The revival of the Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo’s greatest accidental achievements. No one anticipated Awakening to be the hit smash of 2012, and even less would have guessed the franchise going mainstream with the release of Fates.
But despite the success of both games, many old-school fans were vocal about disliking new the marriage system. The arguments against it consisted of worries that it was turning Fire Emblem games into ‘waifu simulators.’
In a stroke of genius, Nintendo decided to remake a game that was never released outside Japan. A remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden.
The news of this remake titled Fire Emblem Echoes was met with rabid excitement from both new and old fans. The game would be released to the world with new art and additional content. For the first time, the entire fanbase looked forward to the game’s release.
The great news? It did not disappoint.
After playing Awakening twice and all three routes offered by Fates, I felt burnt out from Fire Emblem. A change of pace is exactly what I need, and what I’m guessing many players need, to revive our love for the series.
This was partly the reason I was looking forward to the release of Echoes. It was once regarded as the black sheep of the franchise due to its odd gameplay mechanics, which includes allowing players to roam/explore dungeons.
The story follows two children of fate, Celica and Alm. At the start of the game, we learn that Celica is the princess of Zofia. Due to the schemes of a power hungry man bent on ascending the throne she flees the kingdom and with the help of a loyal soldier, is hidden in Ram village. This is where she meets Alm.
They get along splendidly and become as thick as thieves. They also bond over the identical mark on the back of their hands.
Unfortunately, they part ways soon after Celica’s pursuers find them, as she is no longer able to stay in Ram village for fear of getting captured. Celica and Alm promise to meet again, not realizing that their eventual meeting is destined to be far less happy than they hoped.
The game has five chapters, or acts, in total. The player gets to control both Alm and Celica’s armies as they march toward their individual goals, both of which involve different ways of stopping the war between Zofia and Rigel.
Each army has different aims to accomplish and both routes are well-written. Despite the problems of pacing when going back and forth between the two routes, I found that it ultimately suited the game due to the type of story it tries to tell.
It might seem strange for the game to make you play two differing perspectives but it helps a great deal in fleshing out the story. Thus, Echoes delivers a far more intriguing narrative than previous two games. There are people who described the plot as straight forward, but I disagree. The story isn’t complicated but to say it is straightforward would be doing it a disservice. Overall, I loved it, despite the clichéd end boss.
Other than the main story, the player can also choose to do side quests – which comes in the form of helping different characters/villagers you come across. Rewards differ, some giving helpful items or weapons while others allow you to recruit new characters once the quest is fulfilled.
Echoes lacks a marriage system but still has supports between characters. Most of the supports are thoughtfully written, I would say they were more enjoyable or on par with Awakening’s.
My gripe is that not all characters have supports with each other, as the pairings follow that of Fire Emblem Gaiden. It limits the immersion of the army and makes the ‘interactions’ feel more artificial then it should be.
This is only a minor nit-pick but I felt I should point it out for newer fans of the franchise who expect a similar system to previous games.
The overall cast of Echoes was great. They were varied and interesting, some with their own interesting backstories. But the ones who stole the show were Alm, Celica, and Berkut.
Alm evolved from a whiny brat to a level headed leader, while Celica grew into her eventual role of a princess. There were times where their dialogue bordered on being ridiculously cheesy, but other times really brought the best out of them and allowed individual traits to shine through.
One complaint I have about Alm and Celica is that they seem to lean too closely towards anime tropes.
There are times Alm behaved like the classic hero protagonist, who could lead soldiers or people and do no wrong, while being relentlessly optimistic. Likewise, Celica could come off as the damsel in distress despite the fact she could defend herself very well. Her decisions were sometimes mind bogglingly stupid. But the game tries its best to steer away from those tropes and leaves us with a balance of good characterisation and clichéd ones.
The protagonists – Celica and Alm – were everything I hoped them to be. What I did not expect was one of the antagonists to be as interesting. Or perhaps even more than Celica and Alm were.
Introduced in chapter 3, Berkut steals the show in every scene he appears in. The nephew of Rigel’s Emperor, he is every inch an arrogant noble he portrays himself to be. His mannerisms and traits are cookie cutter, and I bet you’ve seen variations of his type of character in other games or anime.
But instead of just having him be a forgettable obstacle on Alm’s journey, the game chooses to develop him extremely well. There’s more to him than just being ‘the noble who belittles everyone’ and underneath the bravado, Berkut is a fragile, egoistic man with an unquenchable thirst for strength. Like a cracked glass which cannot be filled.
Accompanying him in most scenes is his wife, Rinea. Other than his disdain for commoners, his love for his wife is also plainly seen. In contrast to similar antagonists, he genuinely loves and cares for her. I began to see him not as just the man Alm needs to defeat, but also the man who defends his country and wants to see it prosper. The game does well to remind us that despite his faults, Berkut is human.
Echoes would not be as memorable without Berkut. It would have been good. But not great.
The soundtrack for Echoes is amazing. Every track is memorable and fits the scenes they are played in extremely well. Dungeons sound ominous and creepy, battles are intense and exciting, and rest areas do well to soothe and relax. Even exploring a drab area can feel delightful because of it.
Another great thing about this game is that almost all dialogue is voiced. In my opinion, the English voice actors knocked it out of the park. The voices for every character felt fitting, and emotional scenes really knock the wind out of you with the heartfelt performances.
Some people might complain that the game lacks the option to switch between Japanese and English voices, but to them I will pose this question: Why do you need it? I would honestly rather play Echoes in English than in Japanese. The voice acting is superb, not a single line ever stuck out to me as being weird or bad. I feel like the definitive way to play this game is with english dub.
Both newcomers and veterans of Fire Emblem will find something to enjoy in Fire Emblem Echoes. An enjoyable battle system and fantastic narrative will be a real treat for anyone who felt previous Fire Emblem games fell short of their expectations. This game will be a permanent fixture in my 3DS library and I hope it will be in yours.