Fire Emblem Gaiden was just the second entry of the legendary Fire Emblem series. However, it was never released on the Western market in any way, shape, or form. Until now, that is. Now known as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Intelligent Systems gave Gaiden the full-on remaking and rebranding treatment for its very first Western debut. Featuring current gen graphics and sound, new cutscenes, and a wealth of other content, Fire Emblem Gaiden is back and looking better than ever.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia takes place in Valentia, a land divided by north and south with the gods Duma and Mila ruling over their respective kingdoms. Mila’s kingdom of Zofia is a bountiful land where her subjects know no strife and everything is provided to them. In stark contrast, Duma’s Kingdom of Rigel is a barren land where only the powerful and skilled survive. The game follows the story of its two main characters, Alm and Celica, as they get caught up in a war between the nations of Rigel and Zofia. I won’t get into anymore plot details than that. I sunk about 30 hours into the game and loved every minute of it. I found Shadows of Valentia’s story and themes to be quite engaging: I think it may even be my favorite out of the entire series. During the course of the game, players switch between Alm and Celica. Each has their own unique set of characters to find and recruit, and sometimes your progress through the story can be blocked until you get to a certain point with the other main character. I thought this was a cool choice, as it leads to players getting to use a wider variety of unique characters throughout the game instead of just sticking with your regulars. Speaking of which...
Combat! The main focus of any strategy RPG, the battles of Shadows of Valentia do not disappoint. You should be warned, though, there are a couple of important changes to watch out for. A staple of the series, the weapon triangle, is missing in action. That doesn’t mean flying units are off the hook, however. Bows still tend to do more damage to flying enemies, especially if the unit has an ability to exploit a flyer’s weakness. Heavily armored characters can still take big damage from magic since their stats are focused more on defense than resistance. Plus there are special weapons that can deal more damage to a certain type of unit. For example, a Ridersbane lance dishes out extra damage to cavalry units. So even though the traditional weapon triangle is gone, there are still strength and weakness mechanics in place to keep you on your toes. Weapons also function differently. Instead of having a finite amount of uses, weapons are now unbreakable. They can also be upgraded at a smithy to make them more powerful and in some cases, change them into a different weapon altogether. Magic using units now learn spells as they level up. Casting a spell costs hitpoints: the more powerful the spell, the more hitpoints it costs to cast it. This puts you in a precarious position as your magic units get lower on health, since they usually have no way of defending themselves at low HP. Having multiple healers is a sound strategy, as they can just hang back and heal up each other as well as the other magic users so you can keep the good times (and fireballs) rolling.
Another interesting aspect is the introduction of Mila’s turnwheel. The turnwheel is an item bestowed upon you by the goddess Mila and it allows you to undo your most recent turns in order to correct any tactical errors you may have made. It is a pretty useful feature, especially for a person like me who accidentally presses the wait button at least once a battle (oops hehe). However, you may only use it a certain amount of times per battle. You can increase the number of times you are able to use it by finding cogs hidden throughout the game. It’s a welcome addition for series beginners and people who like to play with the classic permadeath feature enabled.
I really only have one complaint about the battles. There are certain enemies you fight in the game that can spawn more enemies, and they do so mercilessly. The summoners are usually holed up at a hard to reach part of the map, and they send a steady stream of summoned monsters your way until you can get close enough to kill them. In addition to the normal enemy units you have to fight, this can get very, very annoying. For the most part, the summoned enemies are weaker than the rest, but they can cause the battle to drag on a lot longer than it should have, and that is my main grievance with the whole thing. I’m pretty sure this is why they decided to make the weapons indestructible because it would be unfair to pit the player against waves of respawning enemies with such a shoddy arsenal of breakable weapons.
Any fan of the series knows that by leveling up your characters, you can promote them to a more powerful version of whatever class you chose for them. It works the same way here, with one small tweak. Instead of using a special item as a catalyst, you must instead find a statue of the goddess Mila to promote units that meet the level requirement. Most of the statues in the game are located in dungeons. While journeying across Valentia you will inevitably come across dungeons, in which you take direct control of your main character and explore a fully rendered 3D environment. Enemies freely roam the dungeons and touching one starts a battle. Hitpoints refill after every fight, but your units have a fatigue meter. Repeated battling lowers the meter and when it runs out completely, the unit suffers a penalty to their HP. There are three ways to refill lost fatigue. Exiting the dungeon resets the fatigue meter of all your units, as does offering up an item of food to a Mila statue. Other than that, you can restore an individual unit’s fatigue by using a food item on them.
Some of the social aspects seen in the most recent 3DS entries have been dropped. Combat support conversations are still a thing, but there are no more relationship conversations outside of battle that could eventually lead to romance and babies. I'm not one of those people who enjoy breeding Fire Emblem characters so it doesn't bother me much personally not having it in there. The base building elements from Birthright and Conquest have also been put aside. I thought it was a cool mechanic, but it’s also not something I want to be doing every game. I'd rather have fewer distractions and a purer experience focused on story and battle instead. I know plenty of people that would disagree with me on that because they loved the romance options, but it is what it is.
Graphically speaking, the visuals of Shadows of Valentia received a major overhaul and now look on-par with the last entry, Fire Emblem Fates. And by which I mean that it looks fantastic. The soundtrack is good, just about what you would expect from a Fire Emblem game. There wasn’t anything that really jumped out at me, except for one track in particular. All I can say without spoiling anything is that it plays only once during the course of the game, near the end during a major battle. It is such an epic track that I wished they would have used it more often, but I guess it wouldn’t be as special if they had overused it. For the first time in the series, the game also features fully voiced dialogue (with a few very minor exceptions). But wait, loyal K-Mart shoppers, there’s more! Shadows of Valentia now boasts some beautifully animated cutscenes as well, to help move the story along in a more exciting fashion.
So after being completely rebuilt from the ground up and filled with a bunch of new content in addition to its already excellent characters and story, Shadows of Valentia is another excellent addition to the series. Aside from some of the battles being longer than they should due to the annoying summoners, I had a blast with the 30+ hours I spent on this game. Fire Emblem once again proves that it is still one of the best strategy RPG series around.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 9/10
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