Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia
Sarah’s Rating: 8/10
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Genre: Strategy, RPG
Fire Emblem, is a game franchise that always makes me a little nostalgic. Back in college, when my husband and I first started dating, Fire Emblem (The Blazing Sword) was the very first game he ever loaned me. I loved the game, and worked my way through it quickly, so Matt showed me the GameCube game: Path of Radiance. From that point on I have played through every Fire Emblem Game available, so on my Birthday, when my husband handed me Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia, I was really excited about a chance to dive in and play after the boys were in bed. And I did, I flew through the main story of the game in a little over a week.
Fire Emblem games are turn based strategy RPGs, in which you command a number of units through a grid map to complete an objective. I’ve always jokingly referred to it as Geo-Political Fantasy Chess. Like Chess, you have a multiple types of units which you can use at your discretion, and each unit has limits for movement and attack. You move as many as your units for your turn, and then its the enemy’s turn. While not an overly complicated battle system, there are terrain effects such as trees, sand mountains which can effect units mobility, chance to hit or be hit, etc. So you have to plan to give yourself the best advantage to survive and complete your objective. One of the biggest challenges in Fire Emblem is perma-death. Until recent games, which has a casual mode allowing your character to just retreat, if a unit reached 0 HP, they were dead. So you either would have to replay levels from the beginning, over and over, until you found a strategy where everyone survived, or weather your losses.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia is a remaster of the second game in the Fire Emblem Franchise Fire Emblem: Gaiden, which was released in Japan in 1992, and has never had a Western release. With completely new graphics, animations, voice acting, and some new characters to boot, this Medieval fantastical melodrama stays faithful to the original story while bringing it back in a fresh new way.
The kingdom of Zofia has known peace for generations, their goddess Mila has blessed them with bountiful harvests and a Divine Accord has protected them from the northern kingdom of Rigel, and their god, Mila’s brother Duma. However, Zofia’s people have become complacent, hedonistic and the nobility corrupt, so a sudden drought and Rigel’s breaking of the Divine Accord by invading from the north puts the country in great peril.
Two childhood friends, Alm, and his grandfather’s ward, Celica, were separated when Celica is hidden away after an attempted kidnapping. Promising to see each other again, they both grow up isolated from the politics of the country, Alm in a small farming village to the south, and Celica in an abbey on an island off the coast. But when news of the king’s death and Rigel’s invasion, both of them spring into action to try and restore peace to the land. Alm, trained as a warrior by his grandfather, a retired general, leads a band of his friends and they head off to join the resistance, while Celica, now a priestess, travels with some companions to the Temple of Mila to plead directly to the goddess to intervene on their behalf, and prevent war.
Both Alm and Celica have chosen a side in how to resolve the conflict, but you don’t have to, since you will be playing as both armies. However, one of the biggest themes in this game is conflict of ideals and how to care deeply and love people even when you do not agree with them, and finally compromise. Alm and Celica’s relationship is going on a roller coaster as they each pursue their chosen path: one to war and the other in an attempt to find peace.
The game play in Fire Emblem is also a bit nostalgic, in that it is more traditional than other recent games in the franchise. It does however keep some of the more successful additions to the games for more recent titles. One of the most important is Casual Mode, allowing you to turn off the perma-death option, causing your units to retreat instead of die, reducing the challenge and stress to some degree, while not simplifying the maps. However, they chose to forgo most of the modern updates to the battle system itself, such as allowing your units to pair up and fight as a team on one square.
One update that I wish had been made to Echoes was the inclusion of the weapon triangle. The weapon triangle is a staple of the Fire Emblem game play, and while Gaiden preceded its introduction, there has never been a western title released that excluded it. This system is similar to rock, paper scissors, in that each of the main types of melee weapons have one strength and one weakness, this along with other currently standard strengths and weaknesses, such as archers having strengths against flying units were missing. Instead certain weapons could develop arts and special skills that an experienced unit could use with it. The use of Arts, and magic spells could be a challenging in that you had to expend hit points to use them. This meant that you would weaken yourself by unleashing powerful moves or casting your spells, meaning you had to plan ahead with your healers and special items to replenish your character’s hit points. These two factors shook up my game play, and forced me to change up my strategies in this game compared to previous ones. Another difference was that with two armies, your available units was much more limited, meaning that you usually found yourself using most if not all of your army on your map. This was something I liked, because it encourages you to balance your team better, instead of building up only a select few units and neglecting others.
Echoes introduces a Dungeoneering mechanic. The characters will enter a dungeon, move about freely, and trigger mini battles by running into enemies wandering the map. While this unusual if you are familiar with many Japanese RPGs, such as Final Fantasy or the Tales games, it is something that has never appeared in a Fire Emblem game before. Going into Dungeons helps you find items, complete side quests in local towns, and access the shrines you need to advance your character’s fighting class, and are sometimes necessary to advance the game. They do add an extra challenge by limiting the party members you can bring, and also causing your characters fatigue which can prevent them from participating in battles.
This game was given the ESRB rating of T (teen), which means it was considered appropriate for ages 13 and up. I’d consider this fair, although this is definitely a stronger T, in my opinion. The T rating is for alcohol references, fantasy violence, mild blood, mild language and suggestive themes.
- The Alcohol references include one character that likes visiting the tavern and ale and wine being a collectible food item.
- Fantasy Violence I assume would be obvious in a game that does depict a war.
- The mild blood is pretty mild, there is some shown in cut-scenes but the actual gameplay is stylized and doesn’t show blood, and defeated characters disappear.
- The language is also mild but present, and was something I noticed in my game play, coming from one of the fist villains you meet.
- Suggestive themes, according to the ESRB means “mild provocative references or materials.” I’m assuming that these are mostly related to some of the romantic interests that certain characters express, one of which is an obvious unrequited homosexual attraction, and another which includes a girl with a crush on another character which shows all the signs of an unhealthy obsession, and there were a couple other instances that spring to mind. I will note that mild is a fair assessment, there was nothing overtly sexual, although some instances that were somewhat awkward. I found the suggestive themes is this game more mild than the recent title.
There were so many things in this remaster that was done well. The most recent titles, Fire Emblem Awakening and the Fates Trilogy were huge and grand in scope, but bringing back and rebuilding this classic game, and introducing it 25 years later was a great choice. Fire Emblem has grown exponentially in popularity over the last few years, becoming a mainstream franchise for Nintendo, when it used to be a niche game.
I personally would not recommend this game as something to play with young children, due to the violence, language and suggestive themes. But for an older teen or an adult, it provides a fun, challenging strategy game with an interesting, albeit sometimes melodramatic plot.
If you want to learn more about the ESRB rating system for video games, here is a link to their categories page: https://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.aspx