The Fire Emblem series is quickly becoming one of Nintendo’s premier franchises. With its tactical RPG style gameplay, players are encouraged to take a step back and strategically plan out their battles turn, by turn.
Veterans to the series will notice Shadows of Valentia contains features that are new to the 3DS games, and for good reason. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is actually a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden for the Famicom, released in 1992. This remake was successful at retaining the character designs, storyline, and even gameplay of the original title.
Gameplay & Controls
In Shadows of Valentia, you control the armies of Alm and Celica on an overhead world map with set paths and destinations. Navigating the map is as simple as selecting Alm or Celica and moving the direction you want to go. Moving your character to a town or dungeon space allows you to explore that area in 3D, whereas moving to a location occupied by an enemy will engage you in battle.
Battles consist of the textbook turn-based tactical RPG. If you’ve played titles like Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars, this will be very familiar to you. Individual units appear on a grid filled with obstacles and terrain that may or may provide defense bonuses. A character’s class will determine the distance at which they can navigate and the specific tiles they are permitted to attack.
3D character models act out the battle actions taken and bring life to the otherwise pixelated look-and-feel of the game. Although very detailed and well animated, these scenes can get repetitive and delay the already slow nature of a long and grueling battle. Thankfully, Shadows of Valentia offers plenty of configuration options and these animations can be easily turned off to speed through your battles.
Although players may find they need to grind to level up their characters, I found the battle system enjoyable despite the repetition. The fact that each character is limited to holding one item at a time adds to the strategic nature of the game and encourages you to plan out your equipment accordingly, which in turn is less of a mindless grind.
The new 3D areas feature character movement from a 3rd person point of view. Being able to explore dungeons, loot, and engage or avoid enemies adds another dimension of immersion to the typical Fire Emblem gameplay. Although it is a great concept and is a nice nod to traditional RPG battle encounters, the character and camera controls are not what you’d expect for 3rd person. Expect to run into walls when dashing, and raging when you aren’t able to turn your camera fast enough to avoid a surprise encounter with Terrors. Engaging in battle will transition you back to the turn-based battle system. You can’t grind in these areas forever though, a fatigue system has been implemented that prevents characters from performing their best in battle the more time that has been spent battling in these 3D areas.
Finally, entering a town or building allows you to interact with NPCs and party members to further the storyline. You are also given the option to “explore” the area, which activates a joke of a mini-game that removes all characters from the scene and presents you with a cursor you control to find “hidden” loot scattered throughout the scene. This wouldn’t be so bad if the cursor actually moved fast and if the items were somewhat hidden and not exposed in plain sight.
If this is sounding easy, don’t fret, there are many options to choose from when starting a new game that will make your play through even more challenging.
Graphics & Sound
Let me start by saying the anime character designs are exactly what you would expect from a JRPG, but what really sets this game apart from others is the high level detail in every frame of a battle animation and the full featured cut-scenes. Having these visuals really brings the story to life.
As for dialogue – there’s a lot of it. Sometimes character interactions can go on for quite a while… but there’s an auto-scroll feature which you can enable by simply pressing X and it will allow the characters to speak without having to spam a button. Although the voice acting was decent, I found it difficult to distinguish some of the male characters from audio alone. You really have to pay attention to the screen to see the character expressions and get the full effect of the voices. Fans of subtitled anime will be disappointed to learn that English voice acting is the only option available, with no ability to listen in Japanese.
The game has lengthy dialogue, poor controls in 3D areas, and battles may start to feel somewhat repetitive.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is easily one of the best Fire Emblem games for the 3DS, if not the best tactical RPG currently released for the system. You’ll enjoy several hours of an engaging storyline and strategic gameplay.