Fire Emblem Heroes is easily the second best Fire Emblem game available for mobile devices.
The contrarians out there will argue it’s the only Fire Emblem game available for mobile devices, but they’re wrong…at least they’re wrong in spirit. There’s also Fuji&gumi’s Phantom of the Kill. That’s not an official Fire Emblem game, of course, but it’s such a faithful homage to the spirit of the series that it actually provides a purer Fire Emblem experience. Why? Because of the decisions Nintendo made when creating Fire Emblem Heroes for iOS and Android.
That’s not to say FE Heroes is a bad game. It’s as polished as you’d expect a Nintendo game to be, and the short bursts of strategic gameplay can be quite fun. The game takes place on a 6×8 grid, requiring you to strategically move your characters in a chess-like war of attack and defense, but with healing and power-ups. Depending upon the level, you can face three to five opponents, but most often four. Whether you chose to attack or pull back will largely depend upon the weapons involved. Swords are good against axes, axes against spears, and spears against swords. Bows and tomes are also used at varying degrees of effectives, and interact with the other weapons in a color triangle; red beats green, green beats blue, blue beats red.
It’s all pretty simple to follow, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to win. This is because the characters you use and the level they’re at will largely determine the outcome of the battle. With the various options available to level your characters up, it’s very easy to be overpowered…at least at first. Getting stronger is a chore after a while, which will either make you shift focus to acquiring and leveling up other characters (you can have hundreds) or just giving up on the game.
Which way you go, then, will mostly depend upon why you play games like this. If it’s to experience the story—which has always been one of Fire Emblem’s greatest assets—forget it. What little story there is never advances beyond a flimsy excuse to have you fight Fire Emblem characters from throughout the franchise’s 26-year history. It’s over before you know it, leaving you with nothing but achievements and the fun of gathering heroes.
If it’s hero collecting you’re after, you’ll never want to put this game down. After acquiring the requisite number of orbs, either through game achievements or buying them through in-app purchases, you can draw heroes at various skill levels. Five-stars are the best, but are very hard to get (although Nintendo does make it easier with each draw in which you don’t get a five-star). Three-stars are fairly simple to bump up to four-star, but moving up to five is amazingly difficult due to the materials you need. Nintendo is exceptionally stingy with these, even with the myriad combat options and special events once you’ve exhausted story mode on all three skill levels.
So, why is Phantom of the Kill better? It follows the same turn-based rock/paper/scissors gameplay structure, it offers a ridiculous number of heroes to acquire and level up, and it offers the same level of illogical fan-service.
But Phantom of the Kill is just bigger. For starters, the game grid is much larger, providing longer, more fulfilling battles.
The story is better, too, with a somewhat more engrossing plot and plenty of character sidequests to help you learn more about them. Lazuli—the currency used to recruit new heroes—is easier to come by, and if you spend enough of it at a time you’re guaranteed to get a five-star character. Sometimes, you even know exactly which character that will be (or at least one of a few options). In other words, it’s friendlier to those who spend a lot of time with it. It also requires you to manage your weapons, not just your warriors, providing deeper levels of strategic gameplay.
Honestly, I enjoy playing both games. Fire Emblem Heroes is fun in short bursts and because I know a lot of these characters, having played every Fire Emblem game released in the U.S. (and two that weren’t). It’s a good way to kill a few minutes here and there…even if I’m getting tired of waiting for Ike to make an appearance (it’s like Radiant Dawn all over again). But honestly, if I’d never played a previous Fire Emblem game, I’d be done with Heroes by now.
Phantom of the Kill, however, requires more strategy, a longer time commitment, and probably the larger screen of an iPad. I’ll sit to play it for half an hour to an hour at a time, much like I’m still doing with Fire Emblem Fates for 3DS. Phantom of the Kill is the clear winner for turn-based strategy gamers such as myself, but I expect to keep both games within reach for as long as they’re receiving new content.