Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
War is tearing apart the kingdom, dastardly plots abound, and the enemy army is vastly superior. Throw in some character (over) drama and, yep, you’ve found yourself in a new Fire Emblem game! Echoes: Shadows of Valentia has arrived on 3DS, and despite harkening back to some older Fire Emblem mechanics is still a lot of fun. Check out our full review to see if it’s worth picking up!
Fire Emblem Gaiden, which launched back in 1992 and never made its way over to North American gamers. Intelligent Systems is correcting that with Fire Emblem Echoes, bringing the older title into the modern era. In Shadows of Valentia you’ll play through the story of two characters (Alm and Celica) who are caught up in a war that’s tearing their beloved country apart. As children, the two lived together for a time in a quaint village, sharing a lasting/unique bond, until circumstance and intrigue separated them.
You pick up the story as they’re older, where Alm becomes a prominent leader in a “resistance” of sorts, while Celica is a priestess on a journey to ask a goddess to save the world. You’ll hop back and forth between these two quests (you aren’t forced to pick one or the other as you did in Fates), controlling them throughout their travels.
As you play through each side, you get to see how your actions with one character affects the other throughout the course of this massive war. It’s an interesting story mechanic and makes for some engaging dramatic moments with the characters you come to know and care for.
In terms of story, Echoes is really well put together and easy to get into. While it doesn’t quite reach the depth/emotional heights of Awakening, it’s definitely up there. A big part of that has to do with the presentation given to it. The script is solid, and the localization efforts are impressive. The real kicker, however, is the fact this is the first 3DS title in the series that makes use of a FULL voice cast.
All the dialog, from main characters to lowly peasants you come across on your journey, gets a voice to speak with, and the acting is pretty solid. In previous games, certain cut scenes were voiced, but on the whole heavy dialog sequences featured the first word of a sentence (or just a grunt/gasp) and huge blocks of text.
The full voice acting in Echoes sucks you into the story in ways the previous games couldn’t, making it one of the best presented stories in any modern Fire Emblem game. The production value is high, and considering the amount of story/talking going on (hint: it's a lot, like an old-school RPG), it gives this handheld title a lot of depth. The story may not be breaking any molds (it is a couple decades old, afterall), but it is still engaging and keeps you pushing through the grind to see what happens next.
Simpler Combat/Same Strategy
More than revamping the graphics (which look slick), they added in some of the more modern gameplay elements of the series, which fans of Awakening and Fates will appreciate. It’s a blending between the older systems introduced in Gaiden with modern flourishes, the end result is both refreshing and somewhat frustrating.
The goal in Echoes seemed to be to mesh the gameplay styles of the old and new. Echoes retains the turn-based tactics of the franchise, but is a tad simpler than current fans may be used to. Rather than having a variety of weapons you can use, or could break, each character has their own weapon (which will change based on classes) that will stay with them throughout the journey. Sure, you can find special weapons along the way, but characters can only carry/use one at a time, and those will increase in power as characters level up.
Gone too, is the "rock, paper, scissors" style of play when it comes to which weapons have an advantage over others. Sure, certain classes are better than others and can deal out more damage, but the game does little to help enlighten you in this regard. The tutorial in general, feels less detailed, leaving you on your own to discover what works best in battle. It can be awfully frustrating, making an already difficult game tougher through trial and error moments.
If you're accustomed to the more modern Fire Emblem games, the combat changes (more of a reversion since it's based off the older Gaiden title) may throw you for a loop. The turn-based tactics remain the same, however, and still plenty of fun but it does seem like layer of strategy has been removed in the simplification. While you can still talk with other units during battle to increase their ranking and how they work together, you don't have the ability to develop relationships/marry characters or have kids. I loved that feature in the newer games, and was bummed to see it absent, but considering it's a remake, I can't fault it too much.
In general, I think the game feels far more "basic" than what fans are used to these days. While the game gives you an overworld map to explore, the game is a largely linear affair. There are towns you can visit, which takes you to something like a point and click style of play so you can "explore" and recruit new people. These are nice diversions but it's still a very straightforward adventure. Battle maps feel largely forgettable and there's a sameness to them which makes them feel tedious at times. There's not a lot of variation and most battles fall into a routine of chasing enemies across the map, or escorting units to a specific location.
Your army of people is FAR more limited this time around as well and the odds are pretty much stacked against you the entire time. Sometimes the size of the enemy army in a battle is ridiculous compared to the units you're allowed, while some battles see you up against enemies with special abilities that can render even your strongest units useless. At times, frustratingly, battles feel they come down to luck as much as strategy, and you'll be grinding through many of them to complete the story.
As such, this is one of the first times, I felt like playing on the "casual" setting made a lot more sense. One of the staples of the Fire Emblem franchise is the permadeath of characters who die in battle. The casual setting in modern FE games makes it so those units will revive at the end of a battle, though diehard fans won't use it. This time around, I think it's worthwhile.
Like I mentioned it's a difficult game, but when the difference between losing and keeping a unit you've been developing for hours is luck of the draw (with some enemies), it's almost unfair. Considering the story is the primary highlight of the game, and the battles are a little more rote, this is one of the few times I'd recommend going the casual mode route this time. This simplified approach may be off-putting, but there are some decent new features as well that are fun to mess around with.
Changing classes are different this time around as well, and brings about one of the more interesting new elements to the game. In the last couple games you had to find Second Seal items during battles, or eventually merchants would sell them, in order to change a units class. This time around you have to explore dungeons and find Mila Shrines in order to change units into their more powerful forms.
The dungeons themselves are a change of pace, as you'll explore them like a 3D actioner. You'll be able to walk around, control the camera (with the New 3DS nub), and smash boxes/pots you find along the way to score loot. You'll encounter enemies inside the dungeons and once you make contact with them, you'll be taken to the traditional turn-based battles you're used to. If you manage to get the jump on enemies before they charge at you and strike them with your sword, all the enemy units will start the battle with diminished health bars.
Exploring dungeons can take its toll on your units, and they can get fatigued (this also happens throughout regular battles). If they get too tired, their health will drop, meaning they'll start battles at a disadvantage. Giving them breaks is important, but Shrines can also restore them from fatigue. This adds another layer to the game that breaks up the routine of battle, dialog, battle, and more dialog. It makes for a neat addition which, if given a little more refinement/attention to, I would love to see make a return in future Fire Emblem games.
Mila's Turnwheel is another new element, which comes as a gift from the goddess to aid you on your journey. The wheel allows you to turn back the clock in battles, letting you undo up to three turns you've done. This means you have the chance to save units who died (except for certain heroes), or change up your tactics if something doesn't work. Understandably, it's use is limited throughout battle, but it can come in handy in sticky situations.
The other use for Mila's Turnwheel comes with the new amiibo toys (of Alm and Celica) you can use in the game. With them you can summon extra fighters to help in battle, snag more useful items, or even bring in ally monsters. If you've got any amiibo handy, it's worth trying out in some levels.
There are compromises, however, and some of the fan favorite features in the last few titles are absent. The maps are a little uninspired and the grind in combat/leveling up is far more obvious this time around, especially as many strategy elements seem stripped away. The addition of explorable dungeons makes for some fun new mechanics to change up the pace, though.
Even with it's quibbles, the story is an engaging one, and the top notch production values, and full voice cast make the grind feel worthwhile. It's not a leap forward for the franchise in the way Awakening was, but it does some great things that make this older adventure worth checking out.