Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review (Nintendo 3DS)

Written by: Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

Title: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Strategy RPG
Price: $39.99

Fire Emblem Gaiden celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Having debuted in March of 1992, Gaiden as a whole was received rather well by gamers at the time, and was considered a fairly successful entry in the then-budding Fire Emblem series. While never officially released outside of Japan, Gaiden has been available to play by avid gamers via the use of emulators and fan translations. While still good, Gaiden’s gameplay has not aged well, and current gamers boasting of no experience with older Fire Emblem games will undoubtedly get frustrated trying it, as by today’s standards, it is both clunky and slow.

However, with the release of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, the gem that is Gaiden is now accessible to the new generation of gamers. Echoes is, in essence, a remake of Gaiden, but even as Intelligent Systems has tried to hew it as close as possible to its source, it also feels apt for 2017 standards for gaming. Very little is different from the two, and yet Echoes manages to add mechanics that distinguish it from Gaidrn, featuring explorable dungeons, a world map system, and challenging multiple-army battles.

The question does remain, though: While Echoes may be a good reimagining of Gaiden, how does it stand as the latest Fire Emblem game?

The answer: Extremely well.

Follow the adventures of Alm and Celica, charismatic leaders who strive to right what is wrong in their land of Valentia. Guide them through five chapters (with a sixth as post-game content ) along many locations, from pirate ships to haunted graveyards to forgotten shrines to vast battlefields. Along the way, explore dungeons and level up, forge items, and steel them to face the evil god Duma in his lair on the other side of the continent.

While these concepts have existed before in previous Fire Emblem games, the difference is in how Echoes implements it. It isn't simply that this level of polish has never before existed in a Fire Emblem title. It’s the way Echoes is presented as to lend unparalleled uniqueness.

Expanding on what lore Gaiden has already made, Echoes features an updated storyline and makes liberal use of voiced cutscenes and dialogues. This little addition, while seemingly simple and obvious, adds a layer of believability to the events in the story. It makes the narrative flow better and sets up the atmosphere quite nicely, as players are not only able to hear the characters speak, but are also able to empathize with their hopes and their fears while they explore the various locations Valentia has to offer. The dialogue is memorable and delivered well enough to make a mark in players who listen, and while the story itself might not have many twists and turns, the quality in how it’s delivered stands out, certainly miles above how older Fire Emblem games use vocal cues as a substitute for narration.

Adding to the topnotch storytelling of Echoes is its gameplay, which incorporates quite a few changes compared to earlier titles in the Fire a Emblem series. Among others, the character inventory system is all but gone, with both friend and foe able to bring one item along. The distinct lack of the Weapon-Triangle System sticks out prominently, as without it the game flows easier and plays simpler. Gone are the pairups Awakening and Fates made prominent use of. Ready-to-equip skills have been eliminated as well, replaced instead by optioned weapon skills called Arts. The battle mechanics have also changed, with most black and white magic spells costing HP to cast, and the speed requirement for doubling an enemy reduced from five to one. The lack of an Avatar system also sticks out, and changing classtypes (from Archer to Mercenary, for example) is all but impossible now.

All told, these changes aren’t necessarily bad, but long-time fans will feel the change in mechanics. It’s a conscious decision on Intelligent System's part. The bottom line is that Echoes still plays like a Fire Emblem game, and a very polished one at that, but it definitely takes some time getting used to.

Make no mistake. Echoes is not perfect. The game’s worst flaw is its susceptibility to pacing issues. Some levels get very grinding and thus become far from fun to play. Celica’s maps, in particular, are both extremely slow and dreadfully tedious. Being forced to slog through swamps while an endless rain of summons batters the player doesn’t feel like strategy; it feels like a test of patience.

Some enemy types (such as the Mogul and the Witch) are frustrating to face in battle and makes progressing through the level more of a chore than a challenge. Worse, still, is the fact that, compared to Fire Emblem: Fates, the series' immediate-past release, the levels in Echoes are all of the linear “rout/destroy all enemies” type. Gone are the creative "defend" maps and interesting level designs. Most battlemaps in Echoes are big, wide, and open -- and, regrettably, uninteresting.

While these negatives do serve to dampen Echoes, overall, they’re little more than minor annoyances to an outstanding experience. The voice acting, the gameplay polish, even the unique animations each character has upon winning a battle all but speaks to how much effort and care went into Echoes. Fans of any Fire Emblem game would do well to pick it up, and anyone looking for a solid turn-based strategy or role-playing game will find plenty to love in Echoes. While lacking in some mechanics that have defined the more modern Fire Emblem games, it more than makes up for it with its level of quality.

  • Superb storytelling
  • Fine balance
  • New and unique (and interesting) mechanics
  • Very polished experience
  • Postgame content likewise interesting and fun

  • Has some ( very ) tedious levels
  • Expensive DLC

 RATING: 9/10