Fire Emblem classic comes West for the first time
As much as I enjoy the deeper gameplay in modern tactical RPGs, there’s something to be said about old-school simplicity. Most classics of the genre feature straight-forward battle mechanics focused primarily on unit positioning, terrain, and stat advantage. Don’t confuse their more streamlined approach with a lesser challenge though — the classics are often just as strategic.
Such is the case with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a full remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden. This formerly Japan-only Famicom title is the second entry in the long-running Fire Emblem series, developed by Kyoto-based Intelligent Systems.
With Gaiden being an early game in this time-honoured franchise, Nintendo was experimenting with features to see which resonated most. As such, gameplay elements that would later define the series, like Fates and Awakening‘s weapon triangle, were not yet developed. Instead, Fire Emblem Echoes offers a unique blend of modern and legacy Fire Emblem gameplay unlike any game before it. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and it’s sure to delight and surprise you all at the same time. Let’s take a look.
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS and 2DS
Two coming-of-age stories
Fire Emblem Echoes starts off amidst a childhood love story between two star-crossed Valentians, Alm and Celica. Both youths grew up in the tranquil village of Ram, dreaming of one day adventuring beyond their borders. To cement their bond, the inseparable pair made a pact to always remain together no matter what the future holds.
Soon, however, we discover the continent of Valentia is undergoing radical shifts, a consequence of its prolonged struggle with duality. You see, centuries ago two gods fought for control of the land, a battle which ended in a fragile armistice. Duma created the militaristic Northern kingdom of Rigel, while the god Mila designed the bountiful paradise Zofia to the South.
Back in Ram, a sequence of calamitous events results in Alm and Celica being separated and raised in separate lands. We then fast-forward a decade and learn each has decided to embark on a quest to bring order to Valentia. Alm sets out to quash a coup at the Zofian capital, while Celica seeks the guidance of the goddess Mila.
Two stories, one epic campaign
Fire Emblem Echoes immediately sets itself apart with its focus on two heroes who command completely separate armies. You’ll alternate control of each group between chapters as you progress your way through this epic, intertwining campaign. Echoes also differentiates itself with its explorable villages and 3D dungeons where you take direct control of Alm or Celica.
If you’ve ever played the Professor Layton puzzle series, visiting town in Fire Emblem Echoes functions quite the same. There are villagers to speak with, different areas to see, and the point-and-click environments are filled with objects to pick-up. These include restorative items used on the battlefield, like wine and bread, as well as swords, shields, and other equipment. You’ll also meet potential new recruits for your armies, making town stop-offs a very rewarding part of the game experience.
As mentioned, Fire Emblem Echoes also contains 3D dungeons to explore, a first-ever for the franchise. Much like the Shin Megami Tensei series, you control your character directly and can strike enemies with your sword. Landing a blow will pre-emptively damage your enemies, while getting surprised results in enemy reinforcements being called in. Like the main campaign, all dungeon encounters initiate a traditional Fire Emblem tile-based battle.
Modes for all skill levels
No matter how experienced you are with Fire Emblem or tactical RPGs, Echoes has a mode for you. When starting out you can choose Normal or Hard difficulty, depending on how much of a challenge you want. Next, you’ll also be able to select Casual or Classic, the former allowing fallen allies to revive after missions, while the latter features the series’ traditional perma-death. Purist will likely prefer Classic, but for those who enjoy experimenting or more relaxed experiences, Casual is a nice addition.
Undo mistakes with the Mila Turnwheel
No matter your chosen difficulty settings, the goddess Mila also provides a handy tool to sway battles in your favour. Using her turnwheel you can turn back time to undo poor combat outcomes, reposition your troops, or save fallen allies. Again, traditionalists may ignore this feature, but it’s a nice-to-have if your battle takes a sudden turn for the worse.
As touched upon earlier, Fire Emblem Echoes offers different gameplay than modern fans are likely accustomed to. The biggest change is the total absence of the rock-paper-scissors weapon triangle. That means no weapon has an inherent +/- stat advantage over another, and Attack/Defense stats dictate most combat situations. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a tactical advantage though, but in this game it’s mostly from terrain. Placing a unit on a forested tile, for example, will give them a significant evasive edge in combat.
Reworked classes and mechanics
You’ll also find many differences in character classes that can alter strategies. For instance, archers have larger attack range (three squares away), and can fight back when attacked at close range. As well, spells and many special attacks drain your character’s HP, so they require extra thought before using.
Familiar game mechanics like pairing units for attack and defense assists are also not available. Furthermore, I’m sure much to the disappointment of some fans there’s no marriage system in place. However, you can still build relationship bonds between allies if they fight close together often enough during battles. This will initiate short dialogue scenes between the two, with their relationship rating improving afterwards. Then, these units will provide buffs to each other when fighting near one another.
All combined, these gameplay modifications and tweaks result in a fresh, yet still familiar Fire Emblem battle experience.
Visually, Fire Emblem Echoes looks beautiful; Nintendo did a phenomenal job updating the presentation. The graphics are all-new, built from the ground up specifically for this updated 3DS reimagining of Gaiden. This includes the gorgeous cutscenes, overhead world map, 3D dungeons, detailed battlefields, and the stylish combat animations. The vast majority of dialogue is spoken, too, including conversations you wouldn’t expect like small talk with everyday villagers. Echoes soundtrack is also inspired, with some captivating music that matches the high-fantasy tone.
Fire Emblem Echoes is also compatible with a wide range of amiibo, including the brand new Alm and Celica figures. When used, these amiibo can summon a computer-controller illusory hero, which acts like a temporary ally for one turn. These amiibo will also grant you access to exclusive dungeons where you can earn items and level up your armies.
In addition, all Fire Emblem amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. series can be used to create illusory versions of that character. This includes popular characters like Marth, Ike, Roy, Robin, Lucina, and the upcoming Corrin amiibo. All other amiibo will summon a friendly monster to aid you in battle — pretty cool!
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a unique and wonderful entry in this popular RPG series. Prepare to be delighted and surprised by this masterful retro title, refreshed and modernized for a new generation. Everything has been spruced up, from the lavish presentation, to the improve gameplay, to the inclusion of never-before-seen 3D dungeons. Controlling two protagonists on separate paths also feels novel and fresh for the series. Veteran fans are sure to appreciate Echoes place in the legendary Fire Emblem timeline, while newcomers will enjoy the fun, approachable gameplay.
+ Beautiful all-new graphics
+ Top-notch voice acting
+ Fun and accessible gameplay
+ Heart-warming story
+ A worthy challenge
– Lacks some game mechanics of later entries
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5