Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo’s third foray into the world of mobile games, following the superb Super Mario Run and the somewhat baffling Miitomo. Unlike the pricing structures of those games (Super Mario Run costs a flat fee of $10, and Miitomo costs nothing but your dignity), Fire Emblem Heroes has a pricing strategy that’s a little more familiar to mobile users. That is: It wants your money, and it’s willing to take quite a lot of it.
FE Heroes is what’s commonly known as a “gacha” game, which is short for gashapon, a nickname for Japanese capsule vending machines of the sort we in the West typically reserve for dispensing temporary tattoos in the breezeways of grocery stores. What that means is that the game will ask you for your hard-earned American dollars in exchange for the chance to turn the crank and maybe get a character that you recognize.
Fortunately, Fire Emblem Heroes isn’t quite as stingy as it first appears. There are quite a few ways for you to earn its various doodads and treasures without slapping down any virtual greenbacks—you just need to know where to look.
This one’s a time commitment, but depending on your preferences it might be a worthwhile one: FE Heroes grants you 15 Orbs as soon as you install it, as well as two for logging in each day and three for finishing the tutorial missions. That just happens to be enough to summon a full slate of five Heroes. Because those Heroes are summoned at random, however, you might be stuck with a slate of three- and four-star characters you don’t even recognize.
If you’re very unhappy with your initial pull, you can delete your data, uninstall the app, and re-download, going through the whole opening again in the hopes of a better crew. It’s time-consuming as heck, but considering those 20 Orbs would cost you $13 if purchased through the app, it might be worth it if you’re really hoping to start the game with some five-star Heroes.
Once you’re absolutely sure you’re not going to re-roll, make sure you link your Nintendo account to your game. Not only will this net you a one-time bonus of 10 free Orbs (half a full summoning slate!), but it’ll also allow you to trade in Nintendo’s otherwise-pretty-useless “My Nintendo Points” for materials that will refill your stamina, let you fight additional battles in the Arena and continue a battle once your team has been wiped out.
Like I said, you have to do a little bit of digging to find all of the places that FE Heroes has hidden its goods, but they’re there. Just make sure you’re satisfied with your roll before you link up! Those 10 free Orbs are a one-time-only deal.
If you’re trying to stretch your resources to the absolute limit, you must resist the temptation to drop five Orbs on a summoned Hero every time you’ve got them. “Oh, well, I’ve got 13 Orbs,” you might say to yourself, “that’s good for three Heroes. Why wait?” We wait because we’re frugal. If you’re determined not to feed any money into this strategy RPG sinkhole, then you must be resolute—because free Orbs are a finite resource in Fire Emblem Heroes.
I also understand the temptation to drop out of a slate halfway through summoning, when you’ve summoned all the green Heroes and none of them are a five-star Hector, that dashing axe-man with the confident smile and the dreamy eyes. Keep in mind that you’re going to get seven or eight full summoning slates for free when all is said and done—and what if that unassuming blue Hero is a five-star Corrin)? You sure would feel bad passing her up—a steal at three Orbs!
The initial story missions available in Fire Emblem Heroes comprise nine chapters of five battles apiece, and you’ll earn a single Orb for each story mission you clear. There are, however, three different difficulty levels: Normal, Hard and Lunatic, which begin to unlock as you clear the easier levels. You’ll earn an Orb when you clear a battle on each of the three difficulties. Five missions x nine chapters x three difficulties = 135 total Orbs to collect, or almost seven full summoning slates.
Don’t be intimidated by the higher difficulty levels—“Hard” starts at Lv. 11, and “Lunatic” at Lv. 21, meaning you’ll be ready for the first Hard missions when you’re about halfway through the Normal campaign. If you’ve beaten the story on Normal, you’re more than prepared for the first Lunatic missions.
In the bottom-right corner of the game’s Home screen (your castle), there’s a fountain that you can tap on to see the currently-available “Quests & Missions.” These are miscellaneous objectives that you can meet, like defeating certain types of enemies, playing certain missions in the Training Tower or clearing story missions with certain party arrangements, in order to unlock prizes.
These prizes are initially nothing to write home about, but these Quests also have three levels of difficulty, and once you clear all of the Normal Quests, you unlock the list of Hard Quests (and then again for Lunatic). Some of the higher-level prizes are considerable: Orbs and bundles of Stamina Potions! Definitely try and clear these.
The Arena is where you can pit your posse of hardened warriors against teams set up by other players. You can play thrice a day for free, or expend Dueling Crests in order to keep battling. You can bring select characters into the Arena for extra points, and taking on harder opponents yields greater rewards when you win.
There are three main reasons to fight in the Arena if you’re being frugal: One, it doesn’t cost stamina to play, so you’re not using up the same resource as you would by playing other battles. Two, you’ll need to win Arena battles in order to clear some of the Quests & Missions I mentioned above. Three, the Arena seems to be the only place you can earn Hero Feathers in any large quantity—and those are a resource necessary to bump up the star ratings of your preferred Heroes. Get battlin’!
During these first three weeks of February, FE Heroes will grant you a one-time bonus of 10 Stamina Potions, the item you use to replenish the game’s energy system. Stamina refills naturally at an absolutely glacial pace, so this little prize is a pretty significant incentive. (One Stamina = five minutes, one Stamina Potion = 50 Stamina, therefore 10 Stamina Potions = 42 hours of play?!)
The cost to use the Training Tower is halved, as well, which will help you build up an array of fighters so that you have a squad ready to go no matter what the game throws at you. It’s going to be a disappointment when that goes away, so you might as well hop on board now.
Every game of this sort offers a handful of incentives to pick it up every day and play a little bit. They want you to develop a habit, you see. Fire Emblem Heroes has three novelties each day: Your three rounds in the Arena, a log-in bonus of two Orbs, and a daily “Special Map” which will award you a (relatively useless) one- or two-star Hero for completing it.
Still, might as well grab those Orbs, no? And definitely fight in the Arena every day. And might as well go a few rounds in the Training Tower to work on those Quests & Missions…
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.