It’s still familiar, but there’s a lot of twists and turns.
“Wait a minute, did that Sniper just fire an arrow across four squares?”
When given the opportunity to see Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for the first time, it didn’t sink in just how different this entry would be from its 3DS predecessors. The core Fire Emblem gameplay is there, but this enhanced version of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden is going to throw a lot of newer fans of the series some wicked curveballs.
There were demos given for both a standard skirmish on the map and one of the dungeon maps at PAX East 2017. The skirmish was a short one, which served to emphasize our Sniper unit’s extended abilities – a “Bowrange +2” which let him hit from four squares away was joined by the ability to counter-attack from a one square range without a specific weapon. Some of the skills will be lethal in the hands of the AI, but we did confirm that Casual mode will at least be returning again along with the standard, Hard, and Lunatic difficulties. (As of press time, the status of Fates’ controversial “Phoenix” next-turn revive option is still unknown.) A Sage character also had “White Magic” and “Black Magic” listed instead of their standard Tome and Staff option, which points to the game adopting more than just the dungeons of a standard 3DS RPG. Even the classic Fire Emblem level-up tone has been changed for this version.
The dungeons themselves have a familiar feel that draws from titles such as the Shin Megami Tensei IV games in their 3D perspective. Encounters are visible on the map, and running into a monster triggers a short battle. The dungeon battle we witnessed had the AI party outnumbered 2:1, so if that holds as a rule they’ll be short encounters, at least in the early part of the game. In the dungeon, the battle map did not feature any obstacles, which doesn’t rule out the possibility of terrain, more troops, or reinforcements in later dungeons. Following the battle, the party will receive gold and other rewards, but no indication was given about the dungeons being repeatable for super-simple level grinding.
There weren’t a lot of details given about the story, but we do know that the royal siblings, Alm and Celica, will both be controllable. Both characters are trying to save their kingdom in their own way, with Celica focused on peaceful solutions by way of divine intervention and Alm not afraid to spill a few gallons of blood along the way. Each character will have focused stories, but the plots will have to intersect at a point – think 3DS Ambassador title Sacred Stones, rather than the split games of Fates. The characters were fully voiced in English, and we did inquire as to whether the localization would be handled by the Treehouse or by an outside firm such as 8-4 Ltd (Fire Emblem: Awakening) but have not received a response.
We had but a short time with Fire Emblem Echoes, and there are still a lot of items up in the air with only a couple of months before regions outside Japan will be able to jump in. What we saw in Boston has only inflamed my appetite for the game, however, and if played properly this may serve as a bridge between the recent converts from the 3DS and the beloved older entries in the series.