Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a game that proves that novelty doesn't always beget quality. After Fire Emblem Fates left a strange and bitter taste in our mouths, Shadows of Valentia sweeps through and cleanses the palate like a breath of aromatic, freshly-ground coffee. Mmm. Yes, this is the good stuff. This is the curl-up-on-the-couch, Saturday morning brand of strategy RPG, and it's exactly what we've been craving.
For those who don't know, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a complete remake of the 1992 Famicom game Fire Emblem Gaiden, which never crossed the sea to Western gamers. So much of Gaiden's original influence is felt here, and while the cynics may yawn at the prospect of playing a 25 year-old RPG, I can assure you that it's aged like fine wine.
In fact, it's Shadows of Valentia's simplicity that makes it stand out from the crowd, and its simply-told story resonated with me more deeply than did the story in Fates or Awakening. Players will meet Alm, a young man who was raised by a legendary soldier along with a young woman named Celica.
Alm and Celica spent their childhoods together in the southern region of the continent of Valentia in a land known as Zofia. From the opening scene, a believable bond and innocent romance between these two begins to bud.
The two are soon separated, though, after the mysterious Celica's identity and whereabouts are revealed to commanding agents of the northern Rigelian army. From there Shadows of Valentia tells an effective and moving tale from two separate angles, offering two unique campaigns and perspectives which play out along the same timeline. It's an oft-told coming of age war-story, but it features a cast of wonderful characters who you'll love getting to know.
For all of its classic trappings, Shadows of Valentia boasts a consistently beautiful presentation. Just as Gaiden showed up at the end of the Famicom's life-cycle, Shadows of Valentia appears as the final Fire Emblem game on the 3DS, and it closes this chapter with grace. Character models are elaborately decorated and well-animated. Towns and environments are extravagantly detailed, as are all of the character illustrations. Almost every single line of text is voiced, and the vocal performances are consistently enjoyable and authentic. The localization from 8-4 (FE Awakening, NieR: Automata) is especially worthy of praise; it's so good that most of you won't even notice it.
Combat is an aspect of the game that benefits greatly from simplification. Shadows of Valentia does not feature any of the unit-pairing and stat-boosting placement gimmicks that later iterations are known for, and while I thought that this would bother me, it actually made each encounter feel more significant. Even the hardcore FE players will admit that it's possible to rank up a few relationships between strong characters and cheese through tougher battles, but Shadows of Valentia forces you to take every action carefully and thoughtfully.
There have also been adjustments to archers and magic users. Archers can now attack from greater distances, and casting spells costs a bit of your HP. There are more trade-offs to consider when occupying any given space, and taking any given action. It feels less like a grid-based battle royale, and more like high-stakes game of chess, especially playing in classic mode with perma-death.
And here is where we do find one innovation: Mila's Turnwheel. With this handy little device, you'll be able to turn back time through a number of turns. It's basically an undo button that you can tap multiple times once you realize you've made a strategic mistake that will ultimately cost you the life of a beloved party member. While it does detract from the overall sense of weight while playing in classic mode, it also saves you from shutting down your 3DS and re-loading your save file to spare the life of a party member because, come on, we all know you'd be doing that anyway.
New in Gaiden on the Famicom was the addition of dungeons, and in Shadows of Valentia the dungeon crawls have been completely re-imagined in third-person. It's really refreshing. You'll control your fully-rendered character model as they explore tombs and dungeons, opening chests, finding upgrades, and slashing monsters to initiate short battles. The dungeons serve as a very welcome break to the typical flow of play, and it's the kind of thing we wouldn't mind seeing more of in future iterations.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia offers something truly unique. We haven't been lacking great games so far this year, but even as we're drowning in greatness across all platforms I feel confident recommending your prioritizing Shadows of Valentia this spring. I think you'll be surprised by its charm and variety. You'll be humming melodies from its captivating soundtrack during the day while you're away, and thinking about whether Alm and Celica might end up together again. It's an exemplary SRPG in its own right, and a stellar example of why the Fire Emblem franchise is held in such high regard.
WWG's Score: 4/5