Nintendo / Intelligent Systems
Hey! Remember Fire Emblem Gaiden? Of course you don’t, you lying bastard: it was released on the Famicom (NES) in Japan 25 years ago and never made it to the west.
But fret not, because it’s back as a shiny new 3DS remake, complete with a much less concise title – Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia.
Let’s be clear, though: this ain’t your daddy’s Fire Emblem. Um, unless yer da used to live in Hokkaido or something in the early ’90s.
Echoes tells the story of the continent of Valentia, which has been divided by warring nations. One country worships the earth god Mila, whereas another worships the dark god Duma.
You play two different campaigns at once: one involving a young lad called Alm, and one starring a similarly youthful lass by the name of Celica.
Alm and Celica were childhood friends, but ‘events’ split them up early in their lives and they each go on to lead different armies on opposite sides. If you think this means an awkward reunion is inevitable, then… well, yes. Obviously.
Those who do know about Fire Emblem Gaiden will know it’s generally considered the odd one out in the series. It introduced a number of features which were ditched again for subsequent sequels, resulting in a game that is undoubtedly Fire Emblem but also has its own distinct feel.
One of the most notable differences is the presence of three different main gameplay types. The first is obviously the standard turn-based tactical RPG battling you get in every Fire Emblem: more on that in a bit.
The second is the town scenes. When you enter towns or certain other areas the game switches to a series of static environments.
Here, you can talk to (and sometimes recruit) any characters facing you, explore the area with a cursor to look for loot and weapons to pick up, or use the ‘move’ option to move to another screen.
If you’re struggling to picture it, the best modern equivalent is the DS Professor Layton games, only without a guy saying “this reminds me of a puzzle” every time any prick so much as breathes.
The third gameplay type is dungeon exploration, in which your character is viewed from a third-person perspective and you get to run around, swinging your sword to break objects.
If you encounter an enemy in this mode, the action will switch to your standard top-down Fire Emblem battle style, but you have to take things like fatigue into account: if one of your characters is involved in too many battles their stats will drop until they either consume an item or offer it up to a goddess statue.
Truth be told, while the town and dungeon sections certainly mix things up a bit, they won’t be to the tastes of everyone who buys the game expecting typical Fire Emblem style tactical battles and not much else.
The town sections feel very much like they’ve come from the NES area (because they have): the character art is lovely and all but you do get the feeling like you’re talking to a bunch of cardboard cut-outs which have been set up for you.
The dungeon exploration, meanwhile, feels a bit arbitrary and doesn’t really add much that a series of standard battles wouldn’t have been able to do in their place.
Neither is a particularly bad addition, mind you. They just get in the way of the ‘proper’ tactical gameplay most people will be buying the game for.
Speaking of the main gameplay, it hasn’t escaped change either. Since this remake is based on the second Fire Emblem game, some of the later features that became staples of the series hadn’t been introduced yet.
This means the weapon triangle – the rock-paper-scissors style system in which different weapon types have strengths and weaknesses against others – is nowhere to be seen.
Instead, terrain and positioning is far more important this time around, as the larger maps suggest. Since you and your enemies are often fairly evenly matched, getting the upper hand can depend on where your units are standing in relation to the pricks you’re trying to perforate.
Weapon damage is also no longer a thing (I mean, it wasn’t in Fire Emblem Fates either but whatever). Get yourself a good weapon and you can keep it for the duration of your campaign: my lightning sword proved invaluable for fucking up many a foe in the early stages of the game.
Changing a character’s class is a little easier than in most other Fire Emblems, as it doesn’t require any special items. Level up a character to the level they need to be and you can use a shrine to change their class free of charge.
This is particularly useful when you recruit Villagers, because you can essentially assign completely different roles to them after they’ve levelled up a mere couple of times. Whether you need an archer, a mage or a lance-wielding soldier, you can pick which you want and set them off on their respective class trees.
On the other hand, anyone looking for another waifu simulator is going to be disappointed because support conversations have been drastically cut down in Echoes. You can still set up the occasional battleground conversation but there’s no romancing or marriage in this one.
For the most part, then, Echoes is teeming with little changes here and there that are mostly of the “they aren’t better, they aren’t worse, they’re just different” variety.
There are two features that will almost universally be appreciated, though, even if they aren’t necessarily used by everyone.
By all accounts, the original Fire Emblem Gaiden was harder than a diamond statue of Conor McGregor punching Satan in the dick.
This was partly thanks to the series’ infamous permadeath, in which any of your units unfortunate enough to peg it in battle remained kaput for the entirety of your game save.
Thankfully for less experienced Fire Emblem fans, Echoes adds the Casual / Newcomer Mode that was introduced in Awakening and Fates. This means if one of your squad gets a sword up their shitepipe, they’ll be fighting fit again come the next battle.
The other big addition is full voice acting: not just for the occasional cutscene but for all but the most minor of characters. Essentially, unless you’re in a town and you come across someone with a generic name like ‘old man’, they’re going to have voice acting.
This is a tremendous accomplishment (and the game’s enormous file size reflects this), but sorry Japan fans – because of this there’s no Japanese voice option, it’s English only. No Scottish voice acting either, sadly. But then, there never is.
Ultimately, Fire Emblem Echoes is an interesting addition to the series, one that both feels like a Fire Emblem game and doesn’t at the same time.
Is it better than Awakening and Fates? Nah. But that’s okay, those were incredible titles whereas this is ‘merely’ great.
Its simplified combat mechanics and the ability to turn off permadeath make it a perfect entry point to the series for anyone who’s gained an interest through the Fire Emblem Heroes mobile game, while its story – one of the best in the series – will keep series devotees enthralled throughout its 20-25 hour duration.
In all, its original Japanese name of Gaiden (side-story) is a fitting one: this is an interesting diversion from the tried and tested Fire Emblem formula and a good way to round off the series’ 3DS chapter, its most successful to date.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia is available on 19 May, priced £34.99 / $39.99 on the 3DS eShop. You can also buy it from Amazon UK in a standard edition and a special edition including the game, an artbook, the soundtrack CD, Alm and Celica amiibo and some pin badges.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
If you enjoyed this review and want to help me write them more frequently, please consider donating to my Patreon account. Alternatively, if you’re a UK reader and can’t afford to support me on Patreon, please do your normal Amazon UK shopping via this link: it won’t cost you any extra, and Amazon will pay me a small percentage because I sent you there.
Great review! This looks pretty good, but frankly I’m a bit overloaded on Fire Emblem after being addicted to the app for a while. Waiting for the inevitable Switch iteration, that I believe Nintendo announced is coming next year?
Great review, but was wondering something. In every fire emblem game I’ve played (6 and upwards) the stories have been quite lackluster but the support conversations made up for it by letting me get to know my characters, and providing my own context for battles ect, because the characters were still fairly well developed. Does the game still adequately develop each character or do you think the same resources were reallocated to improve the story of the game?
This game actually does develop characters more than usual thanks to them often having extra conversations in the town areas.