The fate of Valentia is in your hands in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia. This is the latest in the long-running series. The game is a full remake of the second entry in the series, 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden. New elements include dungeons and for the first time all character dialogue is fully voiced in English, along with Amiibo support as figures have been designed to coincide with the game’s release.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia tells the tale of childhood friends Alm and Celica, who shared a deep bond due to them both bearing the same mysterious mark on their hands. The pair becomes separated but vows to find each other again, with Celica giving Alm her good luck necklace that she received from her mother as a parting gift. Warring gods have divided Valentia into two kingdoms, Zofia and Rigel. A divine accord has resulted in a centuries-long truce, but now the agreement has been broken.
Years later, Alm and Celica paths cross again as they lead their respective forces into battle for very different reasons, as it will take the power of both armies to bring peace back to Valentia. Combat sequences in-game are turn-based strategic battles, made up of both classic and modern gameplay. These battles require careful and tactical planning as making mistakes or failed attacks can see your troops exposed and vulnerable to enemy attack and even death.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia is split into acts, with the first focusing on Alm and the second on Celica. Both gain a loyal band of followers as they travel vast distances on their respective journeys, though I found that the rank and file aren’t fleshed out as much as Alm and Celica in terms of backstory. The third act reunites Alm and Celica, though events cause them to part again on bad terms. From this point onwards you can then switch between which character you want to play by selecting them on the map and moving them forward in the game. There’s so much to cover story-wise, but to do so would spoil a well-crafted story.
The game has two difficulty settings: classic and casual. In classic mode, a fallen unit is left permanently dead and in the casual mode, your units are revived at the end of the battle. As previously mentioned, combat takes the form of a turn-based system, where each member of the unit on either side is given their chance to move and act. Battles take place on a grid-based field, which then switches to cut scenes for the actual battle itself. When in battle, troops can be positioned, making use of surroundings for cover.
Alm and Celica navigate Valentia using a world map, progressing through the main story and optional side missions. Towns and dungeons can be explored and are populated by the usual array of NPCs, who can be questioned to glean information that will help Alm and Celica in their quests. Dialogue is skippable, though do so at your peril as you may miss some key information.
Both main characters can examine and pick up items found whilst exploring dungeons and buildings that they might need such as food items, tools and weapons. Alm and Celica can also collect memory prisms, which they can then watch using the Mila Turnwheel (a mystical artefact that Alm is awarded following an early battle which glows to indicate that a vision is available). Both characters can destroy items, such as smashing crates, barrels, grass and collect silver coins which can then be used when forging weapons for use in future battles.
Strategy in-game is easy to pick up, which accommodates newcomers to the series, as well as seasoned fans. It’s incredibly straightforward: place the strongest units in front and weaker units at the back so that they can level up by finishing the battle. Both units can gain experience points which help the unit grow, as both Alm and Celica need to build equally balanced and effective army.
Levelling up the characters is essential in order to be able to defeat a stronger enemy’s army, otherwise, you’ll need to learn which characters are better in which position, who to move where and when, as well as what terrain to use and avoid. Using Mila Idol or Statues is useful as it allows you to change a character’s class. Alm and Celica both need a variety of different classes in their units, such as knights to be able to successfully win the battles.
Defeating an enemy horde with items (such as a weapon) lead to the character gaining those items, along with the benefit of its effects. As Alm and Celica continue their journeys they gain more recruits after certain battles. Alm and Celica come across brigands to fight off as they travel from one location to another, and their friends learn and train by fighting.
Pressing X whilst in battle mode will show how far enemies can reach on the grid. As I’m unfamiliar with turn-based strategy games, I missed several opportunities to defeat the enemy first time and quickly learned to kill archers first as they have the furthest reach in the field. Battle scenes can be recorded, paused and fast-forwarded. Faces of certain characters are displayed on the right-hand side of the screen, which helps you to gauge how fatigued each character is after that battle. Energy can be replenished by using food items, either eating them or making an offer to the gods.
I have to admit really enjoyed playing Shadow of Valentia, which I honestly didn’t think I would and I’d definitely recommend it, regardless of whether you’ve played turn-based strategic RPG games before. This is one game that I will be playing until through to its conclusion, which is not always the case with games I’ve reviewed in the past.