The black sheep of the family no more.
I was worried when I read up on Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valencia. It’s a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the follow up to the original Fire Emblem released for the Famicom in 1990. Going into Echoes, I wanted to make sure one question was answered when writing this review -- are the changes that Gaiden, and ultimately Echoes, makes to the core Fire Emblem experience for better or worse? After spending about twenty hours with the game, the answer became clear: Echoes is very much the Fire Emblem experience I have known and loved since the original North American release for the Game Boy Advance. There are some key changes that make things a bit more interesting, but overall Echoes is another fine addition to the 3DS Fire Emblem collection.
The main protagonists of the game are Alm and Celica, both of noble blood, whose ultimate goal is to secure and reunite their kingdom. It’s not too different than most Fire Emblem games, exploring themes like betrayal, redemption and so on. One of the neater additions in terms of presentation is, for the first time in the series, Echoes has full voice acting -- heck, even the random NPCs you talk to, like townspeople and peddlers, speak to you. You can press X to watch scenes unfold without having to press the button repeatedly to move the story along. This works really well, especially since Echoes is one of the text-heavier titles in recent memory.
One of the downsides of the game’s story is the scale-back of the support conversations. This was actually an added feature as the feature wasn’t in the original Famicom game. But while it’s included, the option to marry or have kids isn’t there, making the experience feel a bit shallow, especially compared to other 3DS Fire Emblem titles. It doesn’t detract much from the overall experience as this works in the same way as the DS or GBA games. Plus, characters still manage to have some interesting conversations and make you feel like they’re forging connections well, so it isn’t a total loss.
Echoes feels like a more streamlined version of the previous two Fire Emblem games on the 3DS. It took me around 20 hours to complete the game, which I felt was the right amount of time, though others could argue it’s maybe on the short side. It’s probably because of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph -- without relationships, side missions like paralogues are gone and the game focuses more on getting you to from end of the map to the other with a few pit stops here and there to recruit people and collect treasures. Gameplay is also a bit easier than in other Fire Emblem games -- as long as you rank up your party in a timely manner, you shouldn’t have a problem in clearing any map that comes your way, regardless of enemy. The game might not be as lengthy as other Fire Emblem titles, but I never felt I was cheated out of the experience.
Another difference between Echoes and other recent Fire Emblem games is the way you rank your party. Unlike in previous games, were you can bide your time and level up your team when you feel the time is right, it’s important to rank up your party as soon as possible. Echoes is a very defense oriented game; attacking and clearing a map is relatively easy, but there were many times where the weaker members of my party were quickly wiped out due to being lower ranked than the enemies they were facing. In those cases, I had to be sure to have the right people in the right places. It felt different than playing a normal Fire Emblem map, but at the same time felt new and even kind of refreshing.
Explorable dungeons and visiting towns is a more traditional RPG addition to the series. I felt these kind of additions to the Fire Emblem experience were fine but weren’t all that important to the game until later on when some of the dungeons were a bit longer. Villages and outposts were useful to recruit new members to your team and to forge weapons, but aside from a few side quests, there wasn’t much to do. Both of these were a nice diversion in between long maps but weren’t vital to the story aside from one or two instances.
Fire Emblem Echoes changes enough to make you play the game differently while retaining most of the key aspects of what makes the series so great. The characters and story all connect well, the presentation is top notch and most importantly, the game is still very fun to play. While Awakening and Fates feel like more fleshed out experiences, Echoes bucks Gaiden’s legacy of being the black sheep of the series by not only providing the solid Fire Emblem experience that has resonated with me for so long, but also providing a new, interesting way to play the game.