Fire Emblem: Echoes – Shadows of Valentia Review
When I started this game, I seriously was expecting my review to be a lengthy “Yup, it’s a Fire Emblem game alright”. So I was really, really surprised that the game, from the very beginning, threw me into a surprisingly fresh take on the Fire Emblem formula since its 3DS reawakening. A refresh that somehow came from a remake of the Famicom classic, Fire Emblem Gaiden.
That said, this game isn’t really about cashing on nostalgia- Gaiden was only released in Japan, so the vast majority of the people playing this would have nothing to remember. Instead, Shadows of Valentia is an opportunity for those outside of Japan to play a part of Fire Emblem history, without that brutal, 8-bit difficulty. So with all that said, this review will mostly be from the perspective of someone playing “Gaiden” with fresh eyes.
First off is the story and setting. The most recent Fire Emblem games have had a bad habit of focusing so hard on the characters, that the overall goal and motivation is a little lost. Echoes takes a unique approach, stripping the game of a lot of the character interaction in lieu of more gameplay. The first few chapters of the game have you taking control of either Alm or Celica, moving through the world of Valentia with their own noble causes in mind. Each has their own band of allies with them, and their own perspective on the events happening.
It’s hard to really get into it without being vague because each chapter starts and finishes in entirely different places. But that does lead into my next topic of discussion- gameplay.
And gameplay is really where this instalment shines. You have the classic Fire Emblem, RPG chessboard play, but a heck of a lot more of it! Each chapter has your party going down a path, not unlike the overall world maps in previous Fire Emblem games. But for the most part, each ‘step’ on this map is a new battle, or even a new dungeon to explore. The more frequent and less-at-stake battles are a fantastic way to appreciate the classic Fire Emblem gameplay, without each battle taking a huge amount of time to see through.
These classic skirmishes also come into play in the dungeons. Yeah, dungeons! Some areas can be explored like a third person view dungeon crawler, and when you encounter enemies, it’ll take you to a smaller battle in the classic grid-based format. And yes, you can go around smashing barrels and crates like a maniac, though getting items from them is fairly rare.
A smaller addition to all of this is a point-and-click style interaction with certain areas, letting you find helpful items or just look around. You can even speak with characters in these areas, either just for exposition or sometimes even recruit them. The style of this, along with the third person camera in dungeons, gives me a really big Shin Megami Tensei feel, just with Fire Emblem combat instead.
So each chapter has a few of these battles, about 8-10 from what I’ve played, so each chapter really feels like a development in both the characters and their trials, as well as the overall plot. That said, some of the dialogue scenes feel like they go on a bit too long. I suppose this is the tradeoff to rely on these scenes for certain character interactions, instead of more in-game mechanic driven interactions.
So that’s all the very new stuff in Fire Emblem Echoes, but you might be wondering what they’ve done to the actual grid based combat. Not a huge deal, but a few quality of life things worth noting. The first is the ability to retreat, which does come in handy during some particularly challenging fights. You leave the area temporarily, but you can return to the battlefield all healed up, but any enemies that were left when you retreated will remain. Though defeated enemies didn’t seem to respawn when I came back, so I was still able to finish the fight without many dramas.
Another noteworthy change is the Mila’s Turnwheel, which allows you to rewind up to a certain amount of turns. This has helped me a few times, mostly when I mess up and select the wrong option, or forget to heal when I should. I’m sure it would be much, much more useful when playing with permadeath on.
I really, really like Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. Shifting the focus from character interactions to more gameplay mechanics was a huge deal for me, along with a story that feels like it’s developing with you, rather than happening in the background. Definitely pick it up if you’re a Fire Emblem fan, either new or old!
Engaging story and setting
"New" gameplay elements feel fresh
Stronger focus on gameplay over character interactions
A touch too much dialogue at times