I have been a fan of the Fire Emblem series since the first entry to release in North America (Fire Emblem, known in Japan as Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame. Since then I have enjoyed every game in the franchise that has released in North America, and I am delighted that Fire Emblem Gaiden has been entirely remade, as it was the second entry in the franchise and never made it to North American shores. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is the newest entry in the Fire Emblem series, and is an entire remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden based around the success of recent titles such as Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem Awakening.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia departs from natural Fire Emblem conventions in a few ways. You take on the role of both Alm and Celica, whose tales intertwine as they are from two separate countries at war with one another on the continent of Valentia. Alm and Celica are childhood friends, each leading an army, on opposite sides. Like other recent Fire Emblem games there are two difficulty settings consisting of both Normal and Hard. There are also the two settings that detail what happens to characters that fall in battle. In Classic mode when a character falls in battle they are permanently dead (like previous entries in the franchise) however there is also Casual mode, which allows fallen heroes to be resurrected after a battle ends.
Interestingly enough, two common conventions of the Fire Emblem franchise have seemingly been omitted in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. The Weapon Triangle (a rock-paper-scissors style mechanic that determines damage against various weapon types) and limited weapon durability are no longer mechanics used. This makes things easier (in terms of the durability) in that you no longer have to worry about weapons breaking in the middle of a battle or preparing yourself for longer fights by keeping multiple weapons on a character. Instead each character gets one weapon apiece, that may get upgraded or replaced over the course of the story.
As you progress through the story you acquire awards, which seem to be achievements for the completionist that wants to do and experience all that the game has to offer. I like the addition of achievements in a Fire Emblem game, as I tend to spend 100 or more hours in them if at all possible. I also am pleased to note that there is a large amount of voice acting in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which adds to the immersive nature of the story. I have always enjoyed the storylines in the Fire Emblem franchise, and I think Shadows of Valentia is another stellar example.
There are two major additions to Fire Emblem Echoes that differ from previous entries in the series. The first being exploration elements where you are able to control Alm (or Celica) and walk around through dungeons. You carry a party of up to ten characters with you in a dungeon, and when you encounter enemies it shifts from a 3D exploration to the standard turn-based strategy gameplay that Fire Emblem is known for. In towns or cities, you can travel through the town, going to specific parts of it and either examining your surroundings (where you can find items or other useful things) talk to townspeople, or simply explore and take in the scenery.
On the world map, you can progress through points on the map that may contain enemies, or explore areas you haven’t visited yet. As you fight alongside your party members, their fatigue meter will increase, which lowers their maximum health. In order to lower the fatigue meter, you will have to provide food or drink to your party members, give them gifts, or purify them at special statues. The Fatigue mechanic isn’t as bad as it sounds. I was initially concerned by it, but there are plenty of ways and opportunities to mitigate the stat decreases, so it is balanced well.
I have to applaud Nintendo for the touches they added to registering yourself for multiplayer StreetPass and SpotPass content. They have now made their registration LGBT friendly by offering an “Other” option instead of just the binary Male and Female gender options. I also want to take the time to mention that they don’t really talk about the other continents, just Valentia where the game takes place. I would love to see more games in this same sort of world, building upon the mythos like the Radiant series did on Gamecube and Wii with their own respective world.
Class changes also seem to be a little different in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. Instead of being tied to level 10 or level 20, the class change option unlocks at a variety of different rates depending on the class. Most of your characters in the beginning, start as Villagers and can promote early on. Further promotion takes a while, but unlike previous Fire Emblem Titles the benefits of waiting to promote are negligible, and it is a good idea to promote as soon as you can to take advantage of new abilities.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia also has amiibo support. Two amiibo are being released at the same time as the game, one for Alm and one for Celica. Using Mila’s turnwheel (a mechanic that gives you access to support conversations, amiibo functionality and other mechanics at shrines to Mila) you can write your character data for Alm or Celica to your amiibo, then summon them during battle as illusion allies. Each amiibo also unlocks a special dungeon for Alm and Celica respectively. Other Fire Emblem amiibo can be used to summon illusory allies from previous games, while amiibo from other games can be used to summon ally monsters who will join you in battle.
I was lucky to receive the two Alm and Celica amiibo in my review package and had the opportunity to give the amiibo a try. They are very well made, both characters have extensive detailing on them and they seem to be sturdy. I did find myself a little concerned by the swords they each carry, as they seem a little flimsy, though I haven’t had the opportunity to use other amiibo first-hand so I’m not sure if that is the nature of the proverbial beast, or if I am just being paranoid. Alm and Celica add to the growing list of amiibo for Fire Emblem as a franchise, as well as the catalog of collectible amiibo.
Mila’s Turnwheel also has a nifty ability to allow you to rewind time. Have you made a mistake with placing a unit? Just roll back time and redo the actions you made. It is a pretty nifty mechanic that gives you the ability to undo little mistakes that might change the tides of battles if you catch a mistake quick enough. This isn’t something that has been present in a Fire Emblem game before and it is definitely a nice touch. Mila’s Turnwheel also allows you to view Memory Prisms, which show different flashbacks that can add to the storyline and show off events not previously mentioned in the story.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a game that breaks common convention and sometimes that’s a good thing, but there is one particular convention I wasn’t happy about being changed. Clerics, Mages, and healers sacrifice health in order to heal other party members. This is great for if you are about to lose a unit and were unable to equip them with a healing item (due to the limited carrying capacity of your units) but it can quickly put you in a sticky situation if your enemies focus their attacks on your healing allies. It also causes you to have to keep an eye on your mage combatants so that you don’t accidentally cripple their health to do massive damage.
This is tied to the new “arts” system that replaces the skills system from previous Fire Emblem titles. Now instead of carrying multiple weapons or items on your person, you are only able to carry one item at a time. These items can be healing items, or they can be upgraded equipment that has skills called “arts” attached to them. Arts are powerful skills and most of them cost HP to use. This poses two issues. The first is that your character has to fight while carrying a certain item for a few battles in order to equip its skill. This removes any capability of your character to carry healing items or a weapon upgrade beyond the default weapon they’ve been given.
The second problem is that in order to have the stat benefits of an item (for example the leather shield which provides a Defense increase) you have to have it equipped. This prevents you from equipping it on other characters to teach them the skill. Alternatively, you could equip it to that other character and just make do without the stat bonus.
The tradeoff for this lies in the fact that over the course of the game your mages and clerics will learn new spells or healing abilities, providing a natural sort of growth that replaces the need for them to carry three different healing spells at a time. Your other characters will also gain upgrades in weaponry over the course of the story, but it is a little more complex than the way mages and clerics operate.
The fact that most arts (that aren’t passive) require a sacrifice of HP adds a layer of strategy but can be frustrating. Fire Emblem veterans may be able to accommodate this shift with ease as many fans of the series rely on our clerics instead of using items. Yet with the healing of a Cleric being tied to the Cleric’s HP, this complicates matters a bit more, requiring an extra layer of strategy that wasn’t all that necessary.
In all spite of all of this I think Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a fantastic shift from the more “Newcomer friendly” Fire Emblem titles like Awakening and Fates, toward more classic style Fire Emblem difficulty. There are enough opportunities to grind and level up for people who want to really get the most out of their experience, and newcomers can still find enjoyment in the strategy that is required without feeling overwhelmed. I personally enjoy grinding in Fire Emblem Echoes, as it doesn’t get boring really when you have to focus on ensuring that all of your characters level properly and are all participating equally.
The last “new” mechanic in Fire Emblem Echoes that I’m going to mention is the fact that this game has side quests. I do not mean optional battles (though it does have plenty of those in store,) but rather actual side quests that you can fulfill for various rewards. Most of these require you to kill a group of enemies or acquire a certain item, though there are a few that are deeper than that. My only complaint with them is that you basically have to remember where the quest giver is so you can return with the designated items. Some sort of menu that kept track of this would have been great instead of having to jot it down or check an online guide. These side quests do add an extra layer of content to an already full to bursting adventure so they are still appreciated and a great addition overall.
While Fire Emblem Echoes isn’t perfect, I do applaud Intelligent Systems in taking a few risks in changing up the standard Fire Emblem formula. I am very happy to finally get to experience the characters and story of Fire Emblem Gaiden for myself since it was never localized in the west in its original form. There are over 60 hours worth of content in Fire Emblem Echoes if you really take the time to indulge in this long adventure that’s absolutely filled with content. Pick up Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia; it’s worth more than you’ll spend on it and you will not be disappointed!
A Nintendo 3DS Copy of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was provided by Nintendo for this review
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
- Classic Fire Emblem Strategy Gameplay
- New Dungeon Crawling Mechanics
- Interesting Storyline interwoven between two Protagonists
- LGBT Friendly characters and Streetpass functionality
- Side Quests and unlockable amiibo dungeons
- Lack of Inventory Management
- Mages/Healers sacrifice HP
- No ability to organize side quests