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Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia may have a big learning curve for modern fans

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Fire Emblem Gaiden was the series’ Zelda 2

Nintendo

On May 19, Nintendo will release a version of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the series’ second installment, stateside for the first time on Nintendo 3DS. But the newly dubbed Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia may look pretty unfamiliar to Fire Emblem fans who cut their teeth on other recent 3DS Fire Emblem entries.

Based on the trailer Nintendo debuted during yesterday’s Fire Emblem livestream, Shadows of Valentia harkens closely to the 1992 original Fire Emblem Gaiden. As the Japan-only Famicom title’s name implies — “Gaiden” means “side story” in Japanese — the game deviates from the formula that more recent fans are used to. Some of the most devoted Fire Emblem fans have detailed the most significants changes that this so-called experimental role-playing game brought about from its predecessor, many of which never returned in future games.

One of the big ones is dungeon crawling, as seen in Nintendo’s Shadows of Valentia teaser. Heroes Alm and Celica can traverse dungeons on foot, occasionally running into an enemy on the map that initiates a battle. That’s not present in games like Fire Emblem Awakening and last year’s Fire Emblem Fates, which limit all fighting to skirmishes the player can prepare for in advance.

Slightly more familiar to Fire Emblem Awakening players is Shadows of Valentia’s world map. It’s large and totally navigable, as opposed to linear and locking players into a set trajectory. While most recent Fire Emblem games have a particular path to follow, Awakening allows for some occasional off-road trekking, thanks to optional skirmishes. But the vastness of the map could still prove daunting to many stateside Fire Emblem fans who are used to the story taking them exactly where they need to go.

More importantly about the map, however, is that it may lack the diversity of other Fire Emblem games’ areas. The first teaser emphasizes that Shadows of Valencia will be faithful to Gaiden on a design level, and that’s cause for concern for those familiar with the older game.

“[Gaiden’s] map design is honest-to-goodness trash,” writes one big Fire Emblem fan on Reddit, who broke down the game’s unique elements for the forum, “and if we’re getting tile-for-tile recreations of boats and forests Echoes won’t be a particularly compelling strategy game.”

Yet one of the biggest and most beloved features first introduced in Awakening looks to be absent this time around: marriage. Characters could get romantic in conversations with each other outside of battle, leading to wedding bells and babies. Pairing up characters wasn’t just fun for fans of dating sims, but it had an effect in battle as well. Both in Awakening and several other Fire Emblem games, party members who are paired together can help each other out in a tight spot; the 3DS games’ romantic angle meant that characters with deep affection were especially prone to defending their partner.

fire emblem fates petting
Dating in Fire Emblem Fates.
Nintendo via Polygon

Fire Emblem Gaiden didn’t have either of these elements, and there are doubts that Shadows of Valentia will have them. It was absent from the trailer, and Gaiden had a fairly small cast compared to the sprawling roster of men and women in Awakening and Fates.

“With a smallish cast on each team (since you're essentially training two of them for endgame) and potentially a bunch of weird gameplay systems depending on how much of Gaiden they're carrying over leaving Pair Up out of this remake would make a lot of sense to me,” wrote a fan on Fire Emblem community forum Serenes Forest.

Also expect the series’ classic weapon triangle to go by the wayside for Shadows of Valentia, as it was not included in Gaiden. Party members in Gaiden were also less varied by class, and characters drew on their hit points to cast magic spells, among other smaller changes to the gameplay.

In short: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is an old-school departure from the modern day Fire Emblem that’s gained huge popularity in the U.S. But then, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon was too; the DS remake of the very first Fire Emblem game may have been intimidating to some recent converts. But Fire Emblem has enough of an install base now that Nintendo is able to take these risks, and the chance to finally play Fire Emblem Gaiden in some legal fashion is exciting for many longtime Western fans.