Fire Emblem debuted on mobile platforms yesterday as Fire Emblem Heroes, a streamlined take on the long-running strategy/RPG franchise with Gachapon (or Gacha for short) baked in. It makes for a surprisingly addictive game, but the aforementioned Gacha mechanics have drawn ire, unsurprisingly. For good reason, too. Gacha is the gaming equivalent of, say, spending time at a mall and being asked after a short time to visit most stores. The only reason that these elements exists is to grab a few bucks from consumers.
For many (dare I say, most), Gacha isn’t a problem. Most responsible adults are capable of putting down their phones whenever the in-game exhaustion timer reaches zero. For those who can’t — gambling addiction is a very real and dangerous problem, and make no mistake, too much of Gacha is gambling — I’d steer them away from such games, just as I’d advice them from going to casinos or buying lotto tickets. I’m not defending these practices — there is no defense — so how does Fire Emblem Heroes use Gacha mechanics and, more importantly, do they hurt the game?
The core gameplay in Fire Emblem Heroes is largely the same as regular Fire Emblem games, except altered in favor of speed and simplicity. Maps are only 6×8 tiles — a fraction the size of most Fire Emblem maps — so it takes mere moments to encounter enemy units. Players use a 4-person team against four or five enemies, so battles move at a quick pace, partially because you’re not choosing weapons beforehand. Every unit is equipped with a single weapon — swords, axes, bow/arrows, magic, and, er, ability to transform into a dragon. Typical Fire Emblem.
Since having each unit equipped with the right weapon isn’t important, the weapon triangle is also simplified. Laslow (from Awakening/Fates) always holds the same sword, so he’s always going to have an advantage over axe-wielders, and he’s always going to be weak to lances. The relationship between weapons is symbolized by the colors red, blue, and green (and conveniently always at the bottom-right corner of the screen). Heroes increase in power by leveling, unlocking skills, and merging two of the same character. (My Raven (of Fire Emblem 7) is a beast since merging copies of him.)
Longtime Fire Emblem fans should note that there’s no in-battle recruiting of new characters. Instead, allied units are summoned outside of combat using Orbs (which I cover below). There’s also no relationship system, which might miff newer fans who enjoyed Awakening/Fates marriage/children content.
The point of Gacha mechanics is about getting players invested into a game before putting limitations that can be quickly bypassed by paying a small price. Stamina is required for jumping into maps, and the Arena spends one of three “Dueling Swords.” Orbs upgrade the Home screen, granting additional EXP, and summon random characters. Time and specific actions (completing maps, for instance), adds Stamina, Dueling Swords, and Orbs, but the impatient player need only pay (starting at $2) to acquire more immediately.
Gacha mechanics are deserving of a bad reputation. They’re feeding on people without patience and incapable of realizing that those $2 purchases quickly build up, and such practices shouldn’t exist. Yet I’m still playing Fire Emblem Heroes.
Worse, I have no reasons that’ll convince someone vehemently opposed to Gacha games. The mechanics are underhanded, but Fire Emblem Heroes is a fun, simple take on Fire Emblem. 2016 had me completing Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Conquest, and making (excruciatingly slow) progress in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. Heroes provides a similar experience without burning hours on one map (only to restart when an allied unit perishes), and it’s refreshing to run through a handful of maps within a short span of time.
Another reason is that, frankly, I don’t care. I obviously recognize that Gacha mechanics are underhanded as I’ve lambasted the practice a few times already, but it’s not a cause that I feel strongly about. I’m not spending money, so I’m only spending time. Except I enjoy playing Fire Emblem Heroes, so Gacha is ultimately only an inconvenience that costs me little. Call me a selfish bastard without empathy, but this isn’t a cause that I can get passionate about. I’ll gladly retrieve my pitchfork from the closet if Intelligent Systems includes these mechanics in the upcoming Fire Emblem for Switch, however.
I’d still caution anyone who downloads Fire Emblem Heroes, especially if they’re unfamiliar with Gacha games, about those mechanics. They’re potentially hazardous to certain people, and they best avoid the money-draining temptations contained within.
I should mention before continuing that I’m unfamiliar with other Gacha games. I downloaded Final Fantasy Record Keeper, but lost interest before the end of the tutorial. So I can’t compare Fire Emblem Heroes to whatever else is out there, and can only speak to my own belief on whether the Gacha mechanics obstruct my enjoyment.
And, for the most part, they don’t bother me. How much that changes weeks from now, after I’ve moved onto the later chapters that require more stamina to begin, or when I can’t unlock Orbs from story missions, I suppose I will see. Of course, I’d love more methods to unlock Orbs, and I foresee being unable to gain more as the biggest problem down the road. My worry is that the flow of Orbs will be reduced to a trickle once I complete every story mission.
Obviously, that’s the point of Gacha. “Don’t have enough Orbs? Get three by spending $2. But you need five Orbs to summon a character, so spend $2 more. Got a character? Great, but you have a single Orb left.” Ugh.
At least Orbs aren’t especially vital outside of summoning characters. Should I acquire most of the characters I want (which is damn unlikely), Orbs won’t be as necessary. That doesn’t make the problem less pronounced, but it’s easier to ignore, I guess. Maybe restarting would be the better option at that point.
Gacha mechanics suck and I prefer that they didn’t exist, but they’re not spoiling Fire Emblem Heroes. They potentially limit long-term enjoyment once Orbs dry up, severely decreasing opportunities to acquire favorite characters, but it’s not an issue right now. Furthermore, I have little investment in this game, paying nothing to play. Walking away isn’t a problem — there isn’t anything that I can’t experience by playing regular Fire Emblem games, anyway — and restarting from scratch might be fun.
This isn’t the start of a dangerous path for developer or creation, assuming that any success gained from Fire Emblem Heroes translates into adding similar mechanics into future Fire Emblem games. I don’t expect that, but my flippant attitude towards Gacha mechanics will change quickly if that happens.