I actually finished Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for 3DS before playing the English Training games I blogged about in my last post, but I thought two posts in a row about Fire Emblem would be a bit much. This has already been a big year for the series, and I'm still looking forward to the upcoming crossover, Fire Emblem Warriors, and planning to squeeze one or two playthroughs of the main games in this year as well.
Anyway, I'd dipped into the original Japan-only Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series, so I'd already become familiar with the majority of the unique elements in Fire Emblem Shadows. Like many sequels of the era, Fire Emblem Gaiden experimented with a lot of things, including playing two separate armies simultaneously, spells that cost HP, towns with villagers you can talk to, unbreakable weapons, a world map with random encounters, and items, such as shields, that characters can equip for bonuses during battle. Like the first game, Gaiden feels very slow and primitive compared to the later games, as you can't skip the battle animations and the character hit rates are so low it means a lot of rounds you and the enemy are just missing each other (boring!). The characters' growth rates in the original game are also really low, which also adds to the feeling of slowness because levelling up your characters takes a long time.
Like their previous remakes, Shadows feels true to the original, but thankfully modernizes most everything. Although the developers didn't incorporate the series' now-standard weapon triangle (which wasn't added until the fourth game in the series), most everything else has been updated, including the story, which has been greatly expanded upon and fleshed out; the characters, who are fully voiced, a series first; towns, which you navigate in a first-person view that feels very Phoenix Wright; and dungeons, which you explore in a third-person perspective in a very Persona like manner. The game does include support conversations, which are a big draw for fans of the series, myself included, although they're very limited: most characters only have one person they support with. This means that in a single playthrough you can unlock almost all of the supports, which is actually kind of a good thing for a completist like myself. They also added "Combat Arts", which are skills that some weapons/equipment can unlock the more you use them, which helps keep things interesting.
The remake looks and sounds fantastic. It reuses the same game engine as Awakening and Fates, but with the new artist and the more demure color palette and the great battle animations, which are more dynamic than ever, you hardly notice and the game feels surprisingly fresh. The game also includes Amiibo support in the form of two unique dungeons for Alm and Celica (the two game-specific Amiibo), the usual glut of DLC content for diehard fans, and a new challenging "marathon" type dungeon as a new chapter 6 available after you complete the main story.
One area the developers didn't change was the battle maps themselves, which tend to feel pretty same-y (too big and too bare). The game also still lets you bring pretty much your whole team to every battle, which is probably why the maps are big, which seems a bit unnecessary and tends to make battles drag on. I played the game on normal, which was pretty mindlessly easy for the most part, especially because the game adds in "Mila's Turnwheel", a device you pick up early on and that lets you rewind time to take back a bad move you've made. Although I appreciate how convenient this addition is, it almost makes the game too easy, although the developers mitigate this somewhat by not letting you rewind time if either of the two main characters dies. The developers have experimented with a lot of different ways to prevent players from getting too frustrated such as restrictions on mid-battle save points, etc., and although I'm still a bit conflicted about this I wouldn't mind seeing it return in a future installment.
After having played through this remake, I'm left feeling a lot like how I felt after playing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, the DS remake of the first game in the series. While the game pales in comparison to other games in the series, it's fantastic to have an updated version of the game rather than have to struggle through the extremely slow-paced and Japanese-only original. The game has a lot of unique elements that were rarely seen in other entries of the series, if at all, and the developers did a pretty good job of breathing new life into the characters and fleshing out their personalities (although the characters and story are still on the thin side overall). This game isn't likely to be amongst my top favorite Fire Emblem games, but I'm extremely glad that the remake was created in the first place, and I'm really hoping that more remakes are in the pipeline. One can only hope!
Check out these gussied up Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia links:
- As always, serenesforest.net should be your first stop for info about the game
- Entry at nintendo.com
- Page on Miiverse
- Review at NintendoLife