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‘Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia’ Takes The Franchise Forward By Visiting Its Past



Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, much like its fellow 3DS entires Awakening and Fates, opens with a tense scene of events yet to come. From then on, however, it radically shakes up the formula. In terms of both gameplay and story, Shadows of Valentia is one of the most intriguing entries in the Fire Emblem franchise to date. A faithful remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series released on the Famicom in Japan, the final entry of the series’ 3DS era cuts out modern battle mechanics, child units, and fan service, while still managing to be accessible and enjoyable to both new and veteran players.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

Shadows of Valentia features two protagonists, Alm and Celica, as they fight through the war-torn continent of Valentia. The heroes are separated from one another early in the game and remain apart throughout. Players control both of their armies on the world map and can move them each separately, allowing you to experience both stories at whatever pace you desire.

Fire Emblem games always hit hard on the themes of love, death, and hardships of war, but Shadows of Valentia tells one of the best love stories I’ve ever experienced. Every character deals with love in different forms: love for siblings, love for friends, and love for a significant other. Seeing the devotion the characters have for one another is touching, and it creates a connection between the player and the characters they command.

These moments play out through support conversations, but, unlike in Fates and Awakening, these conversations take place on the battlefield and are limited in terms of who can support who. There’s no matchmaking to do here, and while that might be disappointing to some I found it refreshing to just sit back and enjoy the story.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

You’ll also learn more about the members of your army when you arrive at villages. Every character has several conversations to enjoy where they reveal parts of their past, their goals, or just their thoughts on the events of the game. There’s only one character out of the 25+ found in the game that I didn’t enjoy (Faye), and even she had her moments.

Most importantly, these characters are brought to life through full voice acting. In a first for the series, characters speak all of their lines rather than simply saying “Hmm…” while the text beneath them says “I’m trying to think of a way we can save the town”. Perhaps it’s just because the bar was set so low in other Fire Emblem games, but I felt the voice acting from top to bottom was outstanding. Every character is bursting with personality, and none feel forced. While characters in Fates were built mostly around a gimmick, the characters here feel like real and genuine people. Standouts include Delthea, Luthier, Mae, The Whitewing Sisters, Saber, Clair, Leon, and Alm himself.

The presentation blows previous Fire Emblem installments out of the water. The character art looks sharp, battles flow like dances, and characters even chat with each other during combat. After fighting a foe, some characters will shout a line to another about what just took place. “Why would you do that?” Mathilda says incredulously when Zeke misses an attack. These small details go a long way towards making the experience feel authentic. Alm’s Deliverance and Celica’s party feel like actual people, and that makes it all the more bitter when one falls in combat.

Those familiar with mechanics from Fates and Awakening will immediately be struck by the complete upheaval of traditional combat rules in Shadows of Valentia. Battles still take place on a grid map that serves as a battlefield, where players control an army against an AI team in turn-based combat, but the strategies you’ll use to achieve victory are unlike any other Fire Emblem game. Gone is the pair-up mechanic where two units could fight together, as is the rock-paper-scissors weapon’s triangle that has served as the foundation for combat since Fire Emblem 4’s release in the mid-90s. Victory in battle now comes down solely to the strength of your units and the positioning of the army.

These changes were made to capture the feel of the original game. Shadows of Valentia is an incredibly faithful remake, and while I can’t imagine future entries sticking with these changes, I found myself surprised by how little I missed both mechanics. The weapons triangle, specifically, absolutely needed to be removed in Shadows of Valentia because there are no axe users in Alm or Celica’s group. Intelligent Systems could have added additional characters to the mix if they really wanted to keep the triangle, but then Shadows of Valentia would no longer feel like an authentic Gaiden experience.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

How far we’ve come!

Instead of making sure your sword users took on all the enemy axe users, Shadows of Valentia requires players to constantly consider terrain. Forests, supply forts, and most indoor areas offer significant boosts to evade rates, and I found myself constantly trying to claim a key area on the map before the enemy could settle in.

One of this game’s greatest accomplishments is just how authentic it feels as a war experience. Not every battle is treated with equal importance, and not every map has distinguishable features. Some battles are fought in a field with a few trees and nothing more, while others are huge in scale and truly feel like epic clashes. Shadows of Valentia has some captivating maps that convey the importance of the battle, and that drama is created by mandatory skirmishes that lead up to them.

Maps that required Alm and Celica to seize castles were always my favorites. They all start looking so dire, but with patience and well-aimed arrows, the enemy fortresses slowly begin to fall. Smoking out foes with long ranged spells, sending in pegasus knights for quick hit and run strikes, and finally rolling in the infantry made for some thrilling battles.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

Unfortunately, those barren field maps do get old rather quickly. I definitely appreciated the way they added to the overall feel of the game, but without a weapons triangle, some battles are just a matter of putting a knight in front of a choke point and having him hold it, or putting a speedy mercenary in a tree. When Shadows of Valentia’s maps are good, they test your strategic thinking while sucking you into the game’s world. When they’re bland, it’s tempting to just skip through the battle as quickly as possible.

On some of those boring maps, you’ll occasionally find yourself getting careless. If the worst happens and you lose a unit, you do finally have a new option! In older games, you’d either have to make peace with the lost character or reset the game. Shadows of Valentia adds a new mechanic that needs to be in every game from here on out; Mila’s Turnwheel.

Mila’s Turnwheel lets you go back to any point in the battle to try again. If you made a costly mistake on turn 5 that came back to bite you on turn 8, you can just rewind time to avoid making the same mistake. This makes the game feel dramatically easier than any previous Fire Emblem game, but only in terms of feel. You’ll still lose plenty of units and make mistakes, but you no longer have to pay for them by losing an hour of progress. Instead, you can just turn back the clock a bit and try again.

I never got frustrated by some of the bad luck that can doom you at any moment because I could always rewind to avoid that unfortunate fate. In the game’s final dungeon, my best archer, Kliff, got killed by a unit with a 20% hit chance and a 2% critical rate because that incredibly unlikely situation where he got hit by a critical happened. It wasn’t my mistake or anything, but rather a curse from the RNG Gods. Instead of losing hours of progress, I simply turned time back to the enemy phase and laughed as the foe missed Kliff badly.

The turnwheel was definitely invented to prevent players from losing hours of progress in the all-new dungeons. In Shin Megami Tensei like fashion, players control Alm and Celica from a 3rd person perspective and can freely explore these areas. There are about eight in the main game, and they each take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to explore. The longer ones are broken up into chunks with sporadic save points to prevent frustrating resets if you run out of uses on the turnwheel.

While dungeon exploration isn’t all too deep, they all are unique in appearance and a pleasure to travel through. Enemies await you at every turn, and by attacking or running into them on the field you enter a traditional battle. These are usually short and easy, but some tougher ones sneak in every now and again and can get really scary. Outside of the battles, there are hidden rooms that have fountains to boost your character’s stats. Each route also has one dungeon with a well-hidden room that contains a fountain that can revive lost units as well! Every fountain has limited uses, however, so you can’t abuse them.

Alm and Celica also visit a variety of towns with people to talk to and side quests to complete. These are hardly worth noting, however, as most of them are as easy as handing over an item you found previously. It would be nice to see the concept expanded in future installments.

Lastly, the game’s soundtrack is nothing short of amazing. While Alm and Celica’s maps have two commonly recurring tracks each, all of them are captivating. “With Mila’s Divine Protection” could be my favorite battle theme of all-time.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia changes the rules radically and benefits from it. While the modern rules of Fates and Awakening have a lot of merit, Shadows of Valentia offers an alternative that’s equally as compelling for entirely different reasons. Personally, I’d like to see Intelligent Systems bring back the Pair-Up system and strike a balance between Valentia’s support system and that of Fates in the future. But, as Shadows of Valentia is a faithful recreation of Gaiden, I can’t imagine playing this game with the mechanics of the newer games.

Because of it’s compelling (but far from perfect) story, incredible characters, epic battles, and game changing dungeon exploration, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia stands as one of the best games in the Fire Emblem series and is a must own game. Although it’s reaching back to the past, Shadows of Valentia is a huge step forward for the franchise in so many ways.

Tyler has been a gamer since he was old enough to hold a control. When Sonic made his way over to GameCube, Tyler was forced to renounce his SEGA fanhood and fell in love with Nintendo. His favorite game series is the Fire Emblem series, and he's a formidable Marth main in every Smash game. When he's not gaming, you can usually find Tyler yelling at his TV watching a Red Sox or Sixers game.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.



AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.



Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.



Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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