Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia: Old Game Made “New”

This analysis contains minor spoilers for early game contentpromo320094836

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia, a remaster of the second game in the series; Fire Emblem Gaiden, is Nintendo & Intelligent Systems’ attempt to modernize a classic Fire Emblem game to introduce the new wave of fans FE: Awakening, FE: Fates, and FE: Heroes brought to the franchise to some of the classic games. I want to start off by saying I think this is a fantastic idea. I was one of those fans Awakening brought in and have really wanted to get my hands on older games. It’s also the West’s introduction to the second game in the series (the US and Europe hadn’t gotten their hands on one until the seventh game, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade for the Game Boy Advance, simply titled Fire Emblem). Great, awesome, new fans and Western veterans finally have the chance to get their hands on this newly remastered classic.

There’s just one problem. The game feels straight out of 1992. Despite the new flashy graphics, voice acting, and artwork, nothing here feels fresh, inspired, or, frankly, fun. The story and characters are well written, but the real meat, the gameplay, feels incredibly dated. The new dungeons are fine but serve very little depth. The tactical gameplay has boring, flat maps with very little going on that generally just throws mediocre enemies your way and asks you to kill them. The UI is also a tad lacking. Let’s break it all down one by one.

I’ll start with the good: graphics, story, and voice acting. As this is more meant to be a critical review of the game I won’t spend too much time here. The graphics and artwork are gorgeous, all updated from the 1992 counterpart, it makes the old artwork almost embarrassing. The story is rather well done with a few slower moments but certainly not bad. the voice acting as well is rather well done for the game. I also rather like how the story has you controlling two separate armies with connected stories between the two of them. This is probably the one aspect I enjoyed the most and the reason I kept playing. Seeing the story and world unfold through two different views is a great way to tell a story that I’d love to see more of.

Alright on to what I didn’t like. Hoo boy there’s a bit, so buckle up. Let me start off with the maps and enemy units. The maps in this game are not good. They are largely flat and uninspired. Any environmental effects that slow movement feel more like nuisances than actually having any strategy involved.  While you’re navigating the overwhelming sands and infestation of trees you have the pleasure of wiping hordes of unimpressive enemies being spawned by a conjurer all the way across the map. Awesome. At least when you kill him the hordes go away. Speaking of magic, like many older RPG’s, it’s completely overpowered. It ignores defensive effects from things such as forests which means all those trees you’ve been working your way through are useless against the witches attacking you. But hey, at least the witches can’t teleport across the map to attack you.

Oh but wait they can. Yeah, these magic slinging little ladies can teleport across the map to attack one of your low resistance units you tried keeping in the back to keep safe. As far as I can tell this teleport has infinite range and they can move after the teleport, which seems extremely redundant considering their seemingly infinite range. If that wasn’t clear by the way, you have no indication of where they can teleport to. Or when. I couldn’t figure out a pattern either. You could do the same battle the same way and have no witches teleport or have five of them teleport. These enemies right here have to be one of the worst designed enemies I’ve ever had the misfortune of fighting in a game. They have the most powerful type of attacks in the game, can hit you anywhere you are, the defensive tiles you try to use for strategy have no effect, and you have no idea when they may attack. Downright awful.

The last major topic I wish to talk about is the UI. Not only is it incredibly bland, in certain cases it does a poor job of displaying crucial information. Now I’m not saying UI should be flashy. UI should be simple and easy to read, but it should also have character. These black boxes? No character. Doesn’t even fit the rest of the art that well. Along with this, the standard UI doesn’t actually straight up tell you how much damage you’ll be dealing. It gives you a health bar that’s a bit hard to read, your attack and defense, and the enemy’s attack and defense. Beyond the health bar display, there is no indication of how much damage you are actually dealing. Unless you want to do math every battle and know the damage calculations by heart. The “simple” UI actually shows you the amount of damage you deal so not only is it “simple” it’s straight up better than the standard UI. As for other little things, the double indicator is too small, on that note most of the UI is a tad small, the inventory seems almost slightly unorganized, and I swear some units have skills you can’t see. I’ve had units double immediately and at other times attack once, wait for opponent attack, then hit with their double. On that note, if you attack an enemy, with a 100% hit rate, and kill that unit with the first blow, the health bar will still show YOU taking damage. So this health bar that’s a tad too hard to read can also be slightly misleading.

Before I wrap things up, I want to touch on a couple of things I think the game is missing. The biggest one is the lack of weapon triangle. The weapon triangle was introduced in the fourth game Fire Emblem: Genealogy Of The Holy War, and  has been in every game sense. If you don’t connect the dots right away: the Western audience has never played a Fire Emblem game without it. Same with the younger Japanese audience. If you wanted to modernize an old game, why would you not want add what is now a defining feature of the series? Even the much smaller, simpler, mobile game includes it. Also, more debatably, the lack of a proper social system. Now I understand Awakening was the first game to have the detailed social systems with the romance. I’m not asking them to rewrite kids into the story (because, frankly, even in Fates they were unnecessary) but a nice way to actually keep track of it all, not wasting movement in the middle of battle, or seeing who can talk to whom be very helpful.

All in all, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia is a game with a strong story, good characters, good potential, but is ultimately lacking in areas and certainly showing its age. I think this potential “Echoes” series is a fantastic idea to introduce new Fire Emblem fans to older games. But the lack of upgrading anything beyond artwork means that we might as well be playing the old games with their outdated design decisions and all. If Nintendo and Intelligent Systems want to make this successful they need to seriously reconsider the way they go about it. If we just wanted to play the old games we could easily go online and find unofficial versions.

Book Update – Taking A Quick Look Back

Alright I’ll be perfectly honest here; I didn’t get any work done on the book this week. I’ve been, er, “busy” (read: distracted by E3). However, I have taken the chance to take a quick look back after my hiatus.

I was fully expecting to want to scrap everything so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I was actually quite happy with the work I’ve done so far. There are a few things in the first few pages I have problems with but I’ve had my issues with those since the beginning and will fix those when I (eventually) finish this first draft and get to editing.

That is, unfortunately, all I have for you this week. With less distractions next week I will hopefully have more to share. Have a great weekend!

MIA – Some Explanation, Blog/Stream/Book Update

So I’m gonna start off with a quick apology for the I think 3 week hiatus. My bad. It was half laziness, half sickness, and half helping family. Don’t uh, don’t think too hard about the math on that one.

Anyway, this short little, uh, “vacation” of mine gave me some time to reflect on what’s going on and what I should be doing. First things first, I didn’t notice it at the time but the daily posts were actually somewhat stressful to write despite their apparent ease to write. I was also quickly running out of ideas. So I’ve decided to remove these from my schedule. The Friday book progress posts will remain however. I will try to post another blog post once a week besides the book updates but will likely miss a few weeks.

To compensate for the lack of posts I’ll add Thursdays to my stream schedule over at twitch.tv/thexangurla. So you can come hang out over there if you want.

If you didn’t gather, yes I will keep working on the book. I think this break was probably good for it as it will allow me to reflect on what I’ve already written and let me see if I’m happy with the direction it’s heading in. In terms of a release date, I have no clue. Year and a half from now minimum.

This will all start up beginning Monday next week so I hope you all have a good weekend!

Book Progress – Texting

Hello again, Friday. I’ve been keeping up pretty well with my “page a day” rule I’ve given myself (although due to mother’s day activities this past weekend I didn’t get any work done) but yesterday I found myself stuck on a page.

So, my book is about a group of high schoolers. It’s set in modern day. This leads to the good old recipe of texting. Here is where I’ve found myself stuck. I want to represent texting in a unique way, I do not wish to simply make it lines of dialogue or just tell you what the conversation entailed. I want you to see the conversation. So how do I do that? This is what I currently have:

K > So no keycard locks then? Awesome.

 

Yeah, we’re all good to go <

 

K > So when do you want to pull this off? I’m thinking

       this weekend, less students and all

 

That’s probably a good idea. You free saturday night? <

 

K > Yeah works for me

Cool. We can discuss more tomorrow <

The “K” represents the friend Kurt, and as this is a first person story, the one on the right is Garrett and doesn’t have an initial. Now I think this presentation isn’t half bad. None of the characters that will be in the text conversations share a first initial so it’ll be easy to figure out who says what and it looks like a text conversation. But how can I make it better? How can I make it feel like texts and not just look like them?

There are a couple of options I’m considering. First, I can add boxes or bubbles around the texts. This would make it look even more like text messages and could potentially be even more convincing. But a problem arises when you consider the amount of clutter on the page. Would it look too messy? I want you to read a text conversation and think “They’re texting” not “Wow this sure is messy, what’s going on?” This is probably the most minor of problems as I just need to try out different styles and see if it does end up too messy, so I’m not too worried about this aspect.

My biggest worry is how I should present the text messages. The lines themselves. Most people typically throw a lot of grammar and spelling out the window when texting. Abbreviations, lack of punctuation, etc. So do I have all of the characters text like “hey man where r we hanging out” or does this make the book too unprofessional? Do I use perfect grammar and punctuation or would this pull you out of the story and make the texts more unbelievable? I could also just have some characters have perfect grammar and others not in order to give more depth to their characters. There are many options that I’ll have to explore. I could also just use proper grammar for everyone and chock it up to spell check. Then I would only need to worry about abbreviations and the like which could be great ways to give more character to the characters.

If you have any ideas, feel free to let me know. See you next week!

Video Games – Picking a Favorite 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my favorite games of all time. Because it’s something everyone gets asked at one point or another right? “What are your top five games of all time? Top ten?” It’s a pretty common question.

This has made me realize how hard it is to pick. Favorite game of all time is usually pretty easy but once you start adding more it just becomes harder and harder to pick. There are so many good games out there we’ve played that it becomes a real challenge to weed out which ones belong forever etched in our minds and hearts.

One common thing I’ve noticed is that most people tend to keep one game per series on their list. It’s almost like some unspoken rule. But i think it’s a good one. If this silent rule didn’t exist, many people would have their lists flooded with Zelda, Halo, etc. That doesn’t give other great games or series the love and attention they deserve. That’s not to say those games don’t belong on the list, this just gives more flexibility in terms of what to choose from.

 Sure it might make it harder to pick, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s great that it’s so hard to decide. It means we’ve had many great experiences with games. 

Maybe I’ll share my top 10 sometime. Yknow, once I figure it out…

The Diner

chaffin_s“Mornin’ Sheriff.” the waitress greeted the man entering the door.

The Sheriff tipped his hat as the bell on the door jingled. He made his over to his booth, the third one on the right, and sat down. The waitress strolled over to pour him a cup of coffee, on the house.

“The usual again?” She asked as the steam rose up from the cup.

He let out a grunt in acknowledgement and handed her back the menu. She walked over to the counter and hollered out to the kitchen the Sheriff’s order, two eggs and four strips of bacon.

The door’s bell jingled again. A heavy boot stepped through the door. It was the Outlaw, the most wanted man in the county. He made his way over to his booth, the third one on the left, and sat down. The waitress strolled over to pour him a cup of coffee.

“The usual again?” She asked as the steam rose up from the cup.

He let out a grunt in acknowledgement and handed her back the menu. She walked over to the counter and hollered out to the kitchen the Outlaw’s order, three eggs and three strips of bacon.

Both men received their orders around the same time. They ate in utter silence. No one entered. No one left. There was a tension in the air. The highest law enforcer and the most notorious law breaker were seated in the same diner, on the same morning. But there was no violence. No guns were drawn, no words were shouted. There was only the subtle sound of chewing and the occasional scrape of a fork on a plate.

The Sheriff finished first. He dropped his payment on the table, gave the waitress a thanks, then picked his hat up and began to leave.

As the bell let out another jingle, the Outlaw spoke up. “Mighty fine eggs this morning, wouldn’t you say Sheriff?”

The Sheriff stopped. He put his hat on his head. “I’ll have to agree with you on that one.”

“Have a good day, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff walked out the door and the bell let out a parting jingle.

The Outlaw finished his meal and began to walk out the door.

“Ain’t you gonna pay for that?” The waitress put her hands on her hips.

The outlaw chuckled. “My mistake little lady.” He walked back to the booth and set down his payment. He made his way out the door and the bell let out one final jingle.

 

 

Persona 5 – Stylized Art

This analysis is spoiler free

persona-5-wallpaper-15

I’m a huge fan of stylized art. Realistic graphics can be visually stunning but I always enjoy when a game would rather express itself through its art and graphics. Persona 5 is a great recent example to talk about this topic (alsothegamewasreallygood)

Persona 5 is a game all about rebellion and finding your place in the world. Since Persona 3, each Persona game has used a color to highlight itself and show off its style. Persona 5 uses the color red, which shows off the aggression and passion in the characters. The red is frequently complimented by broad, black strokes which makes the red pop and gives clear definitions and borders. This all culminates together to make the art edgy and unique which reflects the game itself.

Now I’m not much of an artist so I apologize if everything I’m saying is a tad… uneducated. But the game itself touches on dark and sensitive subjects that many other games and media shy away from. Just like the story, the art uses dark and passionate colors to get its themes across. The characters are angry at the world and the “shitty” adults that run it, they’re passionate about their cause of inter-dimensional thievery to get people to confess to their crimes against others. Red is the perfect color to highlight these feelings as red is the color of fire, rage, strength, and love. It’s also important to note that despite the wide use of the color, it is not over used. The uniforms and costumes are not all red (beyond Ann’s costume of course) they’re black with other colors highlighted with them (such as Ryuji’s yellow shirt beneath his blazer).

The anime style of the graphic also works really well here. Not only does it give the red and black colors a great plane to exist in, it lets each character in the story have their own style. The average student doesn’t stand out too much; standard school uniforms with brown or black hair. But the main cast and crew all have little compliments to their uniforms. This would look odd in a realistic style as everyone except the main cast would look exactly the same which isn’t at all realistic.

Of course there are drawbacks to stylized art. If you don’t like the anime style or have a weird hatred of the color red (even red is obviously the best color out there) or if you can’t even see the color red (shout out to all my colorblind brothers and sisters out there) then this game’s art is lost on you. It can also be a huge turn off and make people not even want to play your game. But when stylized art works with people, it works really well. It gives your game a memorable art style that sticks with people. So although stylized art can be a risk, it pays off.

 

 

Book Progress – Making It Up As I Go

Second Installment of the hit literary TV show!

…Ok well it’s not on TV and it’s not a show but you get the point.

First off, I decided that starting this week I would write at least one page a day and I’ve been doing great so far! I’m up to 10 pages so the work is still a bit slow but hey I’m working on it (I still need to write my page for today as well).

But what I really want to focus on today is coming up with the timeline for the story, aka story boarding. I believe it was either Sunday or Monday where I decided I needed to sit down and write out the events of the story, in order. What I found out is that I’m really bad at thinking that far into the future. However, around Wednesday, I suddenly had an idea for an event further in the story, that fit my timeline nicely. This made me realize that I’m actually pretty good at making it up as I go.

I don’t mean that in a “I’m winging the story and it’s going to be awful” sort of way, rather, I mean that as a “I can’t think this far into the future so let me run with what I have at the moment and the ideas will come to me” sort of way. So if I hit a bump during story boarding or brainstorming, I know that I can just continue writing and I’ll come up with an idea a couple pages or so down.

Is this the ideal way to write a book? No clue. I haven’t done this before. All I know is, it seems to be working out for me. Kind of short this time but that’s all I have for this week. See you all next week!

Open Worlds – Better When Smaller

horizon_zero_dawn_wordmapIn the past decade or so, open world games have really taken off. It seems like every other game that comes out nowadays has a large open world. It’s gotten to the point where it feels like companies just want to make a world bigger than their competitors and don’t actually care about their worlds.

Massive worlds can be fun to explore but problems arise when the worlds can’t be filled. Most games have large expanses of land where there’s nothing there. Maybe there’s a few enemies or some wildlife there, but nothing with any real substance. Now sure, earth doesn’t have the entirety of its land filled with meaningful things, so you could argue the vast emptiness is realistic, but I’m of the firm belief that even realistic games shouldn’t be entirely realistic.  If they were, you’d die in two sword swings or a single bullet to the face. That wouldn’t be fun.

Some games have certainly taken the “good things come in small packages” motto to heart when it comes to their worlds (Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has a great, small, open world as an example). But there are still tons of games that try to use their boring, repetitive, but large worlds as a selling point. If they tone down the size of their world, they can put that production time towards giving their smaller  worlds even more meaning, or further enhancing other aspects of the game such as gameplay.

Just a few of my thoughts really. I’m not sure if we’ll actually see worlds get smaller (but a man can dream). Oh, and don’t even get me started on side quests.