Players take control of either Alm or Celica throughout the story as they each command their own ever-growing armies of fearsome and magical companions against monsters and other enemy forces across Valentia. The game stick close to its top-down tactical RPG roots as each player takes a turn with his or her army, strategically placing them throughout the map against enemy units. Each character that players control in an army is a different class, granting them a different set of abilities and stats that have various advantages in battle, such as long-range archery attacks, magic, and sword arts to deal heavy damage. The weapons that are equipped can also become stronger and grant their wielders with new abilities and attacks.
Enemy encounters within battle bring players up close and personal with the action in exciting 3D animations, where the characters take on their foes and whittle down their health in either small doses or heavy hits. Once all enemies on the field are gone, the player wins the battle and can progress in the story.
When not in battle, players are able to explore the world of Valentia in multiple ways. In a town, players are given a simple 2-D look at their immediate environment and can talk to NPCs that offer side quests and reward them with useful items upon completion. Players can also examine the environment on their own by moving around a camera and rolling over items of interest, some of which can be picked up and added to the inventory.
New to the Fire Emblem series are explorable dungeons. Here, players control Alm or Celica freely in a 3-D environment to hunt for items and level up off of enemy parties scattered throughout the area. Once a player reaches far enough in a dungeon, they are able to find treasures, special locations to change characters’ classes, recover their health, and even level up certain stats. Be wary, as players cannot always save their game while traversing through a dungeon.
The game is also amiibo-compatible. The exclusive Alm and Celica amiibo set grants the ability to summon illusory soldiers to aid in battle and also unlocks a secret dungeon. Players can also tap other Fire Emblem amiibos from the Super Smash Bros. series to summon classic heroes to join in the fight.
Shadows of Valentia displays a perfect blend of Fire Emblem’s classic gameplay and medieval aesthetic with new additions and mechanics to shake things up. The classic strategy elements of Fire Emblem are easily learned and mastered, though it does provide an in-game guide to its many mechanics in case newer players can’t quickly get a grasp of it. Dungeons provide a new challenge from a unique perspective that adds a bit of excitement to the game, but doesn’t bog down the strategic action that seasoned fans have come to expect from Fire Emblem. The choice between various difficulty settings makes the game accessible to new and veteran players. In Casual mode, units that lose all of their health in battle are simply removed for the duration of combat and return with full health once the battle is won. Classic mode retains Fire Emblem’s time-honored tradition of permanent death and no revival for units that lose all their health, adding a whole new depth of challenge and making every move in battle count.
The game’s story also revitalizes the original Famicom release as it shows off 3-D animated cut scenes that add a flair of visual drama to the narrative. Old characters are redesigned and fully voiced to deliver emotion and depth at a different level than that of the original Fire Emblem Gaiden.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a regular Romeo and Juliet story that provides a gripping, emotional narrative and packs a punch with strategic gameplay and mystical action, making it a welcome addition to the Fire Emblem pantheon.