Real Talk By: Brian DK
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest installment in the long running Fire Emblem series, and it’s quickly being recognized as one of the best. Likeable characters and strong strategy gameplay have always been staples of the series, but Three Houses steps the series up by adding a very strong story with relatable stakes. Everything comes together to create a masterpiece that is a must-buy for Nintendo Switch owners.
The game opens up in the now-typical Fire Emblem fashion. Your character is immediately thrown into battle alongside color-coded characters and an elderly knight character that shows up the ropes of the grid-based combat. After dispatching some bandits you’re offered a job as a professor at a nearby academy/monastery.
After taking this position that you’re grossly under-qualified for, you’re given your choice of academic house to lead. Each house comes with its own cast of characters that play major roles in the story, but you can recruit your favorite characters from other houses, but these acquired students definitely take a backseat to the default characters. This seemingly simple choice of house dramatically changes the story for the rest of the game, and I found myself playing through the game multiple times just to see how differently the events unfold.
You’re slowly introduced to the gameplay mechanics, which boil down to a two-sided system reminiscent of games like XCOM. At the beginning of each month you’re given a mission that begins at the end of the month, and each week you decide what to do with your time. This is where time and relationship management really come into play.
As a professor you’re in charge of your students’ lesson plan, but instead of teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic, you’re teaching them the arts of riding, warfare, and archery. Each character you recruit to your house has their own strengths and weaknesses that you can mold for better use on the battlefield.
Some of the students’ personalities don’t quite mesh with their combat abilities, which can be a little odd at times. For example: Hilda, a pink-haired coward, constantly asked me to sit out upcoming battles, but in combat she was quickly becoming an unstoppable war goddess with pigtails.
You’re also given a few days off a month where you can further customize your non-combat time. You can attend seminars, fight in side missions, or take direct control of your character and interact with various events throughout the monastery.
Your character handles a little sloppily as you run them throughout the area, but most players will spend hours upon hours of time fishing, gardening, cooking, and micromanaging their relationships with the various students and faculty.
World’s Worst Professor
The other side of the system is the combat. Your students don’t spend all their time in the classroom, and events require that you send out your pubescent group of misfits into battle. Fire Emblem fans will recognize the grid and turn based combat, but a handful of systems have come and gone between installments.
One of the new mechanics is battalions. Your students can have a group of soldiers assigned to them that all have their own stats and special moves. These special moves, called Gambits, can cause all sorts of special effects and landing one at an opportune moment can mean the difference between life or death for your students.
Like the most recent Fire Emblem games, Three Houses comes with several modes that tailors that gameplay to your preferred style. Classic mode is just like the older series titles. When your students fall in combat, they stay fallen. Some characters continue to appear in essential story moments, but they are no longer available for use in combat. The only way to get a character back in Classic mode is to restart the mission. Casual mode is also available for a more forgiving experience where fallen characters revive at the end of the mission.
The traditional weapon triangles are also heavily modified. Rather than running on a system of rock-paper-scissors, weapon interactions are typically limited to skills. In past games, a sword might be more effective against an axe, but in Three Houses only specifically trained characters can take advantage of these interactions by mastering certain classes.
The class system has also been overhauled. Rather than locking your characters into set advancement paths, characters can take an exam to unlock any class they’re qualified for. More advanced classes have access to more versatile abilities and skills, but have significantly worse stat growths than their more novice counterparts. Managing classes becomes a balancing act, as characters that advance too early might become crippled later on, but advancing them too late might rob them of combat versatility.
Classes are unfortunately one of Three House’s most noticeable missteps. Some classes are inexplicably locked by the characters gender, preventing male characters from becoming any of the Pegasus riding classes and females from becoming dark magic wielders. Hilda, my cowardly pink-haired blood goddess, frustratingly couldn’t become a War Master and it forced me to rethink her entire build late into the game. Other powerful classes are also locked behind new, unrelated skills that can force you into delaying a character’s advancement while you grind out these skills. Careful planning and time management can minimize these issues, but these roadblocks can be frustrating to new players.
A Song of Tea and Waifus
Fire Emblem: Three Houses absolutely shines when it comes to telling its story. Each of the three main story paths is incredibly written, and it’s easy to become invested in the lives of these teenaged nobles. The story is filled with difficult decisions, heartbreaking moments, and enough intrigue to bring every player back to see every side of it. This bright, heartwarming game tackles the tough issues of loyalty, religion, xenophobia, and tea parties in a way that’s just too rare in video games.
Bringing everything together creates a masterpiece of a game and a powerful addition to the Nintendo Switch’s library. If you’re a fan of strategy games, or just a fan of sending teenagers off to war, Three Houses is a game you can’t afford to miss. Fans of the series will absolutely love Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and newcomers will be drawn in by the superb writing and tactical combat of this masterpiece.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses Gets
5 out of 5
+ Tight Combat
+ Awesome Story
+Entertaining Side Activities
– Class Limitations