Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a top-down, turn-based strategy JRPG developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. Being true to its original installment, many of the features that originated in subsequent installments remain absent for this remake, including the much-beloved marriage system. However, many of the features that set the game apart from the rest back in 1992 make a triumphant return as well, such as exploring dungeons and visiting towns, along with a good balance of modern conveniences for a full quarter of a century later.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is available on 3DS for $39.99.
In one sense, the story isn’t one that is particularly novel. It doesn’t do anything unheard of for a fantasy story. There are no big reveals that couldn’t have been anticipated miles away, save for a few exceptions toward the end. There were old sages who gave advice, witches who brewed up trouble, dramatic betrayals, and just a few “anime” moments of awakening your true power to fight alongside your friends.
However, this somewhat timeworn story gets a pass from me simply because of how well it is told! The individual moments of dialogue shine through, in no small part thanks to the stellar cast. For the first time in a Fire Emblem game, there is full voice acting, instead of the short voice clips we’ve been getting from previous 3DS installments. And with a few minor exceptions, each character performs their part very well.
You follow the two campaigns of both Alm and Celica. Alm starts from a small town, but gets mixed up in joining the resistance and ends up eventually leading the entire army. Celica, on the other hand, is the princess of Zofia, who travels in secret with her group of friends and allies to pray at the Temple of Mila. These original goals shift and eventually become something much grander before the finale.
As has been tradition in recent Fire Emblem titles, most minor characters on your team, of which there are many, have one or two notable characteristics that set them apart, with their deeper motivations being discovered through support conversations. These extra pieces of dialogue have always been enjoyable, but they were particularly so in this game.
However, the rumors are true. You cannot marry your units in Shadows of Valentia. There are hinted romances, and a few pairs get hitched after the final boss, but all these marriages were arranged by the game. (So old-fashioned!) Shipping different characters hasn’t been anything more than a distraction from the main strategy gameplay for me, but if you love that aspect of Fire Emblem, know that you won’t be getting it here.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia does not play like the other 3DS Fire Emblem games. Yes, you still have the core of a Fire Emblem game, but instead of completely modernizing all of the mechanics to make the remake fall in line with the other games on the platform, Shadows of Valentia bravely sticks to its roots, and all of the oddities that come with it. For one thing, units cannot be paired together and fight alongside each other. This is true for both enemies and allies, so each individual fight will be one-on-one. There are so many different things about this game that it would be impossible to name them all, but some of the more drastic ones are these: Archers are now a million times more useful, as they can attack enemies that are a single space away from them, or (in some cases) as many as five spaces away! In Fates, no items but staffs could break, but in Shadows of Valentia, nothing breaks, including the staffs. This is because shops no longer exist. You can use the forge to upgrade the weapons you already have, but you get new weapons by visiting locations and picking them up from the ground, or by finding them in treasure chests in dungeons.
Speaking of dungeons, they are one of the most interesting changes to Fire Emblem. For the first time in a Fire Emblem game, you can move your character in a 3D space, and some of the later dungeons are significantly long. There will occasionally be puzzles to solve, but most of the time, it’s just exploring every nook and cranny of a dungeon, fighting enemies along the way. Whenever you run into an enemy, the game will transition from the 3D environment to the usual top-down 2D grid, but it will be much smaller. Most of these fights are a bit dull, as they only last a few minutes long and not much interesting can happen in that span of time. However, you can’t completely zone out during these parts, as I learned the hard way. These fights do eventually become tedious, but except for the final two dungeons, they don’t appear frequently enough to become a major annoyance. Another vital aspect of dungeons is that they are the only places where you can upgrade your units’ class, as opposed to previous games where you could pretty much upgrade your class at any time. Dungeons are also the only places in the game where you only have some of your party members with you. In all other battles, every single unit from Alm and Celica’s campaign gets to fight. All of these factors take choice away from the player, and while some might scoff at this idea, I absolutely loved the more guided experience. I got to worry less about when was the optimal time to upgrade this character’s class, what weapons to buy, which units to choose, etc., and let me focus on the meat and potatoes of Fire Emblem: the strategy.
Even though it’s easier to prepare for these maps, they are no laughing matter. Starting in Act 3, the game buckles down and gets serious, and the game only gets harder and harder as time progresses. By the end of the game, you will have to learn this game inside out, utilizing every art, character, and knowing how to deal with each type of enemy.
Luckily, Mila’s Turnwheel is literally a godsend. It allows you to go back in time and fix whatever caused one of your characters to die, or, as I have done in many cases, simply re-roll the dice to get a better outcome. In other Fire Emblem games, this might weaken the difficulty, but I found it to be a fantastic aid. After all, restarting a game just to get back to where you were when a character died isn’t much different from going back a few turns with Mila’s Turnwheel. The only difference is that the latter saves more time in an already long game, although some might argue that it takes away some of the tension. Be warned, however: If either Alm or Celica die, you will immediately get a Game Over, taking you back to your last save, with no chance to use Mila's Turnwheel. And unlike previous 3DS Fire Emblem games, you cannot permanently save your game in the middle of a map.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
The 3D character models do not look fantastic, even by 3DS standards. However, Alm and Celica’s models look a tiny amount better than the rest, so they’re not a total eyesore when exploring dungeons.
The art for all of the towns and environments, however, are absolutely beautiful. While the character models might be a little rough around the edges, the choreography for battles is spectacular, with dodges and attacks looking dynamic, instead of the awkward trading of blows from previous installments. And everything looks better with the 3D on, at least in my opinion.
The cutscenes are unfortunately nowhere near the level of quality Awakening and Fates were at. Those cutscenes were an absolute treat for the eyes, with the vibrant colors and spectacular animation completely drawing me in, even if they were few and far between. The cutscenes in Shadows of Valentia are by comparison, a mess. It’s done in an anime style with an exorbitant use of CGI, which makes all of the characters look mechanical.
The soundtrack is fantastic, with one fatal flaw. Instead of transitioning from a calm, calculated version of the piece to the intense rendition when the camera zooms in on the action, there is only one version of the map’s music, which is usually very intense when you’re trying to think, which can get annoying. And every time you engage with an enemy, the same first few notes of the same piece starts for every single encounter! It gets very annoying, and this is the case for 90% of the maps. All the same, when the soundtrack is uninterrupted, it’s truly special, especially with the use of the choir.
I don’t think Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia will have a huge impact on the future of Fire Emblem. While I sincerely hope that full voice-acting and an equivalent of Mila’s Turnwheel become the norm for all subsequent Fire Emblem titles, I don’t think much else will carry on. With most recent new Fire Emblem games, they introduce some new element to make you think about the game differently. In Shadows of Valentia, it removes many of the elements that were introduced after it originally came out. This was a wonderful breath of fresh air for the series, and I completely fell in love with this game. It strips itself of many of the bells and whistles associated with other recent installments and just does the two things it does best: tell an old-fashioned fantasy story while having strategy maps that really make you think. Although I’ve only played the Fire Emblem games on 3DS, I am happy to claim Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia as my favorite of them all.
|+ Full voice acting with a stellar cast||– No marriages|
|+ Streamlining of mechanics||– Ugly character models|
|+ Well-told story||– Jarring cutscenes|
|+ Beautiful background art|