A simpler Fire Emblem.
Before I start my review in earnest, it should be noted that I did not play the original game, “Fire Emblem Gaiden”, that Echoes is based on, and so my perspective will be as such, without drawing any comparison between the two.
Back when I reviewed Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, I expressed my great disappointment of the terrible release model. It turned what otherwise could have been an excellent entry to the franchise to an incomplete mess- one which was plainly trying to sell one full game in three pieces in the name of greed.
In light of my disappointment, I sincerely hoped that their next entry in their venerable franchise would be an improvement and a step towards the right direction.
With Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Nintendo has thankfully done away with the multi-release model and created the most accessible Fire Emblem title I’ve played to date.
Voice Acting: ENG only.
Played Difficulty: Normal/Classic
Length: 25~ Hours
War rages on in the land of Valentia, where two dramatically different ideals clash. Caught in the middle are two children who share a fate that will surely shake the two kingdoms to their very core.
Perhaps due to the nature of this being a remake of a game that was originally released in 1992, the story that’s told is about as predictable as they come and I more or less guessed every major plot point hours in advance.
It’s not an absolutely terrible story that I felt the need to fast forward through, but it certainly was dull, offering very little in the ways of a narrative hook.
Luckily, the individual characters themselves felt more interesting, thanks in part to the full voice over treatment for all the story cutscenes as well as support conversations which did wonders in adding to a character’s personality.
As for the gameplay, there are two elements in Echoes that separate it from its recent contemporaries, the dungeon exploration and turn wheel.
When I saw the promotional material for this title, I was under the impression that dungeons would be a huge factor, but it turns out that they’re really not that big of a deal.
Sure, there are many dungeons to delve into, but most of them are only a few screens and take a few minutes explore. The monsters in the dungeons can be attacked for a preemptive strike to deal a bit of damage and get the first turn while being closer to them, or the monster can tackle the player from behind to get the first turn for themselves.
The battles in the dungeons are in smaller arenas and against a smaller number most of the time, and go by relatively quickly compared to the larger story encounters.
What I didn’t know about was the turn wheel, which gave me the power to turn back the clock to go back a few turns to redo certain actions again. This was limited by the number of cogs I had found, but with a maximum of 12 charges, this was quite the powerful utility indeed.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence in a Fire Emblem game to make one single mistake, only to lose your best unit which would often prompt an immediate reset of the game and loading of a save file. With the turn wheel, I would invoke its power whenever I lost a unit and rethink my strategy in order to avoid that fate.
It’s an elegant solution to the idea that people would be save scumming anyway in situations like that. It was a good idea when they did it for falling to your death in a platformer like Prince of Persia and it’s used well once more here in an SRPG with perma-death.
When I mentioned that Echoes was the most accessible Fire Emblem game I’ve played thus far, I meant that both in a positive and negative light.
One of the big foundations of the combat in Fire Emblem was “The Weapon Triangle”, where Swords, Spears and Axes were like Rock, Paper and Scissors is completely gone. Now I could slap a lancer with my shiny sword without getting utterly destroyed.
Having to use consumable items to promote units is also gone and I was able to promote any unit as long they hit their level requirement. There were also fewer weapons to choose from, with tomes and staves being phased out in favor of innately built skills that a class earns as they level up. Weapon durability is a thing of the past, and now the weapon based “arts” cost precious HP to use in order to limit their usage.
Even though this is a more recent addition, the mechanic of getting two characters romantically involved to get their child unit is not present here either.
There are many more mechanics that have either been completely removed or changed, but those are the major ones that really impact the way the game plays.
At first, I thought the simplification of the Fire Emblem formula would render the game boring to play, but it actually remained quite engaging all the same. I was always taking close consideration of positioning, always marking enemies so I knew their range of movement/attack, switching out special effect weapons that were more effective against certain types of enemies and hoarding resources so I could upgrade my favorite weapons in the smithy.
However, I will say that this is certainly the easiest of all the Fire Emblem games I’ve played so far, and I never permanently lost a single unit or faced a single game over until I finished the game and went into the extra dungeon.
Lastly, there is a “auto-battle” functionality which does exactly what it sounds like, and with the fight animations toggled off, it made combat encounters that would have taken me at least five minutes to manually complete finish in seconds and proved quite useful when I was feeling overpowered and just wanted to quickly get to the next big battle.
Despite having many of the series’ staple complexities stripped away, Shadows of Valentia proves a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. Those who found the Fire Emblem series too intimidating due to its difficulty and overwhelming depth need look no further for their accessible entry point to the franchise.
Fun Tidbit –
I’m calling shenanigans on the #1 guy. Also, this was taken on embargo date where over a dozen reviews of this game went up. FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.