May 20, 2017
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is the newest title from Intelligent Systems for Nintendo 3DS, and is the remastered version of the 1992 game Fire Emblem Gaiden that was released only in Japan for the Famicom.
I am sure I am not alone when I say I have a love-hate relationship with the Fire Emblem series of games. I was seriously scarred with the insane difficulty in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, that to be honest, I only played as much as I did to witness the lack-lustre same sex relationship. Perhaps I was also being ever so cocky playing it on the hardest difficulty with permadeath turned on, but scarred I was.
Shadows of Valentia is different. In some ways better, and in others it is very clear you are playing a game from 1992.
The game follows two intertwined story lines of Alm and Celica, childhood friends separated and determined to reunite set against a backdrop of a land divided by an ancient war between gods, now after many years of peace plummeting again into war by an evil faction.
The story line is true to Fire Emblem tradition (well it was the 2nd game after all), and is both captivating and in true RPG epic style.
For those new to the Fire Emblem series, this is an RPG with a strategic turned-based battle system. To aid you in your quest for peace, you can recruit several characters who you control and develop.
The purists who play use permadeath, meaning if one of these characters die, they are gone for the rest of the game. Yes, this is a game for perfectionists, and you will find yourself reloading saved games to replay many of the difficult battles you will face. And there are many of them, even on the easier difficulty setting. Fortunately, a new feature is an item called Mila’s Turnwheel that enables you to rewind a few turns to potentially undo a lethal mistake and avoid a hasty reload of the game.
The experience system can be confusing to grasp at first. Each character needs to battle otherwise they are unable to level up. And if you do not keep your entire party levelling up together at the same rate, you will find that some of your characters soon become completely useless in battle.
Levelling up is fortunately quite fast, and soon you will receive notifications that you can upgrade your warriors from mere villagers to Mages, Mercenaries or even a good ole Pegasus Knight. Not sure where the horses suddenly appeared from though. Just keep in mind you need to visit statues of the goddess Mila to change classes, and once you do so, you start right back at level 1 again, although you keep the stats you have built up.
One of the nicer features of the game is that many of the characters who join you are villagers, meaning you can choose which class they become.
Watching the characters’ battle is very entertaining, and the game overall looks simply gorgeous with cut scenes created by Evangelion movie animators Studio Khara. Another well done, and unfortunately underutilized aspect is dungeon exploration, where you control the main character only, in an action jRPG third person perspective. There really is not much to do in the dungeons, but you will find yourself re-visiting them a lot to gain enough experience earlier in the game to progress. This makes the otherwise great storyline, at least at the beginning of the game, quite sluggish.
Being an earlier game in the series, the overworld map and many of the battle scenes are quite bland, and many of the battle and class options are not available. Although I must say I was not a fan of the rock-paper-scissor weapon dominance, I did like the companion feature previously where your adjacent ally helps you out in a battle, or occupies the same tile boosting stats. Here it is just good ole one-on-one battles driven mostly by experience and positioning, but with quite a lot of randomness thrown in just to make things interesting/frustrating. Just make sure you keep a bag of flour or a trusty carrot handy to top up your HP.
The class system follows standard RPG basics, with Mages and Clerics weak to start out with, but immensely strong end game, ranged attackers to take out the enemy from afar, and your tank melee units. Be careful though, damaging spells cost HP to cast (I like this aspect, it is like artists suffering for their art). Then again, even swinging a lance costs a bit of HP.
Interestingly, although I did not try this out, Shadows of Valentia has amiibo functionality, that can activate phantoms who are summoned to help in a battle for a couple of turns.
Now while the storyline is great, the cutscenes mesmerising and the gameplay challenging (albeit a tad repetitive), one thing you will notice fairly quickly is the dialogue. No longer will your thumb go sore tapping your way through seemingly endless trivial dialogue to random gasps and grunts – there is full English dialogue for the first time in a Fire Emblem game!
Your thumb will still be sore though. And the dialogue is still trivial. If not more so.
And unfortunately, even though we finally have full English dialogue, the worst part of the game is the useless banter, with comments that can easily be taken as chauvinistic or homophobic. And the romance options seem to be focused on awkward flirting in conversations.
And to top things off, you get to experience ad nauseum perhaps the worst character with respect to no self-esteem or self-worth in any Fire Emblem game – the infatuated brat named Faye. I understand games being true to the original, but given that the graphics were given a major overhaul, you would have hoped they would have worked a bit on the dialogue and her character development. It is simply that bad.
Faye: Now, shall I head back out there and slay more of your enemies for you?
Alm: Slay…enemies for me? Umm… Er, I would hope you’re doing it for a better reason than just…me.
Faye: Oh! Is THAT what you want? …Because I’ll do it. I’ll fight for any cause you desire! Just promise you’ll be watching, Alm!
- Beautiful cut-scenes and animations
- Engaging storyline
- Strategic gameplay
- Terrible conversations between characters
- Gameplay can be a bit random at times
- Missing many features of the newer titles
Overall, I am not sure how well executed the remake was given the options other Fire Emblem games have adopted, but even with its limitations Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was an enjoyable and addictive experience. Just skip through the conversations as quickly as possible.