Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review
Developer: Intelligent Systems
“Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia” is a remake of “Fire Emblem Gaiden,” a game that was never released outside of Japan. This is a true modern take on the original thanks to a revamped gameplay engine and a fully voiced cast. This may be one of the best entries in this strategy RPG franchise.
The land of Valentia is split into two territories; Regal ruled by the god Duma, and Zofia ruled by the goddess Mila. Duma believed in strength and power, while Mila stood on the side of peace and pleasure. They fought over their differing beliefs, ending in a truce that created two kingdoms with differing values. In the present time, citizens of Zofia are struggling to grow crops due to a drought, causing hunger and poverty. The Regalians take advantage of this and begin to invade Zofia territory to expand their land, and power. So it’s up to the protagonists, Alm and Celica, to end the war and restore peace.
Throughout the game’s story the player will be able to switch between their campaigns at their own leisure. During their childhood they (both Celica and Alm) were described as very close, making Alm’s friends jealous of the amount of time they spend together. Unfortunately, due to the events that happen in the prologue, they become separated for seven years, but never forgot about each other. In an almost symbolic fashion, when they do reunite, their ideals begin to clash, and they go their separate ways to try to end the war how they personally feel it should be done. Alm wants to lead an army to drive back invading forces, meaning there would be a war. Celica wants to uncover the truth behind the droughts, and stop the war peacefully. This is an interesting take on a Fire Emblem story, as there is a lot of tension and emotion within the character interactions.
The story has been revamped with many changes and additions. This is due to the original release leaving some details to the instruction booklet. An example of this being the beginning, where you get a prologue to the entire adventure, while in the original you go straight to war. This gives the game a strong start, and more context to the setting. The main cast and supporting characters are some of the best in the franchise, and this is partly due to the excellent voice acting bringing out the personality in the characters you’ll want to protect from permanent death on classic mode.
As a Fire Emblem game, it’s very different and plays by its own rules, which even series veterans may have to adjust to. The weapons triangle and marriages are not present, all while the core gameplay revolves around a mish-mash of SRPG combat and Dungeon Crawling. Skills are replaced by arts, which you sacrifice HP to activate, giving the character a stronger attack that turn. Not to worry though, as series staples like classic mode (where ally units can permanently die) makes a return, and the general strategic gameplay is left intact. The game also offers a surprisingly deep challenge where it feels like the game is really testing the player’s ability to plan ahead and manage resources. Though, to help new players a brand new feature, was added that allows players to turn back time to redo their turns in a similar fashion to the game “Catherine” if they made a mistake. This is an incredibly convenient feature, and would be a welcome return in future entries. The only frustrating thing about the gameplay is the reliance on the random number generator, which could ruin a perfect run on a map instantly. During the review this rarely happened, but it’s possible I was just very lucky.
The presentation is without a doubt fantastic, taking advantage of the hardware and even improving on what “Awakening” and “Fates” brought to the table. The brand new art style is the best the series has had to offer; it would be a shame if it’s left behind on the 3DS. Character animations have a nice flow in combat, and there is a sense of aggression against the foe to survive. The updated user interface has that classic look in comparison to the previous entries, and winds up being much more organized. The sound design is the pinnacle of the presentation thanks to the absolutely amazing soundtrack. Mila’s Divine Protection sounds so whimsical, it sends my auditory sensors into pure bliss. It’s going straight onto my music player.
The only thing to keep in mind is that the amiibo content is completely useless. The Smash Bros. Fire Emblem Amiibo only give you a character that stays on the battle field for a single turn and then they disappear for the rest of the battle, unlike Fire Emblem Fates where they were units that could level up and stay with you the entire game. The Celica and Alm Amiibo pack unlock short enemy gauntlets that give you weapons to start your adventure off. Due to how small of a bonus this offers, it seems sort of unnecessary to lock this behind Amiibo, and doesn’t seem worth investing in the figures.
Overall, Shadows of Valentia delivers a new personal favorite Fire Emblem game. There are a lot of additions I would love to see return in the Nintendo Switch entry, and there was never a time I found myself frustrated, and wanting to put the game down. This game is an excellent last hoorah for the series on 3DS. The future looks even brighter for this franchise.