‘As game developers we are always looking for measures that suit the qualities of the title’
Fire Emblem Heroes just celebrated its second anniversary in February of this year. That’s two years of success for Nintendo’s mobile golden goose, a situation that’s even more bizarre when you realize that Fire Emblem was on life support in the West for so long.
There’s so much story that I was compelled to find out more. I had the chance to sit down and talk to Shingo Matsushita and Kouhei Maeda, co-directors of Heroes, about those dark days and the sunny ones ahead.
Destructoid: Is it invigorating to see Fire Emblem, a series that has historically been niche in the West, explode? When was the moment you knew that it was becoming a global hit?
Shingo Matsushita (Director): When Fire Emblem Awakening released in Europe and North America, we realized that it received a lot more acceptance from players in those regions compared to previous titles in the series. Even in Choose Your Legends, there are a lot of votes for Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates characters from North American users. Of course, more users are playing Fire Emblem Heroes than those who played those titles, and that includes many users who have played games from the Fire Emblem series in the past. This has been a good opportunity to remember how many fans have been enthusiastically supporting the series since past titles.
D: The team has shown that it is capable of addressing criticism with Fire Emblem Heroes. Are there any new challenges you’ve been able to work through in the past several months?
Kouhei Maeda (Director): I am always happy to receive feedback from users, whether it is positive or negative. Recently, we found that some users have wanted a way to improve their favorite characters, even a little bit, so we introduced Dragonflowers, which are items that allow for stat improvements. One of the most appealing aspects of Fire Emblem is the fact that fan-favorite characters are not just pieces on a board, they’re one of a kind. In the future, we would like to actively add even more elements that will increase a player’s attachment to the characters.
D: How has the experience been in terms of working in the mobile space, compared to say, developing for portable systems?
Maeda: The development team here at Intelligent Systems has created games for handheld systems, such as Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, but we had no experience with mobile games until Fire Emblem Heroes. Up until release, we tried to include what we found to be the appealing aspects of past Fire Emblem console games, and since release we have been developing new appealing points while gathering feedback from users. It’s a very fresh experience.
D: Two years is a long time to operate in any gaming space. What’s next for Fire Emblem Heroes?
Matsushita: We are extremely grateful to the users who have continued to play Fire Emblem Heroes. We are discussing different ideas that will give even long-term players a fresh playing experience. Some ideas are close to being confirmed for implementation, while some unconfirmed ideas are just dreams for now. We want to consider all kinds of ideas. For example, could we make characters with new appearances or uses? Can we make a new mode that will introduce a social aspect to the game? We are continuing to look at it from many angles. The developers are working around the clock using trial-and-error to look for fun ways to play with these kinds of elements.
D: Pleasing every fan is a tall order: how do you prioritize which characters make it in and which don’t make the cut?
Maeda: As you mention, it can be very difficult to please every user. For every character chosen there are fans who are excited, and there are also fans who are disappointed and would have preferred a different character. Based on this, we are always searching for ways to make as many users happy as possible. We truly value customer feedback from the yearly popular vote event “Choose Your Legends” and results from our player questionnaires.
D: Nintendo has shifted its monetization strategy a few times with its mobile releases. How is Fire Emblem Heroes working out in terms of sustainability two years later?
Matsushita: It might seem like Nintendo is always changing strategies, but as game developers we are always looking for measures that suit the qualities of the title. In other words, if the qualities of the games differ, then we actively adopt new strategies. From a sustainability standpoint, being able to maintain a certain scale of users allows the developers to stay highly motivated during development; I think this point is really important. The scale of development for Fire Emblem Heroes now has expanded compared to the initial release, and I think this is connected to our strong results.
D: Subsequently, if it is working out, is it something you want to apply to future Nintendo mobile releases? Or will you continue to experiment?
Matsushita: As I said before, we are constantly exploring strategies that match the title. This might appear as if we are experimenting. However, for each game, the entertaining aspects and users’ play styles can differ widely, so we are always looking for what the best development approaches are to address different player expectations.