What a comeback Fire Emblem has had in the past several years. Back when Fire Emblem Awakening released, the series had underperformed to the extent that Awakening was to be the last game for the series. Defying all expectations critically and commercially, the series was revitalized on the Nintendo 3DS with the release of Fire Emblem Fates, and most recently, the mobile title Fire Emblem Heroes. The three titles shared one major feature in common: they were able to diversify the audience by giving the series an anime type feel that reached out to the more casual crowd.
Speaking from my own personal experiences, I got into these titles with the launch of Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade on the Gameboy Advance, followed by Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, and then Blazing Blade’s sequel, The Binding Blade. I later got into Path of Radiance and then spent much of my time in the Nintendo DS and 3DS versions that followed, but never quite got back to the series roots when games like Thracia 776 existed. It was therefore a nice surprise to find that Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was a nice callback to the legacy of Fire Emblem, while adding in some of the modern elements of the 3DS games.
The first thing that comes to mind with the series is permanent death. Grueling restarts after difficult campaigns, breaking weapons, the turn-based combat, it all came back in Echoes. The combat remains the same, although it feels simpler. The weapon triangle is gone, interestingly enough. As a title that never made its way to the West, this title does much to separate itself as the black sheep of the series. There are so many things different that it feels like an entirely different series, with many elements reminiscent of other franchises.
The full review arrives May 16. As such, I’ll only be previewing and glossing over a lot of the minute details. The good news is, the game maintains a great story and goes back to the more serious story lines that the series has been known for. If I had any problems with Awakening or Fates, it was the anime-esque, watered down story line. While they weren’t bad by any means, they certainly could have had improvements and been less generic. The story line, right out the gate, has much harsher dialogue and deals with a lot of social hierarchies. The characters are much more intense, and their intensity is shown in the character portraits, which are much more toned down and darker in color. More than anything, they feel relatable and not overdone. I personally like Alm’s characterization quite a bit. Keep in mind, I did not play Fire Emblem Gaiden, which Echoes is remade off of, so this is a fresh experience for me!
The gameplay has me a little bit mixed. I think that Intelligent Systems tried too hard to put in features that it never quite found out what it wanted to be. Is it a dungeon crawler? Is it a turn-based strategy game? Or is this a visual novel type game where you’re inspecting every element to make sure you can advance the plot forward? Are we going full Phoenix Wright? All of these facets make Echoes into its own individualized adventure separate from the series, but it is still Fire Emblem at the end of the day. Several hours into the plot, I find that while I’m riveted by the story and the way the game feeds the player information about Alm’s mysterious past, I’m finding that the dungeon elements have not quite grown onto me yet. I’m hoping this changes as this weekend rolls on, and as the embargo date gets nearer.
I’m enjoying my Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia experience thus far. It’s not my top Fire Emblem pick at the moment, but it is still quite solid. It’s different enough to intrigue me, and similar enough where I can feel right at home. Stay tuned for the full review on May 16.