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Sparks Fly for “Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia”

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  For gamers, “Fire Emblem: Fates” (2016) was a train-wreck. Fans had panned the flat characters, the lack-luster story, and the terribly dumb protagonist, Corrin.

  The JRPG community (Japanese Role Playing Games) was concerned for the next installment, “Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.”

  Thankfully, after playing through Nintendo’s newest tactical 3DS game, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

  “Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia” is a remake of a Famicon game known as Fire Emblem Gaiden, released only in Japan in 1992. “Echoes” focuses on the continent of Valentia and its two warring nations: the turbulent Rigel and the impoverished Zofia.

  “Fire Emblem Echoes” is a mixture of “Final Fantasy X” with its fantastical lore, heavy focus on story elements and character arcs, and overarching religious themes, as well as the “Persona” series with the bonds between the characters determining how well they fight in battle together.

  The gameplay is turn-based, a form of combat in JRPGs where the player can take their time making decisions. The battlefields, which are structured as grids, range from creepy cemeteries filled with reanimated corpses to gold-stocked pirate ships.

  To describe “Echoes” in a simplified way, it is “an electronic version of chess, except the pieces are humans”.

  Like previous “Fire Emblem” games, battle is settled by the player’s intelligent decisions and careful planning. Unlike most games, the members of your army can permanently die, altering the story and the actions of other characters, so every command you give feels weighted. Forecasting damage is also a big part of the game.

  There are lots of factors to think about: What weapon does the enemy wield? Are they mounted on an animal? Does the tile they’re standing on have any buffs? What are their unique skills? These factors play into the combat; it’s a confusing yet fun challenge for the brain to say the least.

  The game has two controllable protagonists: the humble yet resolute priestess Celica and the sword-fighting prodigy, Alm. While these prophesied heroes have their faults—Alm is a little too good at leading an army with no prior experience and Celica is constantly trying too hard to be a martyr—both end up being compelling protagonists.

  The supporting cast, as per usual with “Fire Emblem” games, is filled to the brim with eccentric oddities that you can’t help but root for, from Alm’s pink-clad stalker Fae to the amnesic mystery knight Ezekiel. Alm’s rival, Prince Berkut, easily became my favorite FE villain to date, thanks to his impressive voice acting, quality writing, and grounded struggles.

  Unfortunately, “Echoes” has its flaws. The favorite part of the prior games—support conversations between characters—is a hollow shell of its former self. The cut scenes have also dipped in quality, with flowing, detailed CG replaced with choppy, ugly animation that tries too hard to look hand-drawn. These two disappointing factors drag the game down, but many still believe that the good outweighs the bad.

 By the final battle against Lord Duma, the game’s booming soundtrack and heart-felt conclusion, resonate with players as they topple the prideful dragon god.

 The rush lost with “Fates” has returned in “Echoes,” and the hype for the next game is already building.

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Sparks Fly for “Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia”