The series needs a little experimentation.
The Fire Emblem series has been around a long time, over 25 years to be exact. Over its lifetime the franchise has seen a multitude of entries, but none have been as separate from the Fire Emblem formula as the second title, Fire Emblem Gaiden. This is abundantly clear with the game’s remake, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which feels drastically different than the last few entries we’ve gotten.
Additions like dungeons, stat based combat, full voice acting, and more give Echoes a wholly unique feel in the series. That a remake of a 25 year-old game feels so new and fresh is a testament to not only the quality of the original, but the fact that the Fire Emblem series can flourish when it experiments.
The same thing happened with Fire Emblem back in 2012 with the release of Awakening, a game that virtually saved the series from cancellation. Part of what made Awakening such a phenomenal success, were the entirely new systems it introduced, particularly the relationship building and romance options. It was something that Fire Emblem had never seen before, and something that immediately drew in fans both new and old. Next we got Fates, which feels like a bit of a carbon copy of Awakening, albeit with a few changes, and now that moves us to Echoes.
For years, decades even, Fire Emblem has been using the same combat system, based around a weapon triangle and degradable equipment. Echoes throws all that out the window, opting for a combat system based entirely around character’s stats. At first it’s a change that feels jarring, so disparately separate from what we’ve been used to for years. However, it really opens up the door for new strategy options, as you can use all of your units as a more cohesive whole, rather than separating them out into weapon advantages. A few other small changes only add complexity into the mix, like archers being able to shoot up to five spaces away, and mages having to use HP to cast magic.
The core of Fire Emblem is still there, of course, as you have your different unit classes that each have a different function and strength in battle, but it’s incredibly refreshing to have a new combat experience that requires a different kind of strategy. At the same time, Fire Emblem Echoes’ world is more believable and fleshed out than ever before.
Being able to explore both towns and dungeons adds some much needed variety into the stream of battles. Of course, the tactical battles will always be the highlight and focus of the series, but it’s nice to have something to break up the pacing now. Towns present an opportunity for Echoes to build its world by talking to townsfolk and examining different areas, and even learning a bit of backstory on party members. You can also find valuable items and equipment lying around, or upgrade weapons at a forge. It feels a lot for RPG-ish than most Fire Emblem games, letting you prepare and learn about the coming battles.
This same idea applies to dungeons, which for the first time, let you take direct control of the characters. The dungeon design in and of itself in Echoes isn’t exceptional, but again, it’s a nice change of pace to get to directly control your main character. At the same time, the rewards for exploring dungeons are well worth it, making them incredibly worthwhile diversions from the tactical battles, rather than just a passing interest.
Even past different gameplay options, Echoes feels different purely in the way the story is presented. We still get the usual animated character portraits, but this time every single story scene is fully voice acted. It certainly helps that the voice cast does a great job, but having everything voiced adds a bit of brevity to Echoes’ story and characters, even if some of its twists are predictable. It is a 25 year old game after all.
All of this leads to the fact that these changes, no matter how big or small, feel refreshing for the Fire Emblem series. Not all of the changes were something that we knew we wanted, but work in execution. At the same time, I don’t know if I want to see every Fire Emblem game use a stat-based combat system, however, it’s clear that the series can flourish the most when it experiments. Fire Emblem Echoes is as good as it is because it’s different, because it’s not just another Awakening or Path of Radiance. It’s the different and varied system that give the game life, and make it just as engaging as other entries in the series.
With the recent surging success of Fire Emblem, Nintendo has a chance to actually use Fire Emblem as an experimental series. The wave of new fans may not have played anything before Awakening or Fates, meaning Nintendo and Intelligent Systems can put new spins on old systems. The franchise is clearly here to stay now, and new experiences like Echoes and Fire Emblem Heroes are what will keep driving it forward. Even past that, Fire Emblem Warriors is on the horizon, which will most likely be the biggest deviation from the Fire Emblem formula.
Again, however, this presents a chance to flesh out the series, and bring new fans into the fold with an action-oriented game. The long history of Fire Emblem can appeal to all fans with Warriors, as old fans get to play as their favorite characters and new fans might find another title from the series to get interested in. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea for Nintendo to remake other Fire Emblem titles as well, updating them with modern features, and maybe making titles available that never made their way west.
One thing’s for sure, remaking Fire Emblem Gaiden into Echoes was one of the best choices that could be made for the franchise right now, as it’s just different enough to feel entirely new. Hopefully, the next few Fire Emblem entries that we get are also ambitious enough to step out of the comfort zone and try something new. Experimentation is what save the series, and experimentation is what will keep it going.