Fire Emblem Heroes: First Impressions

Where to download:

It’s been over a week since Nintendo’s launch of Fire Emblem Heroes, and that week has seen multiple successes. The game brought in over $2.9 million in sales on the very first day, and has since skyrocketed past the $5 million mark. Websites that don’t normally cover mobile titles such as IGN, Polygon, and Kotaku have been all over what coverage they can get for the game. And with good reason: Nintendo’s first step into the no-man’s land that is mobile gacha was done so with a professional level of polish and the kind of pre-release publicity that Western mobile titles rarely see.

However the most important key to Heroes‘ recent success lies within the dedication found in the Fire Emblem franchise’s fandom. This IP has enjoyed a long-standing audience that once started as a hardcore niche group of gamers that thrived on the permadeath challenges within its tactical gameplay. Once Fire Emblem Awakening hit the 3DS, that fanbase grew into a worldwide family of passionate people with a wide array of favorite characters and battle strategies. Awakening moved the franchise into a broader audience by welcoming newcomers with its option of turning permadeath on or off. Heroes is looking to do something similar by moving the franchise into the far more accessible mobile market.

In other words Nintendo gave Fire Emblem Heroes two key objectives: create a game worthy of the IP to please loyal fans, while also inviting brand new customers to have a taste of what the SRPG series has to offer.

Nintendo was smart to use an IP such as Fire Emblem to test the waters of the gacha game industry. They have hundreds of characters at their disposal, a predefined fanbase to market to, and the SRPG genre within gacha gaming is still underpopulated compared to the thousands of other titles littering the play store. And it’s definitely working: thousands, if not potentially millions, of gamers who had never touched a mobile game, let alone a gacha game, before are stepping into the genre for the first time with Heroes.

But Nintendo has been known to goof up on successes before. Both Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run saw smashing launch success, the former title breaking world wide records across the board. And yet…where are they now?

Both titles fell victim to a series of bad design decisions that ended up shortening the longevity of their success, and that’s due in part to Nintendo never really going all the way in their market research. Nintendo is famous for innovation and bringing new ideas and polish into whatever aspect of the gaming industry they decide to play with. However they are also famous for the fact that there’s always one or two key features they either gloss over or intentionally fuck up that makes consumers scratch their heads. And it’s that very habit that gets in the way of their success.

At the moment Fire Emblem Heroes is no exception. While the game certainly does several things correctly and has the potential to be one of the most fair, fun, and profitable gacha games in the West; that potential hinges upon whether or not Nintendo is willing to acknowledge and improve on the shortcomings Heroes launched with.

What Fire Emblem Heroes Does Right:

Nintendo’s Transparency

One of the things that caught my eye the most during the Fire Emblem Direct that announced Heroes‘ launch was just how transparent Nintendo was being about their upcoming title. Localized gacha games are notorious for the following things:

  • Not stating what the probability is of obtaining characters are in game.
  • Not thoroughly explaining how the game works (terrible tutorials).
  • Not willing to state cash shop prices until the game is launched.
  • Not willing to even advertise an in-game event or sale until 24 hours, or even less, before said events go live. This catches both F2P and P2P users by surprise (and usually, to their annoyance).
  • No voice acting
  • Stark differences in either gameplay or cash shop values from the original Japanese/Korean/Chinese versions. More often than not these changes are not pro-consumer.

With the above launch video alone (the section you’re looking for starts at 8:36) and the notifications in game, Nintendo more or less dispelled everything except the fourth and last point on this list. Before FE Heroes was released we knew exactly how much orbs would cost and how many orbs it would take to obtain characters (we’ll get to this in the “How much does it really cost?” section). The video goes through in elaborate detail how combat is designed to work, and the tutorials in-game are actually pretty darn decent. Though they certainly could use some work in explaining certain non-combat based features such as merging heroes. We also learned that Nintendo was willing to drop money to bring in as much of the original voice casts for the English releases of all of the involved titles. And so far we have had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for upcoming events with Nintendo’s notifications in game.

As for the drop rates of top rarity characters: this is a big deal in terms of transparency. By stating what the probability of chances are to obtain certain rarity characters in writing Nintendo is willing to be made accountable should their playerbase ever prove something doesn’t add up. This can be a death blow depending on the game and the publisher, and is why titles like Guardian Codex (Square Enix) coyly decided not to include their rates in the Global version despite them existing plain as day in the Japanese version. Keep in mind that Guardian Codex released in a very similar fashion with a simultaneous multi-region launch, and yet still chose to keep this information hidden overseas. Nintendo, however, has decided they’re not going to play that way. Which makes me an optimistic customer.

The last point on this list is a bit more subtle: it isn’t confirmed within the game itself, but it appears that Fire Emblem Heroes operates on a single server. Or at the very least the United States shares a server with Japan. That means the odds of Nintendo making region-specific cash shop changes or anti F2P in-game event changes are greatly decreased. That doesn’t mean they can’t ever still do it, and only time will tell if Nintendo decides to treat all versions of this game equal or if they’ll pull the typical shenanigans publishers like to use against Western consumers. But for right now, Nintendo has made an extra effort to treat all versions of the game equally.

With that said, going against the grain just for the sake of doing so isn’t always necessarily a good thing. Where Nintendo has shown signs of stepping away from more harmful mobile industry norms, they’ve also neglected some of the good ones too. For example: keeping everyone on one or a few servers has put a lot of strain on Nintendo’s end, meaning the game’s launch was hit hard with Nintendo’s traditional connectivity issues. There’s also no cheap monthly “subscription” option in their cash shop, which has been a fast growing trend as of late to start bringing in a more stable C2P (cheap to play) consumer base.

Gameplay is Addictive With Plenty of Depth

Any fan of previous Fire Emblem titles or have played other SRPGs will immediately feel at home within Heroes.  You form a team of four characters to fight on a grid map against the opponent’s team. Each map features different obstacles, such as terrain certain units can’t move through. The strategies you employ will depend entirely on which Heroes you have summoned and choose to take into battle.

Most of the depth that previous Fire Emblem titles sported can be found in this one. Each hero has a set of skills alongside their stats that allows for just about any character earned to have a place on the team depending on your needs. For example you have units built for pure damage, others have buffs to support the team, and some even have little trick skills to help your teammates move through terrain they normally couldn’t pass (as seen in this cute little comic here ). Both weapon triangle and skillset synergies are a must if you wish to be successful in your account’s progress.

It’s because of that need for good synergy that the game feels balanced in terms of hero strength as of this article’s writing. There isn’t a single hero so far in the game that can just steam roll over all others. You have to pair even the top 5-star heroes with proper partners to ensure they stay alive. And very, very few characters are so bad that they don’t warrant being used at all. That’s part of the reason why both the English and Japanese tier lists have been all over the place within the last week: this is one of those games where experimentation is really the only way to truly understand certain characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Which is difficult to do without several volunteers as we’re just  now entering the game’s second week of life.

On top of it all the game is just fun. Which is something a lot of gacha games as of late seem to have forgotten is important. I don’t want to put it down. Auto battle exists but it isn’t the mechanic the game relies on (looking at you Orbit Legends and Chaos Chronicle).

There are key characteristics from the Fire Emblem franchise missing from FE Heroes, these being: critical hits, misses, and permanent death. In my opinion it’s a good thing these are gone for this particular title. Critical hits and missing attacks would just add more RNG-based frustration in an already RNG-laden gacha game. Piggybacking on this idea; permanent death is not something you want in a gacha game. Ever. Nothing is more soul crushing than to spend months hoarding premium currency (or spending hundreds) to get a 5-star character…only to lose them while leveling up and have to go through the summoning process again. I know this all too well from playing DMM’s Touken Ranbu. This was a good move, Nintendo.

What wasn’t a good move, however, is the lack of a preparation phase before starting each battle. Within the main FE titles the preparation phase is by far the most important of each level, and can mean the difference between victory and death. Yet for some weird reason Nintendo decided not to include one in FE Heroes. This means players can’t examine maps, can’t change their team composition, and can’t even change their characters’ starting positions. Whatever order your Heroes are in your party determines where they usually get placed on a map. And while the game does give you a preview of which weapon types will be appearing to fight you in each level, you can still be surprised by a character that checks/counters your team. There have been many hilarious threads discussing the appearance of top tier characters in the Training Tower mode. However, when you combine this with the abysmal stamina system within FE Heroes you won’t be laughing long.

It gets frustrating. Fast. If Nintendo and Intelligent Systems would add a preparation phase at the start of each level it would open the doors for further team building and customization. It would also allow for players to actually use all of the heroes they currently leave in their boxes without compromising their play time. Heroes has a very similar issue to Pokemon in which 4 characters just doesn’t seem enough. Many players have taken to having a fifth or even two extra characters as team substitutes in the event they run into a map their primary team of four can’t cut it. Yet as of right now it costs stamina to make this switch (starting a level, realizing you need a certain character, backing out and paying stamina again to try the level again). And in a game where you only have 50 stamina to use, this drives players to focus on teams that are safe, which drives the acquisition of proven characters. Meaning people are less likely to use their orbs (and money) to experiment on other combinations, which isn’t exactly good for a gacha game’s health. You always need a carrot to chase in these games, and granting easy usage of as many characters as possible helps a publisher cast a wider net.

Give us that preparation phase, Nintendo! That, or allow for players to back out of a level while refunding stamina if the back out took place before any character has taken an action.

The Level of Polish is Fantastic: The Game Looks, Sounds, and Plays Wonderfully

The artwork in Heroes is beautiful, with contributions from some pretty big names in Japan. The battle sprites are delightfully cute. The extensive voice acting for every character is also well done, and the game actually credits both the artist and the voice actor (except for in such cases as Laura Bailey, who voices Lucina, due to outside reasons). It may seem strange to read this and think that’s a point to be praised, but you would be surprised at how many mobile titles refuse to credit the people that contributed to the aesthetics of the game. It’s also fun to note that many character lines are actually nods to inside jokes that have developed within the fandom over the years, which adds that touch of personality and connection with fans.

I also want to take a moment to point out that both the voice acting and various artwork cost Nintendo a hefty sum. Many other past mobile publishers (such as the now closed Colopl Rune Story) have mentioned before how obtaining the rights to use and distribute the artwork and voice acting in their games usually cost too much to reliably due so in overseas releases. The fact that Nintendo has invested in both areas is a pretty good sign that they’re dedicated to making this game successful globally, as they’re going to want to keep up enough revenue to maintain such licenses across supported countries. Now that doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s very possible Nintendo overestimated their ability to keep such a game running. But for now it’s still a good sign of things to come.

The UI design of the game is easy to navigate and responds as it should. There’s no stuttering or lag between button taps, though occasionally moving your characters in battle can lead to the touch screen being too sensitive and causing heroes to take (or not take) actions they shouldn’t have. With that said there are a few menus that feel oddly organized. For example it seems strange for the “Unlock Potential” and “Merge Heroes” buttons to have their own sub-menu when there was more than enough space within the Allies main menu.

All in all the game is easy to navigate and easy on the eyes.

All Characters can Become 5-Star Heroes, but it’s Actually Not Necessary for all of Them

Corrin’s skill page

There is absolutely no denying that characters that can only be obtained from the gacha as 5-stars (such as Lucina or Takumi) are usually a step above other units. You will want to hunt them down eventually. But one of the things Heroes does right is that there are several, more common, characters that can actually go toe to toe with these juggernauts with the proper strategy and teammates. Common examples as of late within the game’s community are: Male Robin, Female Corrin (pictured left), the dancer Olivia, and the newly popular Nino. Even one of your starting characters, Sharena, has proven to be one of the game’s most versatile lance units that fits into several team compositions. And you get her for free.

In fact many of the above characters perform just fine at the 4-star rarity thanks to the game’s skill system. This allows the player to prioritize evolving the heroes that get the most of becoming a 5-star character first. Some, like Olivia, does everything you need them to do as a 4-star and may never need a promotion at all. That is unless you want to optimize your stats for the PvP arena.

That’s rare in this genre. Usually if a character isn’t a 5-star/6-star (whatever your game’s top rarity is) they just can’t stack up to the content unless they’re a pure utility character. That being said it should be noted that there’s a pretty large difference between the stat totals of a 4-star character vs their 5-star iteration, and you’re going to want to evolve your favorites eventually. But there’s something to be said about a game when players are reporting that they can defeat the Lunatic levels of FE Heroes‘ campaign and against others in the arena with teams including a few 4-star characters.

There’s also a rather long list of heroes one can earn through completing special daily quests that fill a specific niche. Do you like using Calvary units? Well then you’re going to want to pick up Gunter when his daily quest appears. He provides a massive attack and speed buff to fellow Calvary heroes. In fact, he’s currently the only one in the game that provides those units with those two specific buffs (Both Jagen and Eliwood provide a defense and resistance buff for their horse buddies). Felicia the maid is a fantastic mage killer and pseudo healer for your team, and Olivia is one of the only two dancers in the game who can allow units to act twice in a single turn. While you can only earn these free heroes as a 2-star character max, you can raise them to be 5-stars just like anyone else or summon them at higher rarities through the gacha summon. Even better? You start the game with 200 free unit slots, so it’s very possible to hoard copies to limit break and compare stats before you decide to promote certain units.

You hear that Monster Super League? Square Enix? Not 10 free slots. Not 20 free slots. Not even 30. Two fucking hundred free slots just for downloading the game. That’s how it should be done.

Between the skill system and choice of free heroes, Nintendo has made creating a balanced team composition possible even for the most staunch of F2P users. That being said there is still an element of luck required. So both F2P and P2P users are encouraged to reroll until they get a hero they enjoy or can build a team around to save themselves a lot of headache (and heartache).

What Fire Emblem Heroes Does Wrong and/or Needs to Improve Upon

The Stamina System

Remember how I said Nintendo has a penchant for making one giant, baffling mistake in every product they produce? For Fire Emblem Heroes the flavor of failure is the stamina system.

Despite all of the positively glowing compliments I can give this game, FE Heroes has possibly one of the worst stamina systems I’ve seen in a mobile title in a long time. When I first fired up the game I was shocked to see that you start the game with 50 Stamina. Most games tend to start you off from between 15-30, allowing you to earn more as you level up. Combine this starting 50 stamina with the low costs of early quests, and I was excited at the prospect of being able to play this game for hours while leveling up and gaining more.

Except that didn’t happen.

While FE Heroes sports a stamina system, it does not have a player rank or player level mechanic. Usually stamina based games give the player an overall level. At level 1 you have your starting stamina count, and as you level up the max count for said stamina is raised by a number of points. On top of this upon leveling up your player level these games usually refresh your stamina bar to full. This encourages players at the beginning of the game to get as much from their starting hours as they possibly can.

This is not the case in FE Heroes: 50 stamina is what you start with, and 50 stamina is all you get. And the only way to refresh your stamina is by stamina potions (which aren’t exactly common once you use up the free ones) or through premium currency (aka: money).

This is a giant problem, both now and in the long run. The game has just entered its second week of existing and it already boasts quests that cost 20+ stamina to run. Combine this with the fact that we don’t have a preparation phase and it’s very easy for a player to burn 40/50 stamina in less than five minutes just trying a quest. That’s just plain awful. And given that it can take four hours for that 50 stamina to replenish, that means a frustrated player can be locked out of doing much of anything after playing for only a few minutes.

What’s even more laughable is how at launch Nintendo thought it was a good idea that on top of the above, that switching character skills should also cost stamina:

The original launch announcement regarding stamina-related mechanics. It has since been changed, thankfully.

Now thankfully Nintendo has listened to consumer feedback and has since agreed to keep the stamina costs for the Training Tower at their current levels and also keep the changing of character skills stamina free as well. But that doesn’t change the fact that at some point during development Nintendo thought it was a good idea to balance 2/3 of an account’s progress related activities on a hard capped stamina system. Stamina systems in mobile games are already outdated and frustrating, yet Nintendo somehow managed to fuck them up further.

And even if Nintendo keeps its word and manages to pump out 1 to 2 new story chapters/content a month, what good is it going to do if we can’t play them at that same pace? How are stamina costs going to scale with these new missions? Again: we’re on week two and already have quests that cost 20+ stamina. Unless Nintendo is planning to raise the stamina cap themselves I don’t see how players will be able to tackle more than one or two missions every four hours.

Which is bad for longevity of FE Heroes. The longer you keep a customer playing your game, the more likely they’ll be to spend on your game. Nintendo is attempting to hold their game hostage and get players to pay money for stamina refills. And while I’m sure for whales this has already happened, at the same time whales are going to do this no matter what systems are in place in a gacha game. They’re not the ones Nintendo needs to be convincing to spend money. Especially since the Fire Emblem IP is converting thousands of its fans to try gacha-ing for the very first time. Those are the consumers Nintendo needs to convince to become P2P. Or at the very least, C2P, and they’re not doing a good job right now. An FE fan can go to a store or the eShop right now and pay $20-$40 on any main game in the franchise and play it all they want. Binge on it for three days straight even if they so choose. In comparison: why should they spend that money on a game they can only play for ten minutes at a time?

This is an especially crucial point of comparison as Fire Emblem Echoes is going to be released in May, and will be in direct competition with FE Heroes for the fandom’s cash.

The stamina system is by far the most crucial thing Nintendo needs to fix if they want this game to last longer than a year. It’s the mechanic in which the rest of the game hinges upon, and if it falls apart, so will everything else.

Hero Feathers: We Either Need More Ways to Earn Them, Or More Ways to get Discounts on Them

The Unlock Potential screen

While having the ability to promote every character in the game into a top rarity one is great, the system we currently have to do so is punishing. Getting your character from one or two stars to four can be done in as little as a week. But to promote to that final level? We’re talking a few months depending on how well you do in the game’s PvP mode.

This is due to one of the materials needed to promote a character: hero feathers. As of this writing there are two main ways to earn them. You can either win them by taking part in the PvP arena, or by sending extra characters you don’t want or need “home” (in other words, deleting them). The only other possibility as of right now if Nintendo decides to give some away in an event, like the recent 10k retweet event shortly after launch. Part of the reason why this is a negative is because while it only takes 2,000 feathers to create a 4-star character, it takes 20,000 to make a 5-star after that. That’s a pretty giant jump when there’s only two in-game methods of farming. Neither of which you can reliably repeat.

Now I don’t personally think the amount of feathers required is the issue. A lot of the playerbase is spoiled by the game’s current launch events and the game’s surprisingly forgiving 5-star rates in the gacha. Combine this with the fact that thousands of players have spent hours re-rolling until they got a 5-star to start their account with, and 5-star characters have become an incredibly common occurrence. Which makes it that much harder for those who don’t or can’t re-roll and have been shafted by RNG (Random Number Generation) to get the progress on their account going.

What I do think is the issue is we really don’t have enough ways to earn feathers yet. You can earn easily 4,000+ per week in the arena, but this is assuming you already have a team of characters that can net you the scores you need. For those who have to raise their unit rarities to compete at all, they’ll only be earning maybe 500-1,000 feathers a week. Your starting progress in FE Heroes can easily make your first 5-star promotion either one month’s worth of work, or three months +. Once again, given that this game is in direct competition with other titles in the franchise that doesn’t have this kind of limitation on hero growth or stamina use, this could potentially wipe a player’s enthusiasm completely.

There are a couple of different potential solutions here, though. Nintendo could easily create in-game events where players can farm hero feathers doing different quest dungeons and missions (like they are now with their arena event). Another common suggestion floating around is that the amount of feathers used to evolve a hero should correlate to the level of the 4-star in question. As the system currently stands you can evolve a character as soon as they hit level 20, and there’s really no benefit to leveling those characters beyond that except for farming Skill Points. If we could get a discount in how many feathers it would take evolve/unlock potential by grinding our heroes to 40 first, that would give players incentive to actually play the game more (and therefore, be tempted to spend more) to get their heroes to higher levels.

What’s odd is that there’s already a system like this in place if you merge duplicate heroes into each other. Let’s say you had two copies of the healer Sakura, and both are at the 4-star level. If you “merge allies” and fuse them together to limit break Sakura and up her stats, then she gets a discount in hero feathers if you decide to promote her to 5-stars later. But what’s ironic here is that you lose the “+” that the 4-star hero got from merging allies when promoting star rarity, meaning (for now) that it’s counter intuitive to merge allies before they’re 5-stars. The whole idea of which system gets the feather discount feels completely flipped and doesn’t make much sense.

The Friend List is Absolutely Useless

There is zero use for having friends in this game right now, which is very peculiar. Usually in gacha games having a nicely stuffed friends list comes with several benefits. Usually you can take the character your friend has set as their leader into battle with your party. So say you have a friend with a top tier character set as a lead: you could use them to help get past content that you otherwise might not have been able to. In some games you’re even given incentives to do this very thing by awarding things like stamina potions, or some form of lesser summon currency by putting up a leader that actually helps people. This also adds another layer of strategy as many players can form their teams of characters with their friends list in mind.

This is currently not possible in FE Heroes. While it’s cute to have your friend’s leader pop into your castle to say hello, it gets old when all they bring is five hero feathers (yes, five).  Now if hero feathers could scale into the hundreds instead of the single digits, then you’d have my attention.

There’s a Hidden Pokémon-esque Nature System

It’s very common for mobile games to have a nature system in which a character’s stats can have different growths based on which nature they roll with (think Brave Frontier). For example you could pull two copies of the same character and one gains more HP while the other trades defense for a higher attack stat growth. You can see it with these two different Marth’s that I have. Marth A is marked with the heart while Marth B is not:

Marth A
Marth B

Despite being the same character, these two copies will have different starting stats at level one, just as they did when they were pulled as level one 4-stars. Now thankfully it doesn’t seem that characters in FE Heroes share the rest of the franchise’s penchant for randomized stats. It appears every hero has an average stat total at level 40 they will always hit. However the nature system I mentioned definitely does exist in this game, and it’s driving the community bonkers.

The key difference is that games like Brave Frontier specifically states what your character’s nature is right on their summary page. This lets the player know what their bonuses and weaknesses are within the game itself, almost immediately. FE Heroes doesn’t do this. This means that players have to rely on outside fan-made sources to determine what their character’s stats will look like, and that’s just wrong. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing a console game or a mobile title: I shouldn’t have to rely on outside sources to understand how the game works. Even worse is that some characters, like damage dealers, are very dependent on what nature they are summoned with. The wrong negative stat roll can easily make your hard-won (bought) 5-star character nearly unusable.

As it stands players either have to check an IV (initial value) calculator online while their character is level 1, or spend their severely limited stamina to level heroes they’re even considering to 20 or 40 to figure out if their character is usable or not. And since these fan-made calculators are still in the process of being completed, not all 4-star heroes are accounted for with the correct information. So it will cost the player stamina and time before they can even check if they want to invest in a character or not.

By far the easiest solution to this would be to come up with names for the natures Nintendo has implemented and add them to a character’s summary page. Given how vehement the publisher has been with transparency regarding FE Heroes, it’s a bit surprising they’ve laid low and haven’t bothered explaining this core aspect of the game.

How Much Does it Really Cost to Play Fire Emblem Heroes?

The cash shop. This is all it is.

This is possibly the hardest part of this article to write, as Nintendo goes against several cash shop norms. Both good and bad. On the one hand the cash shop is surprisingly simple, which I believe that is a good thing. What you see in the screenshot is all of the purchases this game offers.

As always I find it best to break down what features in the game require the use of premium currency (in this case, orbs), and compare that to how many freebies can be obtained. For Fire Emblem Heroes you can use orbs to:

  • Summon heroes in the gacha pull.
  • Upgrade your castle
  • Restore Stamina
  • Restore dueling swords (your daily 3 tries at PvP)
  • Expand Barracks (increase your box space to hold more characters. You won’t need this for awhile unless you are a whale)

Summoning heroes is a bit different in this game compared to others of its type. It follows the industry standard of 5 premium currency to initiate a summon, but what Heroes does differently is basically a version of what’s called a step-summon.

When you initiate a summon, you’re greeted by five orbs that can be red, blue, green, or grey. You pick one immediately to summon from. After that summon is completed, you will be asked if you’d like to summon again from one of the remaining four orbs. If you agree to do so, then your next summon only costs 4 orbs. If you summon from all five orbs then your last pull will only cost 3 orbs, meaning 5 summons cost 20 orbs. Otherwise you would have spent 25 had you done each summon separately.

Now there’s many games out there with similar step-summon mechanics, but they’re usually reserved for new accounts or during events for a limited time. This is FE Heroes‘ permanent summoning system, and it can drastically affect the total orbs spent in pursuing your favorite characters.

Another very important thing to note is that there’s a “pity system” of sorts. If you tap on the “Appearance Rates” button on a banner within the summon menu, you can watch your rates change as you pull. You start with the standard 3% chance for 5-star characters. The more you pull within a banner without getting a 5-star character, those rates go up by a small margin. This percentage increase only takes place if you continue to pull within the same banner, and will reset back to the standard 3% the moment you pull a 5-star of any kind. As of right now that detail doesn’t matter as much as there’s only one summon banner (the Family Bonds event), but at launch there were two. It’s also important to note that these rates will reset completely once the current focus banner ends and a new one takes its place.

So the avid FE Heroes player could potentially save a lot of orbs/money if they plan their hero acquisition accordingly. So a 5-pull costs either $12.99 for 23 orbs, or you could pay $11.98 to get exactly 20 orbs. That’s actually pretty cheap considering that most games would want you spending closer to $15.

That being said, this only works if you pull in full 5-summon batches to make use of the step-summon system. Which depending on the unit you’re aiming for, isn’t always the best use of your orbs. Those five colored orbs I talked about are randomized on your first pull: each one has a 25% shot (in theory) of being one of 4 colors: red, blue, green, and grey. Each one represents a hero type. So if you want a new swordsman like Lucina or the current banner characters Erika and Seliph, you’ll want to pull from red orbs. It’s highly possible to initiate a summon and not receive any red orbs at all. In that event, you have to pull one of the other colors, back out, and then pay 5 orbs again to test your luck a second time. This can immediately shoot the average cost right back up to 25 orbs per 5 pulls.

And the awkward thing is that FE Heroes‘ cash shop is not structured for that strategy. It is fully optimized to get you to make full use of those 5-batch pulls. There is no option to buy 25 orbs in the event you have to tank your first five just to get the correct summon colors. You would have to purchase two 10 packs and 1 3-pack, totaling $15.96 before tax, and still have an orb left over.

Another interesting thing to note is that there is no such thing as a 10+1 pull, where you get 11 summons for the price of 10. Usually these exist in gacha games to get people to spend in bulk, and further entice spenders with some kind of guarantee (be it a rarity guarantee, a mercy pull for a specific character, etc.). There is no stated guarantee anywhere within the game you’ll get a 5-star hero, and only recently have people within the FE Heroes community figured out that only after 120 pulls are you absolutely guaranteed a 5-star.

120 summons means 24 5-pull batches, which would cost 480 orbs. To get that purely with cash you would have to buy 10 of those 48 orb packs, which is $269.90 before tax. And that’s just to do the initial 120 summons. You’re guaranteed a 5-star on the 121st summon, meaning you would need 5 more orbs on top of that. So essentially Nintendo values their 5-star characters at around $270 a pop.

Now if you’re chasing a character that’s currently featured in a banner (in Focus, like Ephraim and Erika right now), you have a 6% chance of drawing them due to the Focus bonus, meaning you’re more than likely going to get a 5-star of some kind before you hit that that 480 orb need. There is no doubt that percentages wise FE Heroes is way more generous than most gacha games at launch. But that does not change the fact that it’s pretty fucking ballsy of Nintendo to think a single character is to be valued at $270 when I could go buy all three paths of Fire Emblem Fates right now for $60. Or the new Fire Emblem Echoes for more than likely $40.

The only other feature that requires orbs right now that I feel deserves discussion is the upgrading your castle feature. Leveling your castle grants an exp bonus for training your heroes, and is absolutely essential if you want to save on stamina in the long run. It takes 26 orbs to reach the final upgrade that provides 100% bonus experience points in combat. So we’re talking roughly $15. In other words: the same as a 5-batch summon.

If you’re going to spend any money to support this game, spend the $15 to upgrade your castle. That’s the one concrete thing you know exactly what you’re getting for your money and you know it will be effective the entirety of your FE Heroes account lifespan.

What Freebies are There?

The base gacha rates. A rarity to be seen in Western titles.

As of right now in the game there are 159 free orbs for a player to collect (tutorial’s 15 + all 3 difficulties for all 9 story chapters + the Family Bond Paralogues). Nintendo right now has also extended the launch celebration event to the end of next month, meaning that we will be receiving two orbs a day on top of that for a little while longer.

It’s also important to note that there’s special goodies to be earned if you link your account to your My Nintendo account. This can be done either by creating a new account with your email over at mynintendo.com, or by linking with your Nintendo Network ID (and thus creating one through that). Just by linking your account this way not only protects your account from accidentally being deleted, but you also net another 10 orbs. This brings the current total to 169.

You also earn mynintendo Fire Emblem Heroes points by completing certain tasks in the game. As of right now this is limited to completing each story chapter for the first time, but you can earn over 1000 points total. This can equate to 10+ free stamina potions right out the gate. You can also use your platinum coins to redeem rewards in Heroes as well, which can be earned simply by logging into the Nintendo eShop under the NNID you Heroes account is associated with or by just visiting the website once a week. Doing this can net you a stamina potion a week. It’s certainly not ideal, but it can help combat the current stamina system if done wisely. If Nintendo were to expand these system rewards then it could lessen the cost of account progress drastically and make it more accessible for the savvy player.

There’s in-game quests as well that can net you bonus prizes like experience shards for your heroes or stamina potions, such as completing a story chapter at a specific difficulty with a particular character. While these quests are a great incentive to get players to tackle the game’s levels multiple times, the atrocious stamina system kills it.

Finally, as already discussed in the hero feathers section, you can earn hero feathers by competing in the PvP arena. Even if you don’t have a top tier team, it is highly recommended that you compete anyway to get the ball rolling on your feather farming. The game matches you with teams of similar level and stat totals as yours, so don’t be afraid to go in there and do your best!

Final Verdict: Absolutely Worth Picking up If You Enjoy SRPGs. But Nintendo Still Has a Lot of Work To Do.

Pros:

  • Clean design and high level of polish. No real glitches right now.
  • Voice acting
  • Addictive and deep gameplay
  • Hero power balance actually exists for now
  • All heroes can become top rarity level
  • Free characters are actually very useful in the right teams
  • Skill system shows promise
  • You start with 200 unit capacity. This is nearly unheard of nowadays.
  • MyNintendo rewards
  • Simple cash shop
  • Generous summon rates compared to most other gacha games
  • The summon rates are actually stated in writing
  • Nintendo seems to be listening to player feedback
  • Transparency (for the most part. Way more than what I’m used to at least)
  • A strong community that will keep the game alive for awhile

Cons

  • The stamina system needs to either be updated or dropped
  • No preparation phase before battle
  • Not enough ways to earn hero feathers
  • Friends lists are useless
  • Stat growth natures are hidden for some weird reason
  • Cash shop is not optimized. Prices can be very awkward when planning which packs to purchase compared to what the game requires orb-wise.
  • 5-star characters are worth $270? Bullshit. This is a trend that mobile games have really got to ditch.
  • Piggybacking off the last point: why is that not stated anywhere in game? Again, shouldn’t have to rely on collective player data to get that information.

Overall Fire Emblem Heroes is off to a great start, and I really do believe it has potential to be an industry-shaking title on mobile. But in order to get there, and stay there, Nintendo really needs to hone in on the game’s current shortcomings and fix them. If they can keep their promise regarding content update frequency and address the stamina problems that currently holds FE Heroes back, then I have no doubt that Fire Emblem Heroes could be the new standard competitors are going to have to compare themselves to. Ball’s in your court, Nintendo.

What has been your experience with Fire Emblem Heroes so far? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!