It's hard to believe it, but Fire Emblem Heroes is now more than two years old. In that time, the smartphone-based tactical RPG has become Nintendo's most successful mobile venture, dramatically outperforming stablemates such as Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Super Mario Run and Dragalia Lost. The game accounted for a whopping 66 percent of Nintendo's mobile revenue during 2018 (Pokémon GO isn't included in this list, as it's not a wholly-owned Nintendo property), which gives you some indication of how important it is to the company's plans.
Nintendo has continued to develop and evolve Fire Emblem Heroes' core offering over the past 24 months, and to mark its second anniversary, we were lucky enough to chat with the game's directors Shingo Matsushita (Nintendo) and Kouhei Maeda (Intelligent Systems) about its past, present and future.
Nintendo Life: Fire Emblem Heroes has been available for two years now. How has the game evolved over that time?
Shingo Matsushita: The main team members who were developing Fire Emblem Heroes were originally developing console games. Therefore, throughout the game’s development process we have been pulling from their knowledge and experience.
Specifically, we have been proceeding with the following values: to expand new original stories every year and to occasionally add new gameplay modes.
As a result, the original characters from Fire Emblem Heroes have begun gaining popularity (I will avoid re-introducing them individually here), and we have been able to continually enhance in-game content. Also, we were finally able to add Beast type units in January 2019. We actually had plans for them since the game’s launch.
As a result of so many features being added, we think the game became something worth playing, but we also realize that this resulted in increasing gameplay elements that are hard to understand due to the sheer volume of content. As a result, we have been trying to provide useful tips for players who may not be as familiar with Fire Emblem through the ‘Learn with Sharena’ and ‘Meet some of the heroes’ series. Moving forward, we are planning to not only add content that increases player engagement but also add more content that could appeal to newcomers.
Kouhei Maeda: We have added a variety of content to Fire Emblem Heroes in the past two years.
Our development team has been continuously evolving the game by thinking about how to make Fire Emblem Heroes more fun to play and increasing the player’s attachment to their favourite characters, instead of incorporating features just because they are trending.
Aether Raids is an especially strong example of a great gameplay addition, and we have spent a long time in its development. I have personally been spending days both winning and losing when challenging other players’ tough Aether Raids.
Turning Fire Emblem – one of Nintendo's most hardcore franchises – into a free-to-play proposition can't have been an easy task; have you taken player feedback on board since launch to make the game even more appealing to both dedicated fans and casual players?
Shingo Matsushita: Of course, we are actively listening to player feedback and opinions. We try to consider feedback from players as much as possible, especially right after new content releases, or when additional features are added in an effort to make the game easier to play.
At the same time, we also need to focus on ensuring that the Fire Emblem series’ quality continues to stand out when translating the series’ structure into a free-to-play game as you mentioned. In situations like this, sometimes the developers themselves will need to determine what features make the Fire Emblem series unique and choose a different path than what players might want. For example, traditional Fire Emblem fans might prefer battles to take place on a vast map, but we did not adopt this feature in Fire Emblem Heroes. This was intentional so that more players could casually enjoy the game. The development team also had knowledge and experience from Famicom Wars, the Japanese predecessor to Advance Wars, and therefore was confident that it could create a full-scale game within a confined map.
Kouhei Maeda: The biggest advantage of Fire Emblem Heroes as a mobile game is that it can always evolve to become better after receiving player feedback.
I have been involved in development since the Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade and Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade era, and the passionate feedback from our players has been an invaluable resource even since then. We take player feedback into consideration for the next console title, which is our usual process, but with Fire Emblem Heroes we can apply user feedback we receive directly back into Fire Emblem Heroes itself. I think this is a wonderful thing.
How do you feel about the response the game has had since launch?
Shingo Matsushita: I feel that we are always getting more support than we could have imagined from our enthusiastic Fire Emblem fans. Of course there is always criticism, but we value that as well and also see it as enthusiastic feedback from our fans.
Before Fire Emblem Heroes, I had primarily been developing console games, so I find it extremely rewarding to be able to develop games while in continuous communication with players.
Kouhei Maeda: I am very grateful to the game’s fans.
Since even before the time I was involved with the development of Fire Emblem games on consoles, receiving feedback from players, regardless of whether they were positive or negative, has always made me feel happy and encouraged. Since the launch of Fire Emblem Heroes, I’ve been very happy to be able to receive responses from players almost every day.
Free-to-play games often see an explosion of interest at launch which then tails off as time goes on. Have you experience this pattern with Fire Emblem Heroes, or has it bucked the trend by growing its user base over time?
Shingo Matsushita: Yes, as you can imagine, as with all mobile games we’ve also experienced this pattern where interest tails off as time goes on. From there, however, we have also seen the game regain attention and interest. This pattern is consistent for all games, and for most players, it can be very difficult to play one game for a long time without getting tired of it.
The only thing we can do to resolve this issue is to continue providing our fans with interesting and compelling content, so we look forward to continuing to deliver on that goal in the future.
Nintendo has always maintained that smartphone games are a useful tool when it comes to attracting new fans; do you think Fire Emblem Heroes has created a new generation of players who will then transition to Three Houses when it hits Switch?
Shingo Matsushita: For some players, Fire Emblem Heroes was the first Fire Emblem title they played, and there are even Fire Emblem Heroes players who used to play the games on consoles but do not own any of the latest Nintendo game systems.
I would like to continue our efforts so that these Fire Emblem Heroes players hopefully become interested in Fire Emblem Three Houses as well.
I will add, however, that it would be much more fun to play both Fire Emblem Heroes and Fire Emblem Three Houses at the same time, rather than just one over the other.
Are there any plans to have any kind of connectivity between Fire Emblem Heroes and Three Houses?
Shingo Matsushita: While I cannot confirm anything at this time, I can tell you that we are potentially considering different ways to get more fans interested in Fire Emblem Three Houses through Fire Emblem Heroes.
What does the future hold for Fire Emblem Heroes? How will you maintain player interest over the next two years?
Shingo Matsushita: We are considering many ideas, including both content we will deliver for certain and aspirational content that we would like to deliver, so that we can keep the game feeling fresh even for longtime players. For example, can we make characters with new appearances or uses? Can we offer a new mode that will introduce a social component to the game? There are so many different ideas to explore, and we are continuing to discuss new ideas that allow us to offer even more fun ways to play.
Kouhei Maeda: One thing we are looking to do is continually offer something new. Each time we release a new book chapter or new event, we want something new and appealing that our users will talk about.
Another thing we want to continue to show is our never-ending love for the characters. I want Fire Emblem Heroes to be a game where you can continue to like the characters you feel an attachment to, and where the number of characters you like increases the more you play.
We'd like to thank Shingo Matsushita and Kouhei Maeda for taking the time to speak with us, and Nintendo of America for arranging the interview.