Valencia Saga: Sophia’s rebirth is a Chinese SRPG by the independent developer Quing Zhi Ming. It was published on Steam in 2018 and was translated into English on 2019. The Steam page welcomes us with a decently made trailer; sadly all the text is in Chinese and there is no English version so I have no clue what it says. For USD $6.99 (or whatever your regional pricing is) the game offers us a tough-as-nails 60 hour long campaign with around 50 chapters.
If you only have a minute read this:
- Valencia Saga is an independent fan-game base on Fire Emblem Gaiden from the NES, expanding the original story and scope of the maps, while leaving out the free exploration.
- The game is made with SRPG Studio and features a mix of stock and custom assets and an amateur English translation with missing bits and weird grammar and spelling in some parts.
- The game is really challenging, slow-paced and long, with chapters taking up to 4 hours to beat. However, it also features an easy mode without permadeath for mid-core fans of the genre.
As one can see, the presentation is pretty decent, the maps and sprites look like they are from the 16-bit era but without the limits in color palette, and the menus and portraits looks beautiful and modern. Now you may feel that the maps and sprites look familiar to you and that would be a side effect of the game being made with the software SRPG Studio (the same one used by Shouzou Kaga to develop Vestaria Saga) using a fair bit of the stock resources and with those that are not stock made to fit into the same style to keep everything cohesive. The use of this engine comes with some common features: build-in joystick and mouse support; The game always starts on windowed mode but F4 allows for the use of fullscreen with the scaling depending on your general graphics settings; The keybindings cannot be changed ingame instead needing to be edited in the game’s .ini file with a text editor; and the game option allow for a lot of the expected like skipping battle animations, end turn automatically, display of the health bar on the map, etc.
On the negative side, the translation is incomplete and broken at times but still everything is readable enough… but this is something to be expected since it was made by friends of the developer and not a professional translator. In my opinion, it adds to the charm of the game where you see stuff like “Enemies are be normal” but there isn’t any particular phrase so badly translated that it became memorable. There are parts that are not translated, nothing big like whole conversations, but sometimes you’re gonna see some names or a phrase that is still in Chinese… and sadly an example of this is the extra menu with all the classes statistics left completely in its original language. Another negative point is the innability to skip allies and enemies turn, you can speed it up by pressing the cancel button but not totally skip, this can get bothersome in certain chapters with a lot of allied units, since you have to way for two computer turns to pass and this are turns of watching green and red units slowly killing each other. I put this as the game faults since by default the engine allows you to skip the computers turn and here it has been purposely disabled.
So what is the game about? The story follow the struggles of two childhood friends – Arcel and Cecia – on two different quests. Arcel joins the resistance to liberate Sophia from a usurper to the throne and Cecia must travel to the Temple of the Goddess Ira to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. This two quests intertwine as the mysterious cult of the Doom God starts showing its influence on the events on the continent of Valencia. It’s no coincidence that this sounds a lot like Fire Emblem Gaiden or Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia; Valencia Saga could be considered an unofficial remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, and in a way it could be something of a missing link between Gaiden and Echoes. Way more dialogue and plot development than Gaiden, but without all the visual fanfare and polish of Echoes.
The gameplay is the classic SRPG formula of player phase – enemy phase, and you deploy a certain number of units to fight an uncertain number of enemy units. In the player phase you move and take action with all your units and in the enemy phase the computer takes his turn to move all their units. Your units can move, attack, trade items (just like in FE, this doesn’t end their turn), use items or support magic, and your enemies can do the same. You can save your game at the beginning of each turn, and let me tell you, you want to save your game each turn and kept multiple saves in case mistakes were made 5 turns or more ago. In all of these ways, the game follows the classic Fire Emblem formula with a few variations.
At the start of the game, you follow Arcel and his 3 friends as they join the resistance and turn the tides of battle on their guerrilla war against the usurper Desse. Then you change perspective to play as Cecia and his companions as they travel to the temple of the Goddess Ira. After this, the routes splits 2 more times. You always play Arcel’s and Cecia’s routes, but in the next splits you can choose which one to play first. This creates a bit of a flow problem since by the time you finish one route you have played around 10 or so chapter of increasingly difficult battles only to go back to the other party having to play with characters that may be 15 levels behind, thereby throwing your feel for unit power off balance until you get used to the current power level.
The game doesn’t feature any shops, so you can only obtain new gear at specific points in the game, dropped by an enemy, in villages, treasure chests or other story related events. This adds an interesting layer of planning as the game progresses since you have a limited stock of weapons to distribute to your army. But worry not, you always have at least one weapon on each character since the basic default weapons can’t be removed from their inventory. Also, the game gives you a lot of tools to play around but the most interesting ones, like the warp staff or a nullifying magic shield are hidden behind special events that may be easy to miss on the first run. I’m sure I missed a couple of them since I had some rare unusable items in my inventory by the end.
Another important part of equipping items is that they can give different skills to your characters that you can use to boost their strengths or patch their weaknesses. Units also learn skills. All the skills in the game are passive in nature and range from simple stat boosts to specific probability-based trigger skills. An early example is the Sturdy skill from Armor knights, which gives them a 15% chance to block magic damage.
And since I mentioned Armor Knight, let’s talk about the classes. Each character has their own class and this let’s them promote in a linear manner up to 2 times. For example, Lute starts as a Soldier, the basic lance user, and promotes to Armor Knight and then to Baron. Promotions are really important here: not only do characters gain class specific skills, but they also earn stat boosts. This increase in max stats greatly affects their performance on the battlefield. Valencia provides you with enough promotion items to promote all characters, but they come at uneven times, so choosing who to promote first is mostly about playing favorites.
Let’s continue with the map design, which is the department that would make this game be or not for you. The game starts with some medium size maps that can be beaten in 8 to 12 turns, but quickly starts scaling into massive maps with an increasing amount of enemies… and don’t think the enemies are a case of quantity over quality! Each enemy has the potential to kill a unit in a bad spot, making those later chapters take hours to beat. Just to give an example, the final chapter took me around 70 turns with 4 in-game hours that amounted to 8 hours in three sessions with all the times I had to reset different turns to avoid my precious units suffering horrible deaths.
The difficulty of this game is no joke. Remember when I said you face an uncertain amount of enemies? Well, that’s because one thing that this game does a lot is ambush spawns: the kind of reinforcements who appear and act on the same turn, making an unlucky unit near their spawn point dead on arrival. You’re gonna experience this time and time again with no way of telling when those reinforcements will appear. Sometimes they appear from forts, stairs, a magic circle, or just the edge of the map.
So lots of strong enemies and lots of reinforcements, are these the only challenges? Not at all – the bosses in this game are on a whole different level, with some requiring specific strategies to beat, while others are beasts in human disguise that would require you have 4 or more units able to survive the damage and strong enough to deal damage. Sadly there are a couple of gimmicks used on bosses that get tiresome pretty quickly, specially the passive health regeneration and effective damage reduction; a lot of bosses and a specific class just half all damage dealt, resulting in killing them being more of a chore that anything else.
You’re gonna struggle, reset, and struggle again, miss a 97% hit, be killed by a 25% hit, reset, and keep doing it until you defeat the beast…
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably guessed this game is not for everyone, and you would be right. Casual player looking for an easy pick-up-and-play SRPG or even their first Fire Emblem clone on PC should avoid this game. For mid-core SRPG fans I would recommend easy mode, it keeps most of the things that make this game hard but it removes perma-death from the equation and just that makes this game way more enjoyable, but only if you haven’t played FE Echoes; otherwise the story would only feel derivative and probably less appealing. On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore SRPG fan, one of those that enjoys those Lunatic, Lunatic+ or other maddening difficulty modes, this game may be just for you, so if you have grown tired of the easy and casual friendly new Fire Emblem games, then this is a Fire Emblem clone that takes the difficulty up to eleven. Just be prepared for a long journey, a really long and hard journey.
Harvester’s note: Thanks for the review! As a huge fan of Fire Emblem myself, I’m interested in giving it a shot someday.