Fire Emblem was once a popular strategy RPG that slowly faded after a string of failures in the Western market. It resurfaced again with a surprise hit on the Nintendo 3DS and the momentum hasn’t stopped for it ever since. This has led to a whole generation of Fire Emblem games that have only increased its popularity. Fire Emblem: Three Houses will mark an important step for the series because it is the first time since 2007 when it is making its way back to consoles.
The main gameplay of Fire Emblem always revolves around managing a group of warriors on a grid-based battlefield. This battlefield is usually a map that is designed around a common mission and goal. This has carried over to Fire Emblem: Three Houses but there have been some major tweaks when it comes to advancing the story outside of the battles. It has now been developed into a full-blown RPG with a central hub in the shape of a Monastery featuring an Officer’s Academy.
If you have played Atlus’ Persona games or know about the wizarding world of Harry Potter, the story concept of Fire Emblem: Three Houses will feel similar. This game is set in the massive continent of Fódlan where the threat of war lurks near. You are assigned as one of the professors in the Officer’s Academy. You begin the game by picking either a male or female lead and then have to settle on teaching one of the three sides that rules each part of the continent of Fódlan. This choice has a dramatic impact on how the rest of the story unfolds.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a massive game in itself. It can take you between 30 to 60 hours to finish the main story and this also depends on how many side missions or activities you can manage to complete. It doesn’t take into account the replayability that comes with the choice of three different houses. Each house in the game has its group of warriors with their well-defined personalities and traits. The three houses that you can pick are the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions, and the Golden Deer. The choice to pick one of them is given right in the beginning with the game giving an ample amount of time to get to know the students that are studying in each of the houses.
The one thing that has been beautifully encapsulated in Fire Emblem is the lifestyle of a professor in the Officer’s Academy. You don’t feel like you are roaming a random location but slowly start to feel attached to the place with time. The academy works on a time table synced to a calendar that makes it easier to manage and organize the various tasks. Not every day will require a battle, some also contain important story events or fresh side-content while others will allow you to explore and talk with students, get a better understanding and improve your relationship with them.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses never fails to surprise us with its dynamic cast of characters. The emphasis on crafting relationships with the various social elements in place never feels like it is artificially used to pad the game’s length. This also has a great effect on character development. Your choice not only matters in the beginning when picking between the three houses but it also carries over to the conversations and decisions that you make during the various story events. These are detrimental to building relationships so every choice has a consequence behind it making you think it carefully.
Three Houses is not just a social or dating game, it has a deep and complex strategic combat behind it. If you have played any of the 3DS Fire Emblem games, the combat won’t be difficult to understand. For newcomers, the combat system is a bit complex but once you go through the first couple of battles, it is easier to figure out most of it. As I have enjoyed my fair share of time with the series, it felt like a homecoming when returning to the battlefield again. A lot of the mechanics revolve around not just knowing your enemies but also strategically placing warriors on the grid-based battlefield. Once you understand most of the key gameplay mechanics, it easily becomes one of the most addictive battle systems.
The perks that are useful during combat are now tied to your academy performance. As a professor, you will teach your selected house new skills and improve their battle capabilities by training them in the academy. Every choice carries an impact over to the battlefield. While most of the combat plays out in a grid-based layout, the camera shifts to a third-person view when you trigger a battle with an enemy. Every level up that you gain will improve the stats of your character thus making them open to learning some of the more complex abilities. They can eventually end up graduating in the academy which can also change their character class.
During every battle, the map is strategically designed to make you think and devise your plan carefully. There are usually set objectives that can lead to the end of the battle but others require you to clear the whole battlefield. You control a number of units that are assigned before every battle. The game offers a normal and hard difficulty with a casual and classic mode. This means that permadeath is possible if you pick the classic mode so unless you want to risk losing a well-developed and highly-skilled unit, it is better to play through the casual mode first and pick the classic one for a replay once you have mastered the combat. You can also assign an additional set of troops to any of your valuable units with a new Gambit feature. It reduces the threat of losing them in the case of permadeath.
It is difficult to talk about the story without spoiling major events that happen in it. The writing is pretty high-quality and it is hard to find fault here. Some of the conversations do feel like they are more of a cliché but this is not a problem for the majority of the game. The soundtrack is thoroughly pleasing with some nice melodies and memorable tracks. The production values are quite high and it feels like Nintendo kept a good budget aside when it comes to this new console entry. There are many high-quality anime cutscenes throughout the main story. They all look great and help make some of the cinematic moments stand out much better.
Visually, it is a great looking game but there are some technical flaws especially during the exploration in the Officer’s Academy that does make it feel a little underwhelming. Some elements of the visuals look rough like the anti-aliasing while others are gorgeous like the character models, so it was mostly a mixed bag for me. The art style is perfect though and Three Houses easily features some of the best-designed characters in the series for me.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a tactical role-playing game, developed by Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo Games for the Nintendo Switch, and published worldwide by Nintendo on July 26, 2019. The game is an entry in the Fire Emblem series, and the first for home consoles since Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn in 2007.
Final Score - 9.5/109.5/10
Fire Emblem: Three Houses feels like the culmination of a decade of experimental Fire Emblem games that bring the best out from each entry into a single package. It might not be the best one in the series, but it is easily the most enjoyable one so far.