Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia returns to an older game (Gaiden), and puts other remakes in the series to shame. If you’re hesitant about it not being new, or because it’s a very different experience to many other Fire Emblem games, don’t be. Shadows of Valentia is a game you definitely shouldn’t miss.
This remake brings enough of the old and the new to the table to have the best of both. It’s far more than just a fresh coat of paint, though the updated art is truly gorgeous. It’s the prettiest Fire Emblem for a while, and it’d be great to see Hidari return to work on future installments.
Shadows of Valentia is also the first Fire Emblem game to be fully voiced, and it sounds excellent. The extra voice work from the wonderful cast does a splendid job bringing more emotion to the story and support conversations. The music is also great — passing the test of not getting annoying, even if you have to retry the same battle over and over again. This is an opportunity to experience Gaiden re-imagined in an all-around beautifully executed fashion that still respects what made the original unique.
“Shadows of Valentia is a game you definitely shouldn’t miss.”
The story is just the sort of thing you’d expect from a Fire Emblem game, with a battle against the empire, royalty in disguise, dragons, the lot. But that’s definitely no bad thing — it’s really enjoyable, and with a somewhat sweeter tone than many other entries in the series too.
Dual protagonists Alm and Celica are both great characters, and switching between their armies isn’t nearly as disorientating as I thought it could be, with neither one having a clear advantage over the other. It’s a little odd having the large number of units typical of a Fire Emblem game divided neatly between the two armies though, and means there aren’t many to spare! On the other hand, I found myself having to leave weaker units behind a lot less.
Shadows of Valentia builds on the original Gaiden with the inclusion of support conversations. These are fairly brief and all take place on the battlefield, which somewhat limits their content, but they’re still a really nice addition, and help flesh out your army, especially characters less important to the plot. At this stage in the series, not having support conversations in some form would just feel wrong, so it’s a big relief to see them added in here.
There are a lot of gameplay elements that make Shadows of Valentia stand out from other games in the series, with dungeons being one of the biggest mysteries when going into it. They’re not always fantastic, but they’re few enough and short enough that they don’t get tiring. Along with random enemies spawning on the world map, dungeons are a great way to train up weaker units, as well as gather healing items and equipment. The cap on the number of units you can bring with you in a dungeon can be a little annoying, as you’re limited to 10, but it’s hardly a hindrance.
“There are a lot of gameplay elements that make Shadows of Valentia stand out from other games in the series.”
Along with dungeons, it’s great to see many other gameplay quirks from Gaiden have made a return, and their inclusion is a big part of what makes Shadows of Valentia the unique gameplay experience it is. For one thing, Archers have a range of 1-5 squares, making them versatile units that can now counter close up and shoot from distances that even longbows can’t get you in other games.
Using magic casts from your HP too, even if that’s to heal another character. This sounds like it should be supremely annoying, but it’s not at all, and it’s a great way to balance mages, who are not bound by Shadows of Valentia‘s terrain effects. The different HP costs for spells, as well as their differing hit and crit rates, add another layer of strategy to using Mages. In order to counteract using their HP to heal, all your Clerics can use the spell Nosferatu (allowing them to steal health from enemies).
While it still has a low hit rate, this not only gives Clerics a chance to recover health, but also allows them to attack and counterattack. Other spells these units can learn, such as Invoke, are great additions that help round the class out, and make them even more indispensable. While I’m not suggesting Mages should go back to casting from health, such unique elements in Shadows of Valentia help balance different classes and offer a fresh take on standard Fire Emblem battles.
Another notable gameplay addition in Shadows of Valentia is Mila’s Turnwheel, a brand new feature that lets you rewind actions in battle a certain number of times. This is an extremely helpful mechanic, which can stop you from losing a unit (or all your progress in a battle, should you reset to save said unit) when you just do something really stupid, or get hit by last turn shenanigans, like taking a critical hit from the final boss. Given how hit and crit rates have been changed this time (no more True Hit), Mila’s Turnwheel is definitely an asset, and can lessen the blow when it feels like your own army is out to get you. Cheers, Python.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the world map setup in other titles, and I’m still not here. Though I do appreciate the ability to go back to previous dungeons and villages is necessary for the various sidequests Shadows of Valentia gives you, and it means you’ll never find yourself unable to train up units if you so wish. The main flaw with it is the skirmishes that spawn while you’re moving Alm and Celica around. I’d often find myself progressing Celica’s side of the story only to find Alm kept being attacked, or vice-versa.
This is kind of irritating, as a battle initiated by an enemy doesn’t allow you to change your formation (or select who you want to bring) before you’re attacked, letting enemies pick off your vulnerable units without you having a chance to prevent it. While the game does let you switch between the two at will for the most part, there are points where I found I’d have to choose my battles based on the state of the world map. Baiting extra encounters closer and taking them out before moving to the next story battle so as not to be swamped by a huge amount of enemy units is sometimes a necessity. But, then, it is a strategy game!
“Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a polished masterpiece.”
While it’s definitely atypical for the series, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a polished masterpiece, and an absolute joy. Not only do I hope to see other earlier Fire Emblem titles given the same loving remake treatment, but I’d love to see some of the fine-tuning carry over into the next brand new title too.
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