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Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia Might Actually Be More Forgiving Than Awakening and Fates

Turnwheels, revival wells, and other tricks smooth the way still further.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

I was expecting a few things of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which comes out May 19 on 3DS, but I'm not sure I was expecting this: It might actually be easier than Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates.

Fire Emblem, of course, has been trending in this direction for a bit. The accepted wisdom is that it didn't really take off until the more forgiving Casual Mode appeared, making the trademark permadeath optional. But then again, Shadows of Valentia is a retro remake, which brings with it certain expectations.

Shadows of Valentia, as you may recall, is based on Fire Emblem Gaiden, an NES game that some liken to Zelda II. In the wake of the original game, Fire Emblem Gaiden dramatically changed up the formula, introducing a world map, explorable dungeons, and unbreakable weapons. Like so many NES games of that period, it was a weird one-off experiment, though some of its innovations did end up sticking in the long run.

Shadows of Valentia is a largely faithful update of Gaiden, retaining the attractive 3D engine of the past two games, but dispensing with familiar mechanics like the Weapons Triangle. Some have likened it to the GBA games in the way that it brings back the old Support system, where relationships are built by putting two characters in close proximity to one another and eventually having them talk. That feeling is heightened by the updated art, which has more of a watercolor look to it than the bog standard anime style of the past two games.

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Nevertheless, it figures to be easier than any of the GBA games. Aside from the aforementioned Casual Mode, Shadows of Valentia has a couple key features that figure to smooth the way for less hardcore fans of the series:

  • Mila's Turnwheel: Shadows of Valentia introduces a rewind function, allowing you to go as far back as the beginning of the stage if you want (it's not advisable). More likely, you will want to use it to go back a couple moves to avoid having your healer step into the path of an oncoming Pegasus. With the Turnwheel, rewind functions are now somewhat in fashion: There was a similar mechanic in Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and The Disney Afternoon Collection has one as well.

    To be clear, Shadows of Valentia is more judicious than either of those games with its Turnwheel. The item has a very limited number of charges, so you can't exactly spam it. Mostly, it's there if you're deep into a level and you accidentally screw up and let a character die (a common occurence in Fire Emblem). In that, I think it's actually a rather smart addition that will help cut down some of the frustration of losing a character later. But all that said, it's another step down the path to making Fire Emblem as accessible as possible.
  • Grinding is back in a big way: One of the main critiques of Fire Emblem Awakening (and Birthright) was that it introduced a way to grind experience, in turn breaking the carefully calibrated balance of the map design. Intelligent Systems threw hardcore fans a bone by removing it from Conquest—arguably the superior of the two initial Fates games (I haven't played Revelation)—but it's back in a big way in Shadows of Valentia thanks to the dungeons, which mostly seem to exist for the purpose of grinding levels.

    Dungeons serve a variety of purposes: they contain shrines where you can change character classes; they are a useful source of items, and they have lots of enemies to fight. Shadows of Valentia's dungeons feature full 3D movement, making them somewhat reminiscent of the levels in Persona, down to the fact that you can surprise an onscreen enemy with a first strike. Once in battle, Shadows of Valentia shifts to the more traditional overhead view, where you battle as usual.

    What makes dungeons significant is that you can enter them anytime, making them useful spots for leveling up your characters. With that, you should have no trouble getting your best units up to a level where you can take on any challenge without much trouble. And if your squishy healer accidentally dies, you can always use Mila's Turnwheel.
  • You can revive dead characters: If worse comes to worst and you actually lose a character, Shadows of Valentia offers one more option: You can actually bring them back to life at a revival well. It's unclear how many of these revival wells are actually in the game, but the bottomline is that permadeath is no longer quite so permanent, even in Classic Mode [Update: As some readers have pointed out, Fire Emblem Fates also has the endgame Bifrost Staff, which will also revive fallen characters].

Still, "easier" doesn't necessarily mean "worse." Revival wells might take the edge off the permadeath; but in return, they offer some interesting choices, such as whether to temporarily sacrifice a powerful character in the name of finishing a map in a timely fashion. Mila's Turnwheel helps make up for dumb mistakes, but its limited charges keeps it from making maps trivial. Actually, I'm less concerned about the new mechanics than the map design, which seems pretty simple at this point; a function, perhaps, of the simpler "kill everything on the map" design of the original game. I really hope that there are some nice, intricate, Conquest-style levels down the line.

However it turns out, Shadows of Valentia is certainly fresh and different, which ought to keep the series from becoming stale amid the sudden rush of Fire Emblem games. But if you're hoping that Shadows of Valentia being an old-school remake will mean an old-school challenge, you might want to reset your expectations.

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Comments 6

  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #1 SIGGYZtar 2 months ago
    I never finished Path of Radiance because there is a stage where it gets ridiculously hard, and even if the wheel is used, it definitely wouldn't help. I'm glad in some ways Awakening "modernized" the game play, and more importantly made the games a less pulling hair affair.
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  • Avatar for camchow #2 camchow 2 months ago
    I consider myself a fan of Fire Emblem since the GBA days, back when I thought hey this is just Advance Wars meets FFT. Playing through Conquest now for the first time on classic and man.... idk, maybe I'm not as patient as I used to be or just have less free time, but after losing a single character mid way through a half hour battle I end up thinking do I value this character more than my free time? hmm. RIP Niles, Azura, Laslow and Shura, I guess your lives don't mean as much to me than the 30 - 45 minutes. Though I did reload when I messed up and lost Felicia yesterday, she is just too good at killing mages to let go.

    Anyway, I guess what I'm getting at is I'm okay with things getting a little bit easier nowadays. I beat Fire Emblem on the GBA and even played through and finished Awakening in classic, but somehow I just feel like this mechanic is getting annoying in Conquest. Maybe it has something to do with the really lame story so far though, idk. Personally I've come to the decision that I'm just going to play in casual mode from now after this one last classic playthrough. I'll be as careful as I have been in the old permadeath days but I think I'll be happy to not have to waste time reloading saves.

    Though with the turn wheel and revivals maybe I won't need to? Hmm. Guess I'll have to look into how those work, especially the revival thing.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #3 Tetragrammaton 2 months ago
    @camchow Conquest is the only one of the Fates triad I'm playing on Casual. I'm leaving Classic on for the others to ensure I use some strategy and don't zerg rush my way through.

    (and yeah, Conquest's main story is the worst of the three, but the other two aren't great either)
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  • Avatar for Namevah #4 Namevah 2 months ago
    I only found Conquest terribly difficult on the tenth chapter (which almost caused me to destroy my 3DS), so playing on Classic wasn't a huge bother. I even found the final two chapters less difficult than the final chapters in Birthright, surprisingly.

    It should prove interesting to see the reception that this rewind mechanic gets, and whether it'll reappear in Fire Emblem on Switch. Avoiding an hour (or more) of lost progress because a character died isn't a bad thing, but because this rewind thing is limited (and I haven't looked up how limited), the threat of permadeath still exists for those (such as myself) who want it.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove 2 months ago
    Gonna party like it's 2 thousand and 9...
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #6 brionfoulke91 2 months ago
    I'm generally not a huge fan of these type of "rewind" features, but I do like that it is limited. That can make for an interesting mechanic if done right.

    What I like about the difficulty of the classic style of Fire Emblems is that it tries to put you in a difficult position where you will be forced to accept some losses, thus carrying more emotional weight. Sure, you can circumvent this by resetting like crazy, but that's on you to put in that kind of investment. Personally, I'd say that the emotional toll of war is what Fire Emblem has always been about, so I'm kind of saddened by any change that moves away from that.
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