This analysis contains minor spoilers for early game content
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.