My First Fire Emblem Game (Review)

Fire Emblem Echoes is a strategy RPG developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. It released on the 3DS on May 19, 2017.

During my early/middle teen years, I often found myself on long road trips to Boy Scout campouts in the Arizona wilderness. My friend brought along the forbidden Game Boy Advance as well as his strategy and RPG games. This was how I was introduced to Golden Sun, Final Fantasy, and of course, Fire Emblem. I ended up buying and playing most of these games, but Fire Emblem somehow fell between the cracks.

That was back in… 2003? It’s 2018, and I’ve finally gotten around to playing one of these games. I feel like I did myself a disservice for waiting so long.

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Fire Emblem Echoes is actually a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, originally an NES title. As such, it’s a quirky strategy RPG and admittedly it’s a strange place to enter the franchise (it was on sale, okay?). It presents some twists to the SRPG genre, but some design choices from its original game weren’t fixed, and they didn’t age well.

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The story begins with Alm and Celica, childhood friends both born with the same mark on their hands. Then after a tragic event they are separated and vow to see each other again. At first the game alternates between their stories Lord-of-the-Rings-style, and then in Chapter 3 you’re allowed to progress either story however you want. Alm and his villager friends join a group of freedom fighters, while Celica and her friends embark on a pilgrimage to find the kingdom’s missing protector goddess.

Sure, these kinds of fantasy stories have been told before, but both Alm and Celica are such earnest characters that they got me invested anyway. I’m also fond of the side characters. Some are flat and trope-y, but most of their dialogues are well written, and their voice acting is even better. I’m especially fond of Clair, Gray, and Saber.

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My biggest complaint is with 10% of the story that’s near the climax. It feels like it was written by completely different authors than the other 90%. In this part Celica suddenly forgets her motivations and makes decisions that make no sense. I think this was to match with Gaiden’s original story, but it was not a good fit. The plot recovers during the climax itself, but it was a jarring stumble on an otherwise smooth story.

The gameplay feels like an everything pizza: there’s certainly a lot of variety, but not everything was made equal.

Let’s start with my least favorite: the “standing still” scenes. There are scenes in towns and in dungeons where you switch to first person, talk to NPCs, and search for loot. It’s alright, but it’s not the most engaging mechanic. The best parts that come out of these are the conversations with your units. I just have to say it again, they wrote these characters surprisingly well.

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Next is the dungeon crawling, a mechanic unique to the old Gaiden game. I enjoyed freely exploring and finding loot in these dungeons. And each dungeon feels unique. My biggest gripe is that the enemy encounters in these places have awful maps. These dungeon fights feature only flat tiles with sparse cover. Every. Single. Time. They didn’t translate this old design choice into the modern age very well at all. At least they’re not random encounters and you can try to avoid them.

And finally, the tactical, story-based battles. These are where the game truly shines. There are lots of interesting maps and engaging challenges, from retaking a sacred temple to rescuing a prisoner before she’s killed. It was strategy RPG excellence. I loved planning out my moves, getting into position, and luring out the enemy. Also, for a 3DS game, the fight animations are dynamic, especially with the 3D effect turned on.

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However, I do wish there were more types of battles. Maybe have a defensive mission where you hold down a keep, or maybe an escort mission? The map objectives needed more variety other than just routing the enemy every time.

Finally, I need to praise the job system. Many of your starting units are villagers, who can be promoted into a variety of different classes, from clerics to the awesome pegasus knights! I love RPGs that let you customize like this. It lets you strategize your units and consider different options in new playthroughs. Within each class you typically promote your units again once or twice. It’s always enjoyable to see the visual change in your units as they grow stronger.

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Faults and all, I really enjoyed Fire Emblem Echoes. The core strategy RPG gameplay is so well done and so enjoyable, that I’m definitely calling myself a Fire Emblem fan from now on. I realize that in 2018 not many people will feel like picking up their 3DS, but if you’re into strategy RPGs I’d say it’s worth it. Am I going to pick up Fire Emblem: Three Houses on Switch now? You bet I am! And I guess it’s time to go through the older Fire Emblem games and catch up with those ones too, isn’t it?

FE Echoes Summary

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