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Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia review Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia review


Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Turned a Black Sheep Into One of the Best RPGs on the 3DS

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia turned one of the most inconsequential games in the series into a bonafide must-play. 



Revisiting Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Any long-running franchise is going to have a black sheep in its flock. Zelda has The Adventure of Link, Final Fantasy has the SaGa-codifying FFII, and Super Mario famously “Mariofied” a successor out of Doki Doki Panic for western audiences. Something unrecognizable can still feel familiar, a design philosophy several sequels from the 80s abided by. Fire Emblem’s answer to this phenomenon was Gaiden, a Famicom game that heavily downplayed Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light’s strategic elements in favor of a straighter RPG. Flat map design, an emphasis on combat, and the inclusion of explorable areas offer something quite different from the rest of the series. All this disconnect is ultimately what made Gaiden the perfect fit for a remake. Released at the tail-end of the 3DS’ lifecycle, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia turned one of the most inconsequential games in the franchise into a bonafide must-play. 

Shadows of Valentia Gaiden comparison - image by Renan Fontes

What’s especially impressive is that Shadows of Valentia does so without straying from Gaiden’s many eccentricities. If anything, Echoes is as faithful a modern remake could have realistically been without just being a 1:1 conversion. The weapon triangle is nowhere to be seen despite previous remakes incorporating the mechanic. Maps are faithfully flat recreations of their Famicom counterparts. Gaiden’s RPG elements are even more pronounced in the remake, with villages undergoing an overhaul and dungeons offering an interesting layer of light exploration to the gameplay loop. The end result is a remake that’s surprisingly faithful to its Famicom source material while perfectly at home with modern Fire Emblem.

As unique as Gaiden is, the game also introduced several concepts that titles like Awakening & Fates would later embrace. Limitless grinding, no weapon durability, classical monsters, and reclass opportunities (which actually began life as a glitch that SoV turned into a feature) all got their start in Gaiden. While it would take years for the likes of free grinding or reclassing to become franchise staples, all these mechanics keep a black sheep’s remake surprisingly palatable for modern fans. You can jump from Three Houses to Shadows of Valentia without so much as missing a beat, whereas not even The Sacred Stones — the closest thing Gaiden had to a spiritual successor for years — can prepare you for how off-kilter FE2 really is. It speaks to both Echoes’ quality and just how much Fire Emblem has changed over the years. 

Rather than following a chapter based structure like the rest of the series, Shadows of Valentia is act based. Each act is made up of a several smaller battles instead of dedicating entire chapters to fleshed out battlefields. Battles don’t just transition into each other either, as there’s now an actual overworld to traverse (think Final Fantasy Tactics). Gameplay is also split between two distinct armies on separate parts of the continent, offering different glimpses at Valentia both mechanically and narratively. Echoes’ framing ends up being one of the best parts of the experience. 

Alm and Celica as children - image courtesy of Fire emblem wiki

Naturally, the story has two protagonists: Alm, a farm boy from Ram Village, & Celica, a Princess-in-hiding raised on the holy Novis Island. The two briefly lived together in Ram when Alm’s adoptive grandfather, Mycen, took Celica in. Beyond that, SoV frames them as star-crossed lovers with two very different answers to the war they’ve found themselves in. Alm believes Zofia needs to militarize against Rigel, while Celica wants to prevent as much violence as humanly possible. Their arcs directly influence one another and their differing circumstances lead to unique gameplay set pieces depending on who you’re playing as. 

Alm is fighting a militarized nation alongside a group of resistance fighters. It makes sense that most of his allies are trained warriors and that the majority of his army is recruited through the story. Alm realistically cannot be going out of his way to save or recruit random damsels, something the game actually comments on in one of the few instances you’re allowed to do so. Conversely, Celica is traveling in secret with a small group so it makes sense for her to employ sellswords and recruit newcomers to her cause during her travels. Even then, she only does so at your discretion and not as part of the narrative. Although Celica’s army might seem more rag-tag than Alm’s, her group simply has different priorities. 

Where Alm has an abundance of horseback units, Celica’s army has three fliers. Celica’s team starts out mage heavy with more melee units recruited later, while Alm’s team starts out melee heavy as mages join him in the back-half. Celica doesn’t have anyone in her army who can learn Warp or Rescue, but Alm’s army only has one flier (two if you make Faye a Pegasus Knight, but then you lose access to Warp, Renew, and Anew). Celica’s army also has access to better and more healing spells earlier than Alm does, whereas Alm’s army generally runs into stronger equipment at a more consistent pace. How you approach combat will ultimately vary depending on which army you’re controlling. 

Alm vs Bandit - image courtesy of Something Awful

Acts 1 and 2 serve as soft tutorials, slowly introducing you to the world map, dungeons, towns, and the concept of jumping between armies. Act 1 plays out from Alm’s perspective before control swaps to Celica’s for Act 2. Acts 3 and 4 have you controlling both armies at your leisure, swapping between Alm and Celica whenever you want. Act 5 is just the final dungeon, while Act 6 is a post-game where both armies are fully united and you are free to explore anywhere on the map. Until then, Alm explores the west while Celica explores the east.

Valentia’s world map itself is node based, with each node corresponding to a different location — whether that be a village, dungeon, or battlefield. An in-game day passes each time you take a step on the map as either Alm or Celica. This keeps track of how many times you’ve moved in a season, each act set in a new season. The day/season system has no discernible effect on gameplay and mainly exists to to convey the passage of time. Alm and Celica’s campaigns take a considerable amount of time to get things done, as they realistically would. They are traveling across the entire continent, visiting multiple villages and fighting several skirmishes along the way. Knowing what day each battle falls on lends Valentia a real sense of history.  

SoV World Map - image courtesy of US Gamer

Enemies appear on the overworld as their own icons, and walking into one prompts a battle. While you can retreat, enemies do not disappear from the map until defeated. Enemies respawn off bosses on the overworld if you take too long to kill them, or on graveyards after a set amount of turns. Enemies can also move towards you on the overworld, potentially triggering an ambush where they get to attack first. Every time you move Alm or Celica, one enemy will get to move. Most of the time, they’ll either march towards you or go share a node with a pre-existing enemy — forcing you to fight two squads at once. For what it’s worth, letting enemies merge is a smart way of raking in experience while keeping your final turn count low. 

The fact Alm and Celica are fighting vastly different enemies on different parts of the continent does result in a decent bit of variety between the two armies. Alm’s campaign through Zofia takes him primarily through plains and forests that only get denser the closer he gets to the Rigelian border. Celica’s campaign has her traversing Zofia by sea while passing islands along the way. Once she reaches land, she mainly sticks to deserts and cemeteries. After crossing Rigel, Celica ends up crossing a series of poisonous swamps before her final dungeon. Alm, on the other hand, fights his way through Rigelian mountains, valleys, waterfalls, and outposts before storming Rigel Castle itself. 

Taking the battle to Rigel, most of Alm’s enemies are human soldiers in the Rigelian army. Enemies on horseback and armored knights are a regular obstacle, while dread fighters and witches start to pose a greater problem closer to the end of the game. Conversely, Celica works her way through pirates and bandits before going up against an assortment of Terrors, arcanists, cantors, and dragons. Where Alm fights a classical fantasy empire, Celica spends most of her time slaying creatures straight out of myth. You’ll see all sorts of enemies in both campaigns, but it’s commendable just how well enemy variety is handled between Alm and Celica’s armies. 

Seabound Shrine NEcrodragon - image courtesy of GameSkinny

While the game does a good job at guiding you towards everywhere on the map, a surprising amount of nodes are actually optional. Shadows of Valentia keeps creating opportunities for you to stray off the beaten path from as early as Act 1. You’ll miss out on a valuable cleric and promotion opportunities, but Alm’s first dungeon is totally optional. Celica’s voyage to Zofia can be extended by visiting the Pirate Throne and the Seabound Shrine. There’s even a fair bit of non-linearity when it comes to progression. Act 3 makes a big deal about Celica stopping the pirate Grieth, but you’re free to beeline towards the Temple of Mila first. Act 4 similarly nudges Alm towards visiting Nuibaba’s Abode, but nothing’s stopping you from keeping some distance. 

Overworld scenarios force you to think critically about progression. You can skip Nuibaba’s Abode and Grieth’s Hideout right away, but enemies will keep spawning off bosses. The path to Grieth’s is blocked by two separate bosses — Sonya and Deen — a mage and myrmidon respectively. Killing one allows you to recruit the other after defeating Grieth. Who Celica fights is up to you, but you get a valuable unit by committing to the side quest. Nuibaba’s Abode can be completed any time in Act 4, but you are heavily penalized for putting it off. By fighting Nuibaba before engaging with the Rigelian Army, you can recruit Tatiana who will allow you to recruit Zeke (actually an amnesiac Camus from Shadow Dragon). Flipping the order forces you to kill Zeke in battle and locks out Tatiana’s recruitment. 

Echoes’ respect for player agency extends as far as Alm’s early party. In any other Fire Emblem, all of his childhood friends would automatically join his army. Instead, you need to speak with them yourself before leaving Ram Village. Should you choose not to do so, Celica can actually recruit Kliff and Faye into her army at the end of Act 2. There’s next to no benefit to doing this, but the fact you can is a fun consideration. If nothing else, leaving Kliff and Faye with Celica can result in an interesting challenge run for both armies. 

SoV Town - image courtesy of YouTube

Where Gaiden featured top-down towns you explored ala Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Shadows of Valentia opts for a visual novel-esque approach. Entering a village via the overworld swaps to a first person perspective where you can speak with NPCs, examine your surroundings, or move between key rooms. A few townsfolk offer traditional RPG side quests that lead you to new locations while others simply offer a glimpse into the commoner’s perspective. You can get a good sense of where Rigelian and Zofian culture differ just by speaking to NPCs. Party members will even randomly show up between screens to talk about themselves. It’s a great way of giving units some extra characterization. 

The first person view is surprisingly immersive. Enabling stereoscopic 3D really makes the backgrounds pop and helps you appreciate the little details, like how grass slowly sways in the wind or how character models are spread out to lend a sense of spatial depth. It pays off to take the time to examine each new screen you visit, and not just to appreciate the view. Valentia’s citizens have a nasty habit of leaving items around that you can pick up and add to your inventory. This is especially useful since SoV lacks a traditional shop to buy items from. You’ll want to take advantage of every opportunity to track down some food or nab new weapons. Even if there’s nothing to find, Alm and Celica have unique flavor text for virtually anything of note.

SoV smithy - image courtesy of youtube

Although there are no shops to rely on, a few villages do have their own Smithy which you can sell equipment at, forge weapons, and convert your silver into gold (or vice versa). While food and liquor can be comfortably sold without much worry, you want to hold onto weapons. The forging system is fairly in-depth and can turn a simple Iron Sword into a Brave Sword with enough coin. Rusted equipment can also be forged back into shape, potentially rewarding legendary weapons in the process. With no shops to purchase stronger weapons at, it’s important to make active use of the forge.

It’s worth noting that the fact Alm and Celica don’t share a convoy means you need to maintain two separate sets of inventories & money. Celica’s army can’t magically use the Silver Sword Alm just forged, but peddlers in town will actually exchange items between armies. You can only move one item at a time, but this can be done to complete side quests early or simply send useful equipment over. Celica’s party benefits more from the Steel Lances Alm finds than he does. Each peddler can only be used once, however, so they need to be used strategically. 

Further deviating from the norm is the lack of a traditional inventory system. In most Fire Emblem games, units can hold onto multiple items at once. This allows them to carry weapons or items, swapping equipment and healing when necessary. Shadows of Valentia locks units to a single piece of equipment, regardless if it’s a weapon or item. Since units can still fight with nothing equipped, there is some incentive to holding onto items over weapons. Shields offer a defense buff, rings have magical properties, and food can be used to heal anytime in battle (although they’re not worth equipping since units can eat food out of the convoy just by standing next to Alm or Celica). 

Alm stats - image courtesy of Serenes Forums

The lack of weapon durability means there’s no reason not to keep weapons equipped, but their main benefit comes from the combat art system. Each weapon has a unique technique that can be learned by fighting enough enemies. The Royal Sword teaches Scendscale when mastered, a combat art that lets Alm deal massive damage from two tiles away. A unit must have the right weapon equipped to use their combat art, but skill overlap means you don’t have to relearn techniques between weapons. If a unit learns Penetrate from the Brave Sword, they can use it with the Zweihander. Which arts a weapon has access to ensures that “weaker” equipment is still useful. The Silver Lance is naturally stronger than the Steel Lance, but the latter learns the Armorcrush skill, making Steel better than Silver against armored units.

To keep you from constantly using combat arts in battle, skills drain HP on use. There’s a risk/reward to triggering combat arts. The Beloved Zofia’s Ragnarok Omega art costs 14 HP to cast, which is a big dent into Celica’s health for most of the game. Cast it without a cleric nearby to immediately heal and you leave Celica in potential danger. Wait until the end of the map to kill the boss with Ragnarok Omega, however, and Celica will be no worse for wear. Combat arts add a fun layer of strategy to battles, especially since enemies can also use them. 

Magic follows the same principles as combat arts, with mages casting from HP to use spells. Mages and clerics also learn new spells by leveling up as opposed to equipping different tomes. In fact, there are no equippable tomes at all. Unlike how weapons need to be equipped to use combat arts, a spell can be used anytime once it’s learned. Instant access to a wide range of magic lets you get creative with your tactics. Delthea and Sonya learn Rewarp, which lets them teleport next to any unit on the map. Faye can learn Anew — a spell that lets any unit move a second time in the same turn. Silque and Genny can outright banish Terrors from the battlefield by successfully landing Expel. Seraphim deals extra damage to Terrors, Nosferatu drains health from enemies and heals your cleric, and Excalibur increases a mage’s crit rate by a noticeable 20. There’s a spell for every occasion.

SoV Magic Kliff - image courtesy of Something Awful

Preparing for battle in Shadows of Valentia is very different from the average Fire Emblem in that unit availability is basically a non-factor. Every unit gets deployed outside of dungeon battles. Units can be removed, but there’s no limit for the vast majority of maps. This makes sense considering how combat centric Gaiden was. Where Marth would need to seize thrones to end a map, Alm and Celica route the opposition — killing every enemy on the field to end their maps. In a few rare cases, you only need to kill the boss. Either way, SoV’s focus is on action above all else. 

This obviously leaves something to be desired in terms of actual strategy, but the map design makes for some fun slugfests between massive armies. Dynamic set pieces and strategic enemy placement also go a long way in offsetting the often bland map geometry. Terrain still matters thanks to a hefty evasion boost. Some enemies move even if no units are in range, others will strategically wait for you to walk in range before swarming in small groups. Positioning still matters since leaving a unit all alone makes them the perfect target for a massacre. The sheer volume of enemies on any given map makes this a very real possibility. 

Rigel Castle - image courtesy of IGN

Enemy groups encourage you to split your army into their own small squads so units can support one-another, either through the literal Support system or by splitting the enemy’s focus. Human enemies will retreat to heal after taking too much damage while monsters will mindlessly kill themselves. Bosses do not stay put and actually move around the map, looking for prey. There are no reinforcements, but cantors will keep summoning Terrors to fight so long as they’re left alive. SoV is not the best Fire Emblem has to offer in terms of in-depth strategic opportunities, but the game is extremely fun when taken as a grid based RPG like Disgaea.

The overall game design isn’t particularly challenging, but Shadows of Valentia does a good job at balancing its difficulty curves. Normal is modeled after Gaiden, whereas Hard mode heavily remixes the original design. Enemies have better stats along with more skills and combat arts. More enemies actually come equipped with weapons in Hard mode, and are repositioned to force you to develop new strategies. Playing on Hard even manages to mitigate potential grinding since the higher level enemies end up giving far more experience than in Normal. 

The biggest change Shadows of Valentia brings with it is the inclusion of Mila’s Turnwheel — a mechanic that lets you rewind time during battle. The Turnwheel can be activated at any point and can go back as far as the start of the map. You still get a Game Over for letting Alm or Celica die, but other units can be brought back to life from an unlucky kill. Of course, there are some concessions in place to keep you from abusing the Turnwheel too much. While generous, time can only be rewound a fixed amount of times per battle. Savvy players can use this to downplay risky gameplay, but the benefit is that more timid players can now afford to take greater risks. Eventually, they might even realize they don’t need the Turnwheel. At the end of the, Mila’s Turnwheel exists as a harmless alternative to resetting and is totally optional.  

Nuibaba's Abode - image courtesy of Fire Emblem de

While there aren’t too many compared to the rest of the series, Shadows of Valentia does have a few standout maps. The battle at the Temple of Mila funnels you up a hillside into a staircase that leads to a thick forest. With the Temple barricaded by mages and archers, any units on foot risk putting themselves in immense danger. Someone (preferably a flier) needs to unlock the door from inside the boss room so Celica’s army can break in without trekking through the whole forest. The Siege of Nuibaba’s Abode can be daunting at first glance. Witches warp around at their leisure, the manor has a single back entrance that needs to be walked around, and cantors keep spawning Terrors. The best strategy is to warp your strongest unit right into the abode while everyone else marches, but the arcanists and dread fighters inside pose a great threat. 

Dungeons end up leaving more of an impact than maps do. Most dungeons are atmospheric gauntlets that reward exploration and let you get a few extra battles in, but there is some strategy at play. You can only deploy 10 units and they actually have stamina to keep track of. Overextend a single unit in battle and they’ll get fatigued, cutting their max HP until you either feed them or exit. A health reduction is nothing that can’t be worked around, but too many fatigued units are just asking for trouble. The later dungeons are particularly lengthy and punish players who don’t manage fatigue accordingly. 

Dungeon-crawling is the closest SoV comes to feeling like a traditional RPG, complete with enemies you can attack to instigate fights. The analog stick moves Alm/Celica, the A button swings their sword, holding down B or Y triggers a dash, L & R snap the camera in front of you not dissimilar to Z-Targeting in The Legend of Zelda, and X opens the menu. Striking an enemy deals a little bit of damage before the battle starts, whereas getting hit gives enemies the first turn. Grass can be cut to farm for silver and random items are tucked away in breakable pots, boxes, and barrels. Breakable walls lead to hidden rooms with treasure chests and sacred springs that raise stats, revive dead allies, or cure fatigue. Exporation is rewarded more often than not. 

The Lost Treescape - image courtesy of Legends of Localization |  Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Valentia’s dungeon design only gets better as the game goes on. Fear Mountain Shrine starts out as a simple series of battles before splitting off into two pathways: the Gate of the Dead and the Gate of the Living. The Gate of the Dead is a push forward through spectral enemies to find a revival fountain lying in wait. The Gate of the Living is an underground labyrinth filled with teleporters, Terrors, and treasure to track down. The Lost Treescape is a maze with an actual navigational puzzle to pay attention to. Four paths lead to Mila Shrines, one leads to the exit, and another hides the Sage’s Hamlet you’re actually looking for. It’s easy to get stuck in a loop if you aren’t paying enough attention, but there are also treasure chests to find by exploring. 

Both Alm and Celica’s final dungeons are fantastic set pieces. Duma Tower serves as the last hurrah for Celica’s party, a several floor climb past multiple dangerous enemies. Exploring too much risks over-exhausting your units before reaching the top, but each floor has branching paths and treasure to track down. Enemies are strong enough where getting ambushed can easily result in a unit’s death, so some risk/reward comes into play. Duma Temple is Alm’s last dungeon and does a great job at closing out the main story in an epic manner. The dungeon is long enough where you’d need to heal fatigue regularly if there weren’t fatigue fountains along the way. Alm is forced to fight his way to Falchion completely alone. The final boss against Duma unites Arm and Celica’s parties together — your strongest units from both armies finally fighting side by side. 

Duma Temple - image courtesy of SegmentNext | Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Image: Nintendo

Almost every dungeon houses a Mila Shrine, the only way to promote units to a new class in SoV. Unlike in the average Fire Emblem where units can promote as soon as they’re Level 10, different classes promote at different levels. Archers, cavaliers, mercenaries, and soldiers all promote at level 7; clerics, pegasus knights, and male mages promote at level 12; and female mages promote at level 14. With the exception of Falcon Knights, non-magical units can even promote an extra time: Cavalier into Paladin into Gold Knight, Soldier into Knight into Baron, Mercenary Myrmidon into Dread Fighter, and Archer into Sniper into Bow Knight. Magic oriented classes lack this extra tier promotion, but they innately have a much higher Resistance stat than other classes to compensate.

There’s little reason not to promote right away since a unit’s stats will immediately get raised to their new class’ base. The gains from promoting immediately are potentially massive and go beyond just a few level ups. It’s also worth promoting early since experience scales with units. The higher level a unit is, the less exp they receive in battle. The deduction is noticeable enough where grinding to 20 is an outright chore. The inclusion of three free DLC Pitchforks per playthrough also allows you to reclass any units other than Alm and Celica. This is a luxury that typically only applies to Dread Fighters in-game, who get to loop back to Villagers after reaching level 10 (the aforementioned reclass glitch from Gaiden). 

In a nice change of pace from the other Fire Emblem remakes, Shadows of Valentia includes a proper Support system where units can bond with one another across three separate tiers of friendship. While Supports generally offer positive bonuses to hit and evasion, Echoes gets experimental. Faye’s unhealthy crush on Alm actually lowers her evasion the higher their rank together is. Conversations are tonally varied with a wide range of character interactions, as well. It takes their entire Support just for Faye to want to be Silque’s friend. Kliff and Tobin are childhood friends, but their Support is mainly about how much Tobin annoys Kliff. Alm and Faye’s support briefly examines the damage the war is having on Faye’s psyche rather than simply humoring her crush on Alm.

Faye and Alm Support - Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Image: Nintendo

The cast itself is intimate, in large part due to how small both armies are. Characters have their own defined motivations, in and out of Supports. Atlas, Palla, and Catria will actually leave Celica’s party if you renege on your promise of visiting Grieth’s Hideout before the Temple of Mila. You can re-recruit all three if they leave, but the fact they have the agency to leave at all makes for a fun little trap. Clive will angrily chastise Alm’s leadership and regret putting him in charge of the Deliverance if you let his lover Mathilda die at Desaix’s Fortress. Killing Zeke at the start of Act 4 makes everyone in the Rigelian village he was living in utterly hate you. 

Shadow of Valentia’s storytelling on a whole is quite intimate, carrying a theatrical quality that results in fantastic character arcs for both Alm and Celica. Alm is actually the heir to the Rigelian throne, Emperor Rudolf’s secret son raised by his closest friend, General Mycen of Zofia. A Rigelian royal raised as a Zofian peasant, Alm is contrasted with Berkut: his cousin and Rigel’s current Crown Prince. Berkut is who Alm could have been without his Zofian upbringing — power hungry, status obsessed, and easily corruptible. Berkut sacrifices the love of his life for more power where Alm would sooner risk his life fighting a literal god than let Celica die. 

Alm and Celica - image courtesy of creative uncut

You can’t choose where you’re born or where you’re raised, but you can reconcile who you are into who you’re meant to be. Alm is royalty, but his kindness and humility stem from being raised by Mycen. Characters constantly mention how much Alm behaves like a commoner, so much so that his initial lack of status is a point of contention for multiple characters. Alm experiences class oppression firsthand and essentially lived it his whole life, secret royal or not. His guidance actually inspires the Deliverance’s nobles to commit towards manual labor in Valentia’s post-war restorations, humbling them on notions of class. Alm saves Valentia from a tyrant one battle at a time. In the process, he becomes a worthy leader who demonstrates to his comrades the importance of saving every life regardless of status. 

Celica is also secret royalty like Alm, but she’s actually gotten to taste the privileges of such a life firsthand. In spite of this (or perhaps because of this), Celica’s journey ends up being the more humble of the two. Where Alm falls into leadership and a grand campaign that sees him crowned king, Celica mainly just sees the world in her travels. She does not accomplish as much as Alm on the surface, but she helps the people around her while taking in Valentian culture. Celica sees more of the continent than Alm does. As she’s not caught up in a war, she gets to know the people better and help them in their struggles. Where Alm’s diversions revolve around defeating all-powerful witches threatening the land, Celica’s focus is on saving prisoners from pirates. Alm is a conqueror, Celica is an adventurer.

All this travel makes her a queen who knows her country, culture, and people. It makes her worthy in the same way that Alm’s Zofian upbringing makes him a worthy leader. They both learn humility through their lived experiences. Alm and Celica differ in how they want to save Valentia. Alm is concerned with winning the war against Rigel and going from there, while Celica wants to find a cleaner solution that doesn’t potentially tear the nation in two. Her disappointment with Alm leading the Deliverance stems from a place of concern over his safety. Celica is willing to sacrifice her life and become one of Jedah’s witches if it means Alm doesn’t need to risk his life fighting a mad god to the death. Valentia would stay in control of an uncaring god, but at least Alm would be theoretically safe. 

Alm vs Rudolf - image courtesy of Tenor

The dangers of divinity is a theme present all throughout Shadows of Valentia. Even Celica, the most positive depiction of a pious person in-game, ends up a victim because of her faith. Part of her journey is recognizing where she can lead as an individual rather than a conduit for some higher power. While nefarious religions are nothing new for RPGs, Echoes’ use of the trope is in-line with its overall depiction of power as an oppressive force. Valentia is a country held back by its corrupt spirituality and politics. Alm and Celica’s actions prove that the people are ready to move on from the oppressive foundation they were built on and start anew. This very philosophy is what defines Emperor Rudolf’s motivations.

Rudolf comes off as a typical tyrant at first, but he’s surprisingly compelling under the surface. Recognizing the divide between Zofia and Rigel is only growing harsher, Rudolf invades Zofian soil so that Alm is forced to fight back (and he would, given he was raised by Rudolf’s closest friend, Mycen). The plan? Let Alm invade the country, free the commoners from corrupt Rigelian officials, and kill the emperor. With Rudolf dead, Rigel is left to rally around the Zofian who liberated them and Alm can unify Valentia into one single country. From there, Alm killing their patron god Duma represents a new path forward for Rigel — symbolically and literally. 

Jedah is the closest thing SoV has to an actual main antagonist, but he lacks Rudolf and Berkut’s nuances — ultimately just representing basic religious zealotry. If nothing else, he contrasts nicely with Celica. Both are genuinely devout in their beliefs, but where Celica is willing to put Valentia’s fate in man’s hands, Jedah sincerely believes that the continent will fall apart without the gods in control. Worse, Jedah does not care if the continent falls apart so long as it’s the gods’ doing. Rudolf envisions a world where Valentia is not governed by unseen gods who watch from afar, but by men who walk among their people and inspire growth. Through Alm, Rigel can soften its edges and Zofia can learn true equality. 

Valentia World Map - image courtesy of Fire Emblem wiki

Rigelian society abides by “might makes right,” so much so that Rudolf’s soldiers are perfectly content joining Alm’s army because their emperor was fairly killed in single combat. Zofians are far more hedonistic by comparison. While Rigel has a violent culture, their class division is not as intense as Zofia’s. The closest thing Zofia has to an organized military is a group of nobles who had to “resort” to recruits countryfolk to pad out their numbers. Fernand — one of the Deliverance’s founding members — joins the Rigelian Empire rather than fight for an army led by a “peasant.” On the flip side, Rudolf explicitly has Alm raised in a humble environment so he grows into a better man and seemingly lets anyone join his army regardless of status. Alm’s entire life was designed to fix Zofia and Rigel.

It’s genuinely impressive how Shadows of Valentia turns its namesake continent into one of Fire Emblem’s richest settings. Both countries are distinct in their culture, geography, and architecture. Zofia has a quant countryside feel and its royal keeps prioritize looking pretty over practicality. Rigel feels stuck right in the elements, trapped amidst swamps and mountains. Rigel Castle itself is a testament to the battles that have forged the country. Dungeon monologues help set a mood anytime Alm or Celica enter a new location, musing their thoughts on long abandoned pieces of history. 

It’s hard not to be blown away by Echoes’ presentation. Dungeons are well modeled and all, but every facet of the game has been polished to near-perfection. Characters look great in and out of battle, with the best fight animations to come out of the 3DS era. Portraits perfectly convey their characters’ personalities even while static, and full voice acting for virtually every single line of dialogue keeps interactions lively. The localization is excellent from top to bottom. Characters speak naturally and the script does a fantastic job at characterizing Alm & Celica as distinct individuals who still clearly contrast one another. Passionate performances from the main cast obviously help in this regard. The voice direction is stellar all around, but Kyle McCarley as Alm and Erica Lindbeck as Celica are just sublime. 

Celica and Alm CG - image courtesy of Serenes - Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Image: Nintendo

A fleshed out post-game extends your playthrough for a few more battles and a great endgame dungeon. Upon completing the main story, you can visit Zofia Harbor to trigger a side quest that takes Alm & Celica across the sea over to Archanea — the continent where Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem take place. While fanservicey by design, the trip helps explain how the Whitewings and Camus go from Achanea to Valentia and back in the span of a single year. The dungeon Thabes also offers some extra insight into Grima, Awakening’s main villain, turning what was a force of nature into a character with a better defined place in Archanean history. 

It’s no exaggeration to call Shadows of Valentia one of the best RPGs on the 3DS. Despite not scratching the same strategic itch that Fire Emblem is known for, SoV’s gameplay is still extremely fun. Developing two separate armies made up of very different units keeps playthroughs fresh. Maps are flat, but dungeons are a welcome inclusion and combat arts keep battles engaging. Echoes is as fresh as it is amazingly faithful to Gaiden. This is a remake that sincerely wanted to fix what did not work without shying away from what its source material was. Gaiden’s DNA is very much present, and that’s sure to detract some fans, but SoV is better for staying true to such a specific vision. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is an RPG unlike any other.

A man with simultaneously too much spare time on his hands and no time at all, Renan loves nothing more than writing about video games. He's always thinking about what re(n)trospective he's going to write next, looking for new series to celebrate.