Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is the fifteenth entry of the series and is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden. Fire Emblem Gaiden is a bit of an oddball on the Fire Emblem franchise – true to its name, from the Japanese gaiden, meaning side story or spin-off. The second entry to this series altered some of the core mechanics compared to the first game, time having proven what path the future games followed. Released on the West in May 19th of 2017,  the review will assume that the player is familiar with FE games but will look to be interesting for newcomers and veterans alike, comparing FE Echoes with the other FE games in general, the two other FE games released for the 3DS and the original FE Gaiden. Having played nine FE games of different generations, two of them to near completion, it is my hope that I may be able to bring up some points of interest.

This analysis will be divided into different segments, that will often reference each other when necessary. How loyal is FE Echoes to the original game, how does it diverge from the main franchise and what modern trends did it maintain or abandon? An effort will be made to answer these questions.

Please do note that taking good quality screenshots of 3DS games is quite difficult, especially ever since the Miiverse website has been abandoned, so do keep that in mind.

Gameplay

FE Echoes diverges from the other FE games, mainly due to how certain core mechanics were changed. The postgame content will have its own dedicated section.

Turnwheel: the turnwheel was introduced in this game, a completely new mechanic to the FE franchise, including FE Gaiden. The player is allowed to go back in time, as little as the movement of one character, up to being able to restart from the very beginning, no matter how many turns back. Starting out with three charges, this can add up to twelve charges if the player finds all hidden extra cogs scattered across the world, as they progress during the story. This is often used not only to undo one’s mistakes (improper positioning or the death of a character) or but also to simply avoid undesired stat gains. A similar mechanic is used in the Tears to Tiara 2, where the player is allowed to turn back time indefinitely, such a lack of limit being warranted by the sheer difficulty of the game.

Overworld map: a feature exclusive to Fire Emblem Sacred Stones (FE8), Fire Emblem: Awakening (FE13) and Fire Emblem Echoes and its predecessor. The player controls the protagonist(s), either Alm or Celica, navigating them on the overworld map. Unlike FE8 and FE13, it is possible to freely move on the map, removing some of the linearity of FE games. This gives the player the possibility to visit blacksmiths, shrines (for the extra grind/promotion), and most notably, quest NPCs.

As Alm and Celica command different armies, this allows the player to be versatile with their strategies, as there is no limit on how many units can be dispatched on a map. This is only possible due to splitting the number of units in two, allowing one to use every single character in the game. In a way, part of the fun of the game is also choosing your favorite/strongest units and rolling with them, and while there are certain characters that will be ignored, they will be useful if not at least for the support bonuses.

Weapons: while in most FE games weapons had limited use, the weapons in FE Echoes are permanent, never to break. This means that instead of purchasing weapons, they can either be acquired in five different ways: story progression, default weapons that characters start with, defeating certain enemies, picking them up from certain areas of the world (garrisons, castles, etc.) and through the Forge system. The Forge system allows one to instead spend their silver and gold on upgrading their weapons. Not only do the weapons rank up in strength, but it is also possible for them to evolve into completely new weapons. This system was introduced in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (FE9), although the weapon was created from scratch, and became a recurring feature in future FE games. Starting with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (FE11, DS remake of the first game), the Forge system focused on merely upgrading existing weapons.

  • Availability of weapons: as it will be mentioned, there are no Axe wielders, thus there are no units to use the axes that may be obtained and are only useful for sidequests. There exist no Tomes, and instead, different spells are made available as Mages and Clerics gain levels. In conclusion: only swords, lances and bows can be forged and are the only available weapons.
  • Weapon Skills: different weapons have different skills, all of them being Active skills. While the use of some is negligible, other skills are fundamental to the very class, such as the Killer Bow for bow wielders.
  • Weapon Triangle: one of the trademark rock-paper-scissors mechanics of traditional FE games, is not present both in FE Gaiden and FE Echoes. This includes the sword-lance-axe relationship, considering that Axe wielders do not exist, and the elemental-light-dark magic relationship. That is not to say that it is not possible to exploit one’s weakness with certain weapons. Weapons that are strong against cavalry, armored units, undead creatures and flying units (wind magic/bows) are quite often important for a successful strategy.

Classes: loyal to FE Gaiden, FE Echoes does not include certain classes, some of them being fan favorites. Those classes include any and all Axe wielders (and thus, Axes are nearly nonexistent, only having a purpose for a single sidequest), Thieves (without a pickpocketer, there are no locks or doors to pick!), Dark Mages/Shaman (restricted to enemies only, and Nosferatu becoming a Light Spell) and Wyvern/Dragon Knights.

In addition to this, there are also no Manaketes – the dragon shapeshifting humanoid class. Please note that Manaketes exist in every single game, with a few exceptions. They don’t exist in FE4 and FE5, although I’m not sure if dragon characters exist. They don’t exist in FE7, but there are dragon humanoid characters with different classes, while being very plot-relevant characters, having close ties to the main characters. While not listed for FE9, humanoid characters that transform into Dragons do exist (as there are also characters that transform into wolves, tigers, hawks, crows…and even herons!). As for FE14, the main characters themselves are manaketes. Either way, this is to say, that Manaketes are a recurring class of Fire Emblem Games and are characters very important to the game’s plot. FE Gaiden and Echoes only feature a few dragons (including the last boss, as was expected) as enemies.

The new classes added to games such as FE Awakening and FE Fates are also not included. Other classes that were exclusive to FE Gaiden, such as Villager* (pre-promote class) and Dread Fighter (including the infamous Villager>Mercenary>DF>Villager loop) are present in this game.

An interesting aspect of this game is how spellcasters, most notably Clerics, gain different spells and at different levels – either making the characters unique or obsolete, but most certainly adding variety to the use of characters with these classes. That is to say, that certain skills will be fully exclusive to certain characters. Not only that, but the class promotion of Villagers is restricted by gender – while only Male Villagers may become Mercenaries, Soldiers and Archers, only Female Villagers may promote into Clerics and Pegasus Knights. Both genders may promote into Cavaliers and Mages – the reason for the gender separation remaining unknown but adding flavor to the game. While initially only Alm’s four childhood friends and Atlas on Celica’s side start out as Villagers, up to three Pitchforks may be obtained through the free DLC Mila’s Bounty which may turn any character into a Villager.

*The Villager class also exists in FE Awakening and Fates, limited to very few characters, but the DF loop does not.

Shrines: at certain points of the World map, there exist Dungeons to be visited by the player, which contain Mila Shrines. In Gaiden, this meant a sequence of battles until the player reached the shrine. However, in FE Echoes, the dungeon is explorable in full real-time 3D, as the player controls either Alm or Celica. Enemy units are encountered roaming around the map, and contact with these units trigger a traditional strategy turn-based battle. These dungeons contain treasure, stat-raising fountains, resurection fountains (three of these exist, each allowing for three different characters), but most notably the option to accumulate experience points and to encounter the Mila Shrines. The Mila Shrines are essential to the game as they allow one to promote the class of their characters, view previous support conversations and the newly added Memory Prisms – collectibles which allow one to view new scenes, set in the past (or at least prior to acquiring the prism) that are both plot and character backstory relevant. It is also possible to make offerings (food, drinks)

Maps: the maps in FE Echoes are extremely similar to the ones in FE Gaiden, for better or for worse. Overall the maps aren’t as interesting to play around with, as in later entries in the franchise, and certain boss placement is quite easy to exploit with proper use of certain classes. The Dungeon/Shrine battle maps are mostly static, which makes it not so interesting to explore either.

RNG Manipulation: a common feature in older FE games is RNG manipulation. This refers to changing the action of your characters for a different result, be it by changing your weapon, changing the order your characters attack in and even the position from which they attack the enemy. For emulators, this is abused with save states, or for FE games that allow saving during battle, simply making use of the system. Battle Saves have been a recurring feature of FE games, although it is only later on that the player is allowed to save whenever they want, as opposed to only the start of the battle. These were allowed to only be used in Casual Mode, for FE Awakening and FE Fates, however in FE Echoes, for both difficulty modes, one is only able to create a Suspend Save. Why is RNG manipulated? It is often done to ensure that the next attack will strike, fishing for critical hits, or most commonly, to obtain desirable stat gains. This, however, is not possible in FE Echoes. As far as my testing goes, the “seed” seems to be determined at the start of the battle, creating a situation where characters close to leveling up had to be put on hold to avoid mediocre stat gains. Please do note that the Turnwheel does not reset the RNG seed.

Don’t worry, there’s always the next map!

Overview

Gameplay-wise, FE Echoes is very loyal to the mechanics introduced by FE Gaiden, for better or for worse. This makes FE Echoes an interesting game to play for fans of the Fire Emblem franchise, as it will be a different experience from usual. The fact that certain popular additions, such as the “Matchmaking System” not being present in this game, might be a statement that this game intends to get FE back to its roots. Certain elements are still overcasualized, such as the sheer presence of a Casual Mode, disabling permanent death; the simplification of weapon and item management (and thus, not being able to bring several weapons and healing items to battle); allowing every single character to be used in battle (despite the army being split in two) the simplification of the Forge System (compared to when it was initially introduced); and the biggest offender – the introduction of Turnwheel. While the Turnwheel removes the annoyance having to restart the battle in case a unit was lost (a situation where one might as well just play Casual Mode), it removes some of the charms of FE games – strategically calculating one’s moves, aiming for the best possible result. The Turnwheel ends up being extremely useful as RNG cannot be manipulated as it was in other games, thus allowing one to avoid undesirable results. However, while the Turnwheel can be excused as a Quality of Life improvement, what cannot possibly be excused is the overcasualization of the Recruiting system.

One of the core features of FE games is altered to the point that it is completely dumbed down to a Yes or No question. Recruiting characters was part of the challenge and fun of FE games – they had to make sense plot-wise, as you needed the right person to convince the new character to join your army. Sometimes this was very difficult: the character could be in very grave danger as they are surrounded by enemies, they could also be only available during certain turns, locked behind several and sometimes complex requirements, or more often than not, the very character you were trying to recruit is trying their very best to kill you! The reward of recruiting a new character goes beyond just a new unit to be used. It is the sense of satisfaction one gets, proportionate to the effort exerted to recruit that character.

None of this happens in FE Echoes. There are only four instances of the characters you are trying to recruit to be present in the map, and in none of those situations are they actually in danger. It is very simple to keep them alive with a ranged heal, but more often than not, these characters can deal with the enemy effortlessly. Not only do you not need to talk to the characters that you wish to recruit, but you also can not, not even if they are the protagonist, a family member or a childhood friend. Instead, there usually is a small event after the battle, where the player is able to talk with the characters, who practically offer themselves to join your army, prompting a Yes or No choice. The feeling of being rewarded is completely gone and instead, these characters are handed in a silver platter. The only character that I personally did not recruit was Nomah, as he was comfortably sitting just beyond a hidden passage in a certain area of the game, that I sadly neglected.

Summary table

FEATURE vs. FE Gaiden vs. FE Awak/Fates/other FE games Comment
Turnwheel New feature. New feature. Interesting QoL improvement, not warranted by game difficulty.
Overworld Map Nearly identical to FE Gaiden. More freedom compared to Awak, nonexistent in Fates. Removes some of the linearity of FE games due to freedom of movement and army split.
Weapons Quite similar, loyal to FE Gaiden. Very different from standard FE games. Weapon management simplified, with a somewhat interesting Forge system. Weapon triangle was removed and weapon skills are either useless or dealbreakers.
Classes Very similar to FE Gaiden, with some additions Considerably different from standard FE games. Certain classes are not present, including fan favorites. Classes suffer from improper balance. Character exclusive skills make them unique. Entirely different class promotion system.
Shrines Very similar to FE Gaiden, with some additions Entirely new feature. Introduces 3D real-time dungeon exploration. Mila Shrines are the gateway for the new promotion system. Overall, nor the dungeon, nor the battle maps are that interesting.
Maps Nearly identical to FE Gaiden. N/A. The FE Gaiden maps weren’t improved in any significant way.
RNG Manipulation Quite different from FE Gaiden/older FE games. Similar to how newer games deal with RNG manipulation. It leads to frustrating situations where one is forced to cease activity with a specific character during battle, or to eat up unfavorable stat gains. However, it’d be ridiculous for this to coexist with the Turnwheel.
Recruitment
Nearly identical to FE Gaiden, with new characters that can be recruited. Very different from standard FE games. Dumbed down recruit system, one of the most loved trademark features of FE games – a big negative in my book.

In a way, what FE Echoes did was simply be loyal to the original game and I can respect that effort. However, this loyalty is achieved at what cost? Is it wise to be loyal to implementations that are objectively bad and that ignore some of the most well-known features of FE games? In the end, this game is a remake of FE Gaiden, not merely a 3DS port. In this way, I believe not much was done to respect the overall progress of the franchise.

Story

Fire Emblem Echoes stars the typical medieval fantasy plot common in other FE games. The MC’s village or kingdom is attacked by an invading army, often to the loss of their important friends or family members. The MC leads the defending army to victory, as they learn that perhaps what they’re fighting is not the true enemy, evil lurking about.

From that, FE Echoes’s plot differs starting with how two different stories are followed at different or at the same time – Alm, a village boy  swept up in the war that plagues the continent of Valentia, commanding the new rebel army to victory against the Rigel Army; and Celica, a priestess of Mila leaving on a pilgrimage to investigate the Mila Shrine in Zofia where the goddess Mila resides, helping different people along the way. Their birthmarks, as seen on the screenshot, indicating that perhaps, they are the true saviors of this land…

In summary, the themes are: obtaining freedom for humanity from the rule of Gods (fighting against a predesigned fate), a fight of good versus evil and a call to arms (a rebels army, constituted by people of all social classes, fighting against the royal army).

For anyone who is familiar with FE or in general, JRPG plots, FE Echoes’s plot is quite simple and often predictable. The twists aren’t exactly surprising or groundbreaking, so the story by itself hardly feels novel or original. However, what makes the game interesting is how the story is told, telling it through two different perspectives. The new prologue chapter serves as a quick tutorial, on Alm’s side and adds backstory to his relationship with Celica and his grandfather Mycen. Act 1 follows Alm’s side of the story, while Act 2 follows Celica’s side. For Act 3 and 4, both armies are controlled at once in the Overworld Map. Act 5 consists of the final dungeon, where both armies join together to defeat the final boss. After this, the player is allowed to explore the postgame content.

As for the plot changes, a few main plot points are slightly changed, mostly for dramatic effect. However (and this is something that will be talked about in the Character section), the plot relative to the newly added characters is quite good, in particular to Berkut and Reina.

Translation: as someone who played the English version of the game with Japanese voices, I was able to compare both scripts to a certain degree, as the game is fully voiced. The English translation of FE Echoes often takes liberties, compared to the original Japanese script. What was sometimes a single word or acknowledgment, might turn into a fully-written sentence. A very positive aspect is the handling of Japanese polite/humble language, and this is where most of the creativity shows. Something that I wasn’t pleased with was how the script was altered for a few characters, mostly Mae and Claire, slightly changing their personalities to be more childish.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with the translation and fully believe that it expands upon the original Japanese script, which felt barebones at times. It is quite beautifully written and is certainly a role model for localization companies to follow, especially when there isn’t much to work with in the first place.

Cutscenes: there have been cutscenes added for a better storytelling flow at important points of the story. However, there are also cutscenes mostly at the start of nearly every Act that are often unrelated to the Act in question, being quite spoilery in nature.

Overview

The FE Echoes plot is very similar to the FE Gaiden plot, and frankly, the plot is quite generic and predictable. What is interesting, however, is the presentation of the story, with how it’s split between two different perspectives. Two different sides of the same story are told, bringing to the light answers to the mysteries of the continent of Valentia. While the story was already predictable, the final nail in the coffin is the sheer existence of spoiler-ish cutscenes that show you how certain very plot-relevant events unfold. Personally, I believe that these cutscenes not only harm the flow of the storytelling, but they are completely unnecessary. They exist solely to create hype, but for me, they had a hand in destroying my enjoyment that came with deducing how the plot would progress and any surprise that came with it. My recommendation is to skip them entirely or to close your eyes.

I spoke about the quality of the English TL. This is a big step since the complete fiasco that was the FE Fates TL, and it is most likely is one of the best translations of FE games. It is an almost Shakespearian rewrite of the original Japanese script, which is quite lacking, while still conveying the original meaning.

The following excerpt shows how the TL could not save the original script and actually made it look slightly weird. It is also an important plot point which I believe was childishly conveyed.

Personally, I dislike when a twist isn’t really a twist because it’s a surprise for no one except the protagonist. It’s not something that you really have to think about – it’s written in a way that anyone playing the game would reach a similar conclusion. The translation here looks slightly awkward, even ignoring the fact that I had no idea that “jape” meant practical joke or prank, but the original text didn’t help much.

Besides this, there have been added new chapters. One, a prologue chapter that gives backstory to the relationship between the two main characters, while also serving as a small tutorial. Then, there is a final chapter that tries to connect the game’s events to the ones in FE Awakening, but there aren’t many storytelling efforts in this front.

There have been a few plot points changed compared to FE Gaiden. Besides the addition of certain characters which have a very minor role in the story, there is a new antagonist, Berkut. The plot changes aren’t exactly better or worse compared with FE Gaiden but mostly serve to give a more dramatic feel to the game and to flesh out the story.

While the addition of new characters are technically a “plot change” due to the role they have in the story, this shall be discussed in the “Character” section.

Summary table

CATEGORY vs. FE Gaiden vs. FE Awak/Fates/other FE games Comment
Plot Very similar to FE Gaiden, with a few plot changes. Quite similar to traditional FE games. Predictable and slightly generic but at times charming story. Prologue adds backstory for the protagonists.

Plot changes don’t add that much to the story, mostly used for extra dramatic effect.

Plot related to the new characters is a great addition to the base story.

Presentation Nearly identical to FE Gaiden, with the addition of cutscenes. First (second) game to include dual protagonists. The ability to freely switch between protagonists (Act3+) keeps the game far from linear.
Translation N/A. A complete opposite of the FE Fates TL. One of the best FE game TLs. The TL quality standard has definitely gone up. Creative/liberal translation expands significantly upon the original JP script. A few translation choices that look odd at times, especially with how certain characters are handled.
A role model to follow for future FE games and possible other JRPGs.

 

Characters

One of the aspects that Fire Emblem games are known for, is its charismastic and well-written/developed protagonists. For example, there’s Ike from FE9 and FE10, the charismastic leader of a mercenary squad who embarks on an epic quest for revenge and freedom of the land. You have the legendary Eliwood, Lynn and Hector trio, the main characters of the first FE game to come to the West, who to this day still top character popularity polls, having their different backgrounds, circumstances, personalities and relationships. Even outside the protagonists, there are many other characters, who are memorable for the most variety of reasons and who get their share of development according to their importance to the plot. So, how do FE Echoes’s characters compare to the rest?

Alm’s side: getting straight to the point, the truth is that most characters feel flat or one-dimensional, especially Alm. Rather than a leader, it feels more as if he’s just swept by the circumstances. Alm’s side doesn’t benefit from strong support characters, as there really aren’t any. Interesting characters either join too late or have too small of a role in the party. Amongst Alm’s childhood friends, the two who have an active role in the plot, are complete filler characters – they exist just to drop appropriate lines when necessary. Surprisingly, Kliff, is one of the most popular characters, most certainly due to his personality, despite not having an active role in the story. Faye is the last of Alm’s childhood/village friends, a new addition which shall be talked about further ahead.

Tatiana and Zeke have a charming love story, although they join the party a little too late. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to obtain the last Support conversation before finishing the game and thus didn’t get to see how it would affect their fate through the epilogue.

Celica’s side: in comparison, Celica’s side is definitely more interesting. There are recurring characters from the first FE game, the lovely and memorable pegasus trio. There’s Atlas, the brawn before brains villager whose rough attitude contrasts with the manner that most characters carry themselves and there’s Sonya, the enemy turned ally, who has her own motivations and interesting philosophy of life. Once again, Celica’s two initial companions don’t really have important roles in the story, although they don’t fall as flat as Alm’s equivalents. As for Celica herself, she is a more interesting character, the beautiful but determined priestess of Mila who spares no efforts to assist troubled denizens of Valentia, despite being pressed for time.

New additions: there are two new characters, one for each side. The first one is Faye, a female villager and one of Alm’s childhood friends; and Conrad, a mysterious masked who comes multiple times at key points of the story to Celica’s aid, eventually being a playable character.

Faye is simply, a useless character. Game-wise, she’s one of the best clerics due to the skills that are exclusively made available to her (or simply because of the levels the obtains them at). However, she has little to no plot interference. While seeming to be a possible love interest for Alm, it remains as a one-sided crush. It is almost as if it was decided at the very beginning of the game that Alm’s only possible love interest would be Celica. Faye’s support conversations With Alm reek of borderline unhealthy obsession, despite it being a fact that she simply cares deeply for him. Perhaps this was an issue with her feelings not being properly conveyed with the translation. When she converses with other characters – all she does is show her lack of interest in anything that doesn’t have to do with Alm. As for the epilogue:

It’s sad how improperly this character was treated. She is tragic in her own way with the heartbreaking fate that was doomed for her.

The other character is the masked man. A stoic, taciturn character who shows up at opportune moments to save Celica from danger. Later on the game, he is made available as a playable character and is revealed to be…

As for the antagonists, it’s sort of divisive. While there are Sunday Morning cartoon villains like Slayde and Jedah, there’s the charimastic King of Rigel, Rudolf, who puts the safety of his people before anything else; and the FE Echoes additions Fernand, Berkut and Rinea. 

Fernand. Once a founding member of the rebel army, he is repulsed by the idea of their army, mostly constituted by soldiers of noble birth, to be led by a mere villager – no matter if their grandfather happened to be a famous General in the past.

Berkut is King Rudolf’s nephew and supposedly the next in line for the throne. While listed as a “villain”, Rinea is merely Berkut’s betrothed, a sweet and gentle soul who has absolutely no hand in the war or the violence in the continent of Valentia. Berkut is tasked with halting Alm’s army’s advances together with Fernand, resulting in a chain of failures.


Overall, the two (three) new antagonists are great additions to Fire Emblem Gaiden and are effectively some of the best characters of the game. There are rumors that Berkut was planned to be made available as a playable character,  not being possible due to lack of resources. Contrary to that, the two new additions for the player’s side are mostly awful. They are poorly written or created to cater to a certain audience.

Support conversations: one of the additions compared to FE Echoes is the addition of support conversations. As characters battle together (fight within three adjacent spaces of each other), their bonds increase and subsequently, different relationship ranks are achieved. This is one of the ways through which it is possible to get to know most of the characters – their own backstories and relationships (even romances) evolve and we get to understand their personalities through their interactions with others. This has both benefits in-game, as the characters gain a slight boost in stats as the Support Ranks progress, and plot-wise, mostly related to the epilogue, as the fate of the different characters can be altered. However, it also does happen that many of the support conversations are just filler – a small compilation of banter between the two characters. Overall, in FE Echoes, I don’t believe there was any particular support conversation that I found interesting. Not much is learned about the characters and they usually behave as they normally would. This is also hampered by the fact that Alm and Celica, the two protagonists of the game have no support conversations (as they hardly have any chance to meet), although they have plenty of opportunities to interact outside this system.

Overview

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said before. While the new additions for the player’s side include some of the worst characters of the game, the ones for the enemy’s side include some of the best. Besides these characters, there’s a random new Bandit-like antagonist with a minor role on the story, and the two characters of the epilogue – one of which you only learn about by reading scriptures, and the other being the final dragon boss about not much is known, which exists as an attempt to tie the game’s events to Fire Emblem Awakening.

Summary table

CATEGORY vs. FE Gaiden vs. FE Awak/Fates/other FE games Comment
Cast (player’s side) Two new playable characters were added. Excluding Celica and perhaps Kliff, not the most interesting characters of the franchise. While Alm is mostly flat, Celica is certainly a more interesting and non-generic character. Overall, a good female protagonist.

The two new playable characters are a good addition, game and plot-wise, but they are very poorly handled.

Cast (enemy’s side)
A couple of antagonists were added. Excluding the new additions, not the most interesting antagonists of the franchise. The antagonist additions are one of the best changes that came with this remake. They are effectively the best characters of the game, excluding the protagonists. Without a doubt, I would even rank them above Alm.
Support conversations Newly added feature. Common feature in most FE games, system similar to newer games. The newly created support conversations add interesting backstory and new interactions for the different characters.

Amongst all the convos, the few support convos that are interesting are quite good. Others suffer from personality changes, awkward translations or are simply an exchange of banter.

Difficulty and Replaybility

Traditional Fire Emblem games are mostly known for their difficulty. Facing the possibility of permanent death while being against disadvantageous odds, being overwhelmed by the enemy ranks and having to come up with a strategy to win the battle. Having played FE Echoes on Hard/Classic, the highest possible difficulty, there was never really a time where I felt the game was difficult. This is even not considering the existence of Turnwheel.

The difficulty of FE Echoes and Gaiden is mostly due to how poor the maps are designed as many of the enemies are sitting next to each other, not giving much breathing room for slow or more fragile characters. Most of the class balance evaluation will be based on end-game potential.

Class-wise, the game isn’t very balanced. Cavalier/Paladin/Gold Knights aren’t very sturdy and there aren’t many maps that benefit from their mobility, with terrain often impeding their advance. While sturdy, Soldier/Armor/Barons are simply melted at the later stages of the games, the high number of mages tick at their laughable Resistance. However, they are still useful for holding chokepoints and stalling the enemy while fragile but stronger characters attack from behind cover. Pegasus/Falcon Knights, known for their freedom of movement, are particularly useful for hit-and-run tactics and assassinating lone enemies. Unlike other games, they cannot be used for transporting allied units, however.

Mages remain extremely useful, due to the number of high defense enemies. They split into Sage for males and Priestess for females. There isn’t much of a difference between the two, except that Sages have a secondary focus on support and healing spells, while Priestesses have a secondary focus on healing spells and can wield swords. Cleric/Saints are extremely useful, especially because of how Physic works with the maps of this game. The range goes from a minimum of 1 to the highest being the value equivalent to the character’s Attack stat. With Echoes’s cramped maps, it’s possible to heal characters from one side of the map to the other, especially if the player gets lucky with Atk stat gains. There are FE games that limit this more severely and there are even earlier games where the range was infinite, including the original Gaiden. In addition, they have a number of support skills that make them one of the most useful classes of the game, with which you can’t go without.

Archer/Sniper/Bow Knight is a class that grows stronger as time passes by. Bow Knight is one of the strongest classes of the game – having access to the Killer Bow, an extremely powerful weapon with automatically grants two turns of attacks. In addition to that, Bow Knights have some of the best mobility of the game, being allowed to ride horses, and they can attack from up to five squares away. Yes, you heard that right. They can outrange most enemies, excluding certain mages and most bosses end-game. With their power and mobility, there is simply no match for them, except for…

Mercenary/Myrmidon/Dread Fighters. Not only do they have the highest stat growths in the most important offensive stats, such as Attack, Skill and Speed, but they benefit from some of the best weapons and most prominently, the Dread Fighter Loop. As explained above, once Dread Fighters hit a certain level (that being 10), it is possible to revert them back to the Villager state. From there, depending on the character, it is possible to promote them back to the Mercenary tree or to a completely different class tree, while retaining their stats. This way, it is very easy to max the stats of characters who start with the Villager or Mercenary classes, as two loops (with proper use of Turnwheel) are more than necessary to max those characters’ stats. Only other possible way to max the stats of other characters would be to pay for overclass DLC’s and/or extreme luck. However, this isn’t all that’s in favor of this class. Dread Fighters obtain a passive skill that cuts magical damage in half. All of these are factors that place the Mercenary class as the strongest in game, and blessed be those who start out as Villagers or Mercenaries, as they could simply do one DF loop and then switch to another class tree if desired.

The Fighter/Hero class is exclusive to Alm and is quite similar to the Mercenary class (similar stat growth rates, ability to wield swords). What makes the class strong are the skills exclusive Alm, both for plot reasons and due to exclusive weapons. However, it is always necessary to use Alm with care. While a mistake with any other class would mean a wasted Turnwheel charge, the game is immediately over once Alm falls in battle. Alm may also wield Bows, something that’s not particularly useful.

The Priestess/Princess belongs to Celica. Similar to characters with the regular Priestess Class, Celica wields powerful magic while being slightly stronger with swords. Her exclusive spells completely melt the enemy while costing a decent amount of HP. For similar reasons to Alm, it is necessary to use Celica carefully, as her death too spells a game over. Despite being slightly more fragile, her support spells make her slightly more useful than Alm.

If I were to rank the character trees, it’d be something like:

Normal Maps

Tier 1: Bow Knight.

Tier 2: Mercenary, Alm/Celica, Cleric, Priestess, Sage.

Tier 3: Pegasus Knight.

Tier 4: Cavalier, Archer, Soldier.

This is not to say that certain classes can’t be more useful in specific maps. BK and DF might not be so useful in a map with high Defense enemies, tankier characters like Barons and magic carriers rising up in useful. What makes BK so good is how easily they deal with pesky enemies, being able to deal high amounts of damage without retaliation. Also, it’s impossible to do DF loops during the normal course of the game without excessive and unnecessary amounts of grinding. Thus, I would say the Tier 2 classes are close to each other in strength. Once again, Pegasus Knights are quite fragile but can still be quite useful during the course of the game. The tankier characters have limited usefulness but that is not to say they don’t have their uses. So, a class’s strength could heavily vary depending on what is necessary for the specific map.

Normal Dungeons/Shrines (10 character limit)

Tier 1: Priestess, Celica,  Cleric/Saint, Bow Knight.

Tier 2: Alm, Mercenary, Sage.

Tier 3: Pegasus Knight, Cavalier, Archer, Soldier.

For dungeons, it’s slightly different. There are many a number of magic-wielding characters, where Dread Fighters come extremely handy. Undead creatures are absolutely destroyed by magic and that’s when magic wielding classes shine the most. Despite the fact that using Celica is dangerous, she has high stat growths and her exclusive spells are quite useful. However, she wasn’t my strongest Priestess-type of character, considering that my Delthea gained a point in Atk/Spd with nearly every single level. Thus, your mileage may vary depending on your stat growths. Bow Knights are extremely useful for sniping the hard-hitting but squishy enemies and clerics are amazing to have around. I put Sage this low because, despite being able to use magic, I personally didn’t have any Sage whose stats turned out well.

Labyrinth (Postgame; 10 character limit)

Tier 1: Dread Fighter, Bow Knight.

Tier 2: Saint, Priestess, Celica, Alm

Tier 3: Sage, Falcon Knight.

Tier 4: Golden Knight, Baron.

Here I listed every single character as their final promotion, bar overclass DLC. Dread Fighters by now should’ve done at least one loop in preparation for the postgame content, but even then, their magic damage halving passive comes in extremely handy. Enemies hit rather hard, thus it’s better to rely on characters with can hit from a distance, reliably dodge attacks and deal a fair amount of damage. That was the main reasoning behind the tiers. Celica and Alm are extremely dangerous to use, and it’s even possible to bench one of them if a different character turned out to have better stats. Alm’s sword guarantees a double hit and Celica possesses powerful magic.

I wasn’t worried about min-maxing but this was my final party: Celica, Alm, Delthea, Faye, Tatiana, Saber, Atlas, Kliff, Catria (Filler) and Mathilda (Filler). Honestly, I simply wished for a little variety, so this isn’t exactly an optimal party. Notice that I have two Clerics: Faye and Tatiana. Faye is the only Cleric who can learn the Anew skill – similar to the “Dance” skill in other games, it is a skill that when cast on another unit, allows them to act once more. Tatiana is too a cleric with an exclusive skill: Fortify, which restores the health of allies within a certain radius of the user, being extremely useful in the cramped Labyrinth battle maps. Since spells cost a decent amount of health, it’s also useful to have two clerics so they can at least heal each other. Saber and Atlas were the two DF I took along and made the dungeon a complete breeze.

Either way, these tier lists aren’t meant to be taken too strictly. These are based on my experiences. While some classes are objectively better than others, the orders could be slightly switched around depending on how lucky one is with stat gains. However, I believe that especially for the Labyrinth, the tier order should be accurate.

Overall, there are some extremely powerful classes, but it’s interesting how certain characters can be useful due to exclusive skills, and this goes beyond the protagonists.

Game difficulty: overall, the combination of Turnwheel, simplified weapon management system, free grinding zones (Dungeons/Shrines), unlimited unit dispatch, the presence of overpowered classes and generous availability of resources, make this one of the easiest FE games I have ever played. When I mean by generous amount of resources, is that by the end of the game, it’s normal to have an excessive amount of gold even without any out-of-the-way grinding. There’s more than enough leeway to upgrade all your weapons, as you may desire. Despite playing on Hard/Classic, only at the main story map (not counting the postgame content) did I ever feel was challenging.

Postgame difficulty: having lurked around gamefaqs boards and such, I had been aware of how “difficult” the postgame content. People spoke about excessive hours of grinding and some even resorted to paying for the overclass DLC. To cut it short, the rumors were overblown. Personally, I only did what I felt was appropriate and choose a few characters to take to the third tier. Needlessly to say, I was completely disappointed, considering I was able to cheese the last boss and defeat it in two turns (…without critical hits!) without losing a single character.

Thus, I was really disappointed with the game’s difficulty overall. Once again, this is for sure the easiest FE game that I have ever played, and the postgame was laughable, most likely created simply to create quick bucks by selling overclass DLC Packs, which cost $2 per class.

Replayability: sadly, there really isn’t any. There is no game difficulty beyond Hard, there are no NG+ incentives, there are no unlockable dungeons, characters or weapons. Having two armies already lets you experience different kinds of play, so it’s as if there’s already no need to restart the game for that reason. The only choice that you get is between recruiting two characters: one is Deen (a mediocre/average Mercenary, who brings with him the powerful Brave Sword) and Sonya (one of the strongest Mages of the game). While earlier FE games had extra difficulties, there were also FE games, such as FE7, that had replayability as you were able to start a new game following a different character’s protagonist. There was also a system which granted you a battle map clear rank, up to S-rank, an active incentive to come up with new and innovative strategies. FE Echoes simply doesn’t do any of that.

FE Awakening and Fates had the Marriage system. While it is a feature that I don’t really care for, it is also something that allowed for more replayability as one could pair different characters together. Not to mention that FE Awakening had a blank slate MC that could take up any class, however that would definitely not work in FE Echoes as there already exist two competent protagonists. Even then, those games still provided many options to make the content easier to get through, especially FE Fates.

The promotion system is also limiting, as they are completely linear. It was also a common feature of FE games for there to be different promotion paths but alas, in this game nor in Gaiden, it is simply not possible. For example, in Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem (FE12) there are a total of four difficulty modes: normal, hard, maniac and lunatic.

 

Overview

One of the easiest FE games, for reasons mentioned above. When a single character is able to clear most of the map on their own, it means something is seriously wrong with the game’s balance, at least that was my experience with Bow Knights. Due to the Dread Fighter loop, any Villager or Mercenary class starting character has the most potential for stat growth than any other character. However, none of this is really necessary, as there is no content in the game difficult enough to warrant that effort. The postgame content is merely a cheap cash grab attempt, for those who can’t handle more than a two hours grinding session.

However, it is interesting how certain characters have exclusive skills. At the same time, this kind of exclusive instantly makes a character much better than others, but that’s just how it goes.

Final word

My conclusion is that Fire Emblem Gaiden and thus Fire Emblem Echoes are oddballs, they’re significantly different from most FE games by changing several trademark features around. While different, however, for those same reasons I might say that while they’re good games – just not good FE games.  Removing but not adding classes, simplifying the weapon management system, reworking the class promotion system (making it rigid and linear) and removing the traditional recruitment methods and storylines make for an interesting and different FE experience. However, I believe that these are not healthy changes and I am positive that I wouldn’t have taken such a liking to FE games if they followed FE Gaiden’s model and not the one of the very first game.

As for the changes, gameplay-wise FE Echoes adds the Turnwheel, which while saving a ton of trouble, it’s a feature that makes the game very much easier. That is to say, while the game is already easy, any extra difficulty would have to come from self-imposed restrictions, from the player’s side. Not using certain classes, characters, weapons, limiting yourself to a certain number of characters or simply not using the Turnwheel. This is all because there are no unlockable content nor difficulty modes. Thus, while still enjoyable to play, FE Echoes might very well be a game that you’ll shelf after completion.

In summary, while FE Echoes is very loyal to FE Gaiden, that is its own downfall. FE Gaiden is too simple, too rigid and too different. The additions to the remake aren’t all that good.  Even if FE Echoes’s greatest attribute is its Story Presentation, you’d get the same out of playing the original game. Storytelling-wise, the changes are mostly minimal and unnecessary, however, the changes related to Fernand, Berkut, and Reina – a definite improvement. While slightly generic, the story can be charming and quite emotionally impactful at times, steps beyond that FE Awakening and FE Fates can offer.

Translation-wise, I’ve mentioned what a pleasure it was to read FE Echoes (for the most part) and it is the complete opposite of the FE Fates fiasco. It is certainly a model for other medieval fantasy JRPGs to follow, especially with how beautifully the different degrees of politeness of the Japanese language were conveyed in the English text.

The newly added characters are either terrible or extremely good, personally, I found Berkut and Reina’s subplot to be one of the highest points of the game. Keeping in mind that Faye has a very minor role in the story and that Conrad’s support conversations can be ignored, the new character additions were a great plus.

There were other features I didn’t mention that while important, I didn’t feel necessary to go over on this review. The game is fully voiced in both Japanese and English, has anime-like cutscenes, updated visuals for every character and map, and the background during battles dynamically changes accordingly to the characters’ position on the map.

In the end, I hope I was able to demonstrate the good and bad points of this game, both compared to the original FE Gaiden, the other 3DS FE games and its position on the franchise overall. If I were to recommend which version to play, I might actually suggest this one, although at that point I might as well point to a better Fire Emblem game. This one is more so for FE fans only, who wish to play every single game of the franchise and have gotten tired of replaying the other games to death, or simply for those who wish for a different and refreshing way to play Fire Emblem. Comparing it to the other 3DS games, I might dare to say it’s the best one. I still feel that this game slightly divides the fanbase, catering more to casuals – instead of beautiful visuals, voice acting, and upgraded cinematics, I would’ve preferred extra difficulty levels or even the tiniest little incentive for a future playthrough.

As for my future regarding FE games, I plan on trying out Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance JP Version, as there is an exclusive Lunatic mode to an already difficult game. Thank you for reading.

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