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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr_Oz8XSCVA

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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