Rating: T for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, and Suggestive Themes
Available for: Nintendo 3DS
Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (2017) is the first in the series of potential Fire Emblem remakes, giving Fire Emblem fans, both new and old, the opportunity to experience these older titles in a new way. With Shadows of Valentia testing the waters of interest with its newer fanbase, it simultaneously reminds us of the great elements that remain traditional to the Fire Emblem name.
To those of you who know my gaming history, you know that my first Fire Emblem game was Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, and while I have never played Fire Emblem Gaiden (which is what Shadows of Valentia is a remake of), playing this remake felt like stepping back in time. So many parts of this game held onto its original form, taking the remake into a literal translation that ended up having both positive and negative elements to it.
Shadows of Valentia follows both Alm and Celica, fated childhood friends who find themselves torn apart by war and time. The continent of Valentia houses the kingdoms of Rigel and Zofia, both dominated by different dragon gods and both currently at war with each other. When the king of Zofia is killed by his generals, a rebel group called the Deliverance is created to fight against the invading Rigelian army. Alm, along with his friends, volunteer for service and with the knowledge that he is the grandson of a famous general, Alm is eventually made leader of the Deliverance. On Celica’s side, when Celica has the premonition that something terrible will happen to her estranged friend Alm, she decides to seek the guidance of the goddess Mila in order to end the war peacefully. The player guides both characters along their respective paths, watching as the story unfolds and eventually brings the two characters back together.
First things first, Shadows of Valentia felt a lot more focused on the story they were trying to tell, something I felt was lacking in Fire Emblem Fates. I do believe a lot of this had to do with the removal of the Avatar character and the marriage system. Not that these were bad things, per se (goodness knows I had fun with it), but Fates felt more like it was catering to its fanbase than actually focusing on their own narrative. (You can read some of my thoughts on how the Fates story was handled here.) Yes, Fire Emblem Awakening also had an Avatar and marriage system, but it didn’t take away from the story as much as Fates did. The return of a set protagonist (or rather, protagonists) allowed Alm and Celica to be full, well-rounded characters with defined personalities and helped the story to flow in a particular way. This difference was reinforced with their relationships with other characters; these conversations were natural and you could sense the depth of the history between the characters.
That brings me to my next point: Shadows of Valentia put quite the emphasis on preexisting relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic. It’s quite common for the Fire Emblem series to feature a number of relationships, but these types of relationships definitely seemed to be more prevalent this go around. It was refreshing to see this series once again focus on Supports where marriage wasn’t the driving force/end goal. Supports were limited in this game, so the pre-story relationships, in some respects, helped the story move along. You were also able to gather more information on the setting and how the world worked when it was defined by people from all over the continent. The overall game felt very short, and as always, I wish I could have spent more time with the characters. There was so much more I would have liked to have learned about them, but I know it would have been difficult with time constraints and not detracting from the overarching story.
There is one glaring problem I had with the writing and it would feel wrong of me not to address it. I took issue with the fact that a lot of the women’s characterizations were reduced to their relationship to or with a man. This was made even more obvious with the limited Supports and most glaringly with Faye’s entire characterization (oh, Faye, you deserved so much better). It’s not like Fire Emblem hasn’t had its issues in the past, but at least in all the incarnations of the series I’ve played, all of the women had character traits that went far and well beyond “I have a crush on/I am in love with [insert male character here].” Even the Support conversations between women were mostly focused on their brothers, their crushes, or their loves, whereas the men had conversations of their pasts and their interests. For many of the male characters, I can tell you what their interests, background, goals, and aspirations were. For the women? Not so much. Having never played Gaiden, I don’t know if all of these types of conversations were in the original version of the game (aside from Faye, who is an entirely new character, which only makes things worse), but you would think that if you were making a remake of a game, that the female characters would have been written better than in the original…. This is all I’m going to say on the matter for now, lest this become a much longer thing, but I did feel the need to bring it up.
Overall, Shadows of Valentia’s story was interesting and engaging in all the ways that made me originally fall in love with the series. Alm and Celica are defined as fated, Branded children and it is reinforced throughout the story without ever feeling contrived. In fact, it felt like a lot of classic stories where seemingly ordinary characters are pushed into a world of medieval politics and fights against dragons bent on world destruction. Things initially appear to be black and white in this world, but Rigelian allies and unmasked secrets reveal a more sinister plot is at work. The dungeon crawls were a unique twist to the Fire Emblem formula, and while at times it became tedious, it was a nice break to consecutive battle maps. That said, I thought the maps themselves could have been somewhat more interesting. While they were probably more realistic (with most everyone behind fortress walls), it probably took longer than it should have to reach the enemy attack zones and actually attacking them while trying to shuffle through open gates one by one. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was a great way to start a series of Fire Emblem remakes and I am definitely looking forward to seeing which title is next!
What did you think of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia? Have you played older Fire Emblem titles? What did you think of the new style? Which game in the series would you love to see remade? I would love to hear your thoughts!