Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is somewhat of a return to the roots of the series, and a welcome addition to the Fire Emblem line-up. There's more focus on the traditional tactical elements of the series, but still enough improvements to make the game feel fresh and exciting to play. Definitely recommended.
It is strange to think that Fire Emblem was once a title veiled in obscurity in the Western world, but until the early 2000’s, not a single Fire Emblem game was ever localized. It took Nintendo some thirteen years to bring the series of strategy RPG’s to the US and Europe, but it has quickly gained popularity. Especially since the games appeared on 3DS, the popularity of the games has skyrocketed, firmly establishing the series as a high-profile franchise in the West.
Fire Emblem’s newest iteration, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia expands the line-up of the franchise even further and is a direct product of the franchise’s booming success.
Fire Emblem Echoes isn’t really a completely new installment, however. It is, in fact, a remake of the second Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Gaiden. Gaiden was originally released in 1992 on NES, and was remarkable for the number of changes and innovations it made over its predecessor. It was of course never released in the West, so for us over here, Echoes is the first time we get to experience this story.
The fact that Fire Emblem Echoes is a remake of an older game means that the developers had two choices: adapt the game’s story to a newer gameplay system that takes after the formula of the latest Fire Emblem games, or to try and stay true to the original game’s mechanics and feel as much as possible. While it would’ve been a likely choice to go for the safe approach and transfer the gameplay of Fire Emblem Awakening and Fates (the two newest Fire Emblem games) to Gaiden’s setting and story, Intelligent Systems has instead chosen to take the second option. Fire Emblem Echoes stays as close to its source material as it can while still being a remake.
For newer fans of the Fire Emblem series, Echoes may seem like it takes out a pretty notable part of the game. Those who have grown accustomed to pairing up characters for dual battles, managing marriages, recruiting child characters and the whole relationship aspect of the latest games, will be surprised to find that none of these are present in Echoes.
These elements have only been present since Fire Emblem Awakening, and in its aim to be as faithful to the original as possible, Echoes has no room for these mechanics. What remains are challenging, strategic battles and an engaging story; the core of any Fire Emblem game.
Like the game it’s based on, Echoes’ story revolves around two protagonists, Alm and Celica. While their fates are ultimately linked, both characters have their own story chapters, effectively splitting the overarching story into two viewpoints. You start off as Alm while he joins the resistance army called ‘The Deliverance’. Eventually, you also play as Celica while she journeys on her own quest to find the Temple of Mila. Their stories intertwine as they both learn their place in the world, and their role in the grand war that divides the continent. The story is quite engaging and well-told, with full voice acting during both the cutscenes ánd the conversations, a first in the series. The fact that there are two protagonists actually strengthens the story and provides an interesting experience. The voice acting is very well done and really adds to the enjoyment of the story and its characters. Visually the game takes after Awakening and Fates, but character models are slightly improved and a bit more realistic this time around. All in all, Fire Emblem Echoes oozes high production value.
As Echoes is based on the NES original, many gameplay elements of that game return. While this mostly means that the game presents classic Fire Emblem gameplay and is much more back to basics than we are used to, there are also a few elements that are hardly ever seen in Fire Emblem games. There is a World Map to freely explore, and all battles are found on the map beforehand. Rather than a linear progression from chapter to chapter, you get to see the world map and the many battles on it in advance. You often can’t get to later encounters without first doing the ones that are supposed to come before it, but there are times you can occasionally choose your own order in which to engage certain quests. This especially comes into play from the 3rd chapter onwards. From that point on, you can control both Alm’s and Celica’s party at your own volition, choosing which party you want to engage an encounter. This provides a refreshing change to the typical linearity found in many Fire Emblem titles and will probably feel familiar to fans of Awakening and Fates as both games also featured a world map.
Compared to other Fire Emblem games like Awakening or Fates there are several other changes in gameplay, such as characters having only a single item slot (but no longer requiring an actual weapon to attack), special attacks that can be learned from using certain items such as weapons or shield a set amount of times, Mages having character-specific spell lists they learn as they level up, and still several others. The core of the tactical gameplay hasn’t changed, however, and due to its focus on strategic battles, this element actually feels more solid that it did in the other 3DS titles.
Completely new to both Echoes and the franchise are the inclusion of dungeons. During some parts of the game, you can enter certain locations like Shrines, castles or caves which you can then freely explore in real-time as 3D environments. During these exploring sections, you can find items and encounter monsters. As you engage these foes, you then enter the familiar grid-based battle system you use during all other encounters. Attacking a monster allows you to damage them before you actually fight them in a regular fight, while they can, in turn, approach you from behind to get the first move during combat.
While the dungeons are an interesting new addition and could work really well in a game like this, their first implementation is a bit simplistic and does little to add to the overall gameplay. Too little is ultimately found during these dungeon crawls, and they become monotonous just a tad too quickly, but the idea is quite good and deserves being explored more in future Fire Emblem titles.
Fire Emblem Echoes is a pretty lengthy game, especially on harder difficulties, but it remains an enjoyable experience throughout, with a very entertaining story and high production values. Fans of Fire Emblem are sure to love this installment, and it’s even a pretty good starting point for gamers wanting to give the series a try.
It may not be as innovative as Awakening was when it came out, but it’s straight focus on the tactical gameplay aspects and its faithfulness to the original game make Fire Emblem Echoes into a great strategy RPG, ideal for travels during the summer months.