In 2003, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems took a chance, localizing Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken for the Game Boy Advance as Fire Emblem here in the US due, in part, to the warm reception of 2001’s Advance Wars and the popularity of Fire Emblem characters included in the Super Smash Bros. Melee roster. For many of us, it was the first proper introduction to this fantasy-leaning tactical RPG franchise, and in the years since, what was once considered a niche title in an inaccessible genre has garnered a rabid American fanbase.
This week, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia hits store shelves. Let’s give this latest chapter a look and discuss what you need to know before you buy.
1. Isn’t this a remake?
It is indeed. More specifically, it’s a remake of the 1992 Famicom release Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second entry in the Fire Emblem series.
2. What’s the story?
Valentia, a continent long divided by two sibling gods, sees its fragile peace threatened by sinister forces. The duality of this exotic environment is mirrored in its pair of protagonists, simple villager Alm and enlightened priestess Celica. You’ll command both their growing forces as they follow separate (but intermingling) quests to save Valentia and uncover their own hidden histories.
3. How does it look?
The overall art direction in Fire Emblem Echoes is impeccable. There is a soft, almost watercolor style to the pop-up images—reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy titles or the Bravely Default series. Add to that ample anime cut scenes and stellar voice acting throughout—which helps along the text-heavy plot development—and it makes for one of the most beautifully cohesive Fire Emblem titles yet, and likely one of the best looking 3DS games overall.
You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy its unparalleled production values, too, as you follow along its meaty (though sometimes cliché) storyline, explore new environments to locate helpful items and weapons (a bit like searching for puzzles and Hint Coins in the Professor Layton series), and navigate expansive overworld maps.
4. Lots of cut scenes? Lots of reading? Searching rooms for items?! But what about the action?
Oh, there’s action all right! While Fire Emblem has always been about political intrigue, hidden motivations, and convenient foreshadowing, the real substance of the series takes place on the battlefield.
In Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, gone are series touchstones like breakable weapons and helpful combo attacks from linked units. Similarly, there’s less emphasis placed on the traditional weapons triangle; instead, Echoes focuses more on the interplay of distance attacks versus close-quarters combat and magic versus weapons.
Terrain also plays a part, which reinforces this game’s heavy focus on tactics. You’ll quickly learn not to charge headlong into battle. Instead, you’ll want to carefully plan your attacks, position your heavy-hitters up front, and then bring in your long-distance players (who typically have lower defense values) to safely wipe out any lingering enemies.
All this makes for a game that feels slower and more deliberate than the other recent Fire Emblem releases. Not to mention significantly harder.
5. Wait—how hard are we talking?
Let’s put it this way: there’s actually a new specialty mechanic (Mila’s Turnwheel) that allows you to rewind your previous round of combat to correct any grievous errors. That should tell you something. There’s also a fatigue system that weakens overexerted characters and a dungeon mode used to explore new environments—which you’ll want to do cautiously, I might add.
Similarly, class changes can only be undertaken at shrines, specific points in specific locations. More importantly, Black Magic and specialty attacks also expend a portion of the attackers limited HP. Again, this makes for gameplay that’s still fun but definitely more demanding.
6. Does this one actually use the system’s 3D feature?
This was the same thing I wondered when Shadows of Valentia was conspicuously absent from the recent New Nintendo 2DS XL press event. In short, yes, 3D visuals are available throughout the game, which gives a nice depth to the battlefields and to the new dungeon exploration mechanic. The big exception is those aforementioned anime cut scenes. Those things are 2D-only.
7. What about amiibo support?
Shadows of Valentia actually boasts a pair of brand new amiibo: Alm and Celica. They can be used to summon phantom troops to bolster your army short-term (again, for a portion of that character’s health), unlock special dungeons, and even backup your current army strength.
8. Any objectionable content?
The ESRB rated this title T for use of alcohol, fantasy violence, mild blood and language, and suggestive themes. As you can imagine in a game literally about warring factions, the violence, both on-screen and implied, is pretty prevalent. There’s also the occasional swear word, dash of innuendo, or similar bawdy comment.
9. What’s the deal with the DLC?
There’s… a lot of it. The biggest expenditure, obviously, is the Season Pass, which’ll set you back an additional $45 but will also save you “more than 30 percent compared to purchasing all 22 pieces of content individually.” Do you need 22 pieces of additional content? Are the individual, $8 DLC packs better for more casual fans? Only time—and your own sense of fiscal responsibility—will tell.
What I can say, however, is that the game’s initial $40 investment ($32 for Amazon Prime members) will net you more than enough high-seas hijinks, dangerous dungeon crawling, and bountiful battlefields.
Once you’re done with that? Then you can worry about whether or not the DLC is worth your time and the additional coin.
10. Bottom line: should I buy it?
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a strategy game for strategy gamers. It’s not fast-paced, it doesn’t hold your hand, and it’s not overly concerned with saving you time or effort. It’s a big game with a big story and even bigger expectations.
Does this mean I’m warning you against purchasing it? Not in the slightest!
If you love Fire Emblem, and I mean really love what Fire Emblem is at its core—punishing battles, soap opera-style melodrama, and all—then Shadows of Valentia is exactly the game you’ve been waiting for.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America