Fire Emblem Gaiden on the Famicom was considered the black sheep of the Fire Emblem series. With changes to the fundamental gameplay and dungeon crawling elements, this title quickly stood out amongst its peers. That game was finally remade on the Nintendo 3DS, and reborn as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.
Echoes, as I had previewed several days ago, was at first a positively mixed experience. Some of the elements that I had been mulling over ended up coming together quite nicely. The oddity that was dungeon exploring ended up proving quite valuable as the opportunity presented itself to train my characters and discover extra loot. While I had been curious about the loss of the weapon triangle system, the new system of damage calculation replacing it ended up feeling quite a bit nicer and more realistic.
The game follows the storylines of two protagonists, Alm and Celica, raised in a small forest village under the circumstances of a mysterious past. Their country is ruled by two gods, Mila and Duma, and split under the two territories Zofia and Rigel, respectively. While Alm is interested in the conquest of Zofia, Celica seeks to find Mila, who has gone missing. Their differing ideologies end up with them going their separate ways. The characterizations of Alm and Celica, in addition to the vast supporting cast, is excellent. The writing is much stronger and bears the elements of maturity that arose from the older Fire Emblem titles; for the first time, I found myself actively engaged in the story. Even more noteworthy is the full voice acting and 3D support. Echoes pushes the boundaries of the 3DS and presented the most exciting narrative in the series to date.
Players will be able to control both Alm and Celica. The gameplay is divided into several different acts, following each character’s point of view as they push towards their respective destinies. Their movements take place on the world map of Valentia, with various locations and skirmishes. The events of one character can impact the events of the other. I found the Alm storyline easier compared to Celica, although I enjoyed the Celica portion more due to her versatility with physical attacks and magic capabilities.
Battles take place on enormous fields. If there was a complaint that I had about this game, it would be this one. The fields are enormous, and while they lend themselves that realistic feeling of charging across, I felt it to be excessive and empty rather than fulfilling. Combat removes the rock-paper-scissors mechanic in favor of an attack and defense calculation. Spells now cost health to cast, but can do significant damage. This adds an additional layer of combat strategy in preserving units and resources. Combined with the new fatigue element, which punishes units with status loss, battles can easily sway from the upper hand to the uphill fight.
The strength of Fire Emblem Echoes is within the exploration. There are times it feels like a traditional Japanese RPG, and other times when it felt like Phoenix Wright. I was mixed about the exploration at first, but came to find it incredibly valuable in the long run as it provided a great opportunity to raise my armies. Dungeons are mapped out on the bottom screen, and enemies can be encountered, which switches the game from exploration to the standard turn-based combat on a smaller map size. In the villages and towns on the world map, players can examine various elements and claim health-restoring items, weapons, and units.
Exclusive to Echoes are the use of amiibo and a new feature called Mila’s Turnwheel. The two amiibo are of Alm and Celica, which allow the player to save character data of Alm and Celica and use them in combat as, essentially, ghost data. They also provide access to a dungeon that provides even more loot. This can all be accessed through the new item, Mila’s Turnwheel, which not only shows new cutscenes and memories explaining certain character motivations, but also can be used to rewind a turn in battle should the player have the necessary resource.
Fire Emblem Echoes has a slow startup. The battles are no more complex in the early stages than two fighters bashing swords at each other. Unit leveling is slow, and stat gains (aside from lords) can be pitiful at times, to the point where it wasn’t even bad luck but actually a part of the system. Once the midpoint of the game is reached, the game gets much better as there are various weapons and equipment that you can use. Each unit is allowed one item slot, which can be used for that special upgradeable weapon or to hold food. In Fire Emblem Echoes, if the unit opts to hold a food item, the weapon is slotted as a rusty weapon. The lords of this title are walking supply camps, so units are encouraged to use provisions through them if in a tight bind. Weapons have the potential to be upgraded, and can be done so at town smiths that take the game’s gold and silver marks as currency.
While I initially had my reservations about Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia in the early stage, the title exceeded all of my previous hesitations and has since managed to become my favorite Fire Emblem title to date. The well-written plot, the brilliant characterization and voice acting, and the unique blend of modern and legacy Fire Emblem gameplay combined with its own strategy elements, makes this a wonderful standout that still manages to stand the test of time, reborn to a new audience. This was my first experience and exposure with Fire Emblem Gaiden, and it brings a lot of hope for Nintendo and Intelligent Systems to bring the games to the Switch and show just how good the games can be.