As one of the more ruthlessly challenging line of games currently in existence, Fire Emblem has laid claim to a very dedicated fan base that has rather surprisingly made it one of the more popular properties featured on the Nintendo 3DS. This newfound fandom is a lot more recent in North America than in Japan where the series originated, and that means that a lot of the original games from the franchise's early years never made it overseas. With demand rising, the Big N appears eager to revitalize older entries – or at least that's what Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia seemingly indicates.
Starring Alm and Celica, a couple of heroes forever linked through a shared destiny, players are tasked with controlling two armies that are being amassed by the pair of protagonists to restore balance to the two kingdoms. It's a story often massaged and retold throughout the franchise's longstanding history (albeit with a bit of a twist this time around), but developer Intelligent Systems has made it a much more engaging affair thanks to the increased number of cutscenes and expertly voiced dialogue.
The story itself is filled with equal parts joyous and heart-wrenching moments that are well worth seeing through to the end of Shadows of Valentia's 30-plus hour campaign. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as engaging of a venture if it weren't for the ruthlessly enjoyable, turn-based gameplay that Fire Emblem fans have come to know and love. All of this remains intact, allowing users to jump into a very familiar and grid-focused offering, albeit through new characters and with a few noticeable changeups.
Since this is a remake of a 25-year-old game, there are a handful of dated approaches that this iteration retains. While recent entries allow units to pair up on the battlefield, this title does not. Despite featuring different classes, there is no rock-paper-scissors mechanic that even the mobile-only Fire Emblem Heroes takes advantage of. Finally, there's no marriage system, meaning that romantic interests aren't anywhere near as manageable as they have been. Shadows of Valentia is a bit of an odd beast in that sense, but this throwback actually makes for a nice change of pace for anyone expecting an all too familiar experience.
As a result of this back-to-basics mantra, strategy takes center stage, which means that baiting enemies into ambushes and other trademark tactics of guerrilla warfare stand as viable throughout. Of course, much like other Fire Emblem games, there are still moments of mind-numbing frustration that creep up whilst trekking through the lengthy campaign. The lack of an aforementioned rock-paper-scissors system means that users will have to grin and bear it with the often fragile units they have, but the challenge gives way to a euphoric rush whenever a particularly difficult section has been bested.
Setting aside the combat which is sure to be divisive amongst fans, Intelligent Systems has added a dungeon system into the fold that allows users to traverse an environment with a third-person, over-the-should view. Loot, enemies, and even recruitable characters can be found in these areas, with the game transitioning to it's trademark top-down, turn-based form whenever Alm or Celica find themselves entering combat. It's a neat feature, but one that doesn't particularly feel all that necessary. Indeed, these instances can be a little tiresome, but the dungeons make for decent enough distraction.
All in all, Shadows of Valentia is a title that many fans likely never thought they would have the opportunity to play. The dumbed down combat mechanics give way to a pure strategy-driven venture that's sure to sink its hooks into unsuspecting newcomers and veterans alike. On top of that, it doesn't hurt that the narrative is expertly told through a series of animations and dialogue snippets that feature some of the best voice acting the series has featured so far.
It may not be a step forward for the series, but that's never what it was supposed to be. Instead, it's a noteworthy look at what came before that's been revamped for a newer generation. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is pretty damn fun.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia arrives for Nintendo 3DS on May 20, 2017.