Fire Emblem fans have a lot to look forward to these days. Last year they received a Fire Emblem game which essentially consisted of three games in one, and this year they will get their hands on a mobile game, a Dynasty Warriors clone, and a re-release of one of the oldest games in the franchise. The question concerning the last game, which is now available on Nintendo 3DS under the name of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, is whether anime fantasy from the early '90s still has any entertainment value.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a full remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden from 1992, the second game in the series. Like other Fire Emblem games of the time, Fire Emblem Gaiden only saw release in Japan, and like a lot of other famous sequels for the Famicom/NES, such as Zelda II and Castlevania II, the game took some unorthodox steps in order to find itself. With the new 3DS version it finally gets an overhaul and an international release, in the process making the 3DS the first platform since Gameboy Advance to receive three Fire Emblem games.
If you've never played a Fire Emblem game before, there's nothing stopping Fire Emblem Echoes from becoming your introduction to the franchise. This is a tactical role-playing series where you move troops on a grid, during which your soldiers gain experience points, level up, and may be upgraded to more advanced classes. Each soldier has their strengths, weaknesses, and a unique personality, meaning that you might feel some heartache if they're lost forever on the battlefield in the harsh classic Fire Emblem mode. If this seems too hard or unforgiving for you, then Echoes features a casual mode which only incapacitates your soldier for the rest of the battle, but still, to win a Fire Emblem battle without losing a single soldier is truly a moment of triumph.
If this is your first Fire Emblem game, you might want to spend some time learning the game's core mechanics in the hints and tips section, as there are little or no in-game tutorials. While a little bit daunting, the plus side is that it means that you're thrown right into the action.
An imminent risk when releasing several games in a franchise on the same platform is that the formula may become stale or that the games may end up too similar to each other, and considering this, the choice to remake the old Fire Emblem Gaiden is a strategic one. The game stands out from most of the other games in the series, and though many of the game's mechanics have become part of the series' trademark gameplay later on, there's still enough uniqueness left in Echoes to make it stand out from both Awakening and Fates.
Unfortunately, many of the new elements introduced in Awakening and Fates have been left out in Fire Emblem Echoes. Intelligent Systems appears to have kept this remake as true to the original mechanics as possible, and this means that newer strategic features, such as placing two units in the same position on the battlefield or having two soldiers next to each other so they can back each other up during combat, have been left out in Echoes. If you've grown accustomed to these, then, you simply need to recalibrate yourself to an older state of Fire Emblem mentality. On top of this, simple mechanics such as a rider's ability to pick up and transport other units are gone as well, and even though Fire Emblem Echoes sports tactical depth, the lack of said features feels like bringing the series back a step, especially after two brilliant predecessors on the same platform.
Other classic Fire Emblem mechanics have been removed or scaled down too, the most controversial of which is the weapon triangle system, which is now entirely gone. To give a short summary, most Fire Emblem games have featured a system where one kind of weapon beats another in a rock-paper-scissors pattern, but Fire Emblem Echoes says goodbye to this setup, meaning the series also loses a lot of tactical depth. Another feature that's scaled down several notches is the relationships between characters in-between fights. Granted, some may have felt that this feature became too much of a waifu simulator in the previous two games, but personally, we found the increased focus on this element of the series to be both fun and entertaining. Fire Emblem Echoes doesn't remove this feature completely, but the whole thing is scaled down to a level more reminiscent of older games.