Yeah, BOEY! Pun intended.
While it is true Nintendo has alot–and I mean A LOT–of experience remaking old games (Starfox and Pokemon both come to mind), never before has Nintendo taken a game from the 8-bit NES era and modernized it like they did with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. For those who might have missed the Fire Emblem Direct earlier this year, this is a remake of the Japan-only Fire Emblem Gaiden–a game that was up until now considered the Black Sheep of the Fire Emblem series. Why? Because it was released the year after the SNES had been released. The game pushed the NES to its limits and was ahead of its time for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows if Valentia is called Fire Emblem Echoes: Another Hero King in Japan. The game takes place between the events of the first two Fire Emblem games (Shadow Dragon and Light and Shadow) on the continent of Valentia. The Whitewings Sisters and the origin of the Triangle Attack that’s been staple in the series–Palla, Catria and Est–are playable characters. They get mixed up with some pirates while visiting from Archanea–where the events of the first two games starring Marth take place–and end up helping Celica on her mission.
Kudos to Nintendo for this one: Anyone who’s played Fire Emblem Gaiden will tell you the story was bare bones. Nintendo took the existing story and not only fleshed it out but gave every single character–both old and new–a detailed and fleshed-out backstory. Here’s a few noteworthy ones and be warned, there are MAJOR spoilers.
- Alm: One of the game’s two protagonists. He leads The Deliverence against the Rigelian Empire to the North as well as the corrupt Zofian Military. Alm’s surprisingly straightforward and clever despite both his upbringing and his lineage. He is the Hero King who would unite all of Valentia.
- Celica: One of the game’s two protagonists. She leads her allies and friends on a mission to find out what happened to Mila, the Divine Dragon on Zofia. Celica hides a secret even from Alm: She is real Princess Anthese, who the Zofian Knights are searching for. Celica finds herself forced to chose between sacrificing her life to save Alm or watch the whole world burn.
- Masked Knight: One of the new characters in Shadows of Valentia who didn’t exist in Gaiden. He is revealed to be Conrad, Celica’s brother and prince of Zofia. Having long thought the other dead, Conrad aids Celica on her mission before eventually joining her as an ally.
- Faye: One of the new characters in Shadows of Valentia who didn’t exist in Gaiden. She has a seriously crush on Alm. If you see their A-Rank support conversation, Alm admits he’s known she had feelings for him for some time and since she clearly didn’t take the hint, he plainly turns her down.
- Mycen: A former Rigelian Knight who found himself the caretaker of both Alm and Celica. When Alm decides to join The Deliverence and fight against the Rigelian Empire, Mycen suddenly disappears. When the two meet in Zofia Castle and later Rigel Keep, it’s revealed Mycen was far more privy to the goings-on of Valentia.
- Emperor Rudolf: The Emperor of Rigel, the northen Kingdom of Valentia. Emperor Rudolf personally leads his army in an attack on Mila’s Temple, binding her with the power of the Valentian Falchion. In a cruel twist of fate, Emperor Rufolf is slain in battle by his long lost son: Alm.
- Zeke: A mysterious knight in the service of the Rigelian Empire. Heeding a cryptic message from Emperor Rudolf, Zeke joins Alm after he rescues his friend Titania from harm. This is the same Zeke who also appears in Archanean Fire Emblem games.
- Duma and Mila: Both are Manakete who are worshipped as God and Goddess. Dragons have a long lifespan and this both a strength and a weakness for them. Over time, they will lose their minds and become a threat to mankind. Such was the case with a certain dragon in Fire Emblem Fates. Such is the case with Duma in the final battles of the game.
….I could go on.
There are subtle references to the events of at least 3 other Fire Emblem games for those who’ve played them to spot:
- Fire Emblem Awakening: Most obviously, the continent of Valentia is present-day Valm. Walhart’s backstory isn’t all that different from Alm’s when you think about it. Perhaps the biggest hint is Alm promotes to the Conquerer Class–the same as Walhart but with different weapons. Alm can use Swords and Bows while Walhart can use Swords, Axes and Lances. In the postgame town, one of the villagers also references the Valmese invasion that takes place halfway through Awakening.
- Fire Emblem Fates Revelations: This is a MAJOR spoiler for those who haven’t played the third route in Fates but the big bad you fight at the end with the combined forces of both Hoshido and Nohr is the Divine Dragon, Anankos. Around the time Azura lived in Valla, Anankos succumbed to madness and turned his rage on mankind. Shortly after Corrin was born, knowledge of the third kingdom was lost to a powerful curse to protect Nohr and Hoshido. By the time Shadows of Valentia begins, Duma has succumbed to madness. Mila sacrifices herself to cancel out her counterpart’s power and is dead by the time Alm and Celica find her in Duma Tower.
- Fire Emblem: I mentioned this already by Shadows of Valentia/Gaiden takes place between the events of Marth’s two games. Zeke and the Whitewings are originally from Archanea obviously.
Fire Emblem Sacred Stones: It was viewed as an homage to Fire Emblem Gaiden. It’s so obvious where the inspiration for Sacred Stones came from at the time it was released back in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance. The traversible map and dual protagonists are the dead giveaways so…yeah.
The Dungeon Exploration mechanic is a pretty cool feature in both the original and the remake. One can only hope it’s used again in a future Fire Emblem title ^_^
Easily the best part of the game for me. Every track from the original game was upgraded.
Here’s March of the Deliverence, which is Alm’s pre-promotion battle theme music:
And the original version from Fire Emblem Gaiden:
Exact same song. All they did was use a real orchestra. There was nothing to add beyond that.
Here’s Celica’s pre-promotion battle theme music, With Mila’s Divine Protection:
…And again, the original Gaiden version:
As you can see, the conversion is near-flawless here, too.
Shadows of Valentia is also the first Fire Emblem game to be fully voiced–not a bad honor for a remake. All dialogue is voiced including most of the optional interactions with villagers. How cool is that?!
Despite the graphical facelift, Nintendo went out of its way to preserve the original game’s level of challenge weather you play Classic (fallen units are lost forever) or Casual (fallen units return after battle). Unlike the later games, Gaiden didn’t have a Weapons Triangle and neither does its remake for that matter. Spells also cost HP unlike the later games. As a reminder, you automatically lose the battle if the main Lord–in this case–Alm or Celica–lose all their HP. It’s an instant Game Over.
What keeps it from getting a Perfect 10 is how overtuned the final battle and the final battle in the postgame dungeon seemed to be. For the purposes of reviewing the game, I did my first playthrough on Casual with the Normal Difficulty. Even though I had access to DLC Content for EXP grinding as well as the DLC-Only 4th-tier classes, I struggled to clear the final battle and was curb-stomped in the final battle of the postgame dungeon.
I couldn’t help but assume the postgame dungeon’s final battle had been tuned with the assumption players would either overlevel or at least had access to the EXP Grinding DLC Maps. The Status Ailments alone are a pain given only two characters can remove them but the enemies in that battle being able to 2-shot anyone not named Alm or Celica is a bit of a problem. LOL.
DLC Content: 7/10
You got your staple EXP, Money and Rare Item grind maps. They come in two flavors: One for the first two Chapters, the rest of the game. Then you have the 4th-Tier Classes for all classes including Alm and Celica. Then you have the four prequel maps, which takes a look at certain characters before the events of the game. There are even maps featuring characters from the Japan-only Fire Emblem Cipher Trading Card Game! I touched on this in a separate blog post but all the DLC content combined costs more than the game. Not a good look for Nintendo. It’s also why I took 3 points off this, more so given the grind maps that have been staple since Awakening.
Amiibo Support: 8/10
Alm and Celica have their own Amiibos, which serves two purposes. One is access to special dungeons you need their Amiibos to challenge. The other is to power up your Amiiino for summoning purposes. Alm or Celica can summon their Amiibos or that of Robin, Lucina, Roy, Ike, Marth or Corrin (when it’s released) to fight for one turn. I took two points off because of the restrictions: You can only summon a phantom fighter once per battle and it will only last for one turn. On top of that, Alm/Celica can’t act like a normal summon either. That makes it hard to justify using the feature at all when you think about it. Nintendo dropped the ball here.
Despite it clearly being a remake and despite the overpriced DLC, Shadows of Valentia is a must-own for any Fire Emblem fan. If you are new to the series, I reccommend starting with Awakening though. Regardless, this is yet another good year to own a 3DS!