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8 things to know before you play Fire Emblem Heroes

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Start here before you pick up Nintendo’s latest mobile game

Fire Emblem Heroes Nintendo

Nintendo is following up its premium mobile debut, Super Mario Run, with a new take on the Fire Emblem series. But before you try out Fire Emblem Heroes, here’s a quick crash course on one of Nintendo’s best (but lesser known) franchises.

Fire Emblem Heroes is a spinoff of the series specifically made for smartphones. The game is only available on mobile platforms — Android and iOS — and launches February 2nd.

It’s Fire Emblem for your phone

Like other entries in the series, it’s a turn-based tactical role-playing game. The gameplay streamlines the strategy elements for touch controls. It also brings back the series’s rock-paper-scissor-style of weapon strength in battle.

It’s not to be confused with Fire Emblem Warriors. Another Fire Emblem spinoff coming later this year, Warriors is action game for the Nintendo Switch.

It’s free, with a few exceptions

Fire Emblem Heroes uses a stamina system that essentially acts as a time gate. Missions require stamina, and stamina recharging requires orbs (or patience for stamina to rebuild over time). You can either earn orbs for free in-game or buy them through in-app purchases. Prices start with a three-pack for $1.99, increasing in price and quantity from there. Orbs serve other purposes in-game, like helping you summon heroes, so quickly it becomes tempting to stock up.

Fire Emblem Heroes

You need an internet connection

Ah yes, those pesky things. According to Nintendo, you do need to be able to connect to the internet to play. “However, the game connects to servers intermittently, and the amount of data used is within the normal range you could expect for smart device games,” a rep told The Verge.

It connects to the Fire Emblem universe, but it’s a contained experience

Fire Emblem Heroes is a contained experience. It’s not a sequel or anything of the sort, despite appearances from classic characters. Like other Fire Emblem games, Heroes sees your party embroiled in a political feud. The game plays out very much like your typical Fire Emblem fare, though on a smaller scale. You can only bring four characters into battle, as opposed to the larger units of other games. The remaining characters hang out in the barracks if you feel like stopping in to check on them.

The player controls a summoner avatar, essentially a mysterious protagonist who lends a hand to the heroes. To assist in the battle against the Emblian Empire, your summoner avatar has the ability to pull different Fire Emblem characters throughout the series’ history to help you in your fight.

The game has a huge roster in the hundreds. We don’t have a definitive list yet, but footage so far has shown us recent favorites like Chrom, Lucina, and Camilla, along with older characters like Marth, Caeda, Roy, and Ike. Heroes follows two siblings, Prince Alfonse and Princess Sharena, as they gather heroes to fight the Emblian Empire.

It’s worth noting that you can’t just select every single character you want. The game uses a blind-box-style summoning system (which requires orbs) to call new characters to your side.

You can’t customize your avatar character

The player’s avatar is a silent placeholder. You won’t see them, you can’t customize them, and they certainly don’t play a major role as with Robin or Corrin in Fire Emblem Awakening or Fates, respectively.

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

“Summoning” new heroes is a big focus

In Heroes, you’ll split your time between progressing through story missions and customizing your squad. To get new characters, you’ll have to “summon” them, which requires you spend five orbs to receive a randomly selected hero from across the entire Fire Emblem universe.

Think of this process as similar to collecting cards, figurines, or other toys. This kind of game element even has a name in Japan: gacha, which is a shortened version of a famous Japanese onomatopoeia for the sounds emitted by a toy vending machine. If you think it sounds a bit like gambling, you’re correct. Gacha is a controversial style of play, especially when it encourages players to spend real money.

There are ways to increase the odds you’ll get better heroes, as well as increase your current roster’s stats. Heroes are summoned in groups of five. Spending five orbs unlocks one here from this group, but by spending more orbs, you can unlock more heroes at a reduced cost. For example, it will cost 20 orbs (instead of 25) to summon five heroes if you decide to purchase the entire batch. Heroes drawn from the same batch also have an increased chance of arriving with a higher star rating, and thus better stats, so it’s a good idea to try and buy a few at a time.

If you get any duplicates, you can absorb them to boost the stats of the original hero. You can also use what are called crystals and shards to level up your heroes. All of this may sound a bit confusing; it takes some getting used to. For a more detailed explanation, visit our sister site Polygon’s screenshot guide to get a more detailed explanation of how summoning works.

Nobody’s getting married or having kids

Relationships are traditionally a big part of Fire Emblem games, and even more so recently. Fire Emblem Awakening featured the ability to marry certain heroes, resulting in up to 13 children that could be unlocked as playable characters. In the latest entry, 2015’s Fates, Nintendo added same-sex marriage for the first time. Unfortunately, none of these elements are present in Heroes.

Nintendo told The Verge that the game skips marriages because “it’s not a part of the storyline. There are playful conversations that take place between men and women in the game, including some with a gay character. But romantic relationships, including marriages, do not result from these interactions or other player activities.”

This is sad news for those of us who love romance and time traveling, battle-ready kids. Back to sadly smooshing our favorite Fire Emblem dolls together. Kiss! Kiss!

Death is temporary

Fire Emblem games often include a “classic” mode, in which characters who die are gone from your battle party for good. Fire Emblem Heroes removes this “permadeath” aspect, so even if you flunk a fight, you’ll get your favorite fighters back.