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Fire Emblem – Nintendo’s addictive strategy RPG

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Fast-paced tactical battles galore as the popular Fire Emblem series gets a mobile makeover

Price: Free
Size: 82.5 MB
Platform: iPhone / iPad
Developer: Nintendo Co.


Nintendo owns a boatload of popular franchises, with household names including Zelda, Kirby, and Donkey Kong in its formidable roster. So why ignore all that to bring a relative unknown like Fire Emblem to bring to the App Store? Because it’s a great fit for the iPhone, that’s why.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, the series’ combat system translates well to mobile, where turn-based swipe controls make perfect sense. No fiddly virtual buttons, no need for precise inputs. Second, in the wake of the mixed reaction to Super Mario Run’s premium $10 price tag, it gives Nintendo a chance to try a free-to-play system. It’s a natural fit for this type of game, and it mostly works out – more on that later.


Move your heroes into position, and attack!

For the uninitiated – that’s everyone outside of Japan who doesn’t own a Nintendo DS, we suspect – Fire Emblem is a tactical roleplaying series in which memorable characters duke it out on a gridded battleground. The series’ typically epic skirmishes have been scaled down here to make for lighter strategy and a faster pace, and that’s a good decision for all but the most hardened gamer. The four-against-four combat here is satisfying for players of all levels, with matches over in a matter of minutes.

Encounters play out over varied landscapes, often comprising breakable walls or impassable chasms. Our heroes move into position on the grid, with attacks initiated simply by dragging a character onto an opponent. One short action cutscene later and somebody emerges victorious. Combat is a numbers game: heroes can level up to improve stats like Attack and Defense, while a simple rock-paper-scissors system denotes which fighters are effective against others. It’s easy to pick up, providing depth without asking too much of players.


Over-the-top animations decide the outcome of each conflict

There’s a main story mode to work through, in which you’ll fight to reclaim once-noble heroes who have been forced to fight for a great evil. The plot is a bit tedious in its ultra-valiant epicness, but it’s easily ignored if pulp fantasy’s not your thing. Primarily, the storyline seems designed to justify the “gacha” style randomized character unlocks: Oh, how convenient! This mystical weapon summons heroes from other realms, and only you (the player) can use it! But, erm, you’ll be needing a good handful of magic orbs to power it. And we just so happen to be selling those for real cash.

This is where the hallmarks of freemium gaming rear their heads, though they’re applied much less aggressively than we’ve come to expect on iOS. There are timers, though they let you play for an hour or two at a time, and there are in-game currencies (orbs) that can be earned slowly through play or quickly by opening your wallet. Standard stuff. This monetization scheme is all built around the secondary pillar of Fire Emblem Heroes – though combat is the bread and butter of the game, collecting new and better characters for your team is the, uh, wine? Dozens of characters from past Fire Emblem games are here, and like Pokémon, Nintendo is hoping you’ll try to catch ’em all.


Five new heroes works out to about $12, or you can slowly earn them for free

We’re happy to report that it’s possible to finish the main story – and unlock quite a few new characters – without spending a dime, and as you’d expect from a big studio like Nintendo (and collaborators DeNa) the level of polish in this game is astounding.

Characters and maps look great, animations are superb and the interface is slick and responsive. It’s a very high bar for a free game.

Further game modes mix things up if you tire of the main quests – special maps, training levels and arena duels against other players’ teams add some extra spice and replay value to proceedings. There’s a lot to take in here, and if you like this kind of thing you’ll get plenty of mileage out of it – so long as you’re not expecting to unlock all the best heroes.