Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a full remake of the SNES game, Fire Emblem Gaiden (a Japanese word here meaning “side story”). The game was never localised for the Western market until now, and Intelligent Systems has done a complete overhaul of the game to bring us what was once considered the “black sheep of the Fire Emblem family”. Nintendo has been riding high on Fire Emblem games recently, and they are much beloved by fans, but can a remake of an older game be anything as good as the newer stuff coming out, like, say, Fire Emblem Fates (which we reviewed here)? Read on to find out!
Fire Emblem Echoes is the tale of two people: Alm, a boy from the town of Ram, and Celica, a girl who is inducted into the priesthood. The world they live in is ruled by the gods, Mila and Duma, and they fought endlessly until a pact was made to end the fight. This meant that their assorted followers would also stick to their respective regions instead of warring. Except now the pact has been broken, and as war looms, Alm and Celica must do all they can to stop their beloved land from falling into total ruin.
Like other Fire Emblem games, Fire Emblem Echoes is a strategy RPG focusing on directing combat on a battlefield. Between actions, the battlefield displays a top-down strategic view, giving you opportunity to move units and make attacks. When attacking, or being attacked, the action zooms in close to show you the effect of the selected attack. Outside of individual skirmishes, the game presents an area map, allowing you to select where the selected can go. Villages and dungeons dot the map, and most of these areas are explorable as a 3D environment. Naturally, enemies wander the dungeon environments, and running into one of these will zoom down to the battlefield map again. If you happen to own a New Nintendo 3DS model, the C-stick operates the camera, which is a nice touch missing from many 3DS games. In villages, you’ll run into people needing help, as well as stuff littered around the screens that can help you in battle.
The one feature that truly endeared me to Fire Emblem Echoes, however, is an item you obtain early in the game, called Mila’s Turnwheel, which allows you to roll back time for a limited number of turns. Discovered that you’d made a grievous error of judgement? Turn that wheel back! Naturally, its uses are limited, and you can’t use it a sort of save-scumming device, but there are times when you’d moved someone strategically important just in range of an enemy and you need to pull it back a bit.
If you have played a Fire Emblem game before, then you’ll know that character permadeath is a feature of the game series, giving you an incentive to plan your strategies carefully instead of rushing headlong into things. Beginner players can turn this off, naturally, but somehow the game doesn’t feel the same without it. You’ve not mourned a character until one is killed after hours of investing in skills and upgrades, and then relying on them to be a central part of the battlefield. It can be heartbreaking like few other games allow you to be. Of course, you can prevent some deaths with the Turnwheel, but if a whole battle goes badly for you, you have to decide when you turn back time and when to let the dead sleep.
Given the leaps in strategic complexity in newer Fire Emblem games, Fire Emblem Echoes feels a little light in that department, even compared to other, older tactical RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics or its sequels. The tactical edge is more in how you use and arrange individual units rather than on how you attack. The usual weapon triangle, a mechanic that has been in almost every Fire Emblem game, is gone now, so you’ll have to pay attention to the details panels when choosing who to attack with whom. To compensate somewhat, you now also have to pay attention to the terrain, because different kinds of environment make a difference to how an attack can go. This isn’t explained too well in the game’s tutorials, so some experimentation is in order before you figure things out properly.
What’s interesting to note is that things start off quite easy. You’ll burn through whole armies’ worth of opponents in the first few chapters. And then you hit this crazy difficulty spike. We’re not talking about the “just miss winning the battle by a small bit” kind of spike. We’re talking about the being absolutely crushed kind of spike. And there are few ways to grind for levels in the early game, too, so a lot of the challenge in getting through the spike is mastering the terrain I mentioned earlier. Given how much of a cake walk the early game is, this huge increase in the difficulty can come as a horrible surprise if you’re not properly prepared, but the payoff is just how much stronger you come out in terms of strategic thinking.
Would I recommend Fire Emblem Echoes to RPG fans? Oh absolutely. The easy start to the game belies a far more complex and challenging game that emerges later. While the story isn’t as emotionally deep or even as plot deep as Fire Emblem Fates, the simple story of Alm and Celica isn’t TOO cloying. Best of all, the game has that “one-more-turn” feel about things that keeps you wanting to destroy another army for hours on end. It’s easily the best introduction to the world of Fire Emblem you’ll get without being bogged down in the game’s vast history, or the insane number of auxiliary subsystems that later games introduce. If anything? This will make you a hard and fast fan of the games.