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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fire Emblem: Heroes Review!

"WHAAAAT!? Spencer is reviewing a mobile app game!? WHAT IS THIS DARK MAGIC!?". Well, this dark magic is what happens when someone (read: me) has wanted to play a Fire Emblem game for two whole years, got a cell phone for Christmas, and Nintendo just conveniently releases a Fire Emblem mobile game that plays exactly like a main series Fire Emblem game.

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But before we get started, what exactly is Fire Emblem? Well, it's one of Nintendo's hidden gem franchises that for several years was Japan exclusive, but recently found a MASSIVE following in the United States once the game Fire Emblem: Awakening was released back in 2013. These games are well known for basically inventing the Strategy RPG genre (granted, while games in a similar vein did existed before, the mechanics of Fire Emblem helped define what it means to be a RPG).

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And Fire Emblem Heroes is the ultimate "gateway" to the franchise as a whole. Featuring all the core mechanics, albeit simplified so newcomers don't have to ask a friend or Google a guide just to understand the game. Furthermore, the game has characters from EVERY SINGLE GAME IN THE FRANCHISE as unlockable party members. And there are 13 Fire Emblem games total (unless you count Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest as the same video game, in which case there's twelve), so the roster easily surpasses the dozens and just barely falls short of hitting triple digit territory.

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The premise of Fire Emblem Heroes is a villainous empire is hopping through several dimensions (which just so happen to be the worlds the various Fire Emblem games take place in) and conquer each dimension one by one while you and your merry band of two brand new characters as well as the aforementioned entire cast of the entire franchise go on a quest to stop this empire in their tracks and save the world(s). Here comes my first criticism with Fire Emblem Heroes. It's story is really bland and feels less like a heroic quest to defeat a great evil, and more like an excuse to world-hop to iconic places from Fire Emblem lore. But believe me, you don't want to play the game for the story (although it's nice the game actually HAS a story unlike 90.2% of all the mobile games I've seen).

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The main reason you want this game is either A) to build your Fire Emblem dream team (for me that would be Ryoma, Ike, Nino, and either Takumi, Odin/Owain, or Tiki, haven't really decided who I like more) or B) to learn how to be good at Fire Emblem. But here comes the thing that anyone who has experience with mobile games...

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Fire Emblem Heroes is very much a gacha game. For those of you who aren't sure what that term means, Gacha (derived from gachapon, the sound a Japanese vending machine makes when dispensing things) games are always free-to-play, but somehow involve microtransactions to give the player some kind of advantage. In Fire Emblem Heroes is no exception to this trend (heck, between February 2nd, when the game launched, and Feb. 5, which is today as of the writing of this post, the game's microtransactions alone has over THREE MILLION dollars.). But I HATE how they did it because I can list ways they could have handled it better while still keeping that "you can technically play this game completely free but still have to pay up if you want some really good stuff" mentality.

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You see, as you play through the game you collect items known as Orbs which, among other things, are how you get more characters to join your team. The way Orbs work is you spend about 5 Orbs to "summon" just about any character from the franchise to join your team. But the more summons you do in a row, the less Orbs you spend (i.e. Your first summon costs 5 Orbs, the one after that will cost 4, and after another two summons the price will drop to 3). But WHICH character you get is completely random, and adding even more randomness is the character you summon will be given a star rating, with 1-Star characters being almost completely useless, and 5-Star characters being unstoppable killing machines. But at the present moment, there are currently two "Focuses" (aka character packs) in the game... That inexplicably have the exact same characters, just with the chances to get each character switched around. My problem here is that these two focuses are too broad, covering every single game in the franchise with the exception of the Tellius duology (as those two games do not have any representation whatsoever). I would love to see character packs that are game specific, like if you summon in- oh I don't know, the Awakening focus/character pack to get characters that are all from Fire Emblem Awakening. It would make getting the characters you want much easier, while still keeping the gacha-aspects. But then again, this might just be a salty Spencer talking considering that the RNG Gods hate me for some reason. Seriously, every time I summon a character, I either get someone I've never heard of (or legitimately forgot existed), a character I actually want but with incredibly low Star ranks, or Virion. Like, if I had a NICKEL for every time I got Virion I could buy my own private island. And have some tea with Virion.

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But on a more positive note, I LOVE the gameplay of Fire Emblem Heroes. The controls are nice and smooth, if a little simplistic. In true Fire Emblem fashion, you build up a team and navigate a chess board-esque grid to battle enemies with strategical moves. All you have to do is drag one of your own characters to the space you want them to move to, and to attack you drag the character you want to attack on top of your target (assuming said target is within range of course). In addition, there is a rock-paper-scissors balance of power that conveniently is color-coded. Red characters beat Green Characters, Green Characters beat Blue Characters, and Blue Characters beat Red characters (and Colorless Characters aren't strong against anything, but they aren't weak to anything either). The previous Fire Emblem games had something similar to this system in the form of the Weapon Triangle (Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Spears, Spears beat Swords) It's very simple, but yet, it's incredibly satisfying and slightly addicting in practice.

But there is one downside, and like SO. MANY gacha games, there's a stamina gauge. What does the stamina gauge do? It shows how long you can keep playing the game, and once it's empty, you can either A) spend a Orb to refill it, or B) wait 3-4 hours for it to refill by itself. This. System SUCKS!!!!!! While it is generous enough to let you play through several chapters (each chapter having 5 levels) in a row, I DESPISE how you have to wait on a arbitrary time limit to resume playing! And the biggest problem with Fire Emblem Heroes is that it's TRYING to be a Fire Emblem festival celebrating the franchise similar to how Hyrule Warriors is basically a festival celebrating the Legend of Zelda franchise, but Fire Emblem Heroes is constantly being held back by it's gacha mechanics (and in my case constantly being thrown under the bus by the RNG Gods every time I try summoning a character).

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Oh yeah, someone data mined the 
game and found a Santa Claus outfit
for Robin (pictured) and Tharja.
So there's that.

The game also has pseudo-multiplayer where you can play against A.I. controlled versions of other peoples' teams from around the world, but straight-up real time PvP is currently unavailable. Although I can guarantee one thing. Camillas and Takumis. Camillas and Takumis EVERYWHERE. Seriously, it feels like EVERY person playing the game right now is using either Camilla or Takumi on their team, sometimes they have BOTH! Well except me, obviously, because like I said, the RNG Gods hate my guts. I would like to have Camilla and Takumi because at the present moment I have a only one Green character who is actually good (*Anna fans, I'm sorry, but Anna is way too fragile and doesn't deal anywhere near enough damage to compensate for her fragility) and Camilla is the only Green Character I'm familiar with because when she made her debut in Fire Emblem Fates she has brought a great divide through Fire Emblem fans. Either you love Camilla (5% of her fans like her personality, the other 95% find her attractive) or you hate her (either because almost all of her dialogue sounds she's flirting with whoever she's talking to, including her siblings, or because of the fact she is literally designed to be attractive). I myself am indifferent to Camilla but if I ever get a 5-Star Camilla, then of course she's going on my team (I still haven't gotten a 5-Star character for reason that starts with "RNG Gods" and ends with "hate me"). As for Takumi, I just think he has a cool design (blue ninja gi with fur trim, plus a bow that shoots lasers!? Sign me up!).

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Speaking of character designs, let's move on to the graphics. And I got to say, the visuals in this game are TOP. NOTCH. For starters, each character gets hand-drawn portraits, each done by a different artist, and the clashing art styles just... Works! You have characters like Takumi and Robin, who look almost cel-shaded, and then comes Arthur who looks like he came straight out of a 60's comic book, and characters like Raigh who looks like he should be the star of his manga series and it goes even deeper. Something that I thought was a nice touch is when viewing a character's stats/bio/skill-list, it tells you both who voiced that character (be prepared to see Yuri Lowenthal a lot because he voices at least one third of the cast) and the artist who drew that character's portrait(s)/ Oh yeah, this game has voice acting, for EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER IN THE GAME!!! And out of the voices I've heard they all sound surprisingly good. I haven't heard every voice in the game obviously, but when/if I get all the characters (and probably enough Virions to take over the world) I'll let you know how good it is.

But on another note, something interesting is that while the portraits for the characters are hand-drawn by various different artists, the battle sprites use a single, unified chibi artstyle, making all our favorite Fire Emblem heroes (and villains) cute as a button. The attack animations for all the characters are also really good, as they are fluid, smooth, and visually impressing (Nino raining glowing swords of doom on her enemies, Tiki transforming into a gigantic dragon to burn you in an inferno of raw draconic rage, and Ryoma's crazy combos are the stand outs).

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Ryoma here is the character that I want most and 
probably will never get because of those wacky
RNG Gods...

The music is also mostly good. I say mostly good because the Title theme isn't good because of it's quality but I get a kick out of it because the Fire Emblem Main Theme is MEANT to be sung in Latin, but someone had the bright idea *cough cough* obvious sarcasm is obvious *cough cough* of translating the lyrics and deciding that this time around the main theme will be sung in English. The result is a "So bad, it's good" butchery of the Fire Emblem Main Theme. But it's not really bad per se, just EXTREMELY cheesy and I'm honestly surprised the Internet hasn't made this the butt of many jokes yet.

I have heard that Nintendo will update the game on a regular basis, and plan to get EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER from EVERY SINGLE GAME in the franchise into Fire Emblem Heroes. So I think it's only fair that I make a wishlist for everything I want in the future of this game in order for me to consider it perfect...

  1. Give me Ryoma next time I try summoning a character, preferably a 5-Star Ryoma Or just about any 5-Star character would be fine . I'm obviously joking here, but still would be nice to have a 5-Star Ryoma on my team...
  2. Add more specific character packs. Or focuses. Or whatever you call them. It wouldn't contradict the gacha mechanics at all, and it would help narrow down the chances of getting a character you want. Like I could just use the Birthright focus or whatever they'll call it to increase my odds of getting Ryoma.
  3. Either scrap the stamina system or add a way to increase the stamina gauge (like with an Orb or something) so people can play the game for longer periods of time (obviously put a cap on how much you can increase it like make it cap at 70 or something)
Overall, I give Fire Emblem Heroes a 8.5/10. The .5 is because this is actually my first REAL Fire Emblem game and I've always wanted to play a Fire Emblem game, So yay! While it is fun, beware of the dreaded gacha mechanics. And you might as well get anyway, since it is free-to-play-with-microtransactions.

P.S. In case you couldn't tell, all those comments about RNG Gods was only meant as a joke. And please, don't do something silly and get religiously offended by a joke, lest you turn into those hardcore folks who don't even let their children do anything unless it has something to do with the Lord and even then only if that thing portrays the Lord in a positive light, and accuse everything from Star Wars to Pokemon of being demon-spawn when it obviously isn't, because that is just silly if you ask me. It really is.

P.P.S. If you get/have the game let me know what kind of characters you got/have, especially if you got Camilla or Takumi, because like I said, it FEELS like everyone have those characters. So if you get those characters, it proves what I've suspected all along... That Camilla and Takumi are the most common characters in the game! Unless you're me in which case the most common character is Virion.

*Anna is the first character you get in the game (and is one of 6 characters that you are literally just given for free, no summon required) and funnily enough is the only character to appear in every single game in the franchise since the original Fire Emblem in some way shape or form. That's probably why her bio has that "[she] appears in Fire Emblem Heroes... And elsewhere".

EDIT: As it turns out, Takumi and Camilla are actually really rare, but the reason everyone has them is because if you delete your save data, uninstall and then reinstall the game, you could use the 15 free Orbs ad infinitum until you get the characters you want. And apparently most people who already got the game did this cheat over and over until they got Camilla and Takumi. The reason everyone wanted Takumi is because at the moment, Takumi is tied with Hector for best character in the game. The reason everyone wanted Camilla is because, well, like I said, she's literally designed to be attractive (or they simply wanted a decent Green Character that has good stats and some surprisingly useful passive abilities). But mostly because they find her attractive.

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