Review: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)

Developed by: Intelligent Systems
Published by: Nintendo

Originally released as Fire Emblem: Gaiden (or Fire Emblem: Side Story) in Japan on 1991, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a complete re-imagining of the once Japan exclusive Fire Emblem title. On January 18th, during a Fire Emblem themed Nintendo Direct, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was announced and promised to be as close to the original game as it possibly could, while also adding in a few new features. After four months of waiting patiently, I was finally rewarded with a new take on an older game I never got to play. So was this classic Fire Emblem game worth the wait? Let’s just dive right in and find out!

Fire Emblem Echoes:  Shadows of Valentia (which I’ll just shorten to Echoes because, man, that’s a really long title) takes place in the same universe as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon or otherwise known as “that game that has Marth in it.” It takes place in the neighboring continent of Valentia where two gods ruled over. Due to their opposing differences in opinion, however, they split the continent into two separate dominions and vowed never to invade the other’s land. Mila founded the lower country of Zofia and Duma founded the northern country of Rigel. In present day time, a boy named Alm befriends a girl named Celica in a village and the two become inseparable. However, one day they are ambushed by a Zofian knight named Slayde, who is in search for a young girl. He bullies the two children until Alm’s grandfather, Mycen, shows up to defend the two. After Mycen fends off Slayde, he decides to take Celica away, implying that Celica is the one Slayde was after. Though Alm and Celica part ways, they vow to see each other once again when they are grown.

Several years pass and a new crisis presents itself to the land of Zofia. General Dasaix, a knight of Zofia, betrays his country and assassinates it’s king. With the help of Rigelian Empire, Dasaix intends to rule over all of Zofia. Even with this massive split of alliances, a large portion of Zofians loyal to the former king come together to form the Deliverance, a Zofian Liberation Army, led by the noble cavalier Clive. Though the Deliverance has put up a good fight with Dasaix’s soldiers, they are still way outmatched. In order to grow strong enough to defeat the traitors, the Deliverance sends a soldier named Lukas to recruit Alm’s grandfather, Mycen, who was once a powerful leader in Zofia’s royal family until his banishment. When Lukas arrives to Mycen’s village, he is instead greeted by Alm, who after some thought, decides to take his grandfather’s place to fight alongside the Deliverance. Elsewhere, Celica, on the other side of Zofia’s coasts, hears of the news of war and decides to get to the bottom of the cause and enlists several of her friends to help end the war in her own way.

Originally being a Famicom game, the original Fire Emblem Echoes was not exactly the best written due to the Famicom’s limitations. Meaning, there couldn’t be a novel’s worth of dialogue to help shape the plot of the game. However, now that the game is on better hardware, there’s more effort that goes into the plot and you can easily tell this by the dialogue between some of the characters. While the characters don’t exactly speak in modern talk, there are hints of it thrown in at times. For instance, there’s a support conversation between two characters who fight over a woman and there’s quite a bit of modern lingo in there every now and then. But compared to the last two entries in the series, Awakening and Fates, the dialogue in the game is severely lax and tame and never goes the full “weeb” route of melodrama that the other two games can take at times.

Speaking of that though, being an older game in the series, Fire Emblem Echoes goes back to the series roots in a way. While there is war between nations in the last two installments, there is a lot more depth that goes into the war between Rigel and Zofia. While at first glance it may seem like Rigel’s the big bad guy, you kinda see that Zofia isn’t exactly the good guy in all of this either, and I absolutely loved that aspect of the game. Because, you know, there is no black and white in the real world. While you may root for the “good guys,” it doesn’t necessarily make them “good” per-se, and I really appreciated that. It’s something that really need to be explored more in Fates but it was just completely botched. I mean, it just seems recently that many of the latest Fire Emblem games miss that point completely.

As for the characters, they are all hit or miss. Since, once again, this is a remake of a Famicom game, most characters had no personalities to begin with. But unlike the original Fire Emblem remake, Shadow Dragon, which was, for the most part, a complete faithful adaptation to the original source material (meaning it did nothing to improve on character personalities), Echoes at the very least tries to make every character at least somewhat more memorable than their initial debut. There’s honestly a lot more I can say about these cast of characters now. For instance, we have Gray who is a bit of show off and a flirt. There’s Lukas who is a proud and loyal Zofian knight. And there’s also Mae who is really spunky and energetic. But of course, there are several characters who kind of end up getting the same treatment they did in Gaiden, and I’m not sure I’d blame this on the writing or anything, but more on the game’s old mechanics. I’ll go more in depth once I get to gameplay, but basically, there are some characters who are forced to join you and others that are completely optional. Meaning that, outside of support conversations, they are practically mute throughout the entire game. And one character in particular called Genny is the biggest offender to this since most of her support conversations are with characters that appear LATE in the game. Overall though, I think the support cast of characters in Echoes are fine, but nothing special. Alm and Celica, however, are really fantastic characters. Every time they become the center stage in the plot, you can’t help but be entranced by their character arcs, because they do go through some interesting stuff on their journeys. They don’t actually see eye-to-eye on everything, but you can definitely tell that they care for each other regardless of their opinions, which I thought was kinda cute.

As for gameplay, to it’s core, it is very recognizable to the other Fire Emblem titles, but there are several twists added to help make the game a bit more fresh. For instance, while the game does have you control a set amount of units on a plane grid, units don’t actually have weapons that can break in combat. Instead, units pretty much have fixed weapons no matter what. You can still buy and find unique weapons to equip to your characters which will increase their stats, but they do not function the way they would in normal Fire Emblem games. Other differences are with the Mage and Cleric classes. Instead of having tomes and staves to deal damage and heal respectively, these classes have their own innate magic and can actually learn new spells depending on their levels which is reminiscent of classic RPGs. However, since there is no MP stat in the Fire Emblem series, Mages and Clerics have to pay a set amount of HP in order to cast their spells which adds even more strategy to the game. Besides weapons and magic, though, there are options to equip pieces of armor and accessories. For example, there is an item called a Leather Shield you can equip that will increase your unit’s base defense by 4, allowing them to tank more hits. Weapons and armor also come with their own abilities that can be learned the more you use them in combat. These can range from powerful offense skills such as the Thunderclap, which can turn your physical units into magic dealing monsters, or to some more defensive strategic skills such as Swap, which lets you switch places with another unit.

In this game, you gain control of two armies, one controlled by Alm and another controlled by Celica. Similar to Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones and recently, Fire Emblem: Awakening, you can control both armies on a giant map. Unlike the classic Fire Emblem games, however, there is no set chapter and map set up here. For example, if you go to where Chapter 1 starts, there will be some story stuff, then followed by gameplay, and then the chapter ends with more story stuff and then you continue to the next chapter. In Echoes, however, you pretty much go to battle to battle until you reach the end where there will usually be a big event. Side locations such as certain dungeons can contain more plot related dialogue, but for the most part, it’s fight after fight after fight. I kinda appreciated this mechanic at first, but eventually grew exhausted of it over time and prayed that I could return to the old style.

One of the biggest changes to the series is arguably the introduction to dungeons. The game pretty much goes from a 2D plane grid style to full 3D models traversing in a 3D world environment. Players will take control of either Alm or Celica with 9 other recruited units inside these dungeons to find valuable loot or even find opportunities to change a character’s class. Every dungeon of course has a set of enemies to come across and once you touch them on the 3D map, the game will then load the regular 2D grid style map. Players will then fight enemies as they normally would in the rest of the game. Dungeons are, for the most part, completely optional, but of course, they are worth your while if you so choose to explore them. I personally found the dungeons to be fun on the initial visit, but future visits to go back and change a character’s class halts the game’s progress and just makes something way harder than it should be.

Unlike previous titles, which normally have a first tier class and then a second tier class, there are actually a total of like five tier classes in this game (including the ill fated DLC exclusives classes). While there are some classes that still have the classic two tier class system, such as Mages becoming Sages and that’s it, there are other classes such as the Soldier that can class change into a Knight and then eventually into the powerful Baron class. While normally in other Fire Emblem games, when a character class changes into its more powerful second tier class, there is usually a significant increase in stats to reflect this. That’s not so much the case in Echoes. Some classes definitely get some good buffs all around, especially the magic oriented classes, but some of the more physical units such as the Soldier or the Cavalier get some really pitiful stat increases.

As far as the actual gameplay and strategy goes…the game is actually somewhat lack luster in that department. I actually have to give credit to Fates for at least having some really solid gameplay and creative strategies in most of it’s maps, but in Echoes, it’s really barren. Units are completely lopsided as far as stats go, to the point that some units can even be considered broken such as the Archer. Holy hell, the Archer class. Not only do they have an insane amount of attack range (1-4), but once they promote to the Bow Knight, they become mounted and their movement range is increased significantly as well. This basically means that the Bow Knight can practically go anywhere and hit anything. It is insane how broken this class is. The map designs are also very bland and forgettable and really add nothing to the strategy of the gameplay.

Overall, I think Fire Emblem Echoes is a good game with a lot of interesting and fresh ideas that both old and new fans can really enjoy in their own way. Having control over two armies with their each set of units is neat and having dungeons to explore is a really nice feature. However, the gameplay after a while can become really stale with it’s mediocre map design and poor balance of units such as the Archer to really make the game fun for long term. I personally really enjoyed the story and characters of the game and I really hope to see more writing like that again in future Fire Emblem titles. Anything to get away from the “weeb” aspect of the modern Fire Emblem plots is always an automatic plus in my book. While I did initially enjoy my time with the game, I grew tired of it after a certain point. But even so, I do still recommend picking it up if you’re a Fire Emblem fan if not for the novelty of playing a game that was never released over shores at one point. Otherwise, just wait for it to drop in price. If you do decide to get it though, make sure you don’t buy the extremely overpriced DLC. Like seriously, who the hell would pay forty-five dollars for little bonus maps? Give me a break, Intelligent Systems.

Final Verdict: Wait for a sale. Fire Emblem Echoes is a nice return to the classic Fire Emblem style plot and adds some interesting additions not seen in other Fire Emblem titles, but the unbalanced gameplay gets dull really quick.

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