Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review
By Daniel Lein
Recently I’ve been playing Limbo, a game extremely engaging and complex, so much that it requires an article unto itself. What I can say though, is that it is a game where the style is the substance. Where the artistic and aesthetic approach is what makes it special and more than just a puzzle platformer. Shadows of Valentia is the exact opposite. I don’t mean to say that it’s bad, but rather that it focuses and thrives on the systems and mechanics it puts in place.
Set in the continent of Valentia, Fire Emblem Echoes follows Alm and Celica, childhood friends with mysterious pasts and a future of world saving. The two friends lead respective armies, collect new units, and unravel the melodramatic plot along the way. Like a Twizzler or Red Vine, the twists are expected, unsurprising, and honestly not the reason any of us are here. What is nice though are the characters, who are charming, well written, and well voiced. In fact, nearly all the dialoged is voiced, giving the necessary cadence and emotion to the support conversations. Support conversations that give the characters that special “Fire Emblem” weight that makes emotions all the heavier when they permanently die in battle. Aside from the characters though, the story isn’t much to write home about. The presentation however is cleaner and sharper than any other 3DS Fire Emblem. Slick character models are well animated in combat, while well drawn character cards give units that extra touch of personality. I already mentioned the excellent voice acting, which is well complimented by sound design and music. Usually I don’t even notice music in FE games, but Shadows of Valentia had one or two emotional tracks that brought out the intense nature of fantasy warfare.
Above everything else, the gameplay is what shines. Many changes adopted from Fire Emblem Gaiden (the game Shadows of Valentia is a remake of) take steps forward in the FE formula we are familiar with, while others are merely side steps. The side steps are things like the lack of a weapon triangle, which does little to change tactics overall, but rather forces the player to look more closely at the stats of their units and the enemy rather than just the weapon type. Another side step is Mila’s Turn wheel, a magical device that lets you rewind a turn in the case of a mistake or defeated unit. Though this was certainly useful, and will help newcomers acclimate to Fire Emblem’s notorious difficulty, it didn’t play a major part in my playthrough.
Most of the changes though, are truly innovative ones. The one that was used to sell the game was the 3D dungeons, which are fun distractions from the tactical combat as they allow you to find treasure. Though this was novel at first, it certainly became tedious towards the end of the game. The best change that Shadows of Valentia makes though is the gameboard/ world map that Alm and Celica’s armies travel on in between battles. Instead of just selecting the next story mission, players have the option of traveling to the aforementioned dungeons or visiting towns. The towns, which are radical, are chock full of voiced NPCs who are ready and willing to doll out bits of world building as well as hints and side quests. Not only does this give the player even more options aside from the main story, it also gives Shadows of Valentia a distinct sense of place, something I didn’t know I wanted in a Fire Emblem game until I got it. Echoes also uses items in a clever new way. In dungeons and as rewards for beating certain enemies, players can collect various items. Some are useable items that give health or boost stats while others are equip able and buff stats or give special abilities. This change is most profound in the weapons and shield, which can be indivi learned by units to give various special movies, like a momentary buff to defense or an armor breaking attack, at the cost of health.
This requires a little more pre-battle planning considering each unit can only hold one item, and as a result, various tactics opportunities make themselves available. For example, do I want to give one of my mages a shield so he can be more effective on the front lines, or do I want to give him a ring that makes his magic even more powerful. Trade-offs like this, as well as countless others, make the tactics you take feel unique to your playthrough. It feels like you came up with a creative response to a challenge as opposed to simply choosing the right answer. The last change of any importance is mages, who now cast magic at a cost of health. Not only does this balance the effective mage class, it also forces you to think several turns ahead when it comes to spell castors, considering they will take damage from themselves as well as enemies.
Though Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia doesn’t do much to impress in way of its story, its characters and world building slot in just above par for the course. The real star of the show is gameplay and the myriad of tactical choices it presents the player both inside and outside of combat. At no point during the 40+ hour campaign did I feel I was reusing a tactic or just “going through the motions”. Every encounter, no matter how easy or difficult, required some level of planning before battle as well as smart decisions in combat. It was challenging, fun, and the characters were just interesting enough to make you care when they croaked.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia earns a 8/10