To most gamers, the Fire Emblem series truly took off when Awakening was released for the 3DS in 2013. But the franchise has its roots deeply embedded in the origins of Nintendo, first appearing in Japan on the Famicom in 1990 and following up with a sequel in 1992. Now, 25 years after its initial release, Fire Emblem Gaiden gets a full-scale remake for the 3DS in what could be seen as aswansong for the handheld with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.
The nation of Zofia, dedicated to the Goddess Mila, and the nation of Rigel, following the Dark God Duma, are pitted against one another in conflict. At the heart of this conflict are two childhood friends in Alm and Celica, forced to take up arms against one another and lead their armies into war. Further worsened by Zofia’s General Desaix and Rigel’s King Rudolf, the battle threatens to leave the continent of Valentia in ruin, and to destroy the friendship held so dear to Alm and Celica.
While retaining the same tactical RPG gameplay the series is well-known for, Fire Emblem Echoes is extremely different to the previous instalments on the 3DS – and the biggest reason for this is the fact that it is a remake. While the series has come a long way and introduced many new mechanics, some of which players have taken for granted, Fire Emblem Echoes goes back to basics – weapon durability is gone, single items can only be held, and the noted Weapons Triangle (strengths and weaknesses) is absent too.
Characters are represented by unique character classes which dictate their weapons and actions, which includes Mages having to sacrifice health points to use magic, and so on. Fatigue is also a large part of the game, with characters progressively getting weaker the more they battle – this can be fixed with food items or sacrificing goods to Mila shrines within dungeons. The fine line between healthy characters and fatigued characters losing stats is very thin and can lead to the loss of units in a battle.
When in battle, the gameplay feels a lot like a classic game – there is no nonsense and messing around, gameplay moves quickly and attacks must be calculated otherwise players will face the consequences (especially if playing on Classic Mode which includes permadeath). And while personally I like the new features each instalment has added, its refreshing to see the difference between gameplay styles for older versions and how it makes the game flow. This however may frustrate a lot of players, simply due to it feeling like a step backward rather than forward with the mechanics that has turned the series into what it is today.
Being thrown between Alm’s story and Celica’s story also makes for a change in gameplay – with different character units fighting on different sides, tactically players must think of all advantages in a map before making a move, which can sometimes be tricky.
When not in battle, the game introduces other elements as well – point-and-click style town screens allow players to talk to NPCs, pick up loose items and recruit characters to the party, while dungeon-exploring makes an appearance when traversing the environment – controlling a single character, players explore areas in rendered 3D collecting items and coins, and fighting monsters or sneaking around them.
The other interesting feature in the game is Mila’s Turnwheel – an item both Alm and Celica possess, which allows for a three-turn rollback to correct errors that may have been made on the battlefield. For Classic Mode this is especially useful as losing units means they don’t return at all within the game.
Fire Emblem Echoes’ soundtrack also gets the complete overhaul, and of course, why wouldn’t it? Everything about the game has an old-school feel to it but with a fresh coat of paint, and the music is no different. The same can’t be said for the voice acting though – which personally got a bit grating after a while, however it is nice to see the teams putting in the effort to voice every line rather than every second or third as with previous instalments.
While it won’t be for everyone, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a fun remake that showcases the history of the series with a brand new look. Seasoned fans of the games will find themselves slightly out of it with missing mechanics, but as the game’s difficulty has been toned down since the original, it will appeal to more players. A fitting last instalment for the 3DS, the game is worth a look for those craving tactical RPG battles, or for long-running fans wanting to see the evolution of the series.
The Nintendo 3DS version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.