If I was asked to describe what Fire Emblem: Three Houses was like? I would say it was a cross between Harry Potter, the Persona games and Fire Emblem games all into a strange hybrid that I never thought I needed. Both veteran fans and newcomers alike will adore what this latest 50 hour or so entry has to offer the players. Three Houses provides a grand fantasy epic, filled with extravagant, dramatic story moments, a diverse and incredibly likeable cast of characters, engaging gameplay that requires planning and thought alongside the signature tactical combat. All of this leads to Fire Emblem: Three Houses being perhaps the greatest game not just in the franchise, but on the Switch so far.
The game begins as you choose whether your protagonist will either be a male or female version, you can also change the name or stick to the default one, Byleth. You are a mercenary alongside your father Jeralt, and after a single battle, saving a group of warrior/knight students, you are strangely brought to the Officers Academy at the Garreg Mach Monastery where you are chosen to become a professor to train the pupils. As the title suggests, you soon have the choice of three houses (Black Eagles, Blue Lions and Golden Deer’s) which each have an affiliation with one of the three nations of continent of Fodlan. This is the biggest decision in the game and has major repercussions for the story ahead. Furthermore, it also decides which characters will be the most prominent in your playthrough, although it is possible to recruit students from other houses.
The game is split into two parts, the first being a mostly school setting, where you will spend your time teaching your students and carrying out missions for the Church of Seiros in protecting the people and investigating disturbances. The bulk of the story in this first half is all about setting the groundwork, mysteries and sub-plots in place ready for the drastic changes and escalating narratives that occur in the second portion of the game. That is not to say that the narrative is given a backseat until later, far from it. The story progresses in a natural manner, taking its time to carefully weave together the different plot threads in a cohesive and engaging manner. This is in consideration that the player and protagonist are getting to know all these different people, factions and context at the same time, where heading into heavy and intense story moments straight away would be overwhelming and ruin the structure. While the core aspects of the narrative are pretty standard, evil forces are working to bring destruction to the world, there is much more nuance and depth alongside this. Overall, the story was incredibly interesting, emotional and expertly put together and told, making me want to start a new playthrough straight away with a different house to see the differences in the narrative.
One of the biggest strengths the game has is its plethora of characters with varied, often opposing personalities. Whichever house you choose, it is pretty much impossible to not find at least one character that you’ll like. I chose the Golden Deer house and by the end of the story, I had grown attached to every character in my house and the others. The shy boy Ignatz, who became one of my deadliest units, who’s secret love and gift of painting was the driving force behind him opening up to others around him. The House leader, and soon to be leader of the Leicester Alliance, came off at first simply a carefree and charming individual. However, we soon saw the layers of his character and ambitions for the continents future. Perhaps the biggest change was of the pompous and infuriatingly traditional noble, Lorenz. In the beginning, his archaic views of ‘nobility’ and ‘commoners’ is unlikeable, to the point that other characters mention it and call him out for it. However, we soon discover more of his beliefs, thoughts and ideals about the duties of the nobility, and he soon became someone I really enjoyed seeing develop.
Seeing the developing relationships/friendships between characters is nothing new to the franchise, however, Three Houses is the most organic and natural implementation of the system so far. Witnessing the gradual growth of the students and professors and all the different conversations between them (with full voice acting) is engrossing. I became so invested in these characters that watching the final support conversation between each pairing and how there relationships developed was really quite emotional emotional and made me feel like a proud parent. It is a testament to the developers attention to detail as to just how many fully fleshed out interactions all these different characters have with one another, and the high quality they all have. It is safe to say that these are video game characters that I will remember for a long time.
In terms of what you will be doing during the countless hours of play time, it can be pretty overwhelming at first. The game is divided into months, where the week is spent lecturing your students, and then you have a free day on Sunday to either explore the academy/monastery, partake in a seminar, or fight in battles. It is very important for you to plan and spend your free time efficiently so that you aren’t left at a disadvantage as the game progresses. In lectures, you can choose to improve the skills of your student yourself, such as sword, bow, reason, flying etc, or if you want to speed things up it can do it automatically for you, although it is better to do it manually. This will improve the bond with you and them and allow you to guide them in a direction or class of your choosing. However, you need to make sure that their motivation is full to maximise the effectiveness and this can be replenished in a number of ways, which I’ll talk about later.
Choosing to explore on your day off gives you a variety of tasks to do and is not just very useful to improve the bonds and replenishing the motivation of students and professors, also allows you to spend more time with your allies and even improve your own skills as well. You can partake in fishing and gardening, so that you can gain ingredients to cook meals to share with the professors and students. This is key to filling up their motivation gauges to the top and is why I would explore on the first free day of every month. These activities also give you experience to raise your professor level, which is crucial to having more activity points to spend on exploration, auxiliary battles and lectures. You will also find lost items and gifts scattered around the map which, when given to the right person, improve bond with them and increase their motivation, so it is best to give these to people when this is low to best maximise its effectiveness.
Choosing a seminar, allows you to pick either you, another professor or a student in the latter half, to teach the students in their specialty, whilst also raising motivation for the attending students by half the maximum amount. Spending the time to rest raises everyone’s motivation a small amount and repairs a powerful weapon the main character receives part the way through. Spending your time on battles is also important in increasing the levels of your party and in experiencing some extra story sections that you would otherwise miss. If it wasn’t clear, Three Houses offers you a lot of choice to how you spend your time and it is up to you to work out the best method to maximise productivity and crucial experience. At first you will likely be overwhelmed, but you will soon work out a good pattern to best make use of the limited time, such as leaving auxiliary battles to the last free day of the month when you don’t have lectures the following week.
It wouldn’t be a Fire Emblem game without its signature tactical combat, and Three Houses nails this also. Having a varied selection of classes is important to success, so make sure you have a healer and a mage and not just a bunch of knights and archers. This is because different classes have different strengths and weaknesses. Bows are strong against flying units, magic is strong against armoured knights and so on. This is why focusing on what skills your allies improve is so crucial as taking exams to unlock more advanced classes is another key factor in the game. Deciding what character will be what early on will be very helpful when allocating your time and activity points. The game requires you to really think about what you need to do next and it really adds to the cohesiveness and quality of the experience.
In battles, unit position and strategic thinking is greatly rewarded and on harder difficulties is a constant necessity, as one wrong move will lead to a characters permanent death. However, there is a time rewind feature with limited uses per battle which at least gives you a number of extra chances before you decide to restart the conflict so that a beloved isn’t lost for good. Furthermore, a new battalion feature is one that can be very useful at certain times, but is hit and miss. Quite often, the accuracy and damage is so low compared to your normal weapons until you get access to better battalions. The support levels between characters also comes into play, where if you have multiple units standing within attack range of an enemy, they can provide boosts to your stats and later can provide follow up attacks as well. The combat has always been a strong feature in Fire Emblem games and this remains so here.
However, the game isn’t perfect, no game is. The graphics are quite are good, the character models in particular but sometimes textures can look awful, but it doesn’t really detract from the experience at all. The frame rate can slow down at times when exploring the academy and monastery, but not to an unplayable extent. There is also the design choice of a voiceless protagonist, which I personally don’t mind, but it can take you out of emotional and key moments when he stands there not saying anything. Some people will like it and some won’t.
If anyone asked me to recommend them a game for the Switch, Fire Emblem: Three Houses will instantly come to my mind. It is a grand fantasy epic with some of the most relatable and memorable characters I’ve seen in a video game in the last few years. The story is full of mystery, intrigue, twists and turns and some genuinely shocking moments. The replay value is so much that I cant wait to get back in and start all over again to see how different an experience I can have. Whatever type of game you might enjoy, you will find something you like in Three Houses, and this is clearly the best entry in the franchise and arguably the best game on the Nintendo Switch so far.
Score = 9.5/10
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