Available On: Nintendo 3DS
The Fire Emblem series has exploded in the last few years. The tactical role-playing series has been around since the 90s, but only in the U.S. since 2003. With Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia we’re already getting our third Fire Emblem game for the Nintendo 3DS – but it’s actually a remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden.
Playing the remake of the second game in the storied franchise with updated sprites, 3D dungeon crawls, polished voice acting, and anime cutscenes is an incredible treat for any Fire Emblem fan.
A Tale of Two Heroes
Like every other game in the series, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia takes place in a war-torn high fantasy world with knights and mages battling zombies and evil empires.
The story stars two fated protagonists. Alm is your typical good-hearted village boy. He’s a bit naive but never lacking for bravery. Celica is kind and resolute, with a mysterious past and a determined spirit.
The action follows both of their adventures as they intertwine and diverge. After the first two acts you can freely switch between the two armies on the overland world map, shunting them between tactical encounters and villages.
Each hero leads their own distinct army of colorful characters to equip and level up. The full voice acting in particular is some of the best I’ve heard from any recent JRPG.
The story isn’t terribly interesting and full of the usual JRPG clichés – but it was also designed in 1992. Thankfully the classic Fire Emblem tactical combat and fun new features like dungeon crawling make up for it.
Fire Emblem Remake
All the visuals and sound have been given a fresh update from the Famicom original. The graphics and UI don’t look quite as polished or nice as the last two 3DS Fire Emblem titles, however. Being a remake of an older title shouldn’t excuse the step down in quality compared to Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fates.
What makes Fire Emblem Echoes special are the radically new and different features compared to past (future?) Fire Emblem titles. Dungeons are available on the world map that you can enter with a team of 10 characters. The action switches to a 3D, behind the shoulder view like an action game. You’ll explore corridors, open treasure chests, and find wandering enemies. When you hit a foe the view switches back to the familiar tactical combat screen. It’s a fascinating way to integrate third person action dungeon crawling into Fire Emblem.
Exploring villages is another interesting new feature. Villages are presented as a series of first-person screens in which you can talk with villagers and party members as well as play mini versions of Hidden Object as you search for loot and food. The fantastic character and background art and voice acting helps make these quieter moments enjoyable.
Oddly Fire Emblem Echoes doesn’t have one of the core features of every Fire Emblem game I’ve ever played: the weapon triangle. Equipment works much differently, with each character only able to equip a single item – whether it be a weapon or a healing item. Characters can unlock Arts, which are special moves from using weapons. The lack of the weapon triangle made combat felt far too simplistic than I would have liked.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia has been rated T for Teen. It includes Fantasy Violence, Alcohol References, Mild Blood and Language, and Suggestive Themes. It’s a story about heroes and war, but the tone stays firmly Young Adult. Battles shift to close-ups of characters attacking each other, but there’s no blood or gore (the Mild Blood is due to some cutscenes).
As a remake Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia feels very different from recent Fire Emblem games. Individual features (or lack thereof) result in interesting new gameplay mechanics. Dungeons and dual protagonists are great additions, while limited rosters and simpler combat not so much.
Overall the sum of its parts makes Fire Emblem Echoes a worthy title to play for fans of the series and the genre. But newcomers should probably seek out Fire Emblem: Awakening first.