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Fire Emblem Heroes has arrived on iOS and Android, and is arguably Nintendo's most ambitious mobile release yet. Miitomo was the first and tried to create a unique social environment, while Super Mario Run naturally utilises the company's biggest brand. Heroes, developed with Intelligent Systems, nevertheless has the tough task of taking the detailed and in-depth series and making it enjoyable, accessible and profitable (through microtransactions) on smart devices.

We've spent much of its launch day playing it, and have put together this guide to help you through your early time with the game. Though it does have tutorials and gives various pointers, we aim to fill in the gaps and to help you make as much early progress as possible; that will hopefully ease the grinding required later on.

So, let's get to it.


Important First Steps in Fire Emblem Heroes

The initial download is relatively small, but you should certainly ensure that you're connected to solid Wi-Fi when first playing the game. After the initial install you soon need to download another small file for the opening movie, and then after that there's a 350MB+ download which is the bulk of the game. This is all done in-app and takes a very short time on a solid modern connection, but could easily wipe out a chunk of your mobile data allowance if you're not careful.

When you begin there are two key steps, setting up your name in the game (which you can change later) and linking to your My Nintendo account. Though we can complain all day about My Nintendo and its rewards, it should be considered mandatory for anyone playing any Nintendo games to setup a broader 'Nintendo Account', which the reward service ties into. In the case of Fire Emblem Heroes it's actually worth it, which we'll explain fully below in the 'Orbs and Rewards' section below. Basically, you can get useful items for free or relatively cheap through My Nintendo.

Once you've manoeuvred through this section you're shown the opening cinematic and are taken through a couple of heavily guided missions. They introduce the basic mechanics of tapping and dragging characters around the battlefield. Combat is simple, as demonstrated in these levels, as much of the complexity from the main series is stripped out or automated. Fans of the 3DS games looking for attack choices and relationship building will perhaps miss them here, though the familiar weapon triangle - colour-coded and always on display in missions - is prominent.

These initial stages set the scene, give you characters in each category and show you the basics of how to play, so we'll move on to what to do next after clearing these prologue / tutorial levels.

Your humble scribe now realises the futility of using an alias and then uploading screens to an article...
Your humble scribe now realises the futility of using an alias and then uploading screens to an article...

So Many Buttons...

When you clear the initial story prologue you're dropped into the user interface with little guidance. You also get a decent batch of orbs and goodies as starters, but before diving off into further story chapters adventures you should explore the menus. Let's break down some of the most important areas.

First of all, tap on 'Allies'. In here you can setup multiple teams of four, and get an early sense of the characters given to you by the game. What you should see is that you've been given a mix of types - a Red, Green, Blue and Neutral. The neutral colour is for ranged attackers - in our case the archer Virion - while the colours directly relate to the weapons wheel. This is important not only for positioning your characters in battle, but also setting up various teams to cater to specific strengths. Before going into Story missions, for example, you can see what opposing unit types you'll face and plan accordingly.

Oh, and as some will wonder - there is no permadeath. If a unit 'dies', they come back when the level's finished.

In any case, this Allies menu will become important later on, as you not only view your roster and edit teams, but later in the game can use 'Learn Skills' to turn SP (earned through gameplay) into new Skills that you can equip in the next menu down. These will be useful as they provide various buffs and benefits, but it'll be a couple of hours before you have enough SP to start unlocking abilities.

In any case, pay special attention to the 'Level Up' button - pretty soon you'll earn colour-coded and 'universal' (yellow) 'shards', and these can be redeemed to level up characters. So if you pick up a new character, or have one lagging behind the rest of the team, this menu is a useful way to level them up quickly. Shards work up to level 20, and crystals are redeemed from level 20 onwards. We'll outline these elements in detail further, but it's worth looking around this general 'Allies' tab initially to get a sense of how it works.

Next tab we recommend checking out is the 'Shop'. Now, of course, this is where the microtransactions live in the form of orbs, but we won't be buying any here. What you do get, right at the start, is a batch of orbs to work with. Most of these menus under Shop will be irrelevant for quite some time, but you do want to take a look at 'Upgrade Castle'. In exchange for some of your early free orbs you can buy upgrades that ramp up the EXP (experience points) that your characters earn during battles. We bought the first two upgrades right away and, a little while later, the third. Why do this? Well, levelling up characters rapidly will make progress easier and equip you for tougher challenges that are to come; as we explain in the next section, you should also have plenty of orbs to keep you going early on without the need to buy extras.


Orbs and Rewards

So you've done the prologue and upgraded your castle - time for battle? Nope, not quite, you can do a bit more to prepare yourself. If you head to 'Home', this is your castle, and there are your characters and various menus to check out.

At the top left is 'Notifications', which will tell you about the current Summoning events, which we cover in the 'Has the Gacha Gotcha?' section further down. Bottom left is the Friend List - unfortunately it doesn't tie into your Twitter or Facebook feeds like Miitomo, so you have to add people manually with a Friend Code (those dastardly things again) or accept / check on invites to opponents from the Duel mode, which we get into below under 'Core Modes'.

Bottom right is Quests & Missions - in here you earn rewards for completing set requirements, such as beating specific levels, certain enemies and so on. These rewards are made clear in notifications as you progress and are added automatically.

At the top right is Present List. Right off the bat you should go here to get two additional orbs as an 'app launch' gift. Some particularly useful extras can be picked up under the Rewards in My Nintendo, and you check on any of those goodies you pick up in this menu. When you log into the loyalty program you will see missions related to clearing campaign chapters, but your broader Platinum Point collection can be spent on rewards specific to this game. There's a one off free gift of 10 orbs, for example. There are also various in-game items that you can purchase for 100 Platinum Points a time, some in unlimited numbers and others that are limited to three redemptions.

Right away you should have accumulated quite a lot of orbs on top of your initial batch. Now's a good time, then, to start actually playing the game; in doing so you'll unlock items that - no doubt through careful game design - allow you to make a decent amount of early progress.


Core Modes

Under the 'Battle' menu you'll see three initial options - Story Maps, Special Maps and Arena Duels; Training Tower will come shortly.

Story Maps

We suggest starting with Story Maps. There's a Prologue of three stages to clear, and then the first chapter of five levels. If you've upgraded your castle you should be able to start building up the experience of your initial team rather quickly. The difficulty level is low early on, so it's just a matter of carefully managing your strategy, and a key point is that the first time you clear each level you get rewarded with an orb. You won't earn lots of them this way, about five per chapter, but it is a way to slowly build up your collection. Clearing the first chapter also unlocks points in My Nintendo (as do subsequent chapters) and gives you access to the Training Tower.

Special Maps

At launch there is just one stage in Special Maps, with a 'Normal' and 'Hard' version - this is only available for a short time and offers some handy unlocks - events like this are due to change frequently.

Arena Duels

This mode allows you to take on other player's teams, albeit their heroes are controlled by AI. You have to pay with a 'Dueling Sword' - at the top of the screen, next to the 'Stamina' bar, you'll see a graphic of three swords. Unlike stamina these do not recharge over time, but early on the game gifts you a 'Dueling Crest' to gain three more once you've run out. These can also be bought infinitely on My Nintendo for 100 Platinum Points a time - without the crest you need to pay one orb to refill the gauge; this is an example of the creeping microtransactions you get in free-to-start games. Initially it should be pretty easy through in-game rewards and My Nintendo to refill the gauge without any real-money cost.

Update: The duelling swords seem to top up every 24 hours, so if you're patient and happy to limit yourself to three Arena Duels per day you're all set.

The duels themselves are simple 4 vs 4 affairs - once you pay your sword you can choose from three opponents that are 'Easy', 'Normal' and 'Hard', with more points on offer if you beat tougher opponents. If you rack up seven wins on the bounce, even against easy opponents, you get a points bonus - this is tied to a cycle, as in four days (at the time of writing) the launch 'season' will end, and depending on how many points you have you'll receive a fixed number of 'Hero Feathers' as a reward, and there's the potential to move up divisions, of sorts. It'll be interesting to see how this evolves.

Training Tower

Finally there's the Training Tower, a handy method for earning EXP for characters along with shards and crystals for upgrading them. Initially only a few levels are available, reflecting the ability of your team. These are short but tricky challenges, in some cases with requirements such as all team mates surviving, for example.


Has the Gacha Gotcha?

Gatcha is a term for gameplay prominent in Japanese mobile games that resembles gambling. In Fire Emblem Heroes, the 'Summon' menu effectively encourages you to gamble orbs for legendary characters that can bring significant strength to your team - plus franchise fans inevitably want the likes of Marth and Roy on their roster. For those that compulsively play the mode, it's easy to see how the necessity to buy orbs in the Shop could arise. We've spent some orbs in Summon to test it but have spent no real money; it's conceivable to play without gambling at all, or to use a small number of earned and free orbs to try it out and snag a neat hero or two.

Right now there are two 'events' that offer different potential character unlocks - 'Legendary Heroes' and 'Deep Devotion'. When you choose to Summon at the cost of five orbs, you can choose a colour coded orb to narrow down the options - if you really want Marth, for example, you should try a red orb as he's a sword fighter - the colours are the same as those on units and the weapon triangle, so that's what informs your decision. If you make multiple bets in one sitting the price of orbs for each draw slowly drops, from five to four to three, and so on. We did a single bet early on that returned a modest character, and in a later test did two consecutive bets on a red orb, landing Marth with the second try. In three bets the characters were all a decent level, and naturally Marth was the one we were after.

This, of course, is the controversial aspect of the game, as it encourages players to get hooked or obsessed with obtaining the best characters, and you can rapidly blow through your orbs. How much you play this Summon game and therefore spend on orbs is a personal choice, but we'd suggest it's possible to make a few 'bets' out of curiosity and then leave it well alone. The game gives you fun characters of each major type for free as part of the prologue and in story unlocks, so you can simply focus upon and level them up.


Details on Inventory Items

We hope that breakdown helps you plot your first couple of hours in the game; we'll wrap up with a list of the items you can unlock and earn, along with a description of what they do. You can view your Inventory at any time in the 'Misc' section, which also allows you to adjust some settings (for example we set Confirm Action and Confirm Move to 'tap', preventing accidental moves in the default drag and release controls).

Orbs - These have various uses and are the key currency - Nintendo hopes to make money from fans buying orbs to 'Summon' characters in that section's game of chance. Orbs are also used, however, in place of items to continue some sections - you can top up stamina with an orb, for example, but early on you have so much of this, with one point recharging every few minutes, that it isn't an issue. You can also use an orb to replenish your Dueling Swords if you don't have the relevant Crest item.

Stamina Potion - You earn one of these early and it can recharge a full gauge of 50 Stamina. Early missions only demand between 1 and 5 stamina to play, however, so it's not needed in the first few hours of play. When playing for review we'll see how the balancing holds up, as later levels and challenges will no doubt consume more stamina to play.

Dueling Crest - As mentioned above, this replenishes three Dueling Swords for the Arena Duels matches.

Light's Blessing - You can only get three of these via My Nintendo, and it offers something that could make orbs handy in the future, when you fail a mission you can use this item to continue it by reviving the full team with all of its health and abilities.

Hero Feather - An item for later in the game, as you can help a character 'reach their potential' from level 20 and beyond, via the 'Advanced Growth' menu in the 'Allies' tab.

Badges and Great Badges - No doubt a factor later in the game, these also allow you to boost the 'potential' of units.

Shards - In weapon triangle colours or a 'universal' yellow, these can be used to increase unit levels up to 19.

Crystals - In weapon triangle colours or a 'universal' yellow, these can be used to increase unit levels 20 and beyond.

So there you have it, a guide for your first couple of hours with Fire Emblem Heroes that should enable you to make a great start. If you have any queries post them in the comments and we'll check in soon to try and help further.