Fire Emblem Heroes: What to know about Nintendo's newest game

What is Fire Emblem Heroes, what are orbs and is this the next Pokemon Go?

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Caitlin Petrakovitz Director of audience
Caitlin Petrakovitz studies the Marvel Cinematic Universe like it's a course in school, with an emphasis on the Infinity Saga years. As an audience expert, she rarely writes but when she does it's most certainly about Star Trek, Marvel, DC, Westworld, San Diego Comic-Con and great streaming properties. Or soccer, that's a thing she loves, too.
Morgan Little Senior Director, Audience
Morgan leads the teams managing CNET's presence and content across social media, news platforms and more after stints in the marketing world and LA Times. Eventually his last byline on the site will be about something other than Godzilla
Sean Hollister
Caitlin Petrakovitz
Morgan Little
8 min read

Super Mario ran. Pokemon went. And then there was Fire Emblem. It's on Android and iOS right now.

What is Fire Emblem, and since when is it a thing?

Remember when we got all weepy for '80s nostalgia and it finally convinced Nintendo to join the modern era by bringing Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run to phones?

Fire Emblem Heroes is the third big mobile game from Nintendo. It's based on a long-running series of totally awesome turn-based strategy games that are kind of like playing chess, only with weapons and spells and if your pieces were each unique characters with names and backstories and hopes and dreams and romance and tragic, tragic deaths.

There's like 15 games in all.

15 games?!? Why have I never heard of it before?

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What you've (probably) been missing.


Japan didn't think we could handle it, because anime. English speakers have missed the first seven games or so.

Also, you needed a Game Boy. (Or later, a GameCube, Wii or DS handheld.)

Oh. Hold up, do I need a game console for this one?

Nope! This one's a free download for both iOS (here) and Android (here) as of its February 2 launch. You couldn't play on a console even if you wanted to.

Do I need an internet connection to play?

Yep. Heroes will regularly check for an internet connection while the app is open, so don't expect to be able to play on a plane or when you want to be data-conscious. It doesn't use much, though.

Wait, isn't Fire Emblem the one with all the... touching?

Yeah, so, the Japanese version of the last game in the series had a mode where you could invite characters to your love nest and... well, rub them a bit? But only above the collarbone, and only in Japan. As far as we're aware, there's no petting in Fire Emblem Heroes.

Can I play it with one hand?

I just said... Oh, you mean because it's a phone game and you commute by bus or something? Sure. It looks like you can play most of the game with one thumb.

Okay, I downloaded. What should I do first?

Here's a guide for serious players. Here's a guide for really serious players. Or just keep reading this post if you're a beginner.

So. Many. Menus. How do I actually play?

At the bottom of the screen, pick Battle, then Story Maps > Main Story and select the next available mission.

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What the heck is happening?

You drag each one of your heroes to a blue square to move them, a green square to support/heal a friend or a red square to attack an enemy (the colors are your movement range). Choose wisely!

The computer compares your hero's stats against the enemy's stats, runs the numbers, and you watch them battle.

Then it's the computer's turn to attack you with each of its characters.

When you wipe out all the enemies, you win!

Move onto the next level and do it again.

When do I get to play and fight people?

You just did. It's a strategy game, not Street Fighter. You don't press buttons to throw fireballs or swing a sword, you just dictate where your characters go and who they fight.

Is there a story?

"A world with two kingdoms: the Emblian Empire, which wishes to rule all worlds, and the Askran Kingdom, which stands in its way. You are a summoner with the special ability to call upon legendary Heroes from different Fire Emblem worlds. In order to save the Kingdom of Askr from destruction, join the Order of Heroes and face a never-ending challenge."

Is there a GOOD story?

Probably not. "Never-ending challenge" and all that. We've played through Chapter Six, and so far it's pretty dull. (Some of the other Fire Emblems have pretty decent stories.)

All my heroes just died. Did I lose? How do I win?

So those numbers the computer runs? In Fire Emblem, you can calculate the outcome of any battle yourself. Traditionally, you just add your luck and support bonuses to your weapon accuracy, add double your skill...

Are you kidding me?

OK, less math. See this GIF? Don't do that.

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Before any attack, you'll be able to see roughly how much damage you'll likely do to the enemy, and how much they'll do back. (In this Fire Emblem, attacks don't miss.) Hint: 4 damage is pathetic, and 9x2 damage means they're going to murder you in the face with two back-to-back attacks.

(9x2 = 18, and since this dashing swordsman only had 18 points of health, aka HP...)

You *just* used math. I hate you.

As long as you understand when some numbers are higher than other numbers, you'll be fine. Also, you can sometimes just play rock-paper-scissors: sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword. Usually.

Ugh, come on, can't I just throw a fireball?

Sure, some characters can use magic, and archers have bows. When you hit an enemy from far away, they can't hit you back unless they've got a ranged weapon too. Some might call this cheating. In Fire Emblem, it's strategy.

Oh, and if you get close to a foe with a ranged weapon OR do enough damage to take out a foe, they don't get to hit you back! Exploit that all the time if you want to win.

Those baddies look tough. What if I don't want to move?

Just hit the End Turn button. But maybe first, see whether they'll be able to move close enough to hit you by pressing the Danger Area button?

(Danger Zone! Missed opportunity, I know.)

That dude with the bow totally just one-shot my beautiful dragon/flying horse rider. WTF? (added Feb. 3)

Flying things get shot easy.

You can do it to them, too. If you tap your archer and you see a little green checkmark pop up over the head of a foe, that means it's begging for an arrow. Also, watch out for magic users if you've got a dragon lady, or a warrior with heavy armor.

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How much do I have to learn before I can even play this game?

That's probably enough! But there's also the ability to level up characters to make them stronger by spending shards and crystals (which you might also have to buy with My Nintendo Points -- ugh), skills to learn by spending SP, arena duels and hero battles, monthly quests and missions...

What if I'm not an absolute beginner and want a real education on how to play Fire Emblem? (added 2/10)

Oh, do we have the guide for you.

Are all the warriors women in short skirts?

No, some of them are really cute boys who could pass for girls. There are also some grizzled old warriors if you're into that sort of thing.

This app is free. When does the free-to-play nonsense come in?

Unlike Super Mario Run, Heroes lacks a "buy everything for one price" option. To level up your heroes and progress through the game, you're going to have to put in a lot of time and effort. Or buy a lot of orbs.

What are orbs and why am I already scared for my wallet?


It's hard out there for an orb.


Orbs are the nexus through which Nintendo hopes to take all of your money. You start with 15 or so, and they're used for everything from healing your heroes on the battlefield to replenishing your stamina bar so you can tackle more missions. Most importantly, orbs are used to summon new heroes.


Spend five orbs, and a random Fire Emblem character will join your team, from a cast of hundreds. But there's more to it. By spending more orbs at once, you reduce the per-character cost. Purchased separately, five heroes would cost 25 orbs. Purchased together, the heroes would only cost 20. And as an added benefit, the more heroes purchased at once, the greater likelihood they'll be more powerful versions of themselves.

It's too early to tell whether this will end up being a fair system or a free-to-play nightmare, but for now, it's probably best to hoard your orbs and use them to buy as many heroes at once as possible.

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More stars = more powerful.


Whoa, why won't the game let me play anymore?!?

You probably ran out of stamina by playing too many missions in a row. Or maybe you just accidentally unequipped and re-equipped some skills? Each time you want to start a new level or even tweak your characters, it'll cost you Stamina points.

You start with 50, and you get one back every 5 minutes or so. Or -- what Nintendo's hoping for -- you'll spend yet another orb to replenish the entire meter at once.

(Update: Nintendo waived the stamina points for equipping skills, at least through February 19.)

How much are these orbs going to make my wallet bleed?

See this image? Look away. Look away now.

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I still can't win. How do I kick some ass without paying cold hard cash? (added Feb 4)

  • Turn off animations in the Settings page
  • Go to Battle > Training Tower
  • Pick a "Stratum" with a Level around the same level of your team (e.g. Lv. 9)
  • Hit the gear icon at the lower left and pick Auto-Battle
  • Put your phone down, and come back a couple minutes later after the computer's done whooping its own ass
  • Rinse and repeat
  • Breeze through the game with your newly overleveled characters
  • Don't forget to collect your bonuses and presents and go duel in the Arena each day
  • Don't forget to spend your SP on new skills for each character once you've got 100SP or so
  • Always always always hold down on an enemy before attacking to see if you'll win the battle

I got a sword person, another sword person and a woman with green hair. Am I going to care about any of these characters?

Not likely, unless you're really into their character art, stats or know them from previous Fire Emblem entries. Mario Run and Pokemon Go pulled heavily from nostalgia, and Fire Emblem is no different... it's just a nostalgia that not many people have.

I just want to kick ass. Which heroes do I actually want? (added Feb. 8)

Read our new article all about that!

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Lyn, one of the most popular Fire Emblem characters (based on a Nintendo vote). She hails from the first English-language release, back in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance.


Some of these people look familiar...

You probably recognize them from Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series, which have featured several characters from Fire Emblem as playable characters, most notably Marth and Roy.

Or perhaps you recognize them from other Fire Emblem games, because Heroes is basically Fire Emblem Fantasy Football.

At least now we know why Anna keeps showing up.

Can you breed people, enslave their children and turn them into soldiers?

[Caitlin: Whoa, whoa, whoa, are you for real?! I'm so not playing this if I need to enslave "children."]

Previous Fire Emblem games would let you build friendships, romance, marry, even bear children that would take on the traits of their parents -- then let you travel through time to recruit them, as teens, into your army of doom and/or redemption.

Not in Heroes, though.

I can't seem to crush my heroes' dreams and experience the full, poignant beauty of their transient lives because they don't stay dead. What's the point?

Wow, that's really deep, and you might be a teensy bit broken inside. But yes, this is one of the rare Fire Emblem games where death isn't permanent.

Heck, you can just pop an orb to instantly revive your entire team, give them a free turn and a free super move.

That'll be $1.99, please.

Want more info on Fire Emblem Heroes, say some advanced tips or detailed strategies like we did for Pokemon Go? Just say so in the comments, or by sharing this post. We'll do it, if enough folks care!

You might also want to skip to 10:00 in this video.