May 26, 2017

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia - Review


Strategy games have never been my thing, not for any singular reason, I have just never been able to gel with what they offered, in fact the last one I really tried to play was Advance Wars on the DS, so it has been a while. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was my chance to see if my tastes had changed or if the reason for my avoidance was still standing.

Early on, you are introduced to Alm and Celica, these young kids are laying in front of a cosy fire, reading about the history of their world and making a promise to never divide and stay devoted friends; it is not long after that, that we see their future and it is not good. But the game quickly swaps back to an early point in their lives, where you are given the tutorial and introduced to some of the first people that help you on your fight. However, it is not long after the battle that Celica must leave and Alm remains, wondering why she had to leave and then we jump forward in time. Alm has finished training with his Grandfather and a soldier in red armour appears, seeking Alm’s grandfathers help, but after being refused, Alm and his friends decide to help and leave the village. The story is not that interesting, but the characters you meet along the way are, sadly talking too much more on it, may detract from you playing it yourself.

The gameplay however is where things stay the same, or at least close to what I recall from playing the Gamecube game. Each character that you have in your team can be moved around the battle space, each however has a finite number of spaces that they can move to. Should your character move towards an enemy, you can attack them, if you move next to an ally you can help them, moving around is more important than the actual battles. Moving your players around the map is the crucial part, if there is a metagame in combat, I never discovered it, thankfully fighting is straight forward enough, initiate the attack and watch it play out.  You can slow down the animation or make it faster, but that’s about it, once I started the attack it would just play out, which is fine. If I had to pick a singular aspect of the game that I really liked, turning off the permadeath, something that helped me out a lot. The ability to rewind the game, once you obtain the medallion, is also very nice, letting you retry a move, if you change your mind.

Something I found interesting to the game is that when you are in battles, characters will occasionally have a chat, so if you move one character next to someone else, they might pop up with a brief conversation and while sometimes they can be interesting, other times, depending on who wants to speak, they can be bland and not worth the time. It is different though, that when you are having conversations outside of battles, which can be very lengthy, they can sometimes be very enjoyable. The length of the conversation and the lack of ability to skip them in one go, might be frustrating to some people, but there were only a few conversations that I felt dragged on and when you consider that each line of dialogue is spoken as well, it helps with keeping the pacing up.

Characters themselves are not hugely changeable, you can equip items like a ring or shield, to help you in battle, or a stronger weapon, but that is about it, there is not in-depth character customisation to be found. While you can’t change a character completely, you can select a specific class for them, something that each character can unlock once they reach a certain level. Once you local shrines, you can change your class there, which might help with a particularly strong battle, something I found myself doing quite a lot. The shrines are in dungeons, so exploring them is going to be worth your time, even if exploration is not your normal method of attack in a game like this.

Where the game really confused me was in its visual style, it contains ostensibly three different styles, the common one is the 8-bit top down view, similar to that found in the original NES title, but when you enter battle or dungeons, you will transition to a 3d view. Battles will play out, but the dungeons are areas that you can explore on your own, letting you run around and seek out all the hidden secrets, if you have a new 3ds, you can even control the camera with the c-stick. The final art style is the anime style chat screens, which pop up whenever a conversation is being held, stationary cut-outs of the character will show on the screen and occasionally change their facial features. While the look of the characters blends between the three styles fine, you will know who is who without too much hassle, it is strange to see so many art styles in a single game.

Audio wise, the actors behind the voices are well done, they are campy when required and restrained at times as well, the voices match the characters well enough. The only strange part is the names, I get it’s a fantasy world so names like Steve or Daryl are out, but Alm and Celica are just bizarre and it’s made even worse if you google search Celica all you get is the Toyota car. The rest of the audio is ok, though the battle music repeats far too often, especially when you are in back to back battles, hearing the same theme start repeatedly, well let’s just say, I am glad there is a volume control. Which is strange because outside of that, I really did enjoy the music on the maps, exploring the dungeons and even in the cutscenes, the problem is  that battle music.

I am not a Fire Emblem fan, I find there is too much strategy and not enough gameplay in the series, for my tastes, but Fire Emblem Echoes Shadows of Valentia was interesting enough that I kept at it. While the series still employs more story than game, I can see more people trying to give this a go over past games.

Thanks to Nintendo Australia for supplying the game for review

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