Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia caught many people by surprise when it was announced only a few months ago. After the success shared by Fire Emblem Awakening and the more recent Fire Emblem Fates, it was unexpected that Intelligent Systems would decide to remake a Japan-exclusive Famicom title as their next entry into the series. As a fan of Fire Emblem, I had mixed feelings about the announcement. I was excited at the chance to experience a story in the series I didn’t know much about, but I was also worried that the game might feel archaic even after being updated, leaving me, and more importantly, the newly introduced fans feeling discouraged by this radically different title. Luckily, my time with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia put all of my fears to rest.
Retelling the plot of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia follows dual protagonists Alm and Celica, childhood friends who are separated at a young age. For their own reasons, the two take up arms when the continent of Valentia becomes a battlefield for the nations of Rigel and Zofia. Intelligent Systems does a great job of breathing new life into Valentia. The game’s story is engaging, but offers a different, slightly darker tone than more recent Fire Emblem titles. The revamped story also helped further add to Shadow of Valentia’s characters. A newly added prologue chapter helps to expand on Alm and Celica’s childhood. New characters are also present in this retelling, adding even more to the story. I found it refreshing to have a default main character again after two titles where I had to create my own. Alm and Celica both have their own backstories, motivations and interpersonal relationships, helping them to stand out among other Fire Emblem protagonists. Another thing that added to this feeling of refreshment is the fact that the game is almost 100 per cent voice acted. This really helped with the characters—whether the scene was meant to be serious or comical.
I have no doubt in my mind that Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia uses a modified engine of the series’ last entry, Fire Emblem Fates, but having said that, this game is easily the best looking Fire Emblem game on the Nintendo 3DS. Models look cleaner than before and are well animated. The game features well-done anime cutscenes along with CG cutscenes that fit the game’s new art style. All the characters have been redone, giving them a more distinct appearance than their original counterparts.
While Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia takes a number of liberties with its freshly told story, gameplay is where this remake stays true to its roots. For anyone who’s played a Fire Emblem game, forget almost everything you know. Sword users no longer destroy enemy axe wielders without getting a scratch. Archers are no longer sitting ducks when the enemy closes in on them, nor can they decimate flying units like they used to. Fire Emblem Gaiden released before the weapon triangle—a staple of the series—was created and Shadows of Valentia doesn’t do anything to change to that. While it took some getting used to as a longtime fan, I came to appreciate not having to worry so much about which character I decided to attack with, only having to consider terrain and item bonuses. Rather than having to think about any weapon triangle, the true panic in Shadows of Valentia is between physical attackers and mages. Physical attackers have high attack and defence but generally low resistance to magic damage. This gave me just as much reason to maintain an equally strong squad, switching out when necessary. Magic users now have the added risk of having to manage their health in order to attack, a trade-off for their high power level. These changes to the classes made me actually want to use them rather than sticking to melee units as I typically do. Every class feels equally viable with no major drawbacks. My only complaint is that with the lack of the series newer elements, battles can feel a tad bit straight forward. If I’m not completely outnumbered, I sometimes just charge all my units ahead, trusting that nobody will die in the process.
The most unique feature to Fire Emblem Gaiden was its dungeon crawling gameplay. This returns in Shadows of Valentia, featuring a new style of dungeon crawling that I hope gets featured again in a new title. Shadows of Valentia has you explore dark caverns filled with monsters that you can attack to trigger a random battle, your group against theirs. This is also where Shadow of Valentia’s fatigue system comes into play. The more battles a character is used in without a break increases their fatigue, resulting in penalties such as decreased stats, which makes them more vulnerable. This was a good way to keep players from relying too much on some of their best units. Items such as food can be used to restore fatigue, making them stronger. Treasures, containing new weapons and armour, can be found in treasure chests along with goddess statues, allowing characters at the correct level to change their class and become more powerful. I loved these new mechanics not only for seamlessly integrating RPG mechanics into Fire Emblem without changing the core gameplay but also helping to vary the gameplay beyond going from battle to battle. Dungeons aren’t the only places to explore either. Towns and castles can be visited, shifting the game into a first-person point-and-click adventure game. These elements help you get a better sense of the layout of Valentia beyond what the characters say.
I’m about ten hours into Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and loving every moment of it so far. Intelligent Systems has done an excellent job of bringing a classic title forward into the modern age. I’m excited by the idea of later, more complex titles in the series getting similar treatment, one day bringing all the formerly exclusive Japanese entries to a global audience.