Review: Fire Emblem Heroes

How Nintendo Got Free to Play Right

Fire Emblem: Heroes is a mobile version of Nintendo’s fairly popular series of tactical RPGs. Earlier iterations were Japan exclusive, but western curiosity after Roy and Marth’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee convinced Nintendo to try bringing it overseas in 2003. Good reviews and fair sales helped keep the games coming stateside, with the most recent entries (Fire Emblem: Conquest and Birthright for the 3DS) selling over 300,000 combined copies in their first week.

The game is played on 8x6 grids, with up to four units on both sides. Units are typically characters from past Fire Emblem games, with a few Heroes original characters and generic units added. New units are won through the game’s “gatcha” style system using the in-game orbs. Heroes have rarities from one to five stars, with certain heroes only available above certain rarities. You can win heroes you already have, but extras can be merged for stat boosts or traded for feathers (more on these later). Thankfully, Heroes drops the perma-death the series is known for, so you won’t have to spend all over again after a bad move.

By spending orbs, the player can summon up to five heroes at a time with a discount for summoning multiple heroes in one go. Summoning five heroes requires 20 orbs, and for those willing to spend money on the game, a bundle of 23 orbs will cost $12.99. This seems a little expensive, considering the roughly 3.5% chance of receiving a five-star hero. Add to that certain limited-time “banner heroes” and you have a game that could get expensive real quick.

Playing through the story mode gave me enough orbs for a good number of heroes, and more orbs can be won through daily login bonuses and in-game missions. Although I had won two five-star heroes during my time with the game, I managed to finish most of the story without relying on them. Each story mission can be played in one of three difficulties, each giving an orb for that map.

"The story mode is sparse, with nine chapters of five battles each. Heroes’ scenes are not voiced, but they are short, avoiding the walls of text Fire Emblem is known for."

New heroes can also be won from rotating event battles, but you can only win event heroes twice (on two separate map difficulties). The story mode is sparse, with nine chapters of five battles each. Heroes’ scenes are not voiced, but they are short, avoiding the walls of text Fire Emblem is known for. The story is your standard mobile fare, with a summoner (the player) being brought in to help protect a kingdom by summoning heroes from other worlds. Not terribly complicated or involved, but this is a mobile game. 

The game’s familiar stamina system keeps people from beating the game in one go, and I actually felt the stamina regenerated fairly quickly compared to other games. The maximum 50 stamina typically took a bit over four hours to refill, and was usually plenty to let me play for a half hour or so on low-level maps. Stamina is used for most battles, so it is important to spend it wisely. Stamina potions and other items can be won from quests or given as login bonuses, and I built up a fair number of them during my playtime.

Heroes brings back the swords, axes and spears (or simply, red, green and blue) weapon triangle, shown above. The red, green, blue relationship also holds true for the game’s magic, and for weapons versus magic, with a fire magic (red) unit having an advantage against an axe (green) unit. 

An advantage doesn’t guarantee a win, but it does make a huge difference. (I often found my strongest attacking units doing zero damage against a bad matchup.) There are also grey colored units, which use knives or staves, but don’t have any weapon advantages or disadvantages. Each unit also has its own abilities, including combinations of attack skills, heal skills, support skills, passive skills and/or map skills.

The second in-game currency, feathers, are used to upgrade a unit’s rarity, granting new skills, increasing their base stats, and resetting the unit to level one. Sadly, earning enough feathers to upgrade a unit from four to five stars is, at this time, ridiculous. Players can’t buy feathers, but they can be won from arena mode, completing missions, or as daily gifts from friends. Feathers are an unofficial paywall, and I decided it was much cheaper time-wise to stockpile orbs and pull new heroes than upgrade a single hero to five stars. 

“Feathers are an unofficial paywall, and I decided it was much cheaper time-wise to stockpile orbs and pull new heroes than upgrade a single hero to five stars. ”

Upgrading a hero requires that the hero reach at least level 20 first, a sizable time and stamina investment. Additionally, the entire level up process needs to be done once for each star the unit needs to reach five, with a rising feather cost for each star. Bringing a unit from one star to four can be done for a few thousand feathers, but the jump to five stars is an outrageous 20,000 feathers.

I mentioned the arena mode, but Heroes doesn’t have true PvP. Instead, it pits you against other players’ teams controlled by the game’s AI. By spending dueling swords in arena mode, I was given the choice of “Beginner”, “Intermediate” and “Advanced” opponents to fight against. The top 100,000 players are placed on your typical rankings board, but three dueling swords each day for my under level 40 team left me unranked 

Surprisingly, I hardly felt a pay-to-win aspect. By paying attention to positioning, I found myself beating even advanced opponents regularly, although difficulty being described based on average stats sometimes meant getting wiped out by a single overleveled unit. This averaging mechanic also plays a part in keeping new players from being matched up against someone who payed for a premium team.

The game looks great. Battle animations are smooth, and the game sounds like Fire Emblem. Heroes’ battle sounds and background music brought me back to playing Path of Radiance on the Gamecube, and make me want to pick up one of the 3DS titles. Each hero also has a few portraits, some of which are used used in battles and can be viewed in the unit’s stats screen.

Along with the removal of permadeath, Heroes removes a few of the other more frustrating points from the games. Physical and magic attack stats have become just attack, although defense and resistance remain separate. Critical hits have been removed for a more consistent (and less hacksy) experience. Special moves have been put on individual timers which deplete on attacks involving the unit, instead of being entirely luck based. If the game says you’ll do ten damage, you’ll do ten damage.

Naturally, I started playing the game during Nintendo’s launch event. I received quite a few free items and bonus orbs because of it, but I still think the game will be playable without spending any money once the event ends. 

Nintendo has even extended the launch event indefinitely due to player feedback, keeping stamina costs for training maps halved (which is a huge deal, training high-level units is expensive). Additionally, the app-release bonus period has been extended until March 14, giving players two free orbs each day instead of one.

“Fire Emblem: Heroes is a game that I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone curious about the series.”

Fire Emblem: Heroes is a game that I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone curious about the series. The game already has a devoted following with daily discussions on Reddit, and there are plenty of guides and tips for beginners available. The game has a pretty low barrier to entry compared to similar games, and Nintendo looks like it will support the game through events for a long time. It’s out now for iOS and Android, so anyone interested can go try it.


Nintendo Announces DLC for Breath of the Wild

Season pass is a first for the series

Nintendo has just announced a season pass for its upcoming game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The season pass will have a $20 price tag, and will give access to two new sets of downloadable content (DLC) later this year. 

Immediately on purchase, three new treasure chests will appear in the game’s Great Plateau area, one of which will contain a season pass exclusive Nintendo Switch logo shirt for Link. The other two will contain “useful items”. The first content pack is scheduled to release this summer, and will include a Cave of Trials challenge, a new hard mode and a new feature for the in-game map. The second content pack will launch around the holidays and will include a new dungeon and a new original story.

“This is a departure from the Nintendo of old.”

This is a departure from the Nintendo of old. Back in 2012, interviews with both CEO Satoru Iwata and Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime showed Nintendo being against DLC, with Iwata describing DLC as good for short-term sales, but bad for mid or long-term business. Later that same year, Nintendo started experimenting with DLC with New Super Mario Bros. 2, providing extra levels for the game’s Coin Rush mode. 

Since then, Nintendo has had great success with DLC, from Fire Emblem Awakening’s extra characters, maps and story content to Super Smash Bros.’ characters and stages. Part of this likely comes from Nintendo’s design philosophy for DLC, including the thought of not holding back parts of the game to make extra money. Any DLC that Nintendo makes adds to the game in a meaningful way, and is completely optional (Smash Bros. competitive notwithstanding).

“One of the largest complaints with Nintendo DLC is not the content itself, but rather the pricing.” 

One of the largest complaints with Nintendo DLC is not the content itself, but rather the pricing. Super Smash Bros. has a selection of fighter/stage pairs for as high as $6.99. Thankfully, there is a steep discount should someone happen to purchase the DLC for both versions of the game at once, but purchasing all of the DLC for both editions of Super Smash Bros will still cost over $30.00, nearly the price of a full retail 3DS game. 

Nintendo’s recent successes with both Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem: Heroes show that Nintendo isn’t afraid of trying new things. Their strong vision of what DLC should be hopes to keep gamers coming back to their games long after the credits roll. As long as season passes don’t hold anything back from the games they support, they should be great options for those who can’t get enough of their favorite games.



Denuvo Admits Anti-Piracy Software is Crackable

Resident Evil 7 cracked in under a week

By now many have heard of Denuvo, the anti-tampering solution by Austrian company Denuvo Software Solutions GmbH. Their digital rights management (DRM) solution is used to protect video games from being pirated and distributed online. Details about how Denuvo works are under wraps, but piracy groups have managed to crack a number of games in the past, while failing to crack others. The newest Denuvo cracked game is Capcom’s own Resident Evil 7, which began appearing online just 5 days after release.

Denuvo marketing director Thomas Goebl told Eurogamer, "Please note that we always position our Anti-Tamper solution as hard to crack, not as uncrackable. So far only one piracy group has been able to bypass it". Denuvo will continue to improve their software, and has admitted that the crack is real. Positing that every unprotected title is cracked on the day of release, Goebl said that the software still made a difference for Resident Evil 7.

“Resident Evil 7 has so far shipped 2.5 million copies, but if the crack gains media attention, future sales may be affected.”

Denuvo has protected games since 2014, most often big budget titles. A growing trend however, is that some games have started to remove Denuvo a few months after a game’s release. Id Software removed Denuvo from Doom four months after release when the game was cracked. Some speculated the removal was a condition of Denuvo’s refund policy, but Denuvo stated it was because the software was no longer needed. Denuvo’s software has been hated by gamers since release, with gamers citing everything from “draconian DRM policies” to performance problems. 

Resident Evil 7 has so far shipped 2.5 million copies, but if the crack gains media attention, future sales may be affected. Other Denuvo enabled games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst have been cracked previously, but lost sales are notoriously hard to count.

This particular case is troubling because of the incredibly short time it took for the crack to be complete. Other Denuvo cracks have typically taken months, with Rise of the Tomb Raider being cracked more than half a year after release. Whether Resident Evil 7 was just a fluke or a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but if game cracks keep appearing so quickly, AAA titles may have to find another solution.