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Game Review

Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood these days. Seems we can't go a month without seeing at least one new movie based on some old TV show or formerly favored flick pop up at the theaters. Well, gamemakers are starting to get in on the remake, upgrade and rerelease vibe, too. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia offers a perfect case in point.

It may seem like the Fire Emblem tactical RPG games are a relatively new series that's really hit its stride on the Nintendo DS and 3DS. But the truth is, these titles have been around since 1990. (In fact, the first of these Japan-created games to officially hit US shores was already the seventh in the series over there.) Accordingly, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a reworking of a 1992 game dubbed Fire Emblem Gaiden. Given that lineage, it has a number of gameplay elements up its armored sleeves that fans of the latest titles might not expect.

War and Only War. Well, Sorta.

For one thing, rather than spending a lot of time focused on lengthy story cutscenes and lots of off-the-battlefield conversations and relationships, Echoes mostly focuses on war.

That said, the game does begin with some narrative that introduces us to the main characters of this battling journey. Alm and Celica are a boy and girl who bond quickly as young kids in a tiny farming village. They also notice they have the same birthmark on their hands—even though they're pretty sure they're both orphans. Soon they're torn apart by a dramatic event involving some seemingly rogue knights associated with a nearby kingdom.

So what are these kids' true relationship to each other? Why are they pulled apart? What hidden truths swirl in the warring conflicts engulfing Valentia? How do these warring factions tie into the god Duma and goddess Mila, powerful entities who once fought over mankind's domain? Those questions and more are slowly answered after Alm and Celica grow up and separately enter into this world's conflicts themselves.

Despite that detail-drenched backstory, though, Echoes focuses almost exclusively on strengthening a balanced team of warriors to fight the game's tactical battles. Pretty much everything else, story and relationship-wise, is revealed while in the context of those conflicts.

A Mechanical Shake-Up

Most of Echoes' gameplay happens on a grid-like map where players maneuver teams through turn-based battles. The game enables you to strategically plan your attacks and defenses from both Alm's and Celica's respective armies as they work toward each other from opposite sides of Valentia's map. The key is to equip the villagers, mercenaries and soldiers you pick up along the way, gradually upgrading them to become the best balance of archers, knights, swordsmen, magic-casters and healers possible to meet the evermore difficult opposing armies

Players can't, though, expect to march into Echoes and just apply the same kinds of strategies required in previous Fire Emblem installments. For one thing, the rock-paper-scissors hierarchy of one type of warrior being stronger against another isn't part of this game. In fact, even the way characters learn new skills is changed. Here, combat skills are honed by keeping specific items equipped in battle for long periods of time.

Hit-point lifeforce, meanwhile, gets a change-up in Echoes, too. I've heard someone refer to its approach to combat as a "glass cannon" mechanic. You can dish out damage to your opponents but you always have to be aware of how your attacks weaken you, too. Everything from drawing a bow to unleashing a spell drains your characters' health bar and layers on fatigue.

And characters can only carry a maximum of one item at a time, forcing you to consider whether a restorative hunk of cheese might trump carrying a special weapon, shield or power-boosting ring into battle. So your campaigns are not only focused on chess-like maneuvers, they also become a process of constantly evaluating your (and your opponent's) ever-weakening resources. These kinds of tweaks really shake things up for tactical strategy lovers out there, and they result in a game that's both distinctive and more engaging than you might expect.

Past and Future Problems

That doesn't mean that Echoes arrives without potential problems to consider, though, especially when thinking about younger players. It may be a classic from the past, but there are still some modern-feeling rough edges. These include cries of "d--mit" and "h---," as well as exclamations of "d--n you" and "god" in the dialogue mix.

Wine and beer are used as restorative agents. And though there's no character dating as in recent entries in this franchise, some character chats during battle can involve sexual innuendo, including flirtation between both males and females, and between males and males. One female character exposes an ample amount of digital cleavage as well.

In addition, we're exposed to a lot of pantheistic spirituality throughout, ranging from discussions about and quick scenes between two sibling gods. There's also magical weaponry, in-battle spells and some "cursed" situations. People talk of individuals "offering up their souls" to godlike entities. And characters must pray at statue altars to get certain upgrades. Some darkly magical moments also involve witches and monster-like creatures called "terrors" that appear as everything from zombies and bat-like creatures to werewolves and dragons.

Of course, then there's all the game's death-dealing, too. In this case, though, Echoes' blocky, bird-eye perspective significantly diminishes the implied battlefield messiness. Swords and axes are swung, but felled characters simply fall, and, poof, they're out of sight. In fact, the most violent action involves a character impaled in a cutscene who bleeds small white drops but is then magically healed.

In the end, this T-rated title isn't the worst thing out there. But Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia may not be the best choice either for budding young fans of this long-running franchise.

Positive Elements

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Crude or Profane Language

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April 20, 2017

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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