It’s been a while since I added to this overview, but Nintendo keeps adding to the Fire Emblem franchise- so eventually I knew I would have to expand on the original overview series I had started!
In this fifth entry to the Fire Emblem overview, I cover four games.
Okay, technically. Three of the games are part of one narrative, covering the Fates trilogy with Conquest, Birthright, and Revelation. The second entry after the jump elucidates on Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which was not only a remake of one of my personal favorites in the series but was also my pick for top game of 2017.
With the Fire Emblem series growing in popularity outside of Japan (and a slew of spiritual sequels, spinoffs, and other iterations appearing in every corner of the gaming world), this overview will probably be perpetually growing as times allows- which works because I honestly adore the series and researching it has been immensely interesting.
If you’d like to go back to the beginning of the series overview and Famicom days, feel free to look into the first part of the overview here. Otherwise, kick back and check out my bird’s eye view into the gears of the remaining 3DS entries of the Fire Emblem series!
Fire Emblem Fates (Nintendo 3DS, 2015)
Originally revealed at a Nintendo Direct as Fire Emblem if…, Fire Emblem Fates felt more like an experiment in customer loyalty than anything else. While everything looked sharp and promising, the concept of Fates was interesting, ambitious, and fiscally off-putting at first glance.
Fire Emblem Fates is technically three games revolving around the same scenario. Each entry of the game’s story begins with the same premise: the royalty of two kingdoms, Hoshido and Nohr, are respectively descended from the Dawn and Dusk Dragons of ancient times. Some years before the game opens, the main character, Corrin, was taken by the kingdom of Nohr and raised there as a member of their royal family. Upon the battlefield, it is revealed that Corrin was originally part of the Hoshidan royal family. In the light of this revelation, Corrin is faced with a choice- which really isn’t much of a choice so much as it is a reflection of which version of the game the player owns.
In Birthright, Corrin’s choice results in a return to their homeland of Hoshido, helping to defend the lands against the ruthless King Garon of Nohr and keep their people safe. In contrast, Conquest has Corrin making the decision to stay with the royal family of Nohr, acting to dissect why King Garon has become so bloodthirsty and what the mysteries are behind the kingdom’s current stance on pursuing Hoshido’s downfall. In the third entry, Revelation, Corrin decides not to join either side. Definitively, this is the most neutral, and thereby Fire Emblem-esque, entry of the series, but the games themselves even recommend playing through Birthright and Conquest before journeying through Revelation.
From the get-go, most reviews from players and the Internet recommend different entries depending on your gameplay style. Birthright is widely regarded as an easier entry to enter the game’s world from, as it enables the player to grind for experience and gold and the map objectives are much simpler, sticking mostly to the straightforward ‘defeat all enemies’ or ‘seize this point’ goals that are in play throughout the majority of the series. On the other hand, Conquest provides more of a challenge, limiting chances to strengthen your army and giving a wider range of objectives like ‘defend the castle’ or restricting the amount of turns to achieve your goal. As would be expected, Revelations is a combination of the two, offering challenge but the ability to strengthen your army and moderation in goal difficulty. With the return of Casual mode, though, all three of the games have varying levels of accessibility.
In general, the Fates series offers up a boatload of variation from previous entries, though a number of them are flavor changes. Each nation has its own variations on the usual repertoire of classes, granting unique classes like Maid, Basara, Ninja, and Malig Knight. Many of the Hoshidan classes also offer new weapons, including shuriken, clubs, and scrolls in lieu of more tradition Fire Emblem weaponry. This does go some way toward making each kingdom feel distinct, even setting aside the fact that Hoshido is clearly an Asian inspired nation while Nohr takes influences from Western Europe (most notably Germanic and French design and derivation).
The game is full of new features, though at its core, it doesn’t make much of a jump from Awakening. Your characters still have to be paired off to make half of your army. In a pleasant surprise from Awakening, however, there are two characters who can have same-sex S supports, resulting in some inclusivity but also resulting in the loss of an ally as they cannot produce a child. Taking some cues from past games, as well, the games takes Gaiden’s lack of weapon durability (aside from staves which have limited uses) and Thracia’s Capture mechanic to add some variety to the gameplay this time around. The customizable Avatar for Corrin returns from Awakening, as well.
The most notable additions lie in the ‘My Castle’ feature that the player is granted access to early on in the adventure. This acts an explorable home base that has a ton of features to upgrade as the game unfolds, including weapon shops, accessory shops where you can acquire items that will raise certain stats, and the ability to bond with characters outside of battle. By visiting other players’ castles over Streetpass, you can also create unique units or acquire accessories you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. The My Castle feature does eliminate some issues such as trying to hunt down vendors when you need more weapons or Vulneraries. I also had fun visiting the bases of folks on my friend list. Overall, the feature is a welcome one with a number of benefits and a few unnecessary features.
Obviously, the downside to the Fates trilogy lies in its business model. While Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations can be considered decent stories on their own, if you want the full experience, shelling out a minimum of $90 or so is a tall order. Even the Special Edition- which came with an 80-page art book, a carry pouch, and all three games on one cartridge- rang in at $80 on opening day. While it appears that you can play any of the games on their own, most reports point out that either something is missing from the story if you don’t play all three. Playing all three, however, makes the story too big for itself. This may be subjective, but given the amount of product and effort put into the game, general opinion seemed to lean toward believing that the game could have been confined to Revelation or a game of the like.
Given how the Fates trilogy released, the games do cover the gamut of players that could be brought into the series. Newcomers would find a welcoming experience in Birthright while diehard fans could enjoy the challenging (and honestly more complex) Conquest. The real downside is having to buy Revelation as DLC to experience the total story, but it is a good jumping point from either title- or both for completionists.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (Nintendo 3DS, 2017)
By 2017, Fire Emblem was becoming a powerhouse in the Nintendo stable. Between Awakening and Fates, not to mention the inclusion of new protagonists in games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the company knew that it had finally struck gold on the US shores for the prolific series. With the advertising hype around the Fates trilogy, though, another game in the series was taking a stealthy approach toward the gates of release.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia didn’t quite receive the same fanfare as the previous entries on the 3DS. Announcements were minimal and advertisements started to appear in magazines and other media, touting that this was be a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, which had almost no exposure to American audiences at this point. With hints that Nintendo was looking into the past of Fire Emblem in Awakening, it seemed only logical that they would remake the second game in the series given they had already made Shadow Dragon for the DS.
Valentia follows the same story as Gaiden note by note. It is clear, however, that a much more fleshed out orchestra was used in its production, however, to keep with the analogy. Many of the gameplay elements remain the same- characters can equip one weapon or accessory that will enhance their attack, range, defense or other relevant stats. There are still overworld nodes to travel between, making grinding levels a helpful possibility. A number of advancements have been made to reflect both the advancements in the Fire Emblem series and role-playing games in general.
Weapons and accessories can now be upgraded by finding coins throughout Alm and Celica’s adventure, making them more potent than before. Characters also have support conversations, a welcome addition given the down-to-earth cast which has been given a healthy dose of characterization and involvement in the story. Given the direction of recent entries in the series, these additions are welcome and made the game feel much more current.
A number of additions have been made, as well, and they help improve on an already strong base for Valentia. Each dungeon is now explorable, allowing you to travel around and break barrels for items, engage or avoid enemy battles, or break down walls for secret items and passageways. These work pretty seamlessly into the overall style of the game and create a nice action RPG element in a way. In a vague way, the Fatigue system from Thracia 776 makes a return, as you must feed your characters between battles- especially in dungeons- or they will begin to weaken, striking with less power or less often and taking more damage. It is easy to counteract, as food and other items that cure fatigue are plentiful, and it is kind of a wonder why Nintendo brought this system back, as it only serves to remind the player that they may have been in a dungeon or area for too long.
The most interesting and useful feature to be added is the item called “Mila’s Turnwheel”. Throughout the game, you will find shrines of the goddess, Mila, which will let you promote your characters and make offerings to cure fatigue- or better, fuel a ‘Turnwheel’, which the heroes receive early in the game. This turnwheel allows you to return to a previous phase of the battle you are currently in to replay a moment that may not have gone the way you would have liked it to. This is incredibly useful if you should lose a party member to a strong attack, and it makes things easier for those who would otherwise reset the game to preserve their characters.
Otherwise, the game feels much different from Awakening and Fates due to its presentation. First, the game features full voice acting throughout the story, a new feature to the game’s front end. The art style also veers away from the vibrant anime-adjacent visuals, touting more storybook style aesthetics, as described by some of Nintendo’s promotional media. Neither style feels better than the other, but the artistry of Valentia does give the game its own beautiful identity.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia did a lot for fans. It delivered a strong reimagining of an early entry of the series many wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It also gave hope to some that with the success of the game, other games that haven’t been released outside of Japan may find similar treatment in the future. The Special Edition- featuring pins of the main character sprites and an artbook- sold out almost immediately upon availability, and according to Wikipedia, it has been reported that portable system sales accelerated upon the release of this title. By nearly all measures, Valentia was a successful title and hopefully indicates the positive direction that the series will continue toward in the future.