A while back I reviewed Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS and while it was the first major experience I had for the series, I considered it one of the best 3DS games I had ever played and judging by a lot of people’s experience with it, I wasn’t alone in that train of thought. While I haven’t had the chance to play Fire Emblem Fates I did get the opportunity to check out Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia on the 3DS. With this game being a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden on the Nintendo Famicom which was never officially released in the US, and with as popular as the Fire Emblem series has become in the US over the years, let’s see if Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia lives up to the expectations the series has set in previous titles.
The game begins with a prologue that introduces you to the two major protagonists: Alm and Celica. They and their friends are attacked by a man named Slayde who’s seemingly looking for Celica for some reason. Right before the group is attacked by Slade, Alm’s grandfather Sir Mycen steps in and drives Slayde and his men back. This is done via a tutorial battle where you learn the basics of how to play. Following the battle Sir Mycen states that Celica must leave the village for her safety, but also says that Celica and Alm will reunite someday. A few years pass and we’re told about a war taking place throughout the continent of Valentia between the Zofian and Rigelian armies. Throughout the game you’ll take control of both Alm and Celica as their parts of the story play out, playing one chapter as Alm and the next as Celica, and so on.
Gameplay in Fire Emblem Echoes is fairly similar to previous games in the series. You’ll move about on a world map from location to location, each location containing a battle, dungeon, or a locale relevant to the story such as a castle or outpost. Battles work the same way as in prior games in that they’re tactical-based combats. Each side will get a turn to move their units into position, attack, use items and artes, or just wait to see what the enemy will do. When attacking you can see how the battle will play out before you attack as when you select an enemy but before confirming your selection, you’ll see the enemy’s stats and how much damage they’ll do to you and how much you’ll do to them barring any critical attacks or evasions. Somewhat more important than the basic attack and defense stats is the speed stat. If one unit’s speed is higher than their opponent, the unit with the higher speed will attack twice (the stats you see before the battle will reflect this). Your units can also become fatigued after a while which will cause them to drop HP and not perform at their best until they’re cured of the fatigue, normally by eating something.
Something new to the series with Fire Emblem Echoes is the ability to explore dungeons in a third person perspective. You can basically control the current lead character (either Alm or Celica depending on which chapter you’re on) around the dungeon, interacting with objects and collecting loot either found on the ground or in a treasure chest. Enemies can also be encountered in the dungeons and when you come into contact with them, a typical tactical battle will begin. However, similar to other RPGs you can attack the enemy to gain an advantage at the start of the battle, but if the enemy attacks you first you’ll be put at a slight disadvantage.
Two other important items found inside of some dungeons are springs and Mila shrines. The shrines allow you to cure fatigue for the entire party and will also allow you to change or upgrade your class once you reach a certain level in your current class. Upgrading your class will also upgrade a few stats depending on which class you choose. Sometimes you don’t get a choice as to what class to upgrade to, but early on you’ll have a couple of characters where you can choose from several classes such as cleric, mage, soldier, and so on. The springs are a way to give characters some permanent stat increases. The springs can be used about two or three times before they run dry and can give stats such as HP, speed, or even an entire level increase.
All characters will have some sort of basic attack, be it a weapon or magic, and each character can also carry one item on them into battle with the rest being stored in your inventory. If the item is a weapon or shield you can use it in battle to increase your attack power or even unlock certain abilities for the character using it. For instance, Alm can use a Lightning Sword that will not only give him a slight increase in attack power, but also add a lightning element to his attacks. After using it long enough Alm will gain the ability to summon lightning from the sword to attack enemies a couple of squares away. For magic users, their spells can normally attack from a couple of squares away, but pay attention to their cost as a lot of spells require HP. Yes, you read that correctly. Some of the spells used in this game require you to sacrifice some of your health to use, so make sure that you keep them safe and have a healer nearby if they don’t have any self-healing spells themselves.
One thing that always worries me with tactical RPGs is the overall difficulty and if any grinding is necessary to proceed. When I played Fire Emblem Awakening I was glad that you could go back to prior areas to level up your units and the same applies here. When you clear a dungeon you can go back through at any point to fight the enemies inside and gain some experience. There is a minor quirk with how experience works though. Each successful action a unit takes will earn a bit of experience and landing the final blow on an enemy will yield more experience. After the battle is over every surviving unit will gain some bonus experience, but the bonus experience will never take a unit past ninety-nine experience. A character must take an action in battle to level up. In a way I don’t mind that too much, but it also means that during fights with few enemy units you might have to purposely avoid some enemies to let particular units take them out to gain some necessary experience to level up.
However, there is one point that really got on my nerves early on when you fight your first Cantor, a unit that can utilize white and dark magic as well as summon Terrors to fight for him. The goal of the battle is to just defeat the Cantor, but his attacks are pretty strong meaning you can’t get in too close. He also likes to evade a lot of your attacks, he stays in a square that gives him five health back every round, plus he has an item that gives him back another five health each round. All of that makes for a very frustrating battle that took me pretty close to fifteen minutes to clear all because the Cantor kept evading all of my attacks.
Along with exploring the dungeons in third person, a couple of things are no longer present, such as joining two units together for dual-attacks or a guard stance (you can choose to “wait”, but it’s as if you just didn’t do anything with that unit), so battles seem to be a bit simplified from previous games. Honestly, I have no issues with that as there’s still some strategy involved with the aforementioned fatigue system and spell casters needing to sacrifice HP in order to use certain spells. While the weapon triangle was present in the prologue battle, I didn’t see it in future battles unless I’m just missing it, so you don’t have to worry about strategically attacking your opponent depending on which kind of weapon you’re wielding. You’ll still get the occasional moment where two units can have a conversation on the battle field as in past games, and I’m very happy that a lot, if not most of the conversations are fully voiced and the voice acting is pretty good here. It sounds like the characters are actually having a real conversation and not just going through the motions with their lines, though quite a few of the conversations amount to “why are we conversing on the battlefield” and other things that make you wonder, outside of a temporary stat increase, what the point was.
As with a lot of recent games for Nintendo systems, Fire Emblem Echoes does utilize amiibos. The new Alm and Celica amiibos, which will be released as a set, will let you tap them to unlock a new dungeon, or tap them during battle to summon an allied illusory doppelganger of that character. Tapping a Fire Emblem amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. series during a battle will also let you summon an allied illusory hero to aid you. Finally, tapping any other compatible amiibo will let you summon allied monsters during a battle. You can also save data to the Alm and Celica amiibos. Sadly I do not own any other Fire Emblem amiibos other than the Alm and Celica amiibos that I received along with the game for the review, so I can’t see the effects of using them in battle.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia did a few things differently from previous games in the series but I honestly still enjoyed it. It’s funny for me to think that several years ago I couldn’t get into the series when I tried playing Sacred Stones, but after reviewing Fire Emblem Awakening I’ve been really enjoying the series (again, sadly I skipped Fates) and might give Sacred Stones another try. I stated before that Fire Emblem Awakening was one of the best 3DS games I had played to that point and the same goes for Fire Emblem Echoes. While there are a few things to nitpick here and there (namely that first Cantor battle), Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is still a very enjoyable game and a good one for someone new to the series to get into. It’ll be interesting to see if future games/remakes go with some of the mechanics used in this game, but if it’s as good as the recent outings in the series, I’ll be looking forward to it.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.