Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia launched on 3DS here in America back on May 19th. The latest entry into the Fire Emblem Series is actually a full remake / re-imagining (whatever you prefer to call it) of Fire Emblem Gaiden. Gaiden was released back in 1992 on the Famicom (Japanese NES) and the game was only available in Japan until 2009 when the game was released on the Wii Virtual console albeit still only in Japan.
The Fire Emblem series has become somewhat of an annualized franchise in recent history. Specifically in the 3DS era, Fire Emblem Echoes marks the 3rd release for the series joining Awakening and Fates on Nintendo’s portable handheld. That also doesn’t include spin-offs like Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE on Wii U or Nintendo’s third mobile/smartphone game Fire Emblem Heroes. Nintendo has without a doubt positioned Fire Emblem as a pillar of its first party lineup for its fans. A surprising turn-around considering the series was almost cancelled due to low performance before the Fire Emblem Awakening was released in 2013. All of which made pulling a remake from the Fire Emblem legacy a great surprise when it was announced in Nintendo’s January Direct.
Visually, Echoes looks just like the other Fire Emblem games (Awakening & Fates) that are on 3DS. That is to say that the cut scenes feature beautifully animated artwork and the same sprite design players have grown accustomed to over the years. One visible difference with Echoes are that character designs are just a bit more toned-down and realistic than those found in Awakening or Fates. It’s a slight difference, but many of the characters in Echoes are equipped with more simplistic clothes or armor, which I did make the journey feel a little more grounded than the more fantasy themed attire the series has delivered on before.
There’s really only one topic to bring up when discussing the presentation of Echoes and that’s voice acting! While I apologize for burying the lead, I sense that many gamers believe presentation to be synonymous with graphics when discussing video games so I thought we’d get that out of the way first. However, back to voice acting. Fire Emblem Echoes HAS VOICE ACTING!!! WHAT?!! I’m here to inform you that it does make a world of difference to be able to sit back and listen to the dialog with different inflection and timing. It is certainly something that distinguishes Echoes from any other Fire Emblem game and an obvious improvement over scrolling through paragraphs of dialog.
As for the story, the previously mentioned cutscenes are again as beautiful and well paced as you could hope for and the plot has depth above any good vs. evil trope. From the very beginning, relationships feel personal and important, as you set out on your journey with childhood friends. Alm and Celica’s story of being separated and reunited while this overarching drama of two warring countries clashing against each other garners your attention from the game’s beginning prologue. As you play through, you’ll gain control of both Alm and Celica for different portions of the game. These seperate and intertwining paths allows each character to display their motivations as well as their different opinions on what should or shouldn’t be happening on both sides of the conflict. These moments trickle out but ultimately lays the groundwork for several conflicts and a very rewarding payoff. The story was more realistic than others I’ve played. Characters were mature, had different beliefs and that aided to how the story unfolded. A far cry from boy meets girl and they rescue the world together some might be expecting from trailers and marketing. It’s actually a deep and personal story, all enriched by the addition of voice over which cannot be understated.
Gameplay – No more Rock-Paper-Scissors!
The biggest change to how Echoes plays is the omission of the weapons triangle. If you’re unaware, Fire Emblem commonly uses a weapons triangle that provides characters a weakness or advantage on the battlefield. Instead of the Sword > Axe > Lance > Sword approach to combat, Fire Emblem Echoes adopts a much simpler approach with damage being delt based on attack and defense (for physical attacks) or attack and resistance (for magic attacks).
Also missing from the standard Fire Emblem formula:
The Combat Support System – The Support System was the ability to effectively use the buddy system during combat and place two units on a single tile. Doing this action effectively made the pairing act as one unit with increased stats.
Relationship System – The relationship system that allowed for marriage & children amongst characters by the player’s decision was no doubt a big hit with the Fire Emblem die-hards. This meta game allowed players to effectively breed a super soldier as well as investigate more dialog and investment with your favorite characters.
The removal of such a features have been attributed to the mechanics not having not been available in the original Fire Emblem Gaiden, but several other features (dungeons, branching paths, dlc, etc) found in the Echoes reimagining were not in Gaiden so that doesn’t seem like impenetrable excuse. Personally, I found the exclusions to be a net-positive even though I understand I’m not in the majority of Fire Emblem die-hards. For me, I have come to find the metagame featuring these relationship systems tedious and hard to understand. I might even add the triangle battle system to that “hard to keep track of” train of thought as Intelligent Systems has continued to add to the original triangle with the additions of hidden weapons, tomes, bows, and magic and characters with flying abilities.
Even with these exclusions, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia plays like you expect it to. During your journey of over 50 story missions / battle map scenarios, you’ll move your assigned team members around a grid based battlefield hoping to gain victory. Carefully using the terrain to your advantage by taking strongholds or using trees for cover is a necessary tactic as much as understanding how fast and far the enemy can move. Just like any other Fire Emblem… well with an exception.
While some could be upset with the exclusions, the new additions of dungeons (and to a lesser extent towns) to the Fire Emblem formula is the most significant gameplay alteration to a Fire Emblem in years. Dungeons in particular are profoundly different. Dungeons are these 3D spaces where you gain fully realized control of your 3D character. This third-person hack and slash mode can be directly compared to a Persona dungeon where you travel through the dungeon exploring hidden areas and choosing when to engage in battle with the enemies that roam the caverns and hallways. There’s a dungeon along the path in each act, and you’d be wise to explore each of them as you’ll gain both inventory and stronger weapons not to mention team members for completing them. I postulate that the inclusion of these dungeons can be directly attributed to Fire Emblem Warriors that is currently already in development for Nintendo 3DS. My guess is soely made on the character model’s 3-button attack and running animations as they’re almost one-to-one with how characters from Hyrule Warriors looked when they moved. Regardless, these little environments change up the gameplay enough to that I never felt like I was getting bored going from map to map to map again and again. During my 30+ hours with the main story, I actively looked forward exploring each dungeon and what might be hidden somewhere inside. There’s also some interactive investigation areas inside of dungeons where you control a cursor that hovers over items, keys, and people to learn details to solve puzzle or gather important items. The aforementioned towns, are just these TellTale-like investigative areas and don’t feature any of the 3D free roaming or battle options. Ultimately these areas are short so they’re not unwelcomed, but outside of some voice-over dialog they’re really not that important.
The game also comes packed with amiibo support. Alm & Celica unlock exclusive dungeons as a reward for your plastic patronage. During battle, you have the option of summoning very strong amiibo characters for the cost of 10HP. Sadly, the amiibo characters only last one turn, which can help you get out of a pinch but likely isn’t worth the 10HP cost of bringing them into play.
I would opine Fire Emblem Echoes as the accessible Fire Emblem option for anyone looking to purchase the game, especially any newcomers to the series. Everything from the menu’s, battle map options, combat mechanics, inventory, and stat management have been streamlined for understanding. I played on normal difficulty and casual mode (units respawn after dying) and I definitely noticed that I spent way more time actually playing the game than reading menues and tutorials as I did early on with other Fire Emblem games.
With over 50 maps to rout & several dungeons to explore there’s pleny of game for anyone jumping into Echoes at the price of $40. The value proposition is in line what you would expect to get from any other Fire Emblem game and that is to say there’s a ton of game to be had and even more if you try to go through the game on multiple difficulty levels.
One would be remiss if they didn’t mention that Fire Emblem Echoes also has a $45 dollar DLC option. I have not purchased any of the DLC content so I cannot provide any critical opinion, but the newest expansion DLC for Echoes “Rise of the Deliverance” has recieved some positive buzz around the internet. The pack features four fully voiced battle maps that expand on the story with each having dedicated cut-scenes all for the price of $12.99.
I could have used more story along my 30 hours with the game and I’m sure some out there will undoubtedly hate that the relationship systems have been removed, but Fire Emblem Echoes might just be my favorite of the 3DS entries. I have similar thoughts about Echoes as I did with Pokemon Sun last year. Both games really make the gameplay easier to digest, faster to pick up and play, and less confusing. Echoes strips away the convoluted stat tracking, combat rules, and class system and just let’s you get back to playing a tactical RPG.