This Week In Games - Fire Emblem Echoes

by Dustin Bailey,
If you've followed this column for a while, you've probably noticed that I've got a taste for a lot of the games Nintendo puts out. Yet I've never delved deep into Fire Emblem. I played the first Western release when it hit GBA, ran into a rookie brick wall with misleveled characters about two-thirds of the way through, and never returned to it. Since then, the increasingly intricate series lore and mechanics—despite the largely unrelated nature of the games—has kept me feeling just intimidated enough to keep from coming back.

But hey, now that the series has an ever more devoted following, mountainous piles of DLC, multi-part annual releases, and increasingly violent debates over fictional romantic partners, what better time could there be to jump in?

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a full remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, a late era Famicom game released well before the series started making its way out of Japan. Gaiden is a bit of a series black sheep—like many first effort Famicom sequels—and those differences have come all the way through to this remake some 25 years later. Even the weapon triangle system which would come to define the series (so much that it would be included in the DS remake of the original game) is absent here, as is weapon degradation.

Yet those differences are going to be most meaningful to series superfans, and I'm only equipped to speak for relative newcomers. Like Gaiden before it, Echoes tells the tale of two rival armies lead by childhood friends Alm and Celica. The early bits of the story are on the slow side, but over the course of a few hours I've slowly started warming to the characters—but I'm not yet even done with the first act of the game, so the intricacies of the plot have yet to unravel. This is the first Fire Emblem to be fully voice acted, and I'm not sure that's a positive addition, since it's all just ever so slightly awkward and stilted, not unlike any number of mediocre anime dubs.

Thankfully, the battles open up incredibly quickly. There's a brief tutorial mission—one that gives you a surprising amount of freedom for a Nintendo introduction—and new concepts are introduced through unobtrusive, uninterrupting text boxes on the lower screen. This game assumes you understand the basic mechanics of how an SRPG works, and pretty much leaves you alone to figure out the unique intricacies, offering light help you're free to ignore. That's fantastic, and it helps keep the early pace of the game from bogging down.

The removal of hard rock-paper-scissors unit weaknesses with hard counters removes one layer of consideration from the tactics, but simultaneously opens up what each unit is capable of, since swordsmen no longer need to keep a mortal fear of lances. So far, battles have tended to be about controlling the general flow of units—preventing individuals from getting overwhelmed and making sure weak units are in position to deliver killing blows for experience—rather than setting up hard counters, which is how I generally remember my time with the GBA game.

Things are pretty open-ended between fights, as well. Your army marches along a point-to-point world map, with enemy armies at specific locations initiating major battles. But along the way there are towns and dungeons to explore, adding a hair of variety to the game as a whole. The towns are first-person, adventure game-esque segments where you can alternately talk with NPCs or hunt the background for hidden items. Occasionally you'll find some significant bits of equipment or even new characters to recruit, which makes the distraction a meaningful one.

The dungeons have you controlling your army's leader in third person, able to bust through crates and barrels for extra items or get a first strike on enemy characters to head into skirmishes against damaged bad guys. Those enemies respawn, so you can take advantage of these areas for some grinding if some unit or other starts falling behind.

That's not even close to the only “helpful to new players” feature, either. Like most recent games in the series, Echoes offers easy and hard difficulty options and a casual mode which removes the looming threat of unit permadeath. On top of that, there's an ever-present rewind function which lets you head back to any turn once per battle. Any option to tailor the difficulty is welcome, but having all these things put together feels a bit redundant—especially since the rewind button is there no matter what other difficulty balance you select.

But that's a minor concern. Even having barely scratched the surface of Echoes—and as a bonafide Fire Emblem neophyte—I've been having a great time. There's a reason the series is as beloved as it is, and even with some major differences from the core formula that quality is still shining.

NEWS

A NEW EL SHADDAI-ADJACENT GAME IS COMING

El Shaddai was one of the more profoundly bizarre games to come out last generation. Not just full of odd characters and psychedelic visions of Western religious imagery, it was a hazy, dreamlike thing that flowed from one level to the next, content to stay afloat via its wild aesthetics and vaguely character-action-ish gameplay. It seemed like one of those odd curiosities that would simply fade slowly into the realm of “retro gem” videos, but apparently it's a franchise now.

Director Takeyasu Sawaki—previously character designer for Okami and Devil May Cry—is now working on a turn-based RPG called the Lost Child with at least tangential connections to El Shaddai. You're a magazine writer investigating a Shinjuku station suicide before getting wrapped up in a war between demons and angels. Investigate murders by day, explore supernatural dungeons by night, capturing the denizens of heaven and hell along the way to add to your forces.

It all sounds very Persona, and while that's definitely not what the original El Shaddai was the idea of a sequel was so improbable that probably doesn't matter. Of course, I'm just coming off a pretty negative experience with another tangential sequel that tried to turn a series into Persona, so I'm feeling cautious on this one. No word on a Western release yet, but the game will be hitting PS4 and Vita soon in Japan.

THAT RUMORED MARIO + RABBIDS CROSSOVER IS APPARENTLY REAL

One of the early Switch rumors—back when we were still calling it the NX—suggested that Nintendo and Ubisoft would be collaborating on a Mario/Rabbids crossover RPG. It sounded ridiculous at the time, but this particular rumor has been so persistent that it's started to seem more and more likely. Now, with an avalanche of leaked key art and marketing plans having hit the internet, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is all but certain.

The leaks show eight playable characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and respective Rabbids playing dress-up. Everybody's equipped with guns, and Princess Peach is here described as “self-defense kick-ass,” so it seems that the Mario world is finally getting the 'tude it needs to outdo Sonic in the console world. There's a blend of combat and exploration in an estimated 20 hour story which features 2-player co-op throughout. The game's apparently scheduled for a “surprise” reveal at E3, so remember to act shocked.

I mentioned this the last time these rumors popped up, but despite the bizarreness of this particular crossover I'm just hopeful that anyone can revitalize the Mario RPG concept after the last few dreadfully dull attempts. The combination of guns and environmental tactics mentioned makes this sound like Mario meets XCOM and I think I'm okay with that. Probably.

IN THE AGE OF REMASTERS, LET US REJOICE OVER ANOTHER

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is coming out this fall on PS4 and Xbox One. That's a great game despite its tremendous flaws, and having it available on modern consoles takes “supremely sketchy framerate” off the list of demerits. The PC version that came out last year pretty top-notch, so I've got high hopes for this port as well. That's kind of all there is to say. Consider this your public service announcement.

XBOX GAME PASS HAS LAUNCHED, AND IT SEEMS PRETTY OKAY

A lot of people have been hoping for a Netflix-style game subscription for some time now, one that's not subject to the bizarre ownership restrictions of PS Plus and Games With Gold, or the limitations of streaming tech involved with PS Now. Microsoft announced just such a service not long ago, and it's currently live for Xbox Gold Members—everyone will have access as of June 1st.

The initial selection of 112 games is pretty good, though your mileage may vary based on how much you like the types of games available on Xbox. Your shooter selection is well-covered, with the most recent Halo and the full Gears of War and Bioshock series, most of Rare's 360 games are available, and there are tons of classics on there from Genesis titles to the Soul Calibur remasters and the Mega Man Legacy Collection. Current stuff is limited to the B-tier of year-old sports games and former Games With Gold releases, though we can't ignore the bonafide classic that is Farming Simulator 15.

If you don't already have a significant digital library on Xbox, it's a compelling collection, and an awesome precedent for other companies to follow. Should the more extensive back catalogs of, say, a Nintendo or a Sony get such an option I would be without any method to contain my excitement. Good on ya, Microsoft.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

GUILTY GEAR XRD REV 2
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 3 / PC
Release Date: May 26
MSRP: $39.99

It's Guilty Gear Xrd REVELATOR, but again! This is your usual latter-day updated fighting game release, replete with new characters, stages, story episodes, and balance changes. Baiken returns from previous games to join the roster, and Answer makes the leap from story mode character to playable fighter.

RIME
Developer: Tequila Works
Publisher: Grey Box
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: May 26
MSRP: $29.99

After years in development hell, bouncing from publisher to publisher, RiME is finally upon us. A young child lost on a mysterious island, you've got to do your action-adventuring to solve puzzles and figure out the isle's secrets. Evoking the beautiful adventures of ornate worlds like ICO is a tremendous challenge for a small developer, so we'll soon see how this one turns out. A Switch port is scheduled for later in the year.

ULTRA STREET FIGHTER II: THE FINAL CHALLENGERS
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: May 26
MSRP: $39.99

It's another fighting rerelease, but this time with the added “benefit” of the original being a quarter-century old! If new characters—like a slightly different Ken and a slightly different Ryu—don't do it for you, how about some first-person hadouken-launching action? Look, this seems like a perfectly fine release of what might still be the best fighting game of all time, but given the volume of SF2 versions you probably already own, maybe think twice before spending $40 on this.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
A reminder of a cancelled horror franchise reboot is upon us with Friday the 13th: The Game, which is a whole asynchronous multiplayer thing where everyone will be upset that only one person can be Jason. The ARMS Global Testpunch will also be live this weekend, so look forward to your social media network of choice exploding with GIFs of Twintelle's booty, because I guess that's what the internet is for.


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