Fire Emblem Echoes – A remake fit to knock your socks off

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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.

Story

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Alm and Celica

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.

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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.

Characters

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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.

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Berkut and Rinea

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.

Sound

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The Emperor of Rigel

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.

Conclusion

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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.

10/10

Brilliant

Refunct – Soothing? Check. Fun? Check.

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Refunct is a short platformer that caught my eye during Steam’s Summer Sale. It was originally on my wishlist because of its ‘overwhelmingly positive reviews.’

It’s rare for games to be that well received on Steam, which pushed me to get the game when the price dropped. I picked it up for less than two dollars but even without the sale it had a pretty affordable price of around three dollars and fifty cents.

I didn’t know what to expect other than getting a brief but pleasant experience which many steam users claimed to have had.

Upon loading, I was greeted by a minimalistic looking screen that drew me in with bright colours and a simple art style.

The game runs buttery smooth. Refunct sells itself as a casual open world platformer with no tutorial, no death and relaxing visuals. I’d say the game was interesting, combining the feeling of freedom that comes with an open world game with a playful and calm atmosphere of walking simulators.

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The platforming is fairly easy. There were few times I was stumped when trying to get the collectible items littered around the map, but it was never to the point where I’d consult a walkthrough or quit halfway.

One thing I found really cool was that when I jumped from surface to surface, the places I’d stepped on changed from white to green and had a nice texture that reminded me of carpet grass. It added to the overall atmosphere, and there was a certain childlike joy that came from jumping to a new platform and seeing the ground turn green under your feet.

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In addition, you are surrounded by water as far as the eye can see. I was also surprised that I could dive in and swim under the platforms. Refunct stays true to the developer’s promise of a seamless and dynamic experience.

There is also a night/day cycle in the game, but I found it to be unnecessary since it didn’t add to my overall experience. Considering it only took half an hour to complete, a day/night cycle just unneeded.

Overall, you can’t go wrong with this game. If you’re craving for a short but fun platformer and don’t want something ridiculously hard, Refunct is the perfect game to sink your teeth into.

7/10

Time to kick back and relax

Horizon Zero Dawn – Beware the mighty Thunderjaw!

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I’m glad my first PS4 game was Horizon Zero Dawn. Though some may disagree, I am a believer that great games make a great console. I don’t think I’ll be letting go of my PS4 anytime within the next century since it’ll be a crime not to play Horizon Zero Dawn one more time.

There will be minor spoilers in the review, but don’t worry too much as I’m merely touching the surface of what the game has to offer.

Story

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It was a delight following the game’s protagonist, Aloy of the Nora, on her journey. After we watch a lengthy cut scene of a child Aloy trying to come to terms that she is an outcast, we’re first given control of her when she falls into a hidden area – where the remnants of a destroyed civilization greet her. It’s a gripping introduction that served well to draw players in.

The mystery surrounding Aloy’s past and how she came to be kept me hooked. While the story isn’t the most complicated I’ve seen, it had its fair share of plot twists and ‘Holy shit’ moments that kept me on the edge. The writing did feel slightly cliché at times, but that’s something I can live with. All in all, the story was fulfilling and well-paced throughout.

Another thing that contributed to the story was how well the world of Horizon Zero Dawn was fleshed out, which we get to experience via side quests. There wasn’t a single thing that felt unnatural about the setting and how things played out.

Horizon Zero Dawn proved that side quests in open world games can avoid being the boring, overused filler that is a staple of other triple A games.

As Aloy, you get to rescue people from bandits, foil any and all dastardly plans, as well as explore large caves known as ‘Cauldrons’ which make the mechanical beasts that populate the world of Horizon. After the quality time I spent with the game, I can proudly give my recommendation and that it is undoubtedly worth the price tag.

One downside is that while the side quests are enjoyable and serve well to flesh out the world, they sometimes distract me too much from the main story. I could be on my way to the next location when I’ll get the urge to explore my surroundings – and end up stumbling onto another side quest to add to my ever growing to do list. It’s not a huge detriment and more of a pet peeve, so it wouldn’t be a negative if you’re a person who loves content.

But I think the story would have had more impact if I wasn’t running off every twenty minutes to help someone find their lost kin.

Characters

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Aloy talking to Sylens

At the beginning, Aloy’s your token ‘I can’t remember my childhood so I want to find out’ protagonist and as tropes go, it’s on the more clichéd side. Nevertheless, Guerilla Games did a marvelous job of showing the players that she is more layered than she seems, through the use of main and side quests. To be honest, Aloy is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve had the pleasure of following. While she does often dream of taking revenge (due to some major plot points) she doesn’t turn into the cynical, depressed protagonists we see far too often.

Throughout my time as Aloy, it was exciting to learn about her as a character. Little things like mumbling sarcastically to herself when she’s inevitably dropped into another dangerous situation. Sassing the assholes who judge her without getting to know her. Making hilarious quips that proudly showcase her dry sense of humor. Her voice actor did sound bland at times, but those moments are few and far between.

There to balance her slightly naïve outlook on the world, is Sylens. After helping her escape from her enemies, he expresses an interest in assisting her. When I first encountered him, my first assessment of the man was that he’s a dick.

But as the story progressed, I began to grow fond of his analytical, and often cold, demeanor. He’s the perfect balm to Aloy’s brashness, often preferring to look at the bigger picture. Sylens comes off as a selfish self-centered person, but really, he’s just a person with flaws. Like Aloy. Like everyone. Overall I thought he was an excellent character that contributed in making Horizon Zero Dawn a cut above the rest.

Some characters get a good chunk of development, but not all of them. It’s unfortunate, but I’d rather have several interesting and well written characters than a large roster of plain boring ones. Two of my favourite characters are Erend, a bodyguard to the Carja King, and Neil, a bloodthirsty and psychopathic bandit hunter.

Gameplay

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Horizon Zero Dawn runs like a dream. Even on my original PS4 I suffered zero lag and frame drops, a far cry from most modern titles. The only thing I was annoyed by was the long load times when I fast travelled from one point to another. This is a minor nitpick, considering there are no loading screens when you run from place to place, but it was still irritating to wait. There is also little to no bugs, and wow did that make me happy.

Another major positive was the game mechanics. Aloy’s numerous weapons provided me with an awesome and versatile hunting experience. When taking out a Stalker for example, I could shoot a ball of volatile electricity to stun it, and then smoothly switch to a bow to blow its grenade launcher off. I think a large chunk of the hours I spent in game was hunting down every single machine I could find.

The large variety of machines kept the game challenging. However, one thing that annoyed me is that the map is overflowing with hostile machines. Once, I entered a new area to explore, and was immediately attacked by three types of machines. One of them was a giant, fucking bird that could shoot electricity from its chest. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy camper when I had to reload my save because Aloy got torn to small, meaty bits.

Conclusion

Horizon Zero Dawn is a strong contender for GOTY. Considering that I’m still thinking about how fun the game is while playing Persona 5 – an amazing game in its own right – I think Horizon Zero Dawn is worth its asking price. I’ll be back to hunt machines again, that I can guarantee.

9/10

I need a sequel…now.