Retrospect is a funny thing. If I’d been told this time in 2016 that the following year would give us not one, but three entries into the Fire Emblem series, I wouldn’t have laughed at you loudly, as I am a polite and caring soul, but the notion would’ve been so absurd to me that I would have certainly entertained the idea of doing so. However, given the events of the past year, it’s a move that seems so obvious to me now.
While Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was a wonderful remake that has gone some way towards reconciling the older fans of the series with the new ones (in spite of the glaring flaws it inherited from the source material), and Fire Emblem Warriors was a fun romp of spectacle and strategy that marked the HD debut of the franchise on the Nintendo Switch (Tokyo Mirage Sessions never happened, you heretics), there’s no mistaking that Fire Emblem Heroes has been the biggest, most successful offering from Intelligent Systems in 2017. The game has maintained a massive presence in the fandom thanks to its nature as a free-to-start “gacha” game and a steady stream of fresh content, with new maps and characters being introduced into the game every fortnight.
With that said, I thought it would be fitting to use the game’s one year anniversary to look back over the past twelve months to see how Fire Emblem Heroes has changed right in front of us while we were all too busy crying over the money and orbs we wasted trying to summon our favourite waifus or husbandos.
The most logical place to start would be to look at what content the game has received since launch. When the game became available to download on February 2nd 2017, players had access to ninety characters and four playable modes:
Story Mode was the main meat of the game, containing 9 chapters with each chapter having 5 sub-chapters playable at 3 difficulty levels, making for an effective 135 playable levels, not counting the game’s prologue chapter, which contains 3 sub-chapters that are only playable on the lowest difficulty.
The Training Tower was essential, especially in the early weeks of play, for ensuring that summoned Heroes could be developed quickly and efficiently without needing to replay specific story missions, and has remained as such over the game’s first year.
Special Maps has allowed players to participate in event based challenges, from Grand Hero Battles in which you try to defeat and recruit exclusive, powerful Heroes, to challenges pitting players against teams made by the developers and artists of the game, as well as many others besides.
Finally, the Arena allowed players to test their mettle against each other, acting as the game’s ranked mode which offers Feathers and Orbs as rewards for high-scorers.
Since last year, the developers of Fire Emblem Heroes have added an abundance of new content, from new story chapters and Grand Hero Battles to entirely new modes in the form of:
Voting Gauntlets pit eight themed Heroes against one another in a tournament format, with players being able to pledge support to and fight for their chosen Hero until their defeat or final victory. While matches were often predictable and one-sided in early gauntlets, the developers have since added in a comeback multiplier that allows flagging contestants to keep up even with the most popular characters (though depending on who you ask the predictability and potency of these multipliers has made the mode even less tense than before).
Tempest Trials are the game’s premier timed event, tasking players with fighting their way through a set of themed maps before facing a powerful boss character for various prizes, from Orbs to Feathers and many others in between.
Chain Challenge, Squad Assault and Arena Assault all take the same basic premise as Tempest Trials, but add new wrinkles to the formula. Chain Challenges are a replay of the story chapters as one big medley with limited teams available, whereas Squad Assault takes five random maps and forces you to switch teams for each one, without being able to suffer any casualties. Finally, Arena Assault is a mix of the two modes, allowing the player to suffer casualties but forcing them to switch between teams as they try to rack up seven consecutive wins against the teams of other players.
Most recently, Tap Battle was added, a fun little rhythm minigame which requires no resources to play. Additionally, the area on the mode select screen that Tempest Trials used to occupy is now home to an upcoming mode which we know nothing about at this point in time, so keep your eyes peeled, summoners!
As well as adding new modes, Fire Emblem Heroes has not only bumped the total number of playable characters up to 219, but has also added various ways to customise your characters and unleash their full potential:
Shortly after launch the game received the Skill Inheritance system, which allows players to sacrifice Heroes to give their skills to others. Beyond allowing the player’s units to feel more personalised as a result of the time and thought put into building a skill set, this system has also helped low tiered units stay relevant in the meta game by allowing players to craft setups dedicated to making the most of a Hero’s given stats.
In September 2017, Support was added to the game in two flavours. Ally Support allows two allies to foster a bond that gives them stat boosts on the battlefield when near each other, as well as leading to some brilliant crack pairings, such as Brave Lyn x Reinhardt. On the other hand, Summoner Support lets Anna gain a permanent passive buff to all her stats by nurturing a friendship with the player’s Summoner character (I mean you could have another Hero use Summoner Support, but why would you ever want to do that?). While perhaps one of the more underused mechanics of the game due to the flexible nature of teams and the time it takes for each support to reach S Rank, the mechanic can be really rewarding for those looking to enhance their long term team synergy.
Shortly thereafter, Sacred Seals were added to the game, diversifying skill sets even further by effectively allowing a 4th skill that could be equipped to and swapped between Heroes at will. While these were only the most basic versions of the skill at first (such as Atk +1 or Spur Atk 1), a later update added the Sacred Seal Forge, allowing Seals to be upgraded with the use of Sacred Coins won from Arena Assault.
Finally, when the game updated to Version 2 at the end of last year, two more features were added – Blessings were introduced that could be conferred onto Heroes, granting them double SP from all battles as well as a stat boost when these Heroes were placed on a team with a Legendary Hero (such as Fjorm or Gunnthrá) whose element matched that of the conferred blessing. The latest feature, the Weapon Refinery, further personalises and strengthens Heroes by upgrading their weapons in various ways. Most common among these is applying a Refinement to the weapon that provides a stat buff to its wielder, in Atk, Spd, Def or Res. Additionally, some weapons, such as Killer weapons, Seliph’s Tyrfing and Julia’s Naga, can be upgraded into better versions of themselves (Slaying weapons, Divine Tyrfing and Divine Naga respectively). Finally, certain weapons, mostly legendary weapons, can be refined to gain new passive effects, such as Alm’s Falchion effectively turning into a Brave Sword when he’s at full HP, but dealing five damage to him after he makes use of this perk – not only has this helped make him relevant in the meta once again, but it’s also a nice callback to Double Lion, one of his learned Arts in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.
So really, that’s an impressive amount of raw content – certainly enough to keep players interested and I’d argue far more than is necessary at this point in the game’s life, and this is where I believe the state of the game runs deeper than its content. Since launch, the developers have been extremely receptive to fan feedback, to the point where some features that were planned and known to players during the launch period of the game were in fact scrapped before they even had a chance to be implemented properly (such as the Training Tower costing double the final amount of stamina, and that changing equipped skills would have also consumed stamina). Between this and the auxiliary media for the game, such as the comics and Feh Channel broadcasts, I really feel as though Intelligent Systems have been trying to foster a sense of community within the game, and I feel it’s really paid off. While Fire Emblem has always been a big fandom, it’s never been so connected before now.
Furthermore, Fire Emblem Heroes has been astoundingly generous in its first year, most notably with its premium currency. While many people lamented the end of daily gift Orbs after the launch celebration period came to a close, right now you can log into the game and be greeted with an abundance of Orbs in your present list. Granted a big factor in this is that the game is currently celebrating its first anniversary, but even in the latter months of 2017, it seemed as though Heroes was looking for any excuse to throw its premium currency at you, and judging from what I have seen in the communities surrounding the game (such as /r/FireEmblemHeroes), such a gesture certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room when it comes to any game of this nature; power creep. With new Heroes perpetually raising the bar in both stats and skills, it would’ve been so easy for the developers to let early game Heroes like Seliph and Alm get left in the dust, and the community at large likely would’ve accepted this as a standard practice of gacha games. Instead, Intelligent Systems have taken the time and effort to make sure that new Heroes don’t make the player’s old units obsolete (most of the time) through features such as the Weapon Refinery. On the other side of the coin, the developers have even managed to keep the potential of Skill Inheritance in check by way of Hero exclusive Skills, such as Arden’s Follow-Up Ring and Fjorm’s Ice Mirror, offering incentive to use these Heroes while also prevent potentially gamebreaking skills from being applied to meta-dominating units (Dear Naga, even thinking about Reinhardt with the Follow Up-Ring makes me clammy).
In summary, I think the first year of Fire Emblem Heroes has been a spectacular one, really showing the Intelligent System’s commitment to their foray into smart device gaming. They have consistently delivered update after update full of wonderful features which keep the game interesting in ways we didn’t even know we wanted. Looking to the future, I hope Feh and the Order of Heroes continue their presence on our phones and tablets for years to come, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for the game.