If you recall in my Fire Emblem: Fates Review, you notice that I was very harsh on its bland story and awful characters. I reprimanded the game for essentially splitting a single game’s story across three. However, I was hopeful! I didn’t think that the franchise was over. I thought it was merely a bump in the road. Something to learn from.
So when Echoes was announced, I was excited! I saw a Fire Emblem that had the old-school difficulty, and it was a remake of a game I had never played. I was excited to see the series’ roots!
And once I completed it, I realize that it might be my favourite Fire Emblem game.
Let’s discuss why.
REASON #1: ACTUALLY DIFFICULT
Let’s be honest, Fire Emblem Awakening is pretty easy. The children in that game are essentially their parents but 1.5x stronger. Morgan/Robin are monsters who can tank anything and kill anything in 1 hit. Donnel becomes a monster that ruins the game. You can take the game on autopilot for a lot of it.
On the flipside, however, if you set Awakening’s difficulty to Hard, the game’s difficulty curve can best be described as a Z. It starts off incredibly difficult, but after the 9th chapter, it becomes rote once everybody has levelled.
Fates was an even worse culprit. In Birthright, the strategy became “put Ryoma in the front and pair him with somebody who boosts his stats.” It was like running through Pokemon with a level 100 legendary. It wasn’t fun at all. It became a slower RPG at that point.
So when I opened Echoes, and saw the characters’ stats, I raised my eyebrows. No pairing units to make them overpowered? Specialized classes are actually only good at 1 or 2 stats, and have real weaknesses? I need to actually position my units to survive? What is this nonsense? There was finally strategy!
Levelling isn’t nearly as generous in Echoes either. It is rare that a character gets more than 3 stats from a level, so when it goes higher on that rare occaision, you feel so much stronger. Enemies are balanced perfectly to be higher in numbers than your party, but only slightly lower in stats. This means that a group of them can definitely kill a party member, but if you utilize tanks correctly, and position support units properly, you can survive.
I remember missing my stops on transit, because I was staring at the screen for minutes at a time, contemplating moves 3 turns in advance. I was playing virtual chess with anime girls.
Another layer of strategy is the relationship system between units. You are rewarded nice character developing cutscenes if you position amicable units together. This forms a sort of metagame in your strategy, that emphasizes friendship over proper positioning. Now, this has certainly gotten me killed quite a bit, and forced many restarts, but its still fun!
REASON #2: SUPPORT CONVERSATIONS
Speaking of support conversations, they sucked in Fates. There were thousands of lines of dialogue, but so much of it was worthless.
The exact opposite is true for Echoes. There are about 1/5th of support conversations compared to Fates or Awakening, and they are much shorter, but they are amplified by two things: Amazing voice acting, and fantastic writing.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that a strong voice actor elevates a character. An example of a character ruined by their voice is Rex from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. His tone doesn’t match his character’s actions in-game, and his accent changes to all of the countries in The British Isles.
In Echoes, a great example of a strong voice actor would be the woman who voices Clair, Alexis Tipton. She also voices Pascal in Nier:Automata, which she was fantastic in as well. She evokes a sense of royal upbringing and class, but also shows that she is incredibly caring. She’s brash, but she understands and reads the people around her. She is capable of empathy. All of this is shown in her performance as well. This reflects every voice actor in Echoes. They are all incredibly talented for the few lines that they have, and I remember more about them than the hours I spent reading character conversations in Fates.
I also enjoy that there is no marriage system. I always thought it was strange how, after four conversations, you were married to a person. It felt incredibly rushed, and that it wasn’t very fitting for the narrative that Fire Emblem was weaving. Echoes does away with this, and you realize that characters become stronger friends over time. Their bonds deepen, but they don’t lust after one another.
REASON #3: COMPELLING STORY
The driving plot of Echoes was much more focused than previous games. Awakening’s story meandered for a while in the middle, and we all know how I feel about Fates. But Echoes was quick and to the point: Alm leads the Deliverance to retake the Kingdom from Rigel. Done. Boom. All you need. Everything can build from there, but we have that goal. Celica is seeking help from her goddess to resolve the world, and her and Alm’s paths cross often. They even fight as well, creating a rift between the two of them. It genuinely hurt to see that.
But, we need to discuss something. This is a review. Not a gush session. I have 1 problem with Echoes. But it’s massive, and makes the second half of the game significantly weaker than the first.
THIS GUY. RIGHT HERE:
LOOK AT HIM.
These dudes summon 5 monsters almost every turn. It becomes incredibly problematic, as fights grind to a complete halt, as your units have to whittle away at their minions. You are hardly ever able to advance either, because their summoned units to considerable damage as well!
But the worst part, is their goons do so much damage as well! You NEED to have at least 2 healers if you want to have a chance of succeeding on the later maps. They break the pace of the game, and make it borderline unenjoyable.
For that 1, incredibly huge flaw, my final rating for Fire Emblem Echoes is a 7/10. I was almost unable to finish it because of the Incantors. All other aspects are phenomenal, but these assholes just hold the whole game back from being my favourite Fire Emblem game.