Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a full remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the tactical RPG series originally released back in 1992 on Famicom. Gaiden was never released outside of Japan, so you can be forgiven if this is the first time you've heard of it.

The third Fire Emblem game released on Nintendo 3DS following 2013's Fire Emblem Awakening and 2016's Fire Emblem Fates, Shadows of Valentia is both familiar and a breath of fresh air to longtime fans. Developer Intelligent Systems did a great job at keeping the core of the original intact while adding newer elements to give it an updated look.

The story follows lifelong friends Alm and Celica, who find themselves standing on opposite sides of the battlefield, with each leading an army headed for a collision course. It's a classic tale of two individuals forced to fight against one another, each believing their cause to be right. If you're familiar with this kind of premise, then you can probably predict what happens at the end. But thanks to the well-done animated cutscenes and solid voice acting (it's the first fully voiced Fire Emblem game), advancing the story is a delight and is something you will definitely look forward to. You will need to go through both Alm's and Celica's side of the narrative in order to fully access the story. There are no branching paths in the game.

The gameplay is where Shadows of Valentia truly shines. It is also the area that separates it from Awakening and Fates. Combat still centers on a turn-based system where opposing parties trade turns in moving their units across a grid-based map and attacking any enemy unit within attack range. The battlefield is seen from a top-down perspective, with the camera switching to third-person when units trade blows. However, the familiar weapon triangle system - a rock-paper-scissors system that has been a staple in the series since the fourth Fire Emblem game - is missing. Damage is simply based on parameters. Weapons also no longer break after a set number of use and units can only carry one weapon, which is determined by their character class. These changes make Shadows of Valentia more like a traditional RPG, though strategy is still very much in play since unit positioning is still critical to winning battles.

Each unit has a fatigue meter, which fills up whenever you deploy them in battle. As the fatigue meter fills up, the unit's health goes down. This prevents you from rampaging through the entire game using only a handful of your favorite units. Though the fatigue meter can be lowered via special means, it's best to use a healthy number of units throughout the game. Mages also sacrifice health when casting spells, so attrition plays a big part in combat. It somewhat balances out the absence of the weapon triangle system. The support system still remains, while marriage and childbirth have been kicked out. Yes, that means no more unit breeding for you.

In Shadows of Valentia, you can enter towns and castles where you can talk to and recruit NPCs to join your cause, collect items, and advance the story. You can't freely explore these areas, though. But speaking of areas you can freely explore, 3D dungeons are now in the game. You can visit dungeons to grind, collect cool items, and access Sacred Springs, which grant stat bonuses. Most of the side-quests also require dungeon-crawling. Like other RPG dungeons, dungeons in Shadows of Valentia are full of enemies that you need to fight. The game switches to the usual top-down perspective whenever you encounter enemies inside a dungeon. Again, all these changes make the game more in line with a traditional RPG.

Permanent death or permadeath is still around. Or at least on the default difficulty. Permadeath is a gameplay staple in the Fire Emblem series. It's a punishing feature in which units who die in battle will no longer be available for the remainder of the play-through. This is the main reason why you can't just blindly move units on the map in a full offensive without considering the terrain and enemy positioning. One wrong move can easily translate to a dead comrade. However, another addition in Shadows of Valentia sort of makes it less stressful whenever you make a mistake that causes the death of a unit or two. The "Mila's Turnwheel" feature allows you to essentially go back in time to undo or redo a particularly disastrous move. You can't use it all the time, though, so you still need to be cautious during battle. The addition of Mila's Turnwheel makes the game more accessible to new Fire Emblem players. But at the same time, it lessens the suspense and lowers the stakes during a particularly difficult battle.

Despite all the addition-by-subtraction in regard to the features, Shadows of Valentia is an excellent Fire Emblem game on 3DS. The absence of the weapon triangle system is a bit of a downer, though. It just doesn't seem right for a Fire Emblem game not to have the weapon triangle system. It's like Pokemon without all the Types. But then again, Shadows of Valentia is based on Gaiden, which originally did not feature the system. So kudos to Intelligent Systems for keeping it that way and finding a good balance between sticking to the source material and adding/updating gameplay elements.

All the new gameplay features and changes easily make Shadows of Valentia the odd one among the three Fire Emblem games on 3DS. Although other gameplay staples like character recruitment and class upgrades have been retained, it still feels like a very different Fire Emblem experience. Nevertheless, it's a fun adventure that's worth diving into. You can think of it as a spin-off, considering its differences from other Fire Emblem games. Whether you're a longtime Fire Emblem fan or not, we definitely recommended checking out Shadows of Valentia if you still own a 3DS. It's based on a 25-year-old game, but it certainly doesn't feel like it, thanks to the modern touches.