The first week with Fire Emblem Heroes was a blast. Nintendo’s third mobile outing is about as hardcore as mobile, “gacha” style RPGs can get. The minds behind Fire Emblem Heroes managed to seamlessly inject the core fundamentals of Fire Emblem into the mobile space. It’s small, but it has depth, swift combat and tons of likable characters. Even the bells and whistles, including a wide variety of designs from different artists and an equally impressive group of voice actors, show a dedication and craft one doesn’t typically associate with mobile games. But the “brick wall” factor is real, and in Fire Emblem Heroes, hitting that brick wall often feels like Nintendo painted a nice, inviting landscape over a solid mass of concrete, Road Runner style.
The first gaping hole in Fire Emblem Heroes is in EXP distribution. This game not only wants you to grind, but it wants you to grind on ultra-specific terms. In Fire Emblem, a unit gets a small chunk of experience points for fighting, and much more for finishing an opponent off. It’s the same here, but if your unit is a few levels higher than the enemy, everything flies out the window. Fire Emblem has always been about carefully planning your growth, but now the player must jump through hoops after around level 10. A set of training levels exist, but they are not consistent and significant gaps in efficiency crop up between the suggested entry points. Going between level 15 and level 20 is a brutal process, making spending your My Nintendo points on level-boosting gemstones dangerously appetizing.
Once you get to level 20, the real roadblock brings progress to a violent, screeching (and squawking?) halt. Feathers. Those horrible, godforsaken feathers. In most gacha games, it’s not disastrous to draw lower-level characters. There’s generally an opportunity to do some work and upgrade your three-star to a four-star, so on and so forth. It takes extra time and resources, but assuming the proper balance is in place, the payoff can be great for players with less money to shoot towards raw character pulls. Fire Emblem Heroes completely botches this balance. The player scratches and claws their way to getting their favorite unit to level 20, which opens it up to “Advanced Growth,” the chance to upgrade star rating. Each upgrade requires two resources: Badges and… feathers. So many feathers. Literally thousands of feathers.
An example, for perspective. I had a three-star character I really enjoyed having in my main team. I took the time to bring them to level 20 alongside my more capable four-stars. I go to the menu, open Advanced Growth and click to see what I need. 20 blue badges. Okay, sure, no problem. 1,850 feathers. Nearly two-thousand feathers to upgrade a unit in the middle of the power standings to the next step. At the time, I had 20. Turns out, feathers are earned as rewards for high scores in the PvP mode. After jumping in and doing okay, I earned 500 after the week ended. That’s 500 feathers for about three days of arena battles. To upgrade a character from four to five? 20,000. It’s insane. That translates to months of work, even with flawless arena performance, to build up a single unit.
Fire Emblem Heroes has a solid foundation. It brings one of the few popular strategy RPG IPs left to a new platform with confidence and capability. Fun-sized tactics battles with Nintendo-level polish rules, even for someone like me who doesn’t normally have the time or patience for a “real” Fire Emblem. It’s even fine to play without dunking money on character pulls. But holy cow, for the love of everything good in this world, do something about those feathers. This is the kind of progress meddling that can kill the long-term prospects of a game like this.