be a fun way to pass the time while commuting, or other boring activities using characters you like. But that said, it’s a pretty shallow and grindy game overall. There don’t seem to be any daily quests or challenges to encourage consistent login other than daily bonuses. The quests that are available are monthly reset.
And with the auto-battle system, it is very easy to simply let the AI grind out levels for you.
Speaking of the AI, I have encountered one tiny issue with it. Sometimes the AI will create a bottle-neck, unable to move any of the units forward to attack, because a unit keeps getting damaged and then the healer keeps healing them. This leads to matches essentially running forever until the lead unit gets killed somehow, or you finally get fed up and take control back. That said, it’s a real good way to level a healer.
The microtransactions aren’t cheap, but the items are given fairly frequently so the patient aren’t hampered too much. The currency to summon heroes, Orbs, can also be used to buy ‘castle upgrades’ that increase your exp gain, and to expand your barracks (maximum number of characters in your inventory, with 1 orb opening 5 more slots).
A summon costs 5 orbs, but progressively gets cheaper in a 5 summon set (5,4,4,4,3 costs respectively), so summoning with less than 20 orbs is kind of a waste. That said, it costs $1.99 USD to buy 3 orbs, so 4 bucks for 1 summon. Nintendo is also implementing a summoning bonus, in that each time you summon but do not get a 5 star hero, your chances of getting a five star hero increase very, very, very slightly. Five star heroes normally have a 3.5% chance of being summoned, with the chance being increased by .5% for every 5 summonings without a 5 star. If you go 120 summonings without getting a 5 star, Nintendo will cut you a break and guarantee that the next time you summon you will get one… so… 480 orbs (110 orbs with a bonus of 30 at the time of this writing is $74.99, so about 300 bucks in orbs…) to guarantee a 5 star. That said, Within the first three sets of 5, both the Mrs. and I have acquired a 5 star. (She got Lucina focus, and I got Ogma, whoever the eff that is).
Final thoughts: It’s a Fire Emblem gacha game. For me, I only know the Fire Emblem characters via Smash Bros. and Tokyo Mirage Sessions so I don’t have as much of an attachment to them. If you are a long time Fire Emblem fan this may help tide you over until the next 3DS and Switch titles come out in the main series. Just, don’t pauper yourself on this…