Despite a lack of difficulty, Fire Emblem: Three Houses delivers one of the best games in a franchise with some already. #BlueLions
Developer – Nintendo, Koei Tecmo
Publisher – Nintendo
Release Date – July 26, 2019
Platforms – Nintendo Switch
Fire Emblem is back, and this time it takes the turn based formula into new territory. One part Persona, one part Game of Thrones, and the classic turn based combat and support system you come to expect from the Fire Emblem series itself. Three major gameplay components, all of them working lockstep to give a long running franchise a fresh, unique experience great for veterans or newcomers alike.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes place on the continent of Fódlan, a country divided into three kingdoms that are all connected by the Garreg Mach Monastery.
The Monastery is home to the Officers Academy, which after a twist of fate finds your character, named Byleth by default, or Lord Swaggy the Purple, whichever name you prefer, ending up as a professor for the upcoming school year.
To say anything more than that would betray one of the best stories in recent Fire Emblem titles. The relationship you will create with your students, comprised of nobles, heirs and commoners of each of the games kingdoms will provide a huge range of stories.
The core structure powering this narrative is completely unique from any previous game in the series. Adopting a school calendar structure not too dissimilar from the kind you would expect in a Persona title allows for a completely new take on traditional Fire Emblem plot-lines. As a new professor, the house you decide to instruct will be with with you for the entire school year.
As the year progresses, you will have the freedom to walk around the monastery and interact with students and other teachers. As your professor rank increases, you will get more action points to use on special activities. Things such as fishing or gardening don’t take up a turn, but participating in group meals or specialized teachings will.
This aspect of the game, being on the ground level not just with your students, but the entire Monastery and all who stay in it, really bring a level of care and weight to all of the support systems and dialogue Fire Emblem has always excelled in.
Combat, the meat of any Fire Emblem also goes through a couple of major changes. Traditional games in the series usually have predetermined classes for each character to grow into without much in the way of flexibility. This time however that changes. Each student has several skills that can be leveled via direct combat or training at school.
If you want a student to get good at spears, give them a spear and let them go to work. Each student definitely comes with a default starting set of gear and skills that feels like the game leaning over and saying “Hey…cmon, you know you want Ingrid to be a knight.” However this new system allows me to respond with, “Yeah, but what if she was a dark mage instead.”
When it comes time to get promoted, the student must pass an exam. The chances of passing that exam are based on how far those skills have progressed. A promotion to a paladin for example, may require that sword, riding, and lance sills are of a certain skill level. This type of system allows for a lot of creativity and exploration certain skills and combat scenarios that create a very personalized and dynamic feel to the campaign.
It’s a great new spin on the traditional class structure. My house of Blue Lions and a friends may be completely different, and every player will always feel like they are playing the “right” way.
The second major shift in combat is the weapon triangle system. Or should I say the lack of one. Now certain classes certainly have their strengths and weaknesses but the old rock paper scissor format is no longer going to dictate how you design your army composition.
Bringing all of these elements to life are the production values. After having the last several titles on the handheld systems, Fire Emblem:Three Houses comes to life on the Switch like never before.
The games fantastic visuals keep pace with the gorgeous animated cut-scenes. The game’s massive cast is also brought to life by one of the most impressive voice ensembles I can recall. Even minor characters have a lot to say, and the journey every character takes is really brought to life by each actors performance.
Three Houses even has a really great selection of New Game Plus content and the diversity each house brings to your campaign makes it one of the most replayable games in the franchise.
However, the game isn’t perfect. Playing the game on the classic setting, even on hard, is far easier than previous titles. On my normal campaign, the only time I ever lost a character was because I wanted to see what would happen if a student died.
It’s been an issue plaguing many Japanese developed rpg’s in the last couple of years, but considering the threat of enemies and managing each unit in combat is a major part of the Fire Emblem experience. The fear and drama of losing a favorite party member, deciding on when the best time to train a unit via combat versus the risk of losing them if you make the wrong move.
That drama and fear was non-existent through my time with the game. Data-miners have discovered rumors of multiple difficulty feels above hard but something as crucial as this should have been a part of the core experience. Also when I did lose a student through sheer curiosity. Their death wasn’t treated with any fanfare. Despite some characters I lost being pivotal and important in everyone’s lives, they just seemed to vanish. No funeral, no mention, not even a tribute like the bar in X-Com. Nada.
Despite that issue, it didn’t end up taking away from the great campaign and my investment with all of the characters in my house. The combat losing it’d edge also didn’t stop my overall enjoyment of the combat, appreciating all of the great animations and bringing my newly trained elite units just to see them in action.
Fire Embem: Three House’s makes some big changes, but in re-inventing itself has found a way to create something new and fresh. A great game for veterans, some additions to ease a new audience, and one of the turn based tactical games in a series full of some already.