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Cash, random chance almost ruin Nintendo’s first smartphone Fire Emblem

Cash, random chance almost ruin Nintendo’s first smartphone Fire Emblem

Cash, random chance almost ruin Nintendo’s first smartphone Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem Heroes sees Nintendo entering new game-design territory. Sure, Nintendo has previously toyed with free-to-play games on both 3DS and iOS, and it has experimented with radically altering beloved series to fit on a phone in Super Mario Run (unlike Mario, Fire Emblem is launching simultaneously on both iOS and Android). This time around, though, Nintendo is diving head-first into the “gacha” mold, wrapping its turn-based strategy/RPG series around randomized, pay-per-pull hero collection.

The results are odd, but Nintendo may have an obnoxious hit on its hands. Fire Emblem‘s core gameplay is free to try here, and it’s still eminently satisfying on the phone—so long as you know what to expect regarding exactly when Nintendo will (and won’t) nag you to pay up, that is.

                            Turn-based tactics meet microtransactions

Fire Emblem, from Nintendo-owned developer Intelligent Systems, has enjoyed less popularity in the West than in Japan, where the series received major releases on pretty much every Nintendo system. Other regions didn’t start receiving translated Fire Emblem games until the Game Boy Advance era. As such, the series has racked up countless major and minor characters over the decades. Heroes embraces this situation with an era- and world-hopping fantastical plot. You, smartphone player, are an overseer who can summon the series’ heroes. You’re asked to do this because some evil person is doing the same thing, only they’re summoning evil versions of the good guys.

This premise helps the developers skip the usual Fire Emblem design of a traditional, map-trotting RPG in which you recruit heroes. Instead, you hop from battle to battle via a menu system, though there’s still a “quest” path of increasingly tougher fights, alongside other battle types (which I’ll get to).

Fire Emblem‘s turn-based tactics battles are managed from a top-down perspective. Players get to move and issue orders to all of their units together (think Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics) before letting their foe do the same. Managing exactly when and how you step toward your opponent is key, since stepping too far will likely invite your foe to dart in to take the first strike. Characters’ position on a color wheel reflects how strong or weak they are against the opposition: red is strong against green; green crushes blue; blue does well against red. (“Clear”-colored characters aren’t part of this system and are therefore sometimes weaker, but they offer special abilities, like healing or longer-ranged attacks.)

At the game’s start, players are given a few “low-level” characters that they can use for fights immediately, along with a bunch of orbs. Want more heroes? You can unlock them in various ways, but the unlockable ones aren’t typically as good as the ones you summon using orbs. Your first few orbs are free, and you can slowly earn more (one for every quest battle you complete) in the game. You can also pay up, with the normal rate being about 66 cents per orb (with discounts when you spend more money in one fell swoop).

Thus, we enter the gacha zone. Gacha games, which have been popular on Japanese smartphone shops, revolve around new characters being unlocked with spent currency in a toy-slot-machine style. Spend five of your orbs, and five randomly colored gems will appear. Pick one, and you’ll get a random hero in the color you tapped. Spend more orbs to keep picking from the gems on the screen at a slight discount.

This system involves a lot of randomness, and you won’t always get the color(s) of gem you want in any one pull. But if you like the five colored gems that appear and want heroes in all of them, and you have enough orbs to spend, then spend more to save more!

Spawned heroes also come with “star” ratings that indicate how powerful the characters will become as they level up in normal play. You’ll be lucky to get a four-star hero and damned lucky to generate a five-star fighter. (There are also ways to dump unwanted heroes and combine duplicates, and, yes, you’ll get dupes.) Edit: I forgot to add a very, very important change to the Fire Emblem formula here: no perma-death. In normal games, when characters die, they’re gone forever, with new, weaker characters ready to fill the gaps. Nintendo was thankfully not so devilish to apply that formula to a free-to-play game.

                                      Great battles, awful meters

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