The strategy game Fire Emblem: Heroes (2017) is now out for a little more than a week. As far as I know, it is the first Fire Emblem title to be released on the mobile phone and not less important it is free. Google Play Store tells me that this game has been downloaded more than a million times, has been given 4.6 stars out of 5, and also many Twitter accounts I follow update daily about this game. However, as I have been playing the game, it seems to me that FE:Heroes is mainly fan service and hardly a new game.
There are only a few factors that we can consider new when we compare FE:Heroes to the previous game installments. First of all, FE:Heroes is a game that is played on the mobile phone. It gives player the opportunity to easily meet each others’ avatar, even if they have not crossed paths physically before. Unlike the FE:Awakening (2012) and FE:Fates (2016), players do not have to physically encounter each other, having someone’s friends codes will do just fine. And, perhaps the most important aspect of all: players can play with various characters from the previous installments. They can make Tharja fight Roy, or put them together in a team (if they were able to gain both characters, that is). That is something that other installments were unable to do.
Yet, that is all there is new about this game. Other aspects might seem new, but as far as I am concerned, they are just recycled aspects of the previous games. The game mechanisms for instance are practically the same: the player controls several units who each have their own skills, weaknesses and strengths, and makes them attack/heal/support other units. The weapon triangle is a new addition, but it is just a tool that simplifies the game mechanics. So, the game mechanics are like the other games, but much simpler: having a few high level characters is more important than thinking up a strategy to win a match. The social aspect is also taken from the previous games: FE: Awakening and FE: Fates both have a social factor which allows players to meet each others avatars in their own game. They can battle these avatars, recruit them, or get goods from them. FE: Heroes has this too, but less. Players can only meet each others avatars when they become friends and get some goods as far as I have noticed. Finally, the most obvious recycled element is the presence of all the familiar characters. The game hardly introduces any new characters. Instead, players play with characters that they are already familiar with. However, that is exactly on which FE: Heroes thrives.
As Kotaku rightly pointed out, the focus is entirely on adding these characters to your collection. Players need to collect orbs in order to randomly summon characters in the hope of getting this one character that they want, and with the right amount of stars too. More stars means that they have more potential, and more is always better, of course. Players can get characters in special battle events, but those characters are often not more than two stars. Furthermore, the story itself is quite shallow and is obviously created to introduce familiar characters. FE: Heroes allows the players to interact with their beloved characters. Rubbing them prompts the characters to say something in, more often than not, a sexual way. The character portraits are also beautifully drawn; it is a pleasure to the eye, but especially the ones where the characters are shown to be almost defeated, have in many cases a sexual component to them (though it depicts both female and male characters sexually in this way, so I am not complaining about the lack of diversity). All of this rightly gives off the idea that we are dealing with fan service rather than a new game.
Fan service can be a good element to make a game more entertaining. In the case of FE: Heroes however, fan service and showing off the potentiality of the characters are the only two attributes that this game brings to the table. The latter one is even extremely dependent on the player’s use of social media. It seems to
me that we can assign this game to the so-called Japanese Media Mix, which is a strategy to disperse content across different kinds of media for people to consume. Having fan service as the main point in FE:Heroes keeps familiar players attached to the Fire Emblem franchise. At the same time, as a free mobile phone game, it easily allows new players to get to know their brand as well thank to its widespread availability. If new players like the game, they are easily swayed to buy the previous installments that has better strategy mechanics, a better story, but with the same characters that they might have come to love. It seems quite like an ideal situation.
I like playing the game for now and I do not want to dismiss it necessarily as a bad game, but I do wonder how long it will be able to keep its popularity. As the decline of Pokemon Go’s popularity also demonstrated, fans quickly become bored with the game if there is not something that excites them. Honestly, I think it is just a matter of time before fans become bored with the only thing that makes the game worth playing: its fan service.
Read these books for more information about the Japanese Media Mix:
- The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story (2013) by Ian Condry
- Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (2012) by Marc Steinberg