Video Game Review: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Details: This review includes the downloadable content. Spent about twenty-six hours playing the game. More information can be found at https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/fire-emblem-echoes-shadows-of-valentia-3ds/

Score: 7.2/10

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a modernized remake of a very old game. Story heavy games rely much on a good presentation. Fortunately, Echoes’ presentation is fantastic.

Echoes takes place in a fantasy world of magic and monsters. The story focuses on two characters as they rebel against an imperialistic empire and the mad god that rules over it. It’s a fine story and I was plenty engaged. It was a bit predictable. If you’ve ever played a fantasy role playing game before, you’ll see every plot twist coming.

Gameplay is pretty standard for the Fire Emblem franchise. Gameplay focuses on combat, which consists of controlling units or soldiers on a grid. You take turns moving your units around. As units combat enemies, they gain experience, level up, learn skills, etc. Leveling up is noticeably simplified from the prior two games in that in the prior two games, your units could be promoted down multiple paths. Here, units mostly only have on path of promotion to go on. It’s not a terrible thing since the option of multiple promotions was kind of an illusion because one promotion would always be obviously inferior to the others. It’s nice that you just get the best possible promotion in Echoes since it is the only possible promotion.

In comparison to the Fates and Awakening, Echoes is a noticeably tougher game. That’s not to say that you can’t just grind for a while and level your characters enough to overcome any challenge. Even so, there are a lot of tough situations thrown at the player.

One example is there are many enemies with a high chance to dodge attacks, making fights far more difficult because all your attacks miss. There are also terrain issues. For instance, there are many levels where you are forced to travel down a long corridor surrounded by archers and mages, turning the whole level into a shooting gallery where you are the target. Then there are the enemies that endlessly spawn more enemies, effectively turning the level into a timed level because if you do not kill the enemy in time, you will be overwhelmed by endlessly spawning enemies. There’s a lot going on here that makes this game tougher than the last two Fire Emblems.

One of the bigger changes that also affect the story is that gameplay is spent between the two protagonists and their respective parties. This alternates between chapters and in some parts, you cannot progress unless you play through both of their portions. It’s familiar in that Fire Emblem Fates also did something like this, except that they split that up into two separate games. Here, the two are cohesive parts of the same game and it helps tell the story in a way that Fates failed to do because of how separated Fates was.

I think the biggest change here is the inclusion of 3D dungeons. At many points throughout the game, you will have to explore a dungeon and you get to do so by controlling your character in a 3D environment. It’s a nice addition, but I don’t know if it really adds that much to the gameplay. Visually, the dungeons are mostly homogenous since the 3DS simply cannot handle too much technically. Dungeon layouts also aren’t all that complex, likely for the same reason. The 3DS is simply not a powerful enough device to fully implement a three dimensional environment that can compete with comparable games on more powerful systems (like consoles or the PC).

Also worth mentioning is that a lot of the side stuff like pairing up, romancing characters and recruiting their children into your party are all gone. Echoes focuses primarily on combat, so if the social aspects were your favorite part of the franchise, you’re probably not going to like Echoes. There are still some social things such as characters having conversations during combat. That’s about it though.

The best part of this game is the visuals. This is still a 3DS game so understand that it still looks like shit compared to a console or PC game. However, this is a better looking game than Fates or Awakening. There are also more fully animated cut scenes and the 3D models look more detailed. Artistically, the game looks great and is littered with tons of little flourishes and details that help enhance the experience. For example, the opening sequence that starts the game is fully rendered in game and changes when you beat the game to something plot related. It’s a nice little detail that helped enhance the emotional aspect of the experience.

Unlike the past Fire Emblem games, this game is fully voiced and voiced well. The actors all do a great job and nothing was too hokey. The music is also fantastic.

I play through some of the downloadable content and I can easily say that it can be skipped. The vast majority of the downloadable content is there simply to make players’ lives easier by giving them things. There is no story involved in these content packs. Only one of the content packs has any real story and after playing through some of them, they aren’t all that well told. If you don’t play the downloadable content, you aren’t missing much.

Overall, this was a really fun game. It didn’t have any of the social stuff from the last games, which I really liked, but I still enjoyed it. I think that’s due to the well told story and high production values (for a 3DS game). Decent 3D models, ample anime cut scenes, and full voice work all contribute to an enjoyable narrative experience.

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