Like many in the west, I fell in love with Fire Emblem when Fire Emblem Awakening landed on the 3DS. Its strategy RPG combat was refined to perfection, with animations and characters that weren’t totally original by anime standards, but again so well put together that it had me glued to my 3DS for 80+ hours. Then with Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem: Echos also being outstanding entries, it has quickly become a fan favourite series.
Now its first entry on the Switch with Fire Emblem: Three Houses is here with some significant changes, leaving us questioning whether it will hold up to fans of the series past.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses kicks off like previous games with you choosing the gender of the protagonist, in this case Byleth, before it throws you some story beats that make little to no sense. You are spoken to by a mysterious green haired woman and find yourself soon on a battlefield that fans of the series will recognise. Byleth is a mercenary with her father and after a battle they venture to a massive monastery that her father has a past with.
The weirdness escalated quickly as Byleth, who has little knowledge of the monastery, is made into a professor at the monastery’s school and needs to choose a house to lead. The three houses represent three kingdoms who used to be at war but are now in peace time but each of the houses have a leader who are all royals at their kingdoms. Once a house is chosen you are kicked into the meat of the game.
If you watched any of the pre-release footage you will know that the intro of the game is the time at the school before something triggers a war between the kingdoms, what I didn’t expect was the massive amount of time you dedicate to the school time. I was well past 30 hours of play while still at the school phase of the game as you spend your time training your class and trying to recruit other students to your class.
That’s not to say that the plot for this time is slow, a lot happens in the story during the school year, and nearer to the end of your time there the plot goes off the rails in a way that can be best described as fantastically Fire Emblem. I won’t touch on the plot anymore because you should get ready to enjoy the hell out of the game in the same way I enjoyed it.
The biggest change to the game from the series is the significant amount of time you will spend managing your time out of battles. Every week you get a series of options, go for some battles, explore the monastery, or give your students a lecture. Going for battles is the most fun portion of the game, but the only benefit is leveling your students up with experience, a lecture on the other hand gives significant boosts to yours and your students skills. The biggest time burn is free roaming around the monastery.
This allows you to interact with all the students as well as boosting Byleth’s skill and professor level. Completing little missions’ gets you some goodwill and items, as well as some side tasks like fishing or gardening. This is an excellent way to increase your bonds with students and to try convincing other students to join your class.
Recruiting students requires Byleth to increase their skills in areas that the student likes. I wasted a lot of my activity points spreading my points too thin hoping to grab all the students I wanted, which cost me in the end as I couldn’t max out as many skills as if I had smashed one at a time. Not knowing how close to getting a student you were was an annoying quirk that made using that time feel wasted far too often.
The real meat of the game that fans will be in for is those sweet battles.
As with previous games it is based on a grid and operates, well pretty much the same as previous games. The beautiful anime design of the characters has followed through with wonderful animations to replace the classic sprites from previous entries, so overall it plays like a classic Fire Emblem game and looks like a beautiful 2019 quality game.
Once you adjust to the new tasks which initially feel like busy work, this does make for an amazing new title into the Fire Emblem series. The battles feel as great as ever and look amazing with a story starting off at a decent pace which escalates massively with interesting characters throughout.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an excellent evolution for the series while keeping its core as amazing as ever.
Released: July 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Koei Tecmo