The History Behind Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of the Valentia (In-Progress)

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The ultimate culmination. A tale of endless ambition. A celebration for the ages. These were the stories that the incredibly talented individuals at Intelligent Systems had been crafting for nearly half a decade. This new golden era for the Fire Emblem franchise had brought about something that many had thought impossible, prosperity and respect. Their series had been a niche one, appealing to a core subset of hardcore tactical aficionados yet driving away the common man due to its impenetrable layers of complexity and ingenuity. Fire Emblem wasn’t a series for the faint of heart. But with dire straits comes a change in values; and change it did. Stories were altered to appeal to a wider audience, mechanics were introduced that changed the very fabric of how people played the game, and sometimes they became drunk on their own ambition, crafting narratives and worlds that were just infeasible with their own manpower and skillsets. Make no mistake, Fire Emblem was here to stay, however, the state it was in left something to be desired. They had entered into the sacred halls of Nintendo’s finest franchises yet still couldn’t compete on their level. They needed something fresh, something bold, something that would blow everyone away while still fitting in with their standards of the day. But maybe, just maybe, they were looking in the wrong place the whole time. The answer to all their problems existed far away in their forgotten past, in a world and a story that had almost been lost to time, and an adventure that hit close to home.

With the success of Fire Emblem Fates riding on their backs, even if many were left unsatisfied by the experience, Intelligent Systems went forward determined to continue this trend. The Fire Emblem renaissance had only just begun and they were determined not to disappoint yet again. With a surprise announcement at the beginning of the year it seemed the Year of Fire Emblem was about to commence. But as with any story, or video game for that matter, the starting point of their latest creations began right after their latest release. Post Fire Emblem Fates, Histoshi Yamagami, now the series producer, was throwing around ideas for the next great entry for the franchise. At first, he thought that Nintendo’s secretive console, the Nintendo Switch, should be their next conquest. Fire Emblem felt right at home on handhelds and the added power of the console would allow the team to do new and exciting things that just weren’t possible on the 3DS. However, he needed a title to come out much sooner than the consoles release date, a title meant to act as a buffer until the Switch was ready for release. And Yamagami wanted it to release in the final quarter of 2016. Releasing a brand-new Fire Emblem title with the same polished gameplay and story in that amount of time was just… absurd. Thankfully a couple of passionate team members convinced him of a project that just might work. A remake of a long forgotten title that had been labeled the black sheep of the entire franchise, a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden. These developers wanted to combine many of the ideas that they had never gotten a chance to implement in Fates into Gaidens vastly different gameplay concepts. Gaiden had been lost to the public eye and the majority of titles from the series past had all but been forgotten by the millions of new fans brought in with their latest entries so a history lesson seemed appropriate to Yamagami. And, conveniently, it would be ready in time for the games 25th anniversary. But they needed to get started on development immediately if they were to ever hope to release the remake on time.

The months of pre-planning and decision making would have to be rushed if they ever hoped to meet the September deadline they set for themselves, a ludicrous date that they quickly retracted and revised. But this rush job came with several caveats as many of their co-workers were hard at work on Fire Emblem Heroes and the eventual Switch title that would catapult the series forward into the next generation. They couldn’t necessarily be picky with whomever worked on the project. Some were a given like series producers Masahiro Higuchi and Hitoshi Yamagami along with composers such as Takeru Kanazaki and Yasuhisa Baba. Others sought to take the project as a chance to try something new. Take the character designer. Instead of using the tried and true works of Yūsuke Kozaki, Toshiyuki Kusakihara, one of the games directors, insisted that they hire Hidari, a character designer for Fire Emblem Awakening’s many Einherjar Cards and the Fire Emblem Trading Card Game. Kusakihara had wanted to work with him for years but their schedules just couldn’t line up, until now. Hidari’s artwork exuded a certain charm that made characters even more endearing and even though the groundwork was already there for every single character the majority lacked any personality. The rest of Gaiden had suffered from this as well. A symptom of the time, many of the key plot points and realizations were locked away in the manual and not in the game proper due to the Famicoms many limitations. A great story was hidden underneath and only needed to be unearthed for all to see. They needed someone to help lead the team. Someone with an intricate knowledge of the source material. Someone who would dedicate themselves to unveiling this hidden gem to the world.

That someone was Kenta Nakanishi. A relatively unknown member of Nintendo, Nakanishi had been working in the background ever since his start in 2009 first as a simple debugger then later on with Xenoblade Chronicles, helping one of the most important video games in history to get a western localization. After helping on some of the series main titles and becoming a subdirector on Fates, Nakanishi finally had the connections to speak with the driving forces behind Fire Emblem, a franchise that was near and dear to him. As a young boy, he was introduced to the series by his father, a major fan in his own right. Teaching him how to play and getting him hooked on the series, the two would play the original Shadow Dragon and Gaiden for hours on end. This time he spent with his father didn’t last unfortunately. Just around the release of Mystery of the Emblem his father passed away leaving him only with the memories of the fun times they had. Laying his father to rest with a copy of Mystery of the Emblem he continued playing the series for years to come. Later on, while sorting through his personal effects he found the two cartridges of Shadow Dragon and Gaiden that he played with his father long ago. Still containing his save data, Nakanashi reminisced about the times the two spent together, strengthening his bond with the games. He told his story to Yamagami and Higuchi and they hired him on the spot. It just felt right to them. With his vast knowledge of the series and his emotional attachment to Gaiden, Nakanishi seemed like a perfect match. Nakanashi led the Nintendo side of things but what about Intelligent Systems? Well Kusakihara decided to be the one to step up to the plate, intrigued by Gaidens unconventional gameplay. With directors in tow the production was a go, though, they already had a strong idea of what they wanted to do at the beginning.

From the outset of the project the directors and producers alike had several goals they wanted to reach by the tail end of production. The most pressing, matter at hand was Gaiden itself and specifically, its difficulty. Fire Emblem Gaiden was renowned as one of the most difficult titles in the series but it wasn’t only because of your opponents on the battlefield. Character growth rates were stingy at best, offering one or two stat boosts each level and if you lose enough units you won’t even be able to finish the game. It was brutal to say the least, brutal enough that it could alienate their current fanbase if they went down that route. To alleviate these concerns, they upped the growth rates to modern standards, tweaked some things with weapon accuracy, and added in other iconic innovations like the support and skill systems. The volume-like difficulty options and the option to enable Casual Mode didn’t hurt either. The team at Intelligent Systems wanted to introduce classic Fire Emblem to a new audience and this was just the tip of the iceberg.

The story was a hard sell as it was. It had no clear theme, its characters either dominated the narrative or said only one or two lines and were instantly forgotten afterwards, and when the game switched between Celica and Alm it could be jarring to say the least. Everything just needed some clarification. Characters needed to have personalities instead of cookie cutter archetypes. A clear narrative through-line had to be developed. And everything in the manual had to be shoved into the final project. No one was going to look through that in this day in age. But what was Gaiden’s theme throughout it all? What was Shozo Kaga trying to get at back in the day? A confrontation of opposites, of differing ideologies and values between the main characters and their enemies. This dichotomy is also what made Celica and Alm’s journey’s, and in turn their respective armies, conflict with one another. Alm’s path is one of power, seeking to end the war by force. Celica, on the other hand, stands on the side of love and compassion and seeks to end the war in her own way. Everything in the story is defined by these opposing values providing a thrilling narrative in theory. With the advancements of today, though, it was all but a reality. There were just a couple things out of place though, namely a group of compelling characters to follow. Giving them more personality and a larger role in the story was one thing they could do, however, the team wanted to take it one step further and add full on voice acting to the series for the first time. This added a layer of depth that just wasn’t possible with lines of text. To truly convey tense moments, happy moments, or those that can fluctuate in emotion at a moment’s notice, voice acting was absolutely necessary.

Gaiden also had sort of an image problem ever since its release. Meaning side story in Japanese, many were confused as to what side story it was for so keeping the name as is just wasn’t going to cut it. At first they thought about calling it New Gaiden, like New Mystery of the Emblem, however the presence of gaiden or paralogue chapters further complicated things so the idea was scraped on the spot. Still, they wanted to keep the feeling of the game being a remake. For this reason, they looked into popular Japanese naming conventions at the time such as “RE:” for remake, saido meaning once again or second time, and even just a simple G at the end of the Fire Emblem moniker. These were great concepts in their own right but they just weren’t clicking with the team’s vision for the project. Somewhere amidst their ramblings, though, they found their answer, echoes. A simple yet fitting name, it befitted the mission of their game, to have their classic titles echo back to their modern audience and let them see just how much the series has changed and how much it has remained the same over all these years. Echoes was all about honoring the Fire Emblem franchises storied past and keeping it alive for future generations, a noble goal to say the least. While the majority of people involved in the original title either left the company or pursued other interests within it, the brilliant group of individuals who inherited the franchises legacy, and this one little game in particular, were more then up to the task.

To Be Continued After The Game’s Release

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