Right out of the gate, Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia throws a lot at you. Its story gets heavy immediately; new gameplay mechanics are introduced straight away, not hidden away after hours of play. For a remake of a 1992 classic, Shadows is a masterpiece… but when compared to more recent entries in the series, it’s also less impressive. This isn’t necessarily a fault of Shadows of Valentia, but more a sign of what we have come to expect from developer Intelligent Systems.
Valentia is a bit of a roller coaster. Things start off on a high, but get a bit messy hours in. Its story progresses too fast, hard to follow, and scenes in both the past and future, presented across multiple parties, only confusing things more. I wasn’t sold on the idea of exploring dungeons in third-person and the point-and-click elements in towns only served to annoy. It’s worth slugging it out though, because the more time I spent with Shadows of Valentia, the more I was swaying back to my iinitial, positive feelings.
Valentia‘s new, third-person dungeon crawling mechanic hasn’t been seen in a Fire Emblem game before. Crazy, right? At least that’s how I thought of it at first, but it makes a lot of sense now. There isn’t really any fighting done in the third-person perspective — you can swing a sword to get a bit of early damage on an enemy, but once you connect things go back to the tactical game we all know. Similarly, if enemies hit you first, they get the first turn in the oncoming battle.
The other new addition is that you can explore towns, castles and certain parts of dungeons. Shine aside, it’s mostly just a way to talk to new NPCs or recruit new party members. For some reason though most of these static backgrounds will tend to have few random items scattered about. You can choose to examine the area and pick them up with the world’s slowest moving cursor, or you can do as I did: ignore the mechanic completely. Sometimes you’ll find a crappy sword or something, but it’s mostly oranges and various types of cheese anyway (so no big loss). Once you see just how long it takes to swing from one side of the screen to the other, you too will stop hunting stale bread and bags of flour.
I was blown away by both the quality and the quantity of voice acting. It’s top notch; while there will be the occasional NPC that isn’t voice acted, at least 90% of the game is. This is a story-heavy title with a crazy amount of text too, making it all the more impressive. Its quality never dips either — as the story goes on and the stakes become higher, the entire cast matches the intensity. Pair this with a fantastic soundtrack and you have a real treat to listen to; something you don’t find in many handheld games.
There is a crazy difficulty spike about halfway through that comes out of nowhere. It’s very jarring. I don’t mind hard games — in fact, I welcome a challenge when it comes to strategy — but this is a big leap that leaves you completely underleveled. I even played around on the normal difficulty setting (as that is as low as it goes) and this huge gap was still there.
Unfortunately, the only real option is to grind. This is something I often do in RPGs anyway, but I wasn’t keen on the idea of it being such a necessity. It will turn a lot of people off. What’s worse is that I just couldn’t shake the feeling that when I realised this big jump in level and forced grind was happening it felt like this was just a way to artificially lengthen its campaign. Considering this is a remake of 25 year old game, it may not be right to fault Shadows of Valentia for being shorter than I expected. I completed the game in just under 20 hours, finishing every side quest and optional dungeon that I could find.
Its story has a few plot twists, though most are telegraphed well ahead of time. There are still a few surprises along the way and overall the narrative is really cool. Couple this with character development through incredible voice acting and you have a immensely satisfying campaign.
Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia is really fun and easy to play in short bursts — just like any good handheld game should be. Some of the new gameplay mechanics are cool, but it wouldn’t be a huge loss if they disappeared in the next installment. Given the difficulty, it’s probably not even the best Fire Emblem game on 3DS for newcomers; Awakening still has that honor. That said, it’s still an excellent game in a series that has spoiled us in the past few years. If you’re a fan looking for a Fire Emblem fix that a mobile game simply can’t satisfy, this will be right up your alley.
Fire emblem: Shadows of Valentia was reviewed using a promotional code on 3DS, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.