Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a remake of the second entry to this series and strips out a lot from the more modern installments. It is a return to form that focuses more on the combat than the ancillary elements. The difficulty is raised but the dual army mechanic keeps things fresh. A new dungeon mechanic is clunky at best but the main combat still remains as solid as ever. With the double narrative and the intertwining this allows, this is a good entry for fans of older Fire Emblem (FE).
Many of the additional game modes that recent FE incorporated are missing. Base building and that weird rubbing mini game are gone; even the romancing element has been toned down significantly (including the loss of children characters). It is less horny but this worked for me since FE started to feel stuffed. It is a change that streamlines the series down to its roots.
Similar to Sacred Twins, Shadows of Valentia’s story is split between two protagonists with separate missions. Whereas the GBA game only split the characters briefly, in this one they will stay separate until the very end. This gives you two armies to control. Where one side will introduce certain characters, the other will include different units. This forces the player to work with classes they may not be familiar with while getting the chance to use different ones elsewhere. Instead of focusing on your favorite ten you get twenty. It’s a nice approach that made me use classes I would typically avoid and get to strategize in new ways.
The focus has been moved to the combat and upgrading mechanics. The leveling system has been altered to avoid more randomness when leveling up. Upgrading your class sets your character at the new base level instead of increasing exponentially. This means you can change classes (once reaching the proper level) without having to wait until twenty in hopes to avoid missing out. It allows you to upgrade much sooner than usual in a FE game and more frequently. For example, Villagers can become Mercenaries, which can become Myrmidons, which can become Dread Fighters, and which finally turn into Yashas. The class changes may not change your character as much as before but the number of times you can grow make it far more exciting.
The fight scenes have been tweaked a bit with additional animation. Characters will now attack differently depending on a number of characteristics. Second attacks will look different, attacking after a dodge will change things, final blows etc. It makes the combat look more dynamic, no more single animations repeating forever. For example, an Archer will backflip to avoid a sword and counter attack while in the air. One issue I had was that you couldn’t permanently increase the combat speed like you can with every other aspect of the game. The only option is to watch it in its slow state or not watch it at all. It is a minor grief that you can fix by holding down the A button but it would have been a nice option to have it sped up by default
There are two main changes to Shadows of Valentia which include dungeon crawling and the Turnwheel. The dungeon crawling is the largest change (despite being in the original version of the game) to the usual FE gameplay. In here you controller your character from behind the back and can freely move around the dungeon. Encountering an enemy will start up the usual grid-based combat. The camera is clunky due to the one analog stick on the 3DS (I was playing with an original 3DS, I am unsure if this is remedied with the N3DS). During your exploration, characters will have to eat food in order to fight off fatigue. Left for too long, characters will start battles with low HP and eventually be booted from your party until the dungeon is cleared. This isn’t an issue since food is plentiful and the dungeons are never long enough to cause concern. Overall this mode felt needless. The combat remained the same and the rewards would have been better off just received in villages or from defeating enemies. Dungeon crawling feels almost like it was shoe horned into the usual gameplay instead of a welcomed addition.
The Turnwheel allows you to reverse time during a battle. I play my FE games with the perma-death turned on. Upon losing a character I will restart the level and work smarter. Although there has always been the concern that a random enemy will get a critical despite having only a 1% chance to. These rare occasions are frustrating since it can set you back an hour or so of meticulous strategizing. Using the Turnwheel doesn’t feel like cheating since it can be implemented to counter these occurrences. It was a welcomed addition that helped alleviate anything that felt ‘unfair.’
Shadows of Valentia strips out a lot of modern additions and focuses on the grid-based combat of old. It mixes up how some of the classes work and upgrade to add fresh idea to strategize with. The dungeon crawling is a needless obstacle to work through but doesn’t overbear. The two storylines are intriguing and it opens new ways to fight and characters to enjoy. This is a strong entry in the Fire Emblem series.