REVIEWS

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Dungeons and Dragons

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
  • PublisherNintendo
  • DeveloperIntelligent Systems
  • Release DateMay 19, 2017
  • Platform(s)3DS
  • Release Price$39.99
  • Rating
    3/5

Way back in the year 1990, a small and innovative game titled Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light was published in Japan by Nintendo for the Famicom. It received mixed to negative reviews from critics and seemed poised to languish in obscurity forever. But on the back of positive word of mouth, it managed to develop enough of a following for a sequel, and the rest, as they say, is history. Twelve games, three remakes, and two spin-offs later, it’s fair to say that Fire Emblem has managed to find a modicum of success. Although no Fire Emblem titles were released in the US until after Marth and Roy (characters from Fire Emblem titles) were included on Super Smash Bros. Melee, Fire Emblem influenced the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle, and others, successfully fathering the entire tactical role-playing-game genre. Large accolades for a series that I haven’t played. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (henceforth FE: SOV), a 3DS remake of the second game in the series, Fire Emblem Gaiden, felt like a good place to start.

Players are thrust into the world of Valentia where they gain control of Alm and Celica who take it upon themselves to help end the war over the continent. Throughout their travels, they recruit allies, fight in large scale battles, and explore various ruins as they discover their destinies through the hardships and complications of war.

As a tactical role-playing-game, much of FE: SOV is spent in combat. Players take control of tens of units on a grid and must use the terrain, unit classes, magic, and skills to their advantage against opposing armies of equal or greater size and strength – in theory. In practice, however, for a game that markets itself on strategic placement and skill, there is a surprising amount of luck involved. Painstaking amounts of time can be spent setting up units in specific formations only to have units whiff their attacks and take critical hits in response. Missing and critical hits are so prevalent that it sometimes feels better to get lucky instead of actually plan perfectly. This is already an issue on casual mode (I’m a newbie!). I can’t imagine how frustrating this would be on classic, where unit deaths are permanent and would likely prompt a restart.

Classic TRPG grid.

Battles are incredibly long, sometimes taking upwards of an hour to finish, making failure late in the battles extremely demoralizing. While there are some mitigations to the punishing nature of combat – Mila’s Turnwheel allows up to three turns to be rewound a number of times per battle –  many battles take so long that I found myself throwing units forward and hoping for the best instead of smart tactical planning. This is not to say that combat is bad, but it does take a certain mindset to enjoy the consecutive, hour-long, brain-consuming undertakings. Once in that mindset, battles become complex puzzles longing to be solved. A space to the left, lancers in front, correct formation, attack. Success! When it all clicks, seldom is anything more rewarding.

…in the early game, figuring out which classes to use in battle against which enemies was one of the more pleasurable experiences.

Complexity is added through the addition of unit classes. Each unit has a class that varies from mage to pegasus rider. Classes have different strengths and weaknesses that must be utilized in order to navigate combat successfully. Adding to this, each unit can hold one item, and one item only. That item can be a consumable to heal health and fatigue or equipment to add to stats and skills. Usage of equipment leads the character to learn more skills, making it favorable to equip weapons or armor over consumables. At first, it all seems convoluted, but as the game goes on it becomes shallower as classes start mattering less and grinding becomes more important. However, in the early game, figuring out which classes to use in battle against which enemies was one of the more pleasurable experiences.

A good deal of charm is infused into many of the core gameplay mechanics. To cure fatigue, consumables can be eaten. Consumables consist of everything from meat to wine. So, to de-fatigue, characters can simply drink themselves into a stupor or get as fat as possible. Just like real life! Absurdly enough, bread, leftover bread, bread piece, and hard bread all exist in game and have identical properties. It turns out that not only is old bread just as good as fresh bread, but a tiny piece of that bread is just as good as the whole loaf! While these details are mostly irrelevant to the game, they all add defining idiosyncrasies to the world. They whisper to you “yes, combat is brutal and time consuming, but not everything is draining, lighten up, it’s a game, enjoy yourself.” Along with the amusing dialogue when force feeding units, these small humorous tidbits add a great deal of pleasure to the gameplay.

Close ups during skill usage.

This charm also permeates into the story and character development. Relationships bud and wither without too much cheesiness. Clever dialogue lampshades some of the more outlandish elements of what is ultimately an unoriginal plot. While the main story isn’t particularly unique, it’s performed admirably and with much gusto, helping to obscure the fact that most of what is happening in game is either battle or moving to the next point on the map – which are really one and the same.

Travel takes place on an overworld map where each point on the map is a battle. Players move from engagement to engagement, advancing the storyline. Occasionally towns and castles are entered and contain sub maps, also comprised of point-to-point movement. The only open-world movement occurs in dungeons, and it’s a shame that there isn’t more of it. The dungeon crawling in FE: SOV is excellent. Movement is fast and fluid, allowing players to swiftly traverse large amounts of ground in a matter of seconds. Barrels and pots are everywhere and can be destroyed in Zelda-like fashion through sword acrobatics to collect random items. Treasure chests are few and far between but contain powerful items that reward the player handsomely for finding them. It isn’t perfect – landscapes are a bit bland and the level design could use some fleshing out – but had most of the game focused on this style of gameplay, FE: SOV may have felt less empty than it does.

FE: SOV is nothing special, but it is a perfectly serviceable title good enough to act as a gateway into the rest of the Fire Emblem series.

And that’s the issue with FE: SOV, it’s not short, it’s not lacking in content, but it still feels relatively empty. Most of the game is spent trudging through battle after battle to get from point A to point B and advance the story. There aren’t many landscapes to enjoy or explorations to be done. Combat is interesting and challenging to a point, character interactions are charming, and dungeons do help break up the monotony, but it isn’t fulfilling overall. FE: SOV is nothing special, but it is a perfectly serviceable title good enough to act as a gateway into the rest of the Fire Emblem series.

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