Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review, Modernizing The Roots

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Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a remake of the 90’s hit Fire Emblem: Gaiden. The remake is complete with cutscenes, updated art, characters, environment. Nintendo’s longtime partner, Intelligent Systems, is at the helm of the development of this title.

Even though it is not a new Fire Emblem game, it is not something a Nintendo fan should miss out on. Intelligent Systems pushed an aged game into the future and successfully so in many ways.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

Strong characters, story, and gameplay have always been the bedrock of this series. These features have evolved over the years to fit the needs to the time. However, since it’s a remake players shouldn’t expect to see many advancements from the title. This is not a step forward for the series but more of refinement of some of the steps the series took with Gaiden.

What’s interesting about the game is that even though it is a JRPG, often times it feels somewhat American. The game follows the story of multiple protagonists, Alma and Celica, as they fight their way to liberation for the kingdom of Zofia. You start young but as you head deeper into the game you play as their older selves. Celica’s journey and character is the most interesting. We have seen male leads with their divine fate but for the first time, at least for me personally, it was great to see a female lead exploring a war-torn state. She is not your typical damsel in distress and is a real badass. Her character is much more interesting compared to the Alm, a typical man coming into his own.

The game sees the return of traditional grid-based battles and strategic skirmishes. However, additionally, players can visit certain locals, explore, and traverse the world map. Players who jumped into the series with Awakening or Fates will feel a bit strange as Echoes changes a number of things.

For instance, you may be used to changing the unit’s class by using “Second Seal” which is earned via battle or purchased from merchants. Meanwhile, that is not the case with Shadows of Valentia. In Echoes character class changes are more of a journey which turns out to be a more engaging experience, at least for old timers like me.

But the way this game plays can become a little frustrating and tedious at the same time. There is one way to win and that is through grinding and committing to the experience. Another problem with the game is that even though it is using the same strategic battle system used in some of the previous Fire Emblem games, the majority of the story battles have nothing to do with strategy.  

It is all about grinding and leveling up your character to a point where you can get a kill with a couple of hits. For example, if you are facing a powerful enemy, there is no way you can take him down expect backing out of the battle to go back and grind to become stronger.

The focus on grinding outweighs strategic play. Moreover, the size of your army becomes a major hurdle at times. The number of units available to you is ridiculous compared to other entries.

Splitting the game into two perspectives also hits your unit size. Both characters have a handful of units available to them. This becomes a major problem if you, for some reason, decide to play in the Classic Mode.

Your units will die for good in battle, so bad decision making can make the game unwinnable. But you can save your game before major battles and come back with your units intact.

The silver lining is that weapons durability is nowhere to be found. Intelligent System gave units default weapons which can be traded for their superior versions. While there may not be much strategy involved in campaign battles, there is some in the item management.  Each unit comes with only one item slot which means you need to think which item should you carry.

Moreover, there are combat arts that are similar to Skills from the mainline Fire Emblem games. You unlock these arts depending on the type of item you hold. Using the same item for a unit the entire game isn’t the best idea but as you progress through the game you start to gain a better understanding of which items work the best.

It is a dated game, there is no sugar coating it. But Intelligent Systems still managed to do enough with a 30 years old game to make it worth buying. The developers have implemented just the right of amount of refinement and it wouldn’t have been easy considering how old this title is, there are limitations to what one can do.

The gameplay takes a little commitment but what keeps you going is the amazing story of Alim and Celica. The story alone is enough to push you through and make the grind worth it. The party members aren’t as endearing as some of the other Fire Emblem games but characters like Saber and Clive often shine. The interactions are really well-written which is why it is a shame that none of the characters can come together romantically.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is for the newcomers who are unaware of the roots of this iconic franchise. It is also for seasoned players looking for a nostalgic experience.

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