Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review – A Remake Done Right
In the past, Fire Emblem games have been exclusive to Japan. Due to the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee, interest in the Fire Emblem series started to grow in the West. Nintendo granted Westerners their wish with the release of Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance in 2003. This game was actually the seventh Fire Emblem to be released in Japan and the first to be released to Western audiences. After the GBA title, Fire Emblem games were released in both regions, but what about the other titles exclusive to Japan? Did Nintendo have plans to open these games up to people here on the West as well?
Thankfully, Nintendo did just that with a remake of the original Fire Emblem called Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the original Nintendo DS. Eight years later, Nintendo got their senses together and gave us Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a remake of the second Fire Emblem. Shadow Dragon and Echoes are clear examples of Nintendo’s effort to make the Fire Emblem games that were once reserved to Japanese audiences accessible to Westerners. It may be a long time until we can fully enjoy remakes of the other Japan exclusive Emblems, but in the meantime Echoes serves as a good window into a classic Fire Emblem game.
Echoes is set in the continent of Valentia, a large continent that is divided into the the kingdoms of Rigel and Zofia. The kingdoms were respectively founded after a divine accord was struck to end the war between two sibling deities: the power-hungry Duma and pleasure-loving Mila. Rigel is a fierce nation whose people value strength above everything else and Zofia is a peaceful nation whose people lead carefree, and at times, hedonistic lives. When Zofia rejects Rigel’s call for aid during a famine, total war breaks loose between the two kingdoms and the resulting chaos leaves Zofia’s king dead and its castle overthrown by a treacherous Zofian knight and Rigelian sympathizer named Desaix. A rebel group called the Deliverance rises up to resist him; however, Desaix’s army proves too strong for the revolutionaries and they are forced to retreat to the southern reaches of Valentia.
The dual protagonists of Echoes are Alm and Celica, two best friends raised in a Zofian village called Ram by a knight named Mycen. When one of Desaix’s captains finds the two children playing in a field and discovers Celica’s true origins he prepares to attack only to be stopped by Mycen. Mycen is then forced to relocate Celica to another hiding place for her own safety much to Alm’s dismay. Seven years later, both Alm and Celica carve out their own destinies to heal a war-torn Valentia. Alm joins up with the Deliverance to fight off Desaix and Rigel, while Celica embarks on a journey to find Mila whose presence has all but vanished from the continent. You are restricted to controlling either Alm’s or Celica’s army at first, but once you reach a certain point in the game you are free to switch between their armies at will.
Echoes is a tactical role-playing game like its Fire Emblem cousins. You command individual units on a grid-based battlefield, formulating the best strategies possible to vanquish all enemy units. All units fall under certain character classes and they can be promoted to improved classes as they grow stronger. Echoes builds upon features from Gaiden and recent titles like Awakening to create a modern Fire Emblem experience that any fan of the series can immediately enjoy. Travel is done on an overworld map that is filled with explorable towns and dungeons. Each town resembles that of a visual novel where you can talk to NPCs, some of the NPCs will give you small side quests or become recruitable units. In addition, you can examine certain areas of the town to discover helpful items and weapons.
The towns may not be sophisticated like the ones in Zelda, but each one has enough diversity to keep you engaged. One of Echoes biggest highlights for me are its dungeons because they marvelously combine the pleasures of traditional RPG dungeon crawling with the strategic gameplay of Fire Emblem. Once you enter a dungeon you feel like you have been thrown into a totally different game as there is a shift to a full 3D perspective. They are rife with plenty of treasures to collect and I enjoyed every minute I spent exploring them dripping with anticipation to find out what I would discover in a dungeon’s deepest bowels.
Make sure you are prepared before entering a dungeon though as enemies are plentiful in them. When Alm or Celica encounter an enemy the screen shifts from a 3D perspective to a standard grid battlefield where you can commandeer your units. An enemy encounter in a dungeon can go down in three ways: if the enemy attacks you, each of your units will lose some health and enemies will spawn closer to them, if you attack the enemy, all opposing units will lose some health and your units will spawn closer to them, and if neither one of you is attacked, then the battle will proceed as normal.
A huge gameplay difference that Echoes has from other Fire Emblems is the removal of the Weapon Triangle, a system where certain weapons have advantages over others, and weapon durability. Units can now only equip a single weapon at a time that will improve as a unit grows leading that unit to learn new combat arts with the equipped weapon. In terms of figuring how to maximize damage, you must now pay close attention to the stats of each of your units. If a unit’s attack exceeds the defense of an enemy unit then that unit will deal the difference in damage; the same rule applies to the resistance stat when dealing with magic attacks. I didn’t find the removal of the Weapon Triangle and weapon durability to be obnoxious at all. It adds a lot more simplicity to the game and cuts out any tedious weapon micromanagement.
I also loved the new levels of challenge that Echoes presents, I found myself prudently calculating what choices to make during battles. Make too many poor choices and the line between life and death becomes thinner and thinner. The enemy AI in Echoes don’t mess around, they plan out their strategies, attack your most vulnerable units, and will retreat if they are being overwhelmed. Sometimes, I avoided charging my units straight at the enemy because I learned the hard way that rushing your opponents head-on will get a lot of your units killed. Echoes’ challenge is accentuated further with the implementation of character fatigue. Every time your units conduct actions in battle they become fatigued and lose some health, thus making any attempt to spam combat arts and magic spells limited.
I found the game’s plot to be incredibly dramatic and interesting. I think the plot is executed so well because of the voice acting. Echoes is the first Fire Emblem game to employ full voice-overs for each character so now you can get a stronger sense of each character’s personality. Their personalities are fleshed out even more through the various support conversations they can have with one another. Every time a conversation prompt came up during a battle I would drop whatever I was doing and lose myself in their conversation. I like that a majority of the characters stray away from cliche personality tropes and come off as being more genuine and human.
Although Echoes is far from being revolutionary, it adds some degree of innovation to the Fire Emblem series with its explorable dungeons and towns, giving it a brand new dimension. I would love to see these features return in future Fire Emblem installments. I also appreciated its challenge that, although frustrating at times, really channeled my inner tactician. Some people may not immediately get into Echoes’ changes especially if they are fresh from playing Awakening or Fates, but with time, the game becomes incredibly addicting and hard to put down. Even with all of its innovations, Echoes manages to jam pack itself with plenty of that tactical, role-playing goodness that fans of the Fire Emblem series have come to love. It is yet another solid title in an already incredible line of 3DS Fire Emblem games. If you own a 3DS then you should definitely get your hands on Echoes.