Title: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Tactical role-playing
Release Date: July 26, 2019
How we got the game: Bought it on Nintendo Switch
Pssst…. There may be story or gameplay spoilers in this review! You’ve been warned!
I’ve finally finished my first playthrough of Three Houses, and I’ve got almost nothing but praise for it! I’ll admit, I was only tentatively optimistic about this game, but the more I played, the more I fell in love with it.
Traditional Fire Emblem games give the player a main protagonist or two, maybe a handful of characters to start leveling up into some semblance of an army, and a reason for said protagonist(s) to start throwing themselves into turn-based battles with weapon triangles. Along the way, a deeper story will develop while introducing new characters to recruit for your army, characters that you can usually choose to include and level up both for fighting and for relationships with other characters.
Fire Emblem Three Houses is not that traditional.
True, the game begins with a tutorial-like battle and introduces who are arguably the most important characters to the game. Yet, after the battle, the protagonist is whisked to Garreg Mach Monastery and hired as a professor for a class of students. With this, the player is put in a position to already pick their main army to teach and grow, as well as the students in the other classes that can potentially join the player’s class — and, later, army — under the right circumstances. With this, the player already knows the majority of the key characters in the story instead of being fed them at certain intervals of the game. While it can be overwhelming to face so many characters and trying to learn everyone’s potential, I enjoyed seeing how everyone interacted with each other within the monastery.
Speaking of the monastery, that is where Three Houses stands apart from traditional Fire Emblem games. Instead of the game going from story cutscene to battles, battles happen at the end of the game’s month, with the weeks leading up to said battle containing activities to advance your units’ skills and supports with one another.
Exploring the monastery allows you to freely maneuver around Garreg Mach Monastery, which is mostly used to speak to all the characters, maybe fish or sing in the church’s choir, and generally increase supports between everyone. The higher the support between two characters, the more benefits the pair receive in battle when fighting close to one another. There are also, of course, paired endings after the game that depend on the support conversations. Finding out more about the characters’ history and the game’s lore from the exploration option was one of my favorite activities in the game.
Aside from exploration, one can also have a character host a seminar to increase skills of the students who attend the lecture as well as have rest days to increase the characters’ motivation for learning. There is also an option for battles, small paralogues or skirmishes to help level up the characters for the bigger, story-orientated battle at the end of the month. Visiting the Marketplace for weapons, items, battalions, and the blacksmith is also available at the beginning of each week, as well as the option to have a character take a certification test to change class. If a character passes the test, they will be able to reclass at the beginning of battles to any class they have passed.
The meat of the game is, of course, the grid-lined, turn-based battles. You’ll have your army of students (which sounds really weird, in all honesty, as it reminds me of the Hunger Games) make their move toward their opponents with medieval weapons and magic — swords, lances, bows and arrows, axes, energy-sucking “Reason” magic, the usual. Once all of your characters move, it’ll be the opponent’s turn to move to whatever grid square they can reach to attack yours. Each battle has a win and lose condition, and you can earn gold, special items, and story-advancing narrative for winning.
In the majority of Fire Emblem games, characters can advance classes in usually linear fashion. An archer can class up to a sniper, and a cleric and class up to a holy knight, for example. In Three Houses, as long as their skills in certain weaponry are high enough, characters can take a certification test and reclass into several other options. These classes can then be switched freely at the start of battles, so if there is a map where you need more flying units than cavalry, Three Houses gives you a means to teach your students how to tame a pegasus or wyvern. It was a nifty mechanic, even if I found myself not using it as much as I probably should have.
Aside from changing classes, characters can also hone their authority skill and have a battalion at their back during battles. These allow you to do gambits or bigger attacks with certified, nameless soldiers, generally to induce status ailments. Different battalions perform different actions, such as one that does healing magic on all allies for a certain number of spaces, or another that sets everything aflame. Admittedly, I half forgot about the battalions for the majority of the battles, focusing instead on my units attacking. Still, if used right, the battalions will be crucial for many unique strategies in the battles.
Weapon durability is back, which also lends a hand to the strategies you’ll need to come up with during battles, especially with some unique, story-based, one-of-a-kind weapons that are called Hero’s Relics. Only those with Crests, special sigils that are passed down throughout family lines, are able to wield the Hero’s Relics. Crests themselves are important in the setting’s history and politics, and the mystery of the main protagonist’s Crest is an important plot point in the game.
The graphics of the game were well done, but nothing spectacular. I was pleased with the videos and cut scenes, finding the animation smooth, but the few animations for the character models did feel a little stilted and limited. Still, the character designs were mostly on point and I enjoyed the majority of the battle maps.
As for the music, I totally want this soundtrack. I’ve always loved the majority of the Fire Emblem games’ music, but Three Houses is probably one of my favorites!
The story begins with Byleth, who was a mercenary along with their father Jeralt, waking up and speaking to a green-haired young woman — girl-like in appearance — named Sothis. The pair appear to be in some sort of temple or ruins, with Sothis lounging on a throne and attempting to make sense of her hazy memories. Sothis’s consciousness is tied with Byleth’s, and the scene shifts to the waking world after the brief introductions.
Byleth and their father are about to leave their current village when three students ask for their aid in defeating a group of bandits. The students are from Garreg Mach Monastery, each the respective heir to their countries on the continent of Fodlan. After successfully beating back the bandits, Byleth and their father escort the students — Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude — back to the monastery where they meet with Archbishop Rhea of the Church of Serios. Before Byleth knows what is happening, Jeralt rejoins the Knights of Serios and Byleth becomes the professor of a class of students.
The Black Eagles led by Edelgard, the Blue Lions led by Dimitri, and the Golden Deer led by Claude are filled with unique students coming from various backgrounds. Byleth takes command of one of the classes and the story really begins.
Played in two parts, part one is “pre-timeskip” wherein Byleth spends much of their time getting to know their students and aiding them in battles to better themselves for their respective countries and goals. While doing so, sinister plots are revealed as the months pass, with the archbishop and the Church of Serios being challenged by enemies — even some who were once called allies.
During one such climactic battle, Byleth falls into a canyon and does not awaken until five years later. Part two is this “post-timeskip,” and Byleth finds themselves in a war-torn Fodlan. Reuniting with their former students, Byleth helps to figure out not only an end to the war but also about their past.
Granted, this is a vague description of the story, mostly because I’ve only gone through the Golden Deer route. The other routes will most likely determine which side of the war Byleth is on and how they find out who they really are.
I’ve already started my next route. Considering there are two more houses, one that has at least two routes, and a New Game+ DLC coming out, there is plenty to do in this game after a first runthrough. Even if there was only one route, the multiple difficulty levels, plethora of characters to build your army however you want, and multiple support conversations to unlock, there is plenty to do to warrant another playthrough.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses gets…
5 out of 5 lives.