Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a remake of one of the first Fire Emblem games. Back when Fire Emblem Gaiden debuted on the Famicom, the game played very differently. It was a challenging tactical game that did the best it could, considering the system’s limitations. With this reimagining, we’re given a game that forces you to be resourceful and really think through every fight.
The basics elements of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia are familiar. Players move units around a grid. When they are within range of an enemy, they can deal damage. Experience is earned from each enemy encounter, but defeating a foe always gives you more experience than usual. Your goal is always to defeat all enemies on a map, keeping as many of your units alive as possible. The only difficulty levels at the outset are Normal and Hard, though there is a Casual option that turns Permadeath off. When a battle ends, every unit still alive gets a certain amount of experience. They can never get enough experience to level up at the end of the round and will cap at 99 exp, requiring you to actually use them during the next fight to earn that last point of experience and level up.
People may start getting tripped up when it comes to the weapon system. Each Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia unit automatically has a weapon or weapons equipped. Archers and mages can attack people directly in front of them, as well as people at a distance. Mages each have their own repertoire of spells that they learn at certain levels, with each one requiring a certain number of HP to cast. This means a mage like Mae, who knows Fire and Thunder immediately and gains Aura and Seraphim after that, can be more useful than Boey, who only knows Fire when you gets him and takes time to learn additional spells like Arrow. People always carrying unseen equipment and having access to specific spells means you don’t have to restrain yourself because a weapon’s uses is running low. Everyone always has access to everything, increasing their range and viability. This means someone like Celica, who begins as the game as a priestess, wields a sword and uses attack magic. She can deal great damage at any range.
The weapon triangle isn’t present in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. You don’t even have an axe-wielder in either army. Everyone I have seen uses swords, lances, bows, and/or spells. This doesn’t mean all weaknesses are gone. Pegasus knights are susceptible to arrows. Mages are easily squished by physical attacks. Armored units crumble when hit by spells. There are also special skills and abilities that allow a unit to exploit an enemy’s weakness. All of this means that you need to take a little more care in each encounter, as you can’t rely on swords beating axes, axes beating lances, and lances beating swords.
Every person can carry one item. Some of these are curative items. An orange, for example, will restore health and reduce fatigue. (The later has to do with dungeon crawling.) You may find swords, shields, bows, lances, and rings. Equipping these pieces of equipment, which never lose durability, gives characters stat boosts and access to Artes. In Alm’s route, you have an opportunity to get a Lightning Sword in one of the first few chapters. This gives the wielder a ranged attack and, after equipping it for enough time, extra skills like Transmute. (That makes all attacks with that weapon magical attacks.) A Leather Shield will boost defense and allow that character to Swap places with an adjacent ally.
But let’s get back to the notion of fatigue. There are multiple dungeons in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. These often house springs where you can add a few bonus points in certain stats to characters of your choosing, treasures, and Mila statues. They also have random encounters. If you find an enemy, you enter into a standard Fire Emblem battle. Only ten people in your party go into a dungeon with you at a time and, as they fight and defeat enemies, they’ll grow tired. Once you reach the Mila statue within, you can promote eligible units, make an offering to remove everyone’s fatigue, use Memory Prism glimmers to see side skits, and review past support conversations. These dungeons are wonderful ways to level grind, since you’re really close to the means of promotion.
You probably caught that I mentioned supports in that prior paragraph. There are supports in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, but they aren’t always the traditional conversations you’d expect. There are passive and active conversations. We’ll use Celica and some of her followers as examples. When she departs the Priory, Mae, Boey, and Genny are by her side. If she is within one or two spaces of all three of these characters, she will receive some sort of bonus to her stats. She may become more accurate with Boey nearby. Mae is the only one she will only talk to occasionally during a fight. Their relationship can go up to A-rank, but in some cases the chapter you are in determines how far that relationship can go. Meanwhile, Mae can speak with both Celica and Boey during a fight, but still can get a bonus from being near Genny.
Talking to other units and taking advantage of support benefits is really convenient in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. It’s to your benefit to keep people clustered together in this game. Especially around a Saint-class character like Silque, as Soothing Light will restore five HP to four units next to her every turn. If a character can talk to perhaps two characters in a single turn, say Mae is ready to talk to both Boey and Celica and is next to both of them, she can talk to each one and still attack an enemy.
Even though there are times when Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia can feel very different from games like Fire Emblem Fates, it is most definitely a Fire Emblem game. There are some game elements you need to get used to, like the way items, class promotions, and magic work. You may need to spend extra time in dungeons getting the characters you aren’t using as much to that next level, since they could very well hover around 99 exp for a few fights. (I’m sorry for neglecting you, Clive and Kamui!) But it does feel as challenging and satisfying as any other game in the series.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia will come to the Nintendo 3DS on May 19, 2017.