Reviews

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

  • Game in Franchise: 15th
  • Platform: Nintendo 3DS
  • Developer(s): Intelligent Systems
  • Release Date: Apr 20, 2017
  • Composer(s): Takeru Kanazaki; Yasuhisa Baba; Takafumi Wada; Sho Murakami
  • Genre: Tactical RPG
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Exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS.

Fire Emblem has become a polarizing franchise with their most recent titles. Love them or hate them, the newer games, Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, are completely different from their predecessors in all but the most basic gameplay elements. Both games shifted their focus from adventure and warfare to a focus on comically unique characters and their budding romantic relationships.

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Fire Emblem Awakening made its characters memorably by adding cartoonish design elements and dialogue.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia rewinds the clock for the Fire Emblem series and excises most of the developments of Awakening and Fates. It is an attempt to take a step back in order to go two steps forward. The player follows the story of Alm and his childhood friend Celica in order to beat back an invading army and save Valentia from nefarious, shadowy forces.

The first thing of note about Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, is that much like Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon for the Nintendo DS, it is a remake of a Fire Emblem game for the Japanese NES that has never been published in America. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is based on Fire Emblem Gaiden (Fire Emblem 2) from 1992, though some features were added to make the game hold up better and to make it more accessible to beginners of the series.

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Fire Emblem Gaiden. The games have come a long way since then.

Gameplay: 8.5

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia includes a brand-new feature for the franchise: dungeon exploring. This, along with obtaining skills from weapons and side quests, made it feel almost like a hybrid of a traditional RPG with a tactical game. In many ways, the heart of the gameplay is still in the tactical mode, with the dungeon crawling almost seeming redundant as it just led to more tactical encounters. Despite its simplicity though, the dungeon crawling felt satisfying as a change of pace and allowed for the game to have an actual final level; and even better, a post-game level. Normally, a Fire Emblem game’s pace is driven either within battle maps or in dialogue, but this made it so that the game could slow down at the end and let the players appreciate their characters at near-full-power for longer, and it drew out the narrative pace of the game. It would strongly benefit the series if they could flesh out the dungeon system and make it more interactive and surprising.

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Enemies lurk in every dungeon.

As far as the tactical gameplay is concerned, it is returning to a much simpler time in Fire Emblem history. Fire Emblem has become well known for having a “weapon triangle” where spears, axes, and swords (and in the newer games all kinds of magic) fit into a rock-paper-scissors type of schema. This has been discarded. This makes an important tactical difference for players because they cannot use the weapon triangle to advantageously engage opponents. This change is compounded by the fact that most characters in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia are heavily polarized in either defense or resistance. This means that almost all of the characters will have a role in fighting against magic or physical attacks. Players are therefore left with fewer opportunities to extort an advantage against opponents and will often have to stretch their defenders thin in order to succeed in missions.

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Every character matters in storming a castle with a bunch of villagers.

One final point on gameplay is that some of the mechanics feel very ‘retro’ for a game. Most games have developed delicate balances in order to achieve difficulty. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia instead throws out absurd enemy spawns in humongous blocks. The boss monsters also tend towards being excessively strong without their weakness, but excessively frail when the player has the proper tools. For a player who appreciates retro games, these aspects will bring a smile to their face. On the other hand, some players may not have patience for game design that involves infinitely-summoning blocks of gargoyles.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia follows the innovation of Fire Emblem Fates in that each battle map has been fully rendered separately so that when a fight takes place, the background will be the exact location of the fight.

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Alm fights a soldier in a gorgeously detailed plain.

They have taken it a step further now and made the environments three-dimensional instead of basically flat. Now the characters can attack each other even on separate planes. This seems like a small feat for 2017, but it hasn’t been done in Fire Emblem ever before.

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Unlike earlier Fire Emblem games. This bridge isn’t a flat surface, but the character models interact with it just fine.

Aside from that, the character models and mugshots look somewhat better than the previous 3DS titles and they have fewer models that clip through themselves than Fates. There is still something a little off-putting about how stiff the characters are, but overall it can be quite fun to watch the attack animations through the entire game.

Points are being docked for the jerkiness of the animations, the fact that several critical hit animations are identical to the normal attacks (suggesting they took shortcuts with making them), and several other instances of asset reuse. Also, having fewer clipping objects than Fates is not setting the bar terribly high.

Music: 9.0

The music has gone back to the old tradition of focusing on strong melody rather than making an ambient sound piece. This makes the tracks more memorable and just better-sounding in general. A fantastic example is this:

Setting:  9.0

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia stuck to its roots in terms of simplicity of story and characters. It’s the type of story that’s been told in countless JRPGs before because it comes from a time when JRPGs were still developing what are now developed clichés. However, the simple characters felt more like a real part of their world and its conflict than the gimmicky characters of Fates.

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The good guys are noticeably more brutal than Fates as well. There is a war going on, after all.

We didn’t hear much dialogue from many of them, but what they had written was usually elegantly simple and to the point. The game had almost the fewest ‘support conversations’ of any Fire Emblem game, but they were striking and memorable compared with having a huge quantity of low-quality conversations.


Overall Score: 8.6 (86%)

Summary: One of the original pillars of the Fire Emblem franchise has been lovingly restored for modern audiences. Players who love JRPGs or Tactical RPGS will both find something to love about this game.

Pros:

  • New dungeon crawl mechanic blends RPG elements with those of strategy
  • Enjoyable cast of characters
  • Characters can upgrade classes to give the player something to work towards
  • Excellent soundtrack
  • One of the best-looking 3D strategy games on the market
  • Streamlined gameplay
  • Fun post-game content; perhaps the best in the series

Cons:

  • Dungeons can feel repetitive at times
  • Small variety of strategic options due to simplified mechanics
  • Relatively small cast of characters
  • Most characters don’t get much screen time
  • Some items and enemies are unbalanced due to dated design elements
  • Game reuses assets often, especially for enemy types

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