Recently Nintendo announced Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia– a remake of the second game in the series: Fire Emblem Gaiden. Gaiden was released exclusively in Japan for the Famicom (known as the NES stateside) on March 14th, 1992– roughly 25 years ago. Gaiden is known as being an unique entry in the series for its many systems which were never seen in later installments.
In my eyes, the core design goal for Shadows of Valentia is to create a Fire Emblem game that takes the best, most interesting parts of Gaiden and utilizes them while also sticking to the story and rough map layout of Gaiden. There are 2 key parts to this equation, however: Fire Emblem and Gaiden. This requires me to specify what I mean by “a Fire Emblem game”.
Over the last 10+ years, story and characters have become the pillars the franchise is built upon and the amount of text needed to bring a deep story and characters to life were not possible on the Famicom. This was a big issue in 2009’s Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon, a remake of the first Fire Emblem released on the DS, which left most characters, plotlines, and even battles either underdeveloped or never even discussed. This means Gaiden no longer represents what the series is all about. Moreover, Fire Emblem is still going through a huge identity shift after the innovations added over the last 5 years through the excellent Awakening and Fates games. For instance, pairing up units has become what I view as a core feature that I hope to never see a new mainline Fire Emblem’s lacking. It not only reinforces so many of the game’s other features mechanically, like Support conversations– which are conversations had between 2 compatible units after they have fought alongside one another enough– but it also adds in a ton of strategic depth and stands out as a mechanic that truly separates it from so many other SRPG’s. Having allied and enemy units fight next to one another or as duo teams adds in a ton of strategies. This remake comes at an awkward time where pairing up has not been cemented as a pillar of the franchise, but where leaving it out feels like something essential is missing. While Gaiden obviously didn’t feature pairing up, as it was introduced in 2012’s Awakening, it also lacked longstanding support conversations and the longer-standing weapon triangle– introduced in the third game– which added in an extra level of strategy to each enemy encounter.
At the end of the day, a lot of the innovations of the last 25 years have made the franchise grow into the polished, SRPG that has just finally become recognized recently. Adding many, if not all, of these features into the game are essential in making this game a true Fire Emblem game and not merely a dated re-release of a relic.
Luckily for the second criteria of this design goal, there are plenty of interesting things to take from Gaiden; at least for a hardcore fan. For instance, the default range for archers in Gaiden was 1-3 squares away, with the range being up to 5 for certain weapons/classes. In the rest of the series, the basic range has been 2 for an archer– making them defenseless in melee combat– with certain, rare bows granting the ability to attack from 1 or 3 spaces away. Magic is also learned in Gaiden based upon level and is cast using HP whereas the rest of the series makes you carry along spell tomes that have durability like any other weapon. There was equipment that boosted stats as well as towns and dungeons that you could explore. While these are not unique amongst RPG’s, it certainly is unique amongst Fire Emblem games. Gaiden also featured unbreakable weapons. So this will most likely return, whether it be more faithful to Gaiden, more reminiscent of Fates, or some sort of glorious hodgepodge of the two. Keeping these elements in the game is essential in that they preserve what made Gaiden so unique in the first place. Seriously, why remake the oddest game in your series if you are not going to at least pay some homage to the origins?
That being said, there are also some concerns that lingers around Gaiden, specifically, that must be avoided. For instance, many fans and critics of the day felt the maps weren’t very good and didn’t provide a lot of strategic options. And towns were mostly empty except for a couple places you bought things at, which is why later installments just turned towns into menus where you bought items.
Some aspects we should expect to see. Several are in Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem (only released in Japan for the DS, this game was a remake of the 3rd Fire Emblem). For instance, Casual Mode– aka No Permadeath– was added into New Mystery of the Emblem before any other game in the series. And prior to that, Shadow Dragon had played around with a mid-level save system, showing that they were willing to mix in the old school difficulty with more modern levels of forgiveness.
Other aspects would be nice to see return, but shouldn’t really be expected and aren’t strictly needed. For instance, skills help diversify classes, which has become one of many huge tactical elements to consider as you grow your party, but it might be seen as too different from the core of Gaiden for us to see it return here. Both Shadow Dragon & New Mystery of the Emblem added in units that were not in the original games in order to give the player more options while crafting their team, which could also facilitate adding pairing up into the game.
This takes me back to Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, a remake I have talked about in great detail on this website. Something great that Vanillaware did with this remake was give players the choice between playing the classic PS2 version, where only the graphics had been updated, or playing the new, Leifthrasir version, where most of the gameplay systems had been overhauled. This appeased the purists and gave people the chance to have a taste of the original while giving the devs the freedom to update the game as they saw fit. When playing Leifthrasir, I always felt that this remake was either what they always wanted the game to be like, or that it is what they have grown to wanting it to be, as you could see pieces of their more recent games in it, like Muramasa and Dragon’s Crown. It felt like it was catharsis for the developers. As if they could look back at this game that they truly loved and say,”We made that into the game we wanted it to be. The game we always knew it could be.” All the while respecting people that loved their original interpretation by allowing them to play Odin Sphere classic, despite it already having been a PS2 Classic on PSN. Intelligent Systems can– and should– do the exact same thing. Not making that decision splits the goals of the remake between preservation of the old and realization of the new.
While this is a lot of changes, this is also not your average remake. Most remakes nowadays are done maybe a couple years after the initial release and are just glorified ports, like God of War 3 only gaining a photo mode on its way to the PS4. While Odin Sphere Leifthrasir incurred a lot of changes, it was mainly to the gameplay and was ultimately only a 10 year old game upon re-release. But with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia being a remake of a 25+ year old game, it is expected that many changes should be needed. Holding the developer’s hands behind their back in favor of historical preservation would be a disservice to all Fire Emblem fans and Gaiden itself. And that’s why it is good to know that both the trailer and Nintendo’s own website says that Shadows of Valentia is INSPIRED by Fire Emblem Gaiden. Inspiration certainly lends itself to being different in many ways and I think that would be the best course of action. After all the spirit of Gaiden is one of exploring new ideas; something I think we will see in Shadows of Valentia. So shouldn’t we be willing to find the middle ground between the old & new? Because recreating the spirit of Gaiden might not only leave us with a better experience, but a more successful game than a faithful recreation. And isn’t that what we all want in the end?