As of now, I have played until the game opens up into the twin paths, on Classic Hard difficulty.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is the newest instalment in the long-running Fire Emblem franchise. It is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second title in the series, but don’t let that fool you – Echoes is the freshest, squeakiest-clean Fire Emblem we’ve seen in years.
Doing away with the relationship system that dominated the series’ mechanics in Awakening and Fates, Echoes grants itself room to expand. You take control of Alm and Celica, childhood friends divided by ideology, each leading their own army of unique and likeable characters. Enemy forces roam the overworld map, forcing you to plan your next step carefully.
This time around, the battles feel fluid and visceral – and a little bit more real. Enemies bring supply wagons, which they may retreat to as the tide swings in your favour; sometimes you may engage in the wilderness near a town, and the battle hinges on who secures a defensible position first. If the enemy comes to you, you may even fight a siege from within castle walls, raining arrows and magic down a chokepoint while your armoured troops keep the foes from passing. Assaulting forts, your pegasus riders become invaluable; flying over walls to unlock gates and grant your army passage.
The systems for individual characters have improved, too. Instead of equipping each person with a small inventory of items, you can equip one: though each item is vital. Giving your healer a leather shield allows them to survive the onslaught of arrows your enemy likes to throw at them. Equipping your marauder with different types of swords changes their role on the battlefield, and where you should deploy them. Since weapons don’t break this time around, you can specialize to your heart’s content. Weapon proficiency unlocks skills unique to that weapon, and upgrades are lasting choices – not just temporary buffs.
…This makes it all the more tragic when a unit dies. On Classic difficulty, a Fire Emblem staple, fallen units die forever; complete with tragic little cut-scenes that crush you with guilt. A death can change the course of the game: if you lose your pegasus knight, you won’t be able to chase down fleeing units or unlock castle doors. Without your healer, it is easier for other units to die. This forces you to make every decision carefully. Thankfully, with the Turnwheel item you can rewind turns a limited number of times, for when you miss-click an order and watch in horror as your flimsy archer runs directly in front of a great knight’s lance. Classic Hard forces you to get attached to your characters, because they could be gone at any moment.
New to the series are the dungeons – 3D exploration with monsters you can battle or avoid, a-la the Persona series. You can find new weapons, boost units’ stats, and re-class them at special shrines. Despite the odd camerawork, dungeon exploration is fun and rewarding, a change of pace from the traditional gameplay.
I recommend Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valencia to anyone interested in strategy games. There’s plenty to love here, and I’m sure it will keep me busy for a while to come.