Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Review

It’s difficult to make your way through the world even when you know who you are, where you come from, and who your family is. It’s another to find out that you aren’t who you thought you were and it falls to you to put a kingdom back together. Such is the fate of video game heroes everywhere and the same is true for Alm and Celica in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. This is our Fire Emblem Echoes review.

You begin your adventure as Alm in the small village of Ram. This entry in the Fire Emblem series is very dialogue heavy and you’ll spend a bit of time before you jump into the action. The story is engrossing though and the characters are well developed so it isn’t a chore to pay attention. All of the characters are fully voiced and the acting is good so that helps.

You can see the early DNA of Fates in Echoes but because it is a remake of an earlier game not all of the systems are as refined. The weapon triangle that became part of the franchise is not in the game. However, certain character classes are more effective against others but it isn’t as simple as blue is better than red which is better than green which is better than blue.

Like the other entries in the series combat in Echoes takes place across battlefields maps made of a square grid. There are a variety of locations from fields, castles, swamps, to ships on the high seas. Each of them is wonderfully rendered in 3D but look okay if you play them in 2D as well.

Intelligent Systems has done an excellent job in squeezing out the graphical details in the 3DS. From the battlegrounds to the world map, characters animations, and the varied cut scenes the game looks fantastic. Speaking of cutscenes they have used a variety of techniques each to different effect to tell the story in the game. There are cutscenes that are animated to appear as anime, there are in-engine cutscenes, and there are cutscenes that are narration over a still image.

It’s not just the visuals that stand out. The score is fantastic too. It’s like a full-on opera in some scenes. It does a marvelous job to set the mood. One undead piece reminds me of the ambient music in ghostbusters when they are about to face off with Zuul.

Spread throughout the map is a unique feature to Echoes, the addition of dungeons. You’ll navigate the dungeons as in a third-person over the shoulder perspective. As soon as you encounter an enemy you’ll switch to the standard battlefield view. Most encounters in the dungeon are smaller in scale then you’ll run into the overworld. These dungeons add a new dimension in gameplay and make for a nice tool to help level your characters in the later game.

You’ll also run into towns on the overworld map. These towns are reminiscent of a point and click adventure. You won’t be able to freely wander around the towns but there will be certain points you can visit. At these points, you’ll be able to talk to villagers or look around. As you look around you’ll be able to move the camera around the screen and find items like consumables, weapons, or even memories that you can view at shrines.

While there will be points in the game you have to grind to gain a few levels, fortunately, this isn’t that difficult or time-consuming. You can enter a dungeon and set your troops to improvise tactics. This will command them to do what they think is best and usually, the troops are spot on. You can also hit the start button and it will skip all the scenes and only break from the instant action to show you if someone leveled up or died. At the end game, this can be a blessing to advance a few weaker characters and level them up enough to class change.

I played through on normal mode but you can play on classic if you choose. In classic if your character falls in battle they are gone for good. Almost. There are a few spots that have Water of Revival. These can bring back a dead unit but they are few and far between.

A disappointing feature of the game, which is entirely unnecessary, is the Amiibo support for the other Fire Emblem characters. It costs 10 hp to summon them and they last for 1 round and sometimes do nothing. It’s not the end of the world but I was really hoping for something more.

It took me a  little under 30 hours to complete the main game. The game was a complete saga. I bring this up because Nintendo has an aggressive DLC schedule planned for this latest Fire Emblem edition that may push the boundaries of decency. A season pass costs $5 more than the actual game. There are even two dungeons that are tied to the Alm and Celica Amiibos. This is another $25 if you want all the content for Echoes. All said that’s $110. But rest assured that when you spend your $40 you are buying a complete experience. Not a skeleton that will be fleshed out by nickel and diming you.

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