Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review – Spring forward, fall back

Credit: Nintendo
Credit: Nintendo /

Fire Emblem Gaiden is reimagined as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, bringing past brilliance into present day beauty at last.

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: May 19, 2017

I did not know it was a travesty that Fire Emblem Gaiden never made it west until now, though reception in the day was apparently lukewarm. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia hearkens far, far back to the days before weapon and magic triangles, relationship choices for potential children and petting minigames to an era where the pixelated strategy title had to rely heavily on the strength of its gameplay and written story to shine. As Gaiden did once, so too does Echoes…only much, much better.

I attribute this squarely to Intelligent Systems and Nintendo understanding exactly what needed updating and what was best left alone. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is the first Fire Emblem game I have played beginning to end before, yet the level of attention to reshaping an old adventure is immediately apparent. There is no business about trying to insert modern mechanics where they are not needed, but small touches such as extra characters thrown in to round out your parties and a Casual Mode for those who don’t want to waste 30 minutes reviving dead characters smooth the corners of Echoes quite nicely.

fire emblem echoes
Credit: Nintendo /

There’s something remarkably modern about Gaiden that has translated well into Echoes, and that’s the split story path between Alm, a young warrior who has grown up in an isolated farm village, and his childhood best friend, Celica. The two set out on separate but parallel journeys when events in their kingdom of Zofia turn sour due to an ancient conflict between themselves and their neighbor to the north, Rigel. Though their journeys begin far apart, you’ll eventually gain free control of both to progress their paths at the pace you choose.

Veteran Fire Emblem players will find marked differences here, most notably the absence of the weapon triangle (it didn’t exist yet in Gaiden!) in favor of a heavy focus on terrain and class systems to determine damage advantages and disadvantages. About a fourth of the cast starts out as “Villagers,” allowing you to choose their paths, while the remainder are set in their roles. All allies can evolve their classes over time through leveling and experience. These advancements can only take place at special statues hidden throughout the world in explorable dungeons that are also stuffed with treasure…and enemy encounters.

fire emblem echoes
Credit: Nintendo /

Whether in dungeon or field, Echoes offers its battles with few frills to distract you from the basic business of accounting for harsh terrain, archers shooting arrows at your Pegasus Knights, teleporting witches, and neverending hordes of Terrors. You’ll find keeping your friends alive a significant challenge without the familiar triangles to fall back on, but don’t worry, because a new feature called Mila’s Turnwheel is here to save you. Using cogs accumulated through gameplay, you can rewind time back several turns, if need be, to make a better decision.

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Though I played on average difficulty, I always seemed to have enough cogs when I needed them to keep my roving band all alive, for the most part. Death, rather than a plot point, is more a nuisance than anything. A warning, though, the latter chapters of the game up the challenge significantly, and you may have to swallow some losses to push through–or grind EXP for awhile. This otherwise grueling experience is softened considerably by the robust controls for speeding up battles or skipping their cutscenes altogether, instantly leaving you with the results and more decisions to make.

fire emblem echoes
Credit: Nintendo /

Nintendo touted the dungeons often during the promotions for Fire Emblem Echoes, and while there’s nothing extraordinary about running around a map, smashing barrels, and fighting enemies, the change in pace from endless combat and cutscene proved refreshing. This is especially true given the amount of backtracking you’ll end up doing to return to a Mila Statue or revive a character from the game’s impermanent death at a special, hidden fountain.

Fire Emblem Echoes is not here to make waves in a tried and true formula…But it’s one of the most competent remakes that I’ve seen in years.

More enjoyable than the dungeons were the visual novel-style towns which offered the opportunity to hunt for items, talk to NPCs and party members, forge weapons into stronger versions of themselves, and recruit new allies. You’ll want to leave no Holey Cheese or Hard Bread unturned in these segments, as information gained in towns provides a player-controlled supplement to the already story-heavy adventure. Yeah, there’s a lot of dialogue in this game. The prologue alone takes a good 30 minutes or more!

Fortunately, you’re with a Fire Emblem cast, and their quirks, problems, and relationships dish up plenty of fodder for a complex narrative, even if it’s a just a supplement to Alm and Celica’s endless woes. Though you can’t use your strategic wiles to make two characters of your choice smooch, having certain characters battle at one another’s sides unlocks new dialogue to further certain relationships and expand the tapestry of friendships, love triangles, and romances blossoming in your army.

I won’t lie; Fire Emblem Echoes is no Fire Emblem Fates. There is a certain generic quality about the plot with its long-lost royalty, a farm boy destined for greatness, a masked man (Whoever-Could-He Be) and an army of anime stereotypes. The latter of those has some exceptions, though here I’ll lament the lack of Support System from other recent titles to explore the motivations of favorite allies in-depth. The themes of nobility’s disdain for commoners ring rather shallow, too, especially in 2017. But smooth writing, excellent (and full!) voice acting, charming character art, and a lovely (if repetitive by late-game) soundtrack did wonders to hold my interest all the way to the game’s climactic and emotional conclusion.

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Fire Emblem Echoes is not here to make waves in a tried and true formula–certainly not as a remake of a very old game. But it’s one of the most competent remakes that I’ve seen in years and more than enough for anyone wistfully longing for a new series entry. Fire Emblem Gaiden may have been too weak in its initial incarnation to warrant acclaim or even push its way west, but Fire Emblem Echoes gives the worthy story a second chance at life–one its developers have seized.

8. There’s a certain craftsmanship involved in revitalizing the old and making it new again, and Intelligent Systems has absolutely nailed it with Fire Emblem Echoes. The successful balance of classic and modern is apparent in every aspect of the story and gameplay. Though series veterans may find the lack of certain, newer features troubling, others will find the older style a refreshing twist on the formula they have come to love.. Intelligent Systems. . Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.