Fire Emblem Echoes – Shadows of Valentia 3DS Review
Completely reimagines the original 8-bit game
amiibo support and tons of optional DLC
Super high presentation values and story
High difficulty is often cheap
Need to grind to have a chance
Last stages especially is a slog
Shadows of Hurt
Fire Emblem Echoes – Shadows of Valentia is the third Fire Emblem game to appear on the 3DS. While not as good as the stellar Fire Emblem Awakening, I did enjoy this title more than Fire Emblem Fates, the second 3DS title that was spilt across two games and DLC with the story told from a couple different points of view.
Echoes is technically a complete remake from its original Japanese-only Famicon title from the 8-bit era. With this said, it makes sense why Echoes has such a high difficult factor and balancing issues – this title’s biggest flaw. Sure, the entire game has been completely remade with a new coat of 3D paint but the overall structure and heart of the original game is still here.
In a way, Echoes shares a lot in common with Fates only instead of two fully priced games, the player alternates control of two armies, each one venturing northward on a single map with their own dedicated armies. Unlike the player-controlled outcome in Fates, the plot in Echoes is a one-way narrative that is well written and has more surprises than I expected. The story of Alm and Celica trying to rid the land of evil and unite the entire continent under one banner is one life, love, and sacrifice. Even for a Fire Emblem game, the plot is quite good and has a heavy tone. There is no relationship building, town mapping, or marriage proposals to worry about here although the plot has some gray areas which makes the story even more engrossing.
Like other FE titles, Echoes essentially has the player controlling a cursor on a grid-based battlefield, directing troops to move and attack one at a time. Even if you are the most die-hard Fire Emblem fan, I still strongly recommend playing Echoes on the casual mode versus the hard mode. Like the original FE titles that were brought to America, permadeath is an important factor to consider as characters cannot be revived when playing on the higher difficulty. While determined and educated players could carefully work through this high difficulty factor in other FE titles, Echoes has some cheap and just underhanded tactics found in most stages, especially during the last half of the game. It is important to point out that Echoes is a difficult game even on the casual setting.
In Echoes, everything is out to kill you and kill you quickly. For example, there are cantor enemies that spawn several enemies every other turn. Usually these hell spawn generating baddies are stationed on the opposite end of the map, on a mountain top, or secured inside some castle walls. The only way to really take them down is to rush into battle but FE players know that rushing is something you just do not want to do. Also, there are enemies that can teleport to any position on the map at any time. As one example, these teleporters jumped right behind my army on the first turn and took out my healers in one move – I had no clue or indication they were going to do this. Later stages also has players venturing through poisonous swamps where each character takes five points of damage at the end of each turn and can only move a couple squares at a time, ensuring that the entire battle takes place in a world of hurt. Finally, boss characters, especially during the final few battles, are so difficult they are nearly impossible and demand a higher level to compete. Also, if you do play the more difficult mode and lose characters, there can come a point where the game simple becomes too hard to progress without a full team of fighters as there are only so many characters to recruit throughout the quest.
The high difficulty transitions to the next aspect of Echoes – grinding. More than any other FE game before, grinding will not only happen naturally through normal play, it is required to ultimately survive. Enemies will randomly appear on the map and can be avoided but it is usually in the player’s best interest to fight them just to gain experience to grow stronger. Because of this, it is also recommend to pick a core team of ten characters to always take with you as characters not in your party will not gain experience. Making matters worse, characters often only gain a single point of increase during a level up, making it seems like Echoes just hates you as a player. Changing class is also handled differently as opposed to other FE titles. In other games, the player needed to reach level ten of twenty and use a special, limited-quantity time to change class. Here, players only need to reach level ten and just accept a new class at statues throughout the game. Ultimately, there is less decision making in Echoes, which is totally fine, just expect the game to punish you along the way.
Outside of the usual grid-based battles, the player will occasionally take control of Alm or Celica from a third-person real time action perspective. Caves and castles will often need to be explored, with a map auto-filling as you go. Like most Zelda games, random pots/boxes/grass can be destroyed to reveal hidden goodies or even secret treasure chests. This 3rd person exploration is perhaps the biggest new edition in Echoes as opposed to other FE titles. Although welcomed, the final dungeon is quite the slog. With no option to return to the main map, very limited checkpoints, and a Lost Woods repeat-until-you-get-it-right level structure, the final map is one of the most tedious levels I have ever played. Making matters worse, if you entered this dungeon underpowered, you will not be able to exit and grind on the main map. Sure, you can grind inside this final dungeon but eventually characters get tired and might not have a way to recover thanks to a limited inventory system. I also could not go back to spend my hard earned coins at the blacksmith to power-up some of my weapons and also had a few side missions left to complete. Luckily, after you view the credits, the player is thrown back onto the main map to play DLC, grind, or move about at will.
Echoes also features amiibo support. If the Alm or Celica amiibo are scanned from the main overworld screen, each character’s data can be written to the figurine. Secondly, each amiibo can unlock a unique dungeon in which to find unique weapons and items to help along the main quest. These dungeons, however, are literally straightforward and just contain a few battles each. Although nothing special, the items found inside will definitely help with the main quest as earning any extra item, like a sword or bow, will help quell some of high difficulty. Any other amiibo can be scanned during battle to summon a random warrior but the cost of 10hp for only a single turn doesn’t really make this amiibo function worthwhile.
From a presentation point of view, Echoes stands very tall. With quality character models, well animated anime cutscenes, and fully spoken dialog, Echoes has impressive presentation values. Even the intro scene, the first main start screen (which changes after the quest is completed), and musical themes have all been thoughtfully created with love and care. Even the voiced ending theme is impressive and unexpected. And despite being mostly an overhead 2D game, it is encouraged to use the stereoscopic 3D slider to the max. There is no question Echoes is a nice looking game. There is also a ton of DLC to play through if you managed to complete the main game and all its optional side missions. There is even some free DLC that adds a few welcomed items to your inventory.
While Echoes isn’t my favorite FE game, it is still a great game even with the brutally cheap difficulty factor. But this level of hardness stems from its 8-bit origins; games were just way harder back in the day so it is understandable that the developers keep the source material intact. While time will tell, this might be the last Fire Emblem game to reach the 3DS. If this is case, Fire Emblem Echoes – Shadows of Valentia isn’t a bad way to go out.
Also Try: the original Vandal Hearts on PSOne
Better Than: playing the original Famicom version
Wait For It: Fire Emblem Warriors on Switch