Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a complete remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second in the franchise.
It was released for NES in 1992, but never made its way west, which is unfortunate, because Gaiden was definitely ahead of its time.
Thankfully, we’re in the age of remakes and so we’re lucky enough to get a chance to experience one of the best and most different Fire Emblem titles ever released.
Shadows of Valentia retains the series’ trademark turn-based battle system, but also features full explorable towns and 3D dungeons. It expands on Gaiden’s plot (previously only found within the original game’s manual) and includes all of Fire Emblem’s modern conventions while retaining the elements that made Gaiden so different.
Just like the original’s release on NES the inauspicious beginnings of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia’s plot start from a humble position. As a lowly farmer, Alm gets caught up in the ongoing battle between two nations and sets out with (or without, your choice) all his friends from home.
In the beginning, everyone is soft and slow and weak, except Lukas; a member of the Deliverance. The Deliverance are a rebel force hellbent on recapturing Zofia Castle and setting things right. The plot plays out very, very slowly and for the longest time is almost non-existent. Also boring. Sure, there’s some intrigue and lots of details thrown at you, but nothing really happens.
The plot treads water until late in the piece and then eventually gives you so many payoffs at once that each one is diminished by the one that preceded it. It’s poorly paced, which is its biggest crime. If the pace had been adjusted, the story of the warring nations, religious deities and offspring is actually quite good. It’s a shame it takes too long to get to the point and when it finally does it’s not given enough room to breathe.
It’s All About Strategy
Thankfully, despite the narrative’s shortcomings, the gameplay is a triumph. As is to be expected. Over the last few decades Intelligent Systems has honed and refined its skills in creating the absolute best strategic RPGs money can buy. While Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia doesn’t reach the same dizzying heights as Awakening and Fates, it’s still great.
For the first few hours, battles are generally quite simple and can be won without issue. After some time though the battles get much more difficult. The difficulty can be increased from the beginning thanks to a range of choices and the option to choose whether deaths are permanent or not. None of these options will prepare you for the ridiculous difficulty spike about two-thirds of the way through though.
This difficulty spike is so egregious, it can be almost ruinous to the entire experience. It will require so much grinding, so much preparation and so much patience that you may just give up before you’re able to move on. It’s lucky that the gameplay is so damn good that grinding can be fun, for a time at least.
Exploration is Key
As with Gaiden, Shadows of Valentia features explorable towns and dungeons. The towns are reminiscent of scenes from Professor Layton titles. Though, there’s much less going on. There are occasional peasants to talk to and once or twice you’ll find a mouldy orange or a sack of flour to find, but usually there’s nothing. Not to mention the slowest cursor you’ve ever seen.
Looking for items while pointless and far too slow does allow you to immerse yourself in Shadow of Valentia’s universe. Exploring the 3D dungeons fares better, but is still somewhat pointless. Getting to the end of each dungeon allows you to level up some stats for a few characters and let you battle enemies to grind.
Mostly though, its pointless busy work. Much like anything outside of the battles, exploration is largely superfluous. It’s an occasionally nice diversion, though you’ll get sick of it pretty quickly.
Leave the Past Alone
Getting to play a new Fire Emblem game is always a treat, but this is the worst one we’ve had for a while. It’s not surprising when the quality has been through the roof and it can’t be easy making 25-year-old game work today.
I say worst, but it’s still easily one of the better titles you can play on your 3DS right now. It’ll keep you going for dozens of hours and will challenge you beyond what you’ll expect. There’s plenty to do, especially if you love strategic RPG battles, but the rest of the functions are better ignored.
It’s great that Intelligent Systems and Nintendo is trying to further the genre, but this time they haven’t succeeded. Ignore anything outside of the battles and you’ll love Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. Otherwise you’ll probably feel the way I do.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was reviewed using a digital promotional code provided to PowerUp! by Nintendo.
Game Title: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia
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