Yikes, yet another smartphone game! At least this one is one of Nintendo's. ;) As a long-time Fire Emblem fan, of course I was looking forward to the release of Fire Emblem Heroes. There was a lot of speculation about the form that the mobile Fire Emblem game would take ever since it was announced, and for the most part Fire Emblem Heroes seems to have been a success on all fronts. For one, it's pleased long-time fans (myself included). Although the mechanics are in general a simplification of the tactics of the main games, there are additions that make it a fresh experience. For example, the absence of the hit percentage and luck-based skill activation removes the element of luck, but there's a greater emphasis on buffs and debuffs (a continuation of the dagger/shuriken-based fighters introduced in Fire Emblem Fates) and also a greater emphasis on the weapon triangle (the series' version of rock-paper-scissors mechanics). Although the maps are all small and fit on an 8 by 6 grid, there's still a surprising amount of variety and playing on the same maps over and over again with different teams and enemies is still worthwhile. Each map is designed so that it can be played for just a few minutes, which is ideal, although the more advanced levels require use up a lot of stamina, the game's play meter that slowly recharges in real time (1 point for every 5 minutes of real time). The game is packed with familiar faces for long-time Fire Emblem fans along with a few new ones, and the art, music, and controls, not to mention a ton of writing and voice recordings, are all polished and up to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems' high standards.

Anecdotally it seems like the game has made a decent amount of money as well. The game lets you recruit characters with orbs, but it's a crapshoot which character you get and what rank it is (the highest being 5*). It seems like many fans have shelled out quite a lot of dough to get 5* versions of their favorite characters, and although I haven't spent any real money myself, I can see myself trying my luck further down the line when more of my long-time favorite characters are added. The complete randomness of recruiting characters is probably the biggest drawback to the game, although regular special events have given opportunities to recruit specific characters. These characters are often at extremely low ranks, however, and promoting a 4* character to a 5* character requires feathers, which are extremely rare, so much so that I haven't even been able to promote one 4* character. This makes sense given their need to make a profit and their main income coming from people trying to get 5* characters, but it does feel like a drag.

I don't know how well the game has succeeded in bringing in people to the Fire Emblem series, but aside from the lack of story and deep character development, the game does feel like a pretty faithful version of the Fire Emblem we all know and love. I've been playing the game incredibly obsessively since it came out three weeks ago, and I'm just now getting to the point where I feel I can wean myself away from it. I blitzed through the story mode (with each map being available in three difficulty levels), and I completely maxed out the two 5* characters I was able to pull. It takes a while to get a feel for how all the different items and currencies and parts of the game interact, but now that I've trained up a lot of characters I feel like I just have to stay on top of special events that give out orbs or new characters and can pretty much ignore most everything else. We'll have to see how the game develops over time, but so far the new story chapters they've released were pretty lame (on par with the original story chapters). I'm hoping that more of the series' great characterization (mostly provided by support conversations in the main series) will become part of future story events, but even without that I had a lot of fun with this game.

This year of Fire Emblem is off to a great start. I'm a little leery of the Fire Emblem Gaiden remake that's due out in a couple months, as I'm not sure how well those mechanics (particularly the very plain maps) are going to hold up, but I'm still looking forward to it. I'm also still pretty psyched for the Fire Emblem Warriors game, although the footage shown so far has been less than thrilling. In any case, I've got a lot of older Fire Emblem games to play and replay, so I'm looking forward to catching up a bit on those as well. Here's hoping that the Fire Emblem series continues its upward trajectory!

Noble and mobile Fire Emblem Heroes links:
- Official website
- Entry on Google Play
- Entry at Serenes Forest
- Results of the massive official Fire Emblem popularity poll
- Entry at fireemblem.wikia.com
- GameExplain video showing that the maps in Heroes are based on the maps of the main games (the wiki goes over those specifics in more detail for anyone who's interested)
- Review at NintendoLife

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