I’ve spent a few weeks with the newest 3DS Fire Emblem and while I would still consider myself a newcomer to the series (having only played the previous two 3DS entries, Awakening and Fates: Birthright), I can still see some major differences with Shadows of Valentia. Fire Emblem fans who still haven’t taken the new game for a spin can rest assured it is a lot more of what you’d want, and arguably a better game than Fates in some instances, but some interesting mechanics and themes have come up that I was surprised to see.
You probably want to play with Permadeath turned on
Since Fire Emblem: Awakening brought the Casual mode to the series, there has been a divide amongst series players. Some seemed to think the Casual mode, which allowed for fallen heroes to return after battle to fight another day, took away from the core element of past Fire Emblem games, i.e. the permanent death of heroes who fall in battle. With Awakening I played Casual mode because I, well, wanted a casual experience that didn’t require as much stress or thought. It was nice for me. I could now just enjoy the story (which was great) and not have to worry about losing my units! The same thing went for Fates, which I also beat on Casual mode.
But I don’t think playing on Casual mode is all that good in Shadows of Valentia. This has to do with the structure of the game. In past games there were occasional maps to play on to beef up your units, or side missions where you could gain experience and social links with units. Here however there is an overworld map you have to travel, with wandering enemies that you have to fight. There are also 3D explorable dungeons with wandering foes as well. Engaging in these fights gives you small battles that you can easily overcome, not all that different from Awakening and Fates. But these fights are just too easy in Casual mode. Most of the time I have huge armies with way higher skills and abilities. It makes the fights dull and meaningless.
This is countered during the epic all out wars you can have with some higher level enemy units, which makes me want to leave Casual mode on just in case I lose a unit. But I think playing with Permadeath can go a long way for making you think critically about your choices. I reinforce this theory by remembering this was originally a Super Famicom game, and it never included a Casual mode at all. So from a purist’s standpoint, I’d say stick with the “Hardcore” mode and go with permanent loss of units!
The voice acting is worth your time
Whenever a game features fully voiced scenes, I try to listen to the voices. They often add a lot of depth to the characters. Despite this, after a few hours of listening instead of reading, I find myself skipping over the voices in favor of just reading the text and moving along. It usually saves time, and I can get the inflection and tone in my mind.
On that note, Shadows of Valentia is a truly fantastic assortment voice talent. Going into the game I read some reviews that referenced this as well. I was skeptical at first: there are so many reviews that say a game has good voice acting only to fall victim to skipping hours later. But with Shadows I really do feel it’s worthwhile to listen. Alm and Celica, the two main protagonists, deliver their lines with inflection, emotion, and a charm that makes me want to listen every time they speak.
Even some of the side characters have interesting things to say. Unlike previous 3DS Fire Emblems, this game doesn’t rely on interactive cut scenes and FMV to tell its story. They are few and far between, so the bulk of plot and character development comes from these voice lines. It’s a good thing it is all well done!
There are a lot of battles – maybe too many
As mentioned before, you venture around on an overworld map on your way to the main objective. There are two separate parties you can control as you progress through the game, meaning there are two separate groups of units for you to grind and level up. This isn’t a problem thanks to the core tactical gameplay being so solid, but it can get tedious after the fifth fight against Terrors. It seemed to me many of the fights were just there to slow you down, and not to really present any sort of challenge. This is particular evident in the game’s newly added dungeons.
A nice change of pace, for sure, the dungeons allow you to freely move about as you explore a 3D environment. This shift in gameplay and perspective would have been better if it didn’t amount to a glorified overworld. You essentially do the same thing in both instances: move about the area, look for a unit to battle, engage in said battle, and then continue exploring. The only real difference in these dungeon sections being they usually end in some sort of gain like a Mila Shirne to enhance your units or a treasure chest with a nice piece of equipment.
So the main game is battling, the additional features for this remake incorporate battling, and none of these battles seem too substantial. This isn’t really a complaint, just something that can drag down the experience if you aren’t prepared for it.
amiibos are a powerful
Shadows of Valentia launched with a special Alm and Celica amiibo set. Scanning them into the game grants access to a unique dungeon for each figure. These dungeons are a bit of a challenge early on, but can be cleared fairly easily after you level up some. Completing these dungeons gives you some pretty sweet loot, which can easily be the best stuff you have at that point in your game. I have also heard the same thing concerning the game’s DLC, though I haven’t tried out any yet myself.
That being said, I generally like games that do this: give you access to ridiculously powerful items early on. It certainly breaks the meta of the game, but I think it’s fun to have all-powerful units walking among common men. Also, being a big fan of amiibo in general, I like any excuse to tap my toys on my 3DS!
Other Fire Emblem amiibo unlock special “Illusory” fighters to use in battle. These fighters appear close to either Alm or Celica (as they are the only units who can summon amiibo), and disappear after one turn. But when they get a chance to fight, they can deal a lot of damage. It is incredibly useful to summon, say, Ike when Celica is pinned somewhere, because his massive sword skill can decimate many enemies before he is unsummoned. Again, some may scoff at this, but I think it’s fun! (Side note: amiibo support was perhaps the coolest thing Fates did better than Awakening!)
I’m still not done with the game, but I’m a good ways in and still enjoying it. There are a lot of fun characters who I really enjoy seeing grow and expand (I’m definitely a fan of Tobin and Sabre!). The two leads and their intertwining story are intriguing enough to make me want to keep playing, but I don’t always find myself wanting to start up again thanks to the occasional dullness of battle. Still, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is an awesome game and worthy of the Fire Emblem pedigree. If you liked any of the previous 3DS games, or just want a solid RPG for the 3DS, you couldn’t do much better!