Fire Emblem Heroes for iOS is a mess.

Nintendo's foray into mobile continues with Fire Emblem Heroes. Their latest offering comes after commercial and critical success with Mario Run, but not without a checkered tapestry of decision making from forcing online requirements, to boring demographic surveys, to the dreaded friend code system making it's return. Now, I've never played a Fire Emblem game in the past So the question is: Can Nintendo get out of it's own way and make a Fire Emblem game that people actually want to play on mobile. 

After downloading the game, I'm greeted with the usual Nintendo habit of getting all my paperwork done straight away, asking me to pick my region, agree to terms and conditions, and link my Nintendo account. It all goes relatively smoothly, but like most Nintendo design conventions, it feels completely dated. Since I had no other option but to do these things. I had to. After a short wait, I was seemly stuck at a loading screen when I was prompted to download a 82.7MB update to the game. That's above and beyond the install 69MB size of the app. It's a pretty hefty downloaded in the age of data caps on wireless service packages just to get to the menu screen of a game, and for people who are low on phone storage, this is going to be a problem.

Waiting at the loading screen wasn't completely useless, however. The app lets you use your time to read up on just who the heck you're playing as in this game, and gives indications about the first games of which some of these heroes appears.  For people like me who only lightly know names and faces of FE characters from the Super Smash Brothers series, this was a welcome context. After finally finishing my download (a crawl of about 20minutes) a cut scene began to play out framing the game, and I began to wade through screen after screen of exposition before I was allowed to jump into the action. 

Once the game actually began, I was immediately surprised at the responsiveness and fluidity of the gameplay. The characters moved with purpose, and effects danced across my phone at a smooth as butter clip. I quickly defeated the first enemy and leveled up. The second match introduced multiple enemies and multiple heroes, now with ranged attacks. Within two actual rounds of gameplay, I picked up the vibe that this is a light strategy game about positioning and unit matchups. At the end of each match I was being rewarded with a chunk of XP andโ€”for the first two rounds anywayโ€”level ups. I was starting to feel the app getting it's hooks in me.

After my second round however, something went wrong. After my match had ended and the game seems to try to save or sync my progress, I was hit with a message telling me that It simply couldn't connect to it's own servers. and asked me to retry or return to the title screen. My wifi was working fine, and I even tried the retry button on LTE data and no luck. Eventually FE:Heroes only presented me with one option: Return to Title Screen. It clearly had made up it's own mind that this was not going to work. It's near maddening that Nintendo should have forced it's always online requirement down our throats again without giving a smart or reassuring mechanism to keep our progress when you fail us. What's more, is after returning to the title screen and attempting to load the game again. I'm greeted with a new prompt to download 317.8 MB of additional data with no context as to why, what's contained within it, or ability to opt out of the update.

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I've been spending more time with the game since launch and many of it's rough patches have been ironed out, but it still continues to be something that feels like non native software jammed into iOS, a typical sign of inexperience or laziness in mobile development.

Please Nintendo, I beg you. Do better!