Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review
We’ve all got to try something different sometimes, even if you’ve tried a genre before it doesn’t mean you’re going to dislike everything that that type of game has to offer. I’ve played countless first person shooters and hated them all until I played Destiny. I’d never played a Fire Emblem game due to a bad past with Strategy RPGs, oh how I realise I’ve been missing out.
Shadows of Valentia is a retelling of the second Fire Emblem game (Fire Emblem Gaiden) and follows the plight of village boy Alm and his childhood sweetheart Celica, as destiny tears their lives apart and sets them on the road to saving their respective kingdoms. You’ll start as Alm, before the story moves to Celica, and once the two meet up it then splits into two with you then alternating between them as you progress. You’ll spend your time moving from battlefield to battlefield, striking down foes before going to a village to improve your gear, then moving to a dungeon and then mowing down more enemies.
It doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a real thrill to proceedings here: many fights will start with you checking around the map looking for areas of land to ensure the survival chances of your units and gain the upper hand as the enemy approaches. When two units come into contact the camera swoops down as a 3D arena comes into view, both units take to the field while a dramatic score swells up, blows are exchanged and the camera zooms back out. The whole process takes approximately fifteen seconds, yet despite the ugly character models it never stops being exciting.
The battles are incredibly rewarding too, and not from a compensation standpoint. Granted there’s the usual XP gains for each battle style action, but the sense of euphoria that comes from a well-executed battle plan paying off is second to none, and is a feeling I’ve only ever gotten from winning seemingly unwinnable games on Football Manager. Placing units to stand as a decoy while you take other units around to the side to flank your enemies, or maintaining a two-man blockade while you stop enemies marauding on one side before turning your attention to a slow push towards the enemy captain sounds like it would be dull, but it really isn’t; there can be some real heart in mouth moments when a particular unit attracts undue and painful attention from a foe only to then come out with a lucky critical strike and turn the tide of battle.
The cast is a colourful collection of vagabonds, waifs, strays, and nobles, not all of them are likable but you will find your favourites rather quickly; the block-headed Valbar and defiant Mathilda are the stand-outs of the large bunch. Maintaining the relationships between the characters is done by moving them next to each other when a ‘talk’ option is enabled – it is rather bizarre to think of two people just stopping what they’re doing in the middle of battle for a casual chat, but doing it enough means that units receive a heal buff at regular intervals during fights later on in the game, which you’ll find comes in very welcome. All the main character interactions are fully voiced as well, Intelligent Systems has really gone to town with this production.
If I were to be picky there’s the ugly character models in the battle sequences, but they can be turned off to speed up the entire process. Then there’s the rather dull red and brown colour scheme that enshrouds the entire game. The characters are all so wonderfully drawn and have a wide range of colour attributed to their designs, adding some of those greens and blues to the UI or some of the locations would not have gone amiss. Then there’s the dungeon roaming, as a whole it is kind of unnecessary. This could quite easily have been replaced with separate top down maps. Instead you get dour trudges through boring looking environments staring at a fugly avatar. I guess they do give you the occasional break from the big battles, but they’re just not really all that interesting.
I’m sure you’ll agree that these things are very minor. When the actual task of playing the game is as rewarding as this you’ll forgive it for such small misdemeanors. Considering this is a remake of the second entry in the series it’s a good starting point for people new to Fire Emblem to give it a go – I am proof of that. As a result it could prove to be a start to joining a franchise I never played before and might become a bit expensive as a result. This is also the last Fire Emblem entry to come to the 3DS series of systems, so it’s a hark back to the start, but also the end of an era, and to be fair, it’s a fitting swan-song for a beloved series on a great system.
Wide variety of options
Large cast of likable characters
Ugly battle graphics
Colour scheme is a tad bland
Dungeon roaming is a bit boring