I know saying this is going to make me a pariah among the FE community, but it’s how I feel. I think Shadows of Valentia is the weakest FE game on the 3DS. Keyword there is “weakest”; I don’t think it’s a bad game at all, but I wasn’t having as much fun as I did with Blazing Blade, Three Houses, even Awakening and Fates.In fact, if I had one word to describe SoV, it would be “exhausting”. Keep in mind, these experiences were based on playing on Normal Classic because I like to form opinions on games and I feel it is most accurate to critique it on the standard difficulty; when FE veterans review a game it’s always based on Hard Classic.
Once I got to Act 3, I started to become fatigued after finishing a single map. This was especially true on Celica’s route with all of the cantors that spawn enemies that can take longer to kill than they should (only necrodragons should be that difficult unless you’re using Seraphim spell), those desert maps and a literal swamp. Also, **** Nuibaba’s Abode! While it is neat that you can recruit Tatiana if you clear it and completely turn the tables on the next map, but the process of getting there was a pain due to that stupid tome of hers that pretty much guarantees death unless you can dodge it and it’s as much of a slog as Celica’s maps. I know the maps in Awakening and Birthright were largely bland except for a handful and Revelations was too gimmicky for its own good, but at least they never burned me out. Part of that, I believe, has to do with all of the mandatory encounters and enemies constantly spawning on the map and hunting you down. It’s neat at first, but it got really annoying when I just wanted to get a move on or needed to backtrack to a shrine and promote a unit, which I have some words for later. Duma’s Tower was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me say “Screw this! I’m watching the rest of the story on YouTube!” because it’s a dungeon that has you do several fights in a row, some of which have some really beefy necrodragons, without any save points in between and once Leon died a few battles in, I just dropped the game. Strategy felt extremely restricted compared to other games in the series that allowed you to be more flexible. Yes, I could just backtrack to that save point, but that’s still poor design. It’s moments like those where the archaic designs hampered my experience with the game. If I ever go back to this game, it’s going to be on Casual Mode and I regret that I have to do that to enjoy an FE game. That is my primary sticking point of this game.
A bit of a tangent here: There’s that one side-track where you need to rescue Est from bandits. While I was completing the maps on the way there, one of my units was ready to be promoted and I went to the nearest dungeon to make things easier for me. As soon as I leave the dungeon, Catria assumes I’m not rescuing Est and she and Palla leave! WTH?! I can’t turn back to promote a unit without risking characters leaving?! And from what I recall it wasn’t that far back. It’s not that them deciding to leave if I was ignoring their request was the problem, it was how strict in how far you go before they do it.
The story… It’s good. Not great, but good. Although I do think one of its theme is somewhat undermined. We know Alm and Celica represent Duma and Mila, respectively, in their ideologies. Alm wants to end the war with strength and Celica wants to stop the war with kindness and in the ending they unite the kingdoms and their ideals… My issue comes from that only Alm’s ideal had any effect on the war conclusion considering Celica did the stupid thing of believing Jedah would actually hold up his end of the bargain, even if she was pushed in a corner, and had to be rescued. It could almost give the impression of “kindness is for suckers and strength is the only thing that makes any difference” when it should be “both side have their pros and cons” and there are moments where one is needed more than the other. Yes, Celica’s kindness has gained her allies, but Alm gained allies too through this means as well. So Celica ends up being a pawn to move her side of the story along and Alm is already perfect by the game’s themes since he has both strength and kindness (even though he has a little development when he’s put in charge of the Deliverance and finds out Rudolph is his father). Aside from those gripes, I don’t have any issues with the story.
As for the characters… Alm just seems like a typical Luke Skywalker-esque hero to me. Celica is simply kind and caring, but her choice near the end of the game does damage her character. In hindsight, I think the only reason I prefer Celica over Alm is simply because… well… she’s my type. I don’t hate any of the playable characters, which is at least an improvement over Fates where I can name at least 3 I can’t stand. Standouts aside from the protagonists were Mae, Boey, Saber, Luthier, Delthea, Python and Sonya at the top of my head. However there were also characters that left very little of an impression on me like Forscyth, whose name I have a hard time remembering because of how bland he came across to me, and it’s not helped by how few support conversations there were and only a handful were actually good with the others amounting to small-talk. I recall all three support conversations between Clive and Matilda as just the two fawning over each other and not much else. In contrast, the supports between Genny and Sonya were insightful for the player and the characters at least gained a new perspective, which is what I like to see in support conversations.
I still want to talk about characters, but I feel they deserved their own paragraph since they are the original characters added to the remake. I like Berkut and Kliff, but Fernand and Faye have major issues. For the record, I did at least watch the cutscenes from the DLC mission that has you play as the Deliverance before the events of the main game. In the actual game, Fernand hates commoners which results in him defecting and allying with Berkut, which ends up claiming his life in Act 5. First off, the only clarification you get for his prejudice is behind a paywall. Second… I feel like I’m missing something. We know that commoners ransacked his home and killed his family. People say they feel really bad for Fernand, but all I’m thinking is… Did they deserve it? To be fair, there’s no easy way to bring this up in natural dialogue, but I had no idea how his family treated the commoners. With only a few exceptions like Lukas and Clive, all of the other nobles we see are self-serving d-bags like Desaix and Slayde. For all I know, his family treated the commoners they governed like garbage. And regardless of which end of the spectrum they landed on, Fernand comes off to me as whiny and pig-headed. And now we get to Faye… I don’t really need to say why she’s a poorly-written character; she’s madly in love with Alm, nice and that’s about it. Unlike Fernand, Faye is a character I feel so sorry for, albeit in an unintentional and meta way. Even though she pines for Alm and can never be with him, her epilogue outright states that she doesn’t move on despite marrying someone else. I get the feeling the writers only made her out of sheer obligation and put in as little effort as possible. It’s not helped by the fact she only has supports if she’s recruited on Alm’s route, so there’s no incentive in recruiting her on Celica’s route.
The final point I would like to bring up isn’t a critique of the game so much as a criticism to a common response when people bring up WHY this is the better game: “It has the better story even through the maps are worse” and “I’d rather play a good story with awful maps than a bad story with good maps”. I might not be remembering the exact words, but that’s the gist of it. If that’s your personal taste, I won’t berate you for that, but it seems like they are parading that about like story is the ONLY factor of what makes a game good. When I told my friend about that response, he said that even games with really good stories can fall apart if the gameplay isn’t up to snuff. I know story is important in Fire Emblem, or any game that has you playing for dozens of hours, to keep you invested for that long playtime, but a game also needs consistently enjoyable gameplay to keep your attention. Here are two examples from personal experience, Star Ocean: The Last Hope and Tales of Zestiria. Star Ocean: The Last Hope has a SUPER-generic story, bad dialogue and some annoying characters with even more annoying voices, but I got all the way to the ending because its combat system was really, really good. Tales of Zestiria has a much better story and characters and even its combat was enjoyable, but I never finished it because it made me look around for McGuffins I thought were side-quests in order to get to the final dungeon which ended up hampering the gameplay. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Fire Emblem game or a Mario game, a game needs to be consistently enjoyable to be a good video game. The only time where story is the end-all critique of a video game is a visual novel.
I think I’ve gone on long enough and I pretty much vented out all of my issues with SoV. I’m not trying to convince you to dislike the game. Like it if you genuinely like it the most out of the 3DS entries, I don’t even dislike the game despite this post largely being criticism. It just frustrates me when people say it’s the best FE game on the 3DS because it feels like that’s only because they like it more than Awakening or Fates. Those games have valid criticisms made against them, but I feel like some people blow it out of proportion by saying they are among the worst games they’ve ever played. Even though this is a personal opinion, a ton of people are going to swarm me to say how wrong I am and I should be ashamed for it and I am the worst human being in the universe.