Fire Emblem Echoes team: ‘It’s a new experience, not an old game’

Hardcore Fire Emblem fans know that the series’ new game on Nintendo 3DS, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, isn’t technically new at all. But the directors of the game, a remake of a Japan-exclusive Famicom title, are adamant that Western players will appreciate Shadows of Valentia as something fresh.

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A big reason for that — besides the fact that the original game, Fire Emblem Gaiden, never made it stateside — is the amount that Shadows of Valentia deviates from the recognizable Fire Emblem formula.

“After making Fire Emblem Fates, talking with the developers at Intelligent Systems, we were hoping to integrate things that we couldn’t do with Fire Emblem Fates on the 3DS platform,” Kenta Nakanishi, a director on Shadows of Valentia, said in an interview with Polygon.

To do that, the teams at both Nintendo and Intelligent Systems decided to look to the past. Doing a new spin on Fire Emblem Gaiden was attractive to them as a game many team members were nostalgic for, Nakanishi in particular. The game was passed on to him by his father, who passed away when he was young.

Even with that personal connection, however, Nakanishi recognized that the game had some flaws back in the day.

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“When I played it as a youth, the story and the characters weren’t as memorable,” he said. “Back then [in 1992], the reason why there wasn’t too much depth to the story was because a lot of the story element was explained in the manual.”

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Fire Emblem fans today, Nakanishi and fellow director Toshiyuki Kusakihara explained, appreciate the series’ in part for its stories and characters. Remaking Gaiden on modern hardware gave them a chance to fill that out more, enhancing the original game to create something that felt more complete.

The developers also made other core changes in an effort to make things more appealing to today’s Fire Emblem player. A feature called Mila’s Turnwheel allows players to turn back the clock during battle, undoing any actions (up to a point) that may have gotten them stuck in a tight spot. There’s also casual mode, an option that lets players get through the game without worrying about their characters dying permanently in battle.

But while Nakanishi and Kusakihara considered adding even more modern elements — like pairing characters together so they can have kids, which was introduced in Fire Emblem Awakening with widespread popularity — they ultimately wanted to keep things classic.

“We did consider adding things like My Unit and the Avatar [personalization options from the previous 3DS Fire Emblem games], but we really wanted to focus on Alm and Celica,” said Nakanishi.

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Heroes Alm and Celica’s journey from being childhood friends to leaders of separate rebellious factions drives everything in Shadows of Valentia. It’s what drew Nakanishi back to the game, after all, inspiring him to try expanding it. If that meant that improving on Fire Emblem Gaiden in other areas — like its battle mechanic, which lacks the weapon triangle that most modern Fire Emblem games depend on and is instead a more obtuse, environmentally affected system — then so be it.

The hope is that Western players will latch onto that story just as well. Although it skews old-school in most ways, from the art design to the gameplay, Shadows of Valentia’s directors hope that newer players of the franchise will appreciate the differences.

“This is only just what we have seen in Japan, but we definitely heard people that have played the original fire emblem garden were nostalgic [when playing] this remake, and also that new players were coming in and saying it’s a very new and fresh take on Fire Emblem,” said Nakanishi. “We believe that it was successful in what were we trying to achieve.”