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Leave your family for Fire Emblem Heroes: it’s that good

Adam Goodall has cast off all his familial attachments in favour of a new tribe of loved ones, the Fire Emblem Heroes – a game so addictive he’s calling for the mobile game of the year award to be conferred early.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last called my parents. Truth be told, I haven’t had the heart to tell them I’ve moved on. I’ve found a new family. A large anime family who sees me for what I truly am: a skilled tactician, a fierce warrior, a benevolent patriarch of big-eyed children. We’ve beaten back aggressors, liberated prisoners and brought peace to the World of Zenith. I want to introduce you to them, the best family, the family of 2017. My Fire Emblem Heroes family.

Developed by series stalwarts Intelligent Systems Ltd, Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo’s third mobile app following the social trashfire Miitomo and that Mario game that’s still not on Android. Heroes is a bite-sized version of the classic turn-based strategy wargame: two teams of fantasy soldiers take turns to defeat each other, levelling up as they go. Outside those battles, you can manage your teams and summon more units through an in-game Boy Gashapon, paying out orbs for the chance of getting a shiny new five-star soldier.

Heroes is more than just a wargame, though. Heroes is different because it brings together generations of good boys and girls from the Fire Emblem series – good boys and girls like my first daughter, Anna.

Anna’s an axe-wielding commander from the Kingdom of Askr, which, like all the kingdoms in Zenith, is made up of 6×8 gridmapped landscapes. With teams of up to four family members, we venture out into the gridmap to take down the bad family that’s dared to cross us, battling it out in bite-sized fights that barely scratch the five minute mark. Anna’s a two-star axe user, though, so she’s not especially useful to me right now. Not like my nice grandpa Wrys.

Wrys is a humble healer – colourless, like the bow and shuriken class fighters on my team. The core of Fire Emblem’s combat system has always been a rock-papers-scissors arrangement, red beats green beats blue beats red, and you can get a good ways through this family simulator just following that simple set-up. There’s diversity and complexity within that framework, though: not just in the stats your family members bring to the table, but in their skill sets and movement types. An infantry boy like my kind pep-pep Wrys can move two spaces at a time, but an armoured boy like my handsome son Draug can only move one space at a time.

I haven’t been using Graug much, for two reasons. The first is that he’s not my most handsome son (that’s Barst, my woodcutter son with the large biceps); the second is that he doesn’t really suit my play style. I’m a smash-and-grabber. I rush in like an idiot then retreat when the heat picks up. That’s where skillsets come in.

Family members can learn up to three moveset skills (an offensive skill, an assist skill, and a special skill that can be charged up) and three buffs. This complicates the game where it matters most. Because maps are so small and movement type is such a pivotal factor when your kids are playing offense or defence, positioning is important, possibly the most important thing. A lot of the skills your children can learn give them stronger attacks or supplementary healing moves, but those are baby toys compared to the ones that mess with movement: your burly armour boy can now move an extra space, or your speedy ninja boy can strike twice. Positioning suddenly becomes far more fluid and exciting, and it considerably deepens your role as strategist and caring patriarch.

An example: my shy daughter Olivia has an assist skill called Dance that gives another family member an extra move, so I have her follow my sad father Jagen (who has his own buff that boosts all his stats at the expense of two health points per attack). That way, he can make an extra attack or, if he’s attacking a green-type bad boy, he can retreat behind Olivia instead of being caught out in the open. It’s a flawless one-two punch that could only have been thought up in my crazy, beautiful anime family.

I’m still not a god-level family man – I’m only Tier 3 in Arena Duel (Heroes’ online family-battling mode) and I don’t have any five-star children yet. I’m consistently surprised by Heroes’ depth, though, and by the regularity with which Intelligent Systems are adding new modes and functions. This recently added the Voting Gauntlet, where you pledge allegiance to a special son or daughter and then fight for their honour in a boy-bracket, and they blew the family home to pieces in the weekend just past with Skill Inheritance, which lets you kill a family member so you can transfer one of their skills to another boy or girl, beefing them up. It’s ruthless, but I’ll do whatever it takes to make my sturdy country son Donnel an unstoppable killer. It’s a necessary sacrifice. It’s for the family.

There’s one obvious problem with Heroes. It’s largely a game for one, a loyal solo mum or dad leading their family against a cruel AI world. The only real online modes are Arena Duel and Voting Gauntlet. This makes the always-online requirement a total drag (especially because, like Pokemon Go, Heroes eats up your data like my sweet boy Donnel eats up his vegetables).

Even so, it’s wild and totally unexpected how accessible and challenging Heroes can be. It also sets up a steady stream of rewards for you, the tireless parent of anime children. You can get in-game currencies like orbs, hero feathers and shards for winning completing challenges, family feuds, paying attention to your children and even logging in, so you can get a long way without dipping into your own wallet. That’s so welcome, because the most addictive part of this is the Boy Gashapon (the game calls it ‘summoning’ but whatever). At the Boy Gashapon, you can spend orbs to make new children appear: children like my best son Gordin, who just wants to do his best; like my best daughter Fae, a girl who can transform into a dragon but wants more than anything to be all grown up; or like my other best son Raigh, a dark magic user who’s mean to me in public but secretly cares deeply about me and the rest of his family. If you’re a casual player, you can still dip into the Boy Gashapon once or twice a week without spending cash.

Fire Emblem Heroes has already made a strong play for being the best mobile game of 2017, and it’s definitely one of the best I’ve played in recent memory. It’s easy to understand and yet hides a fantastic amount of variety and challenge, but it’s not just because of that; it’s because it’s about the richness and wonder of family. Specifically, my family. The best family.

This game played on a rig provided by Playtech, the master hunters of the computer world.