Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia First Impressions

I’ve mentioned a few times in other blog posts that I have very little experience with Fire Emblem. In fact, Fire Emblem Heroes is easily the Fire Emblem game that I’ve spent the most amount of time with. I did play a little bit of Awakening, however. Anyway, I’ve been interested in the new game, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, since it was unveiled in a Nintendo Direct back in January. Now I’ve played a few hours of it. So, what do I think?

If you’re new to the series, Fire Emblem is a turn-based strategy RPG made by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. One of the trademark features of the games is “permadeath”, the idea that once a character is killed, they are gone from the game forever. Honestly, it’s a big part of why I’ve been hesitant to jump into the games. That’s a lot of pressure trying to make sure that everything goes right, and either living with the consequences when they don’t or reloading your file and trying again. Thankfully, newer games have added a “casual” mode, which returns dead characters to life after each mission. Judge me all you like, but that’s how I’ll be playing.

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When the game starts off, the two central characters, Alm and Celica, are still little kids. Alm lives with his grandfather, who is a knight. Celica has recently started living with them as Alm’s “cousin”, although it’s revealed very early on that they aren’t actually blood related. Alm has a bunch of friends that are pretty jealous of the amount of time time he’s spending with Celica. They fall into fairly common tropes, the smart kid who doesn’t want to fight, the not so smart one who’s always trying to impress the ladies, and of course the girl who’s upset that Alm is spending more time with another girl. None of them are offensively terrible, but none do anything to really get you to connect with them either.

Soon after the start of the game, a knight who’s been looking for Celica appears and tries to capture her. Apparently she’s a princess of some sort. Alm’s grandfather steps in, and here we get the tutorial for battles. It’s not a bad tutorial, as it teaches you some basic things you need to know, like how to move and attack, as well as how some terrain offers you better protection. It doesn’t teach you things like holding equipment and using items. These are things I kind of had to figure out on my own, which in itself isn’t really a bad thing. However, it would have been nice to get a better understanding of it.

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I’m not going to talk about the story any more, but as I’m sure you expected, an older Alm and his friends (minus Celica) find themselves in an adventure that spans the continent of Valentia. You’re placed on a map with several nodes that you can travel between. Enemy soldiers are located at most of them, and going to them starts the next mission.

So far, all the missions have boiled down to “kill all the enemies”. You do that by taking turns moving your characters on a grid-based map. When they come in contact with an enemy, you can command them to fight. They enemies will counter-attack, however, so you need to be careful in picking fights that won’t leave you to weakened to survive your opponents next move.

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There’s a lot of different types of units that help keep the fights interesting. There’s your standard soldiers who mainly just run up and hit things with their swords or spears or whatever else they have equipped. But there’s also archers who can attack from a ranged position, allowing them to avoid counter-attacks. There’s magic users who can sacrifice a single hit-point to cast an often devastating spell.  Add in horses that increase the amount of space you can move in a single turn, and you have a pretty fully-featured strategy game.

So far, if you’re familiar with Fire Emblem, everything should seem like what you’d expect. So why exactly did this one catch my attention more than the previous ones? There are now dungeons in the game. In these, you have full control over your character and are able to explore much more than you’d expect from an SRPG. When you encounter enemies in the dungeon, the game transitions into a pretty small scale version of the standard missions. It’s pretty cool, although so far, I’ve only done one and it wasn’t anything too special.

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Upon completing the dungeon, I found a statue of a goddess that granted me the ability to change some of my characters classes. I really wish this had been better explained. Only characters who have earned a class change can do one, and only the one time. I’m also not sure exactly what triggered getting that privileged, it just kind of happened after some of my characters went up a couple levels. Also, I had a hard time grasping what the “right” choice for the new classes would be, so I just kind of winged it. Hopefully, that won’t come back to bite me later.

At some points, like the end of a dungeon or in a town, you can move talk to people or examine your surroundings. This is kind of weird, as you’re stuck in a single room and are in a first-person perspective. But it’s also pretty cool. By choosing “examine”, you can move a cursor around the screen and have Alm comment on what’s there or even pick up some items. I found a sword in one room that greatly increased Alm’s attack power. The whole thing feels a bit like an old point-and-click adventure game.

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I’m certainly not knowledgeable enough to tell long time fans of the series whether or not this one is worthy of their time. But as Fire Emblem still isn’t exactly the most main stream game (although, it’s fan base keeps growing bigger), I feel like there’s a lot of people in the same boat as me. And for them, this seems like a pretty cool game to start out with. It hasn’t been too hard yet, and the more unique parts might help get people who don’t normally care for this sort of game to give it a fair chance. I can’t say for sure how long it’ll hold my interest, and it certainly isn’t perfect, but I’ve really enjoyed my short time with it.

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