It looks like Fire Emblem is no longer Nintendo’s most neglected franchise (that dishonour has now been passed down to Metroid.) There was a time when the strategy RPG’s days seemed numbered, but the popularity of Awakening changed all that. In recent times we got three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates and Heroes brought the fantasy series over to mobile devices. It’s barely been a year since the last 3DS game came out in Europe and we already get a new instalment to play in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.
NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE
Shadows of Valentia is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, a nineties NES title that never got a western release. Players take control of two armies led by childhood friends Alm (country bumpkin turned warrior) and Celica (a crimson haired priestess.) During the five-act campaign, which runs for around thirty hours, our teenage heroes march their troops across the war torn continent of Valentia. The region is currently in the midst of a North versus South feud akin to the current Korean conflict, only with less nukes and more dragons.
Like in past titles, battles are turned based affairs fought on grid-based maps. On one side are the human forces and on the other hostile AI minions consisting of soldiers/undead. The game’s mechanics are similar to other Fire Emblem titles, with a few minor differences. Firstly the infamous weapon triangle (swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords) is absent from this instalment, which does reduce the level of strategy somewhat. Archers still inflict bonus damage to aerial units though and it’s possible to gain an edge over cavalry/armoured knights by learning special skills from weapons picked up during your travels.
NOW THAT’S GOOD EATING
Another change of note is that spell casters need to sacrifice a portion of their health in order to activate their magical abilities. I guess the penalty is in place to curtail the destructive power of sorcerers, who are by far the mightiest class in the game. Thankfully vitality can be replenished by calling upon the services of a healer or snacking on the grub found on village floors and musky dungeons. Gross. What’s the deal with these unsanitary video game diets? This reminds me of my Streets of Rage days, were players ate chicken found inside garbage cans.
One feature that I miss from this remake is the option of playing matchmaker with your militia. It’s still possible to build up the relationships between certain characters, via bonus boosting support conversations, but you sadly have no influence over what friendships lead to marriage. That may be for the best though, as the romance in Echoes is flat out bizarre. Alm and Celica are smitten with each other for example, despite only knowing each other briefly during their prepubescent days. The game also stars a yandere villager named Faye and a vestal who has a thing for older men.
My rating for Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a four out of five. It’s my least favourite of the 3DS Fire Emblems, but a fine handheld strategy game all the same. I suspect Echoes would have been more to my liking were it not for the pesky summoners, who annoyingly flood certain levels with endless waves of monsters. The low hit rate of my fighters was frustrating too and I also despised how enemy witches would sometimes warp behind my front line, leading to unexpected casualties. Thankfully it’s possible to negate friendly losses by disabling perma-death or rewinding back the action via a feature dubbed Mila’s Wheel.
As far as Fire Emblem remakes go Echoes is far superior to 2009’s Shadow Dragon. Intelligent Systems have put a lot more work into this project, as evidenced by the inclusion of gorgeous 3D cut scenes and voice acting. The developer also added some third person dungeon crawling to the mix, which is a nice change of pace from the constant tactical warfare. Exploring the labyrinths may unearth treasure chests containing weapons, accessories and shields. Coinage can also be procured by smashing the jars found in the catacombs. First we had Zelda and now Fire Emblem. Nintendo seem to have a thing for storing valuables in pottery. What’s wrong with using a good old-fashioned piggy bank?