Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the return of the tactical RPG series onto a home console platform where Intelligent Systems takes full advantage of the new hardware power of the Nintendo Switch over the Nintendo 3DS. Three Houses feels like the Fire Emblem game I’ve dreamed of playing since Fire Emblem Path of Radiance on the GameCube. Something that feels like the big budgeted tactical RPG adventure that it deserves to be. Full voice acting, amazing soundtrack, choices that impact the direction of the story, characters that will stick with you for years to come. This game has everything that RPG fans will love, while also having and engrossing customization and tactical gameplay systems.
The gameplay of Three Houses is similar on the surface level to how Fire Emblem gameplay has always been. Players map their units, deal with enemy units, sometimes ally units, and the ability to move units in groups, or alone in whatever way you see fit for them to succeed. But now there are some elements that return from previous games and new elements added to deepen the combat system.
Terrain returns as a circumstantial factor in battle. Terrain grants different types of units’ advantages or disadvantages and can affect how areas of a map can be played. For example, if you see a bunch of trees in the map you can send your archer unit into them to provide covering fire from a close distance, but this will also limit their ability to move spaces since trees would be harder to move through than simple grass. Battalions is another new gameplay feature where if your unit has enough authority you can assign a battalion to them. These range from simple sword wielders, to healers, to horse riders. You can mix and match with battalions with your units to get different types of effects and moves out of them. They can offer various gamble moves in combat, like healing an unit, doing all out attacks on an enemy, or even teaming up with other units battalions to do even bigger attacks.
There are a lot of possibilities on how players will approach this. Combat Arts is a new attack option where instead of doing a standard attack you can do one powerful attack but you lose the ability to have possible follow up attacks or blocks. Sometimes this is the right option to do, but other times doing a simple attack with a weapon or magic or even defending is the better option in battle, especially considering your combat art may even miss. But if you can get a critical hit on a combat art then most would say it was worth the risk.
Some combat arts even allow healing options or an ability to pull units back from danger. Re-classing or getting certifications for units is another way of taking advantage of them leveling up their skills. You can hold seminars to help teach your units new abilities and even give them a plan on what they should be focusing on studying. Edelgard for example starts off a little bit better in using axes, but you can tell her to focus on swords instead if you so wish despite that not being her default stance. You can take Edelgard someone who’s supposed to be more of a ‘tanky’ axe wielder unit and change her unit into a assassin, someone who’s fast and uses weapons like swords and daggers. Or you could even turn her into a dark mage, or a archer, the choice is yours with how to make your units be what you want them to be for battle.
Three Houses adds a new boss enemy type that can have multiple health bars which is a new for the series making some fights feel even more special but these enemies require a bit more strategy to take down. If you’re not careful they can steamroll your entire team. Three Houses features a lot of gameplay and UI improvements over Fire Emblem Fates, bringing back things like weapon breaking, and running out of magic during battle, making it more of a hardcore experience especially on hard mode. I took my time thinking about battles more in this game in the prep menu and during battle than I ever did in Fates, which means they clearly did something right.
MUSIC / VOICE ACTING
I would say Fire Emblem is a series that’s always been known for having great musical scores, especially considering the sheer amount of songs that appear in Super Smash Bros. This time around there is some slight almost Lo-Fi electronic sound to some of the pieces on the score, which I feel like helps convey the somewhat relaxing mood of the early game where you’re exploring the monastery and teaching students, of course this tone changes in the later game but I feel this is the most well rounded score in the series and I have played most of the Fire Emblem games.
Helping elevate some of the really emotionally hard hitting scenes that the game tackles you with. The default battle theme ‘Foldan Winds’ is one of my favorite battle themes in any game, it mixes the Three Houses main theme, with the Fire Emblem main theme while having it’s own original style to it.
The Edge of Dawn is also the the lyrical song for this game, which has been a thing in the series since Fates where there’s a vocal performance track, I enjoyed Lost in Thoughts All Alone in Fates and The Heritors of Arcadia in Fire Emblem Shadows of Valentia. But The Edge of Dawn I think is my favorite vocal performance yet in the series, it feels a bit more it’s hard to put a word on it, I would say just more subdued and even epic at the same time.
Listening to the song again after I had beaten the game for the first time I think I understood it better, like I knew who was singing the song it made it all for the better. My top 5 favorite tracks on the score are A World for Humanity/The Apex of the World, Life at Garreg Mach Monastery, Foldan Winds, Broken Routine, and Golden Deer and Crescent Moon.
A lot of times when Japanese RPGs get English voice acting a lot of people get worried, especially when a game like this that’s completely voice acted and can last up to 50-80 hours might have the chance of voice acting being below average. But I am happy to say I think literally everyone did a great job on this game especially characters like Edelgard, Claude, Rhea, Dimitri, and Jeralt. The actors brought a lot of emotion to these roles that required it, I think back to Fire Emblem Awakening and Chrom in that game played by Matt Mercer.
Chrom is a good character and Matt did a great job but he’s much more simple, as in Chrom is just a big dork but who is geunilly good inside and wants to do right by everyone and he never loses himself throughout the game. Meanwhile the main Three house characters in this game are all damaged deeply in some way and suffer from something that let change them and the actors do a good job at showing more than one side to a character, I don’t want to spoil anything but you’ll see what I mean.
GARREG MACH MONASTERY
The main hub of the game and where most of your time outside of battle will be spent is Garreg Mach Monastery. A several century old church/ academy/ military training ground/ research center/ cemetery/ marketplace/ you get the idea this place is important. Every month in the game you are given a task by the church to either help prepare your students for an exam or go take care of something bad that’s happening, like bandits ravaging a nearby village for example.
So, each month you’re given time to prepare but just because you have simple task doesn’t mean there isn’t more stuff to do throughout the month. Every Sunday which is your off day you get a choice between Exploring, which is walking around Garreg Mach and talking to people, eating with your students, doing supports, doing side quests, etc.
Then there is Seminar which is where you can teach your students, you have a seminar every Saturday in the month so don’t feel too bad about not always choosing this option. Then of course the battle option, if you see a sword icon next to the battle that means that will use up an activity point for battling that day, things like side quest and para-logues will always take one of those. But if you don’t see an icon next to a battle then that means you’re not using up any points and you can keep doing battles like to either grind for xp or just because you want to battle it’s up to you either way. Then you can also rest which is just simply don’t do anything, which will help recharge certain weapons but that’s about all it does, so consider if that’s worth it.
The game has a somewhat Persona type feel to it because of the Monastery, spending time with students and faculty, learning more about people, etc. Only difference is you’re a teacher in this game and it’s Fire Emblem. But I welcome this feeling as it fits the series very well as forging bonds and getting support conversations between characters has been a thing for sometime now. It’s clearly one of the things people care about the most me included.
STORY / THREE HOUSES
The story in this game is hard to talk about without spoiling so I will try to keep it brief, vague, but also enlighten enough. About 1,000 years ago a woman named Serios who was chosen by the Goddess to help defend Fodlan is “betrayed” by a King named Nemesis and they fight in the opening cut-scene which ends with Serios violently killing Nemesis and claiming he took everything she ever loved from her.
Of course as an audience we have many questions but not any time to answer them as we are thrown into battle after running into the Three House leaders, Edelgard, Claude, and Dimitri. We have a introduction battle and meet the characters until we are forced to go to Garreg Mach Monastery which is controlled by The Church of Serios.
Upon arriving the player is made a professor and must pick which house they want to teach. Black Eagles led by Edelgard of the Empire, Blue Lions led by Dimitri of the Kingdom, or The Golden Deer led by Claude of the Alliance. I’d recommend everyone take time getting to the know the students of the houses and the house leaders as best you can before choosing as this will determine how the rest of the story plays out. I personally went with the Black Eagles on my first play-through and enjoyed all of the characters within that houses especially Edelgard.
From here the story can go into widely different directions and is best left up to you the player. But I think this is the best story in a Fire Emblem game yet, the way the world intertwines, the fleshing out and lore of the region of Foldan, amazing characters like Edelgard who push the plot forward, it’s all great. I have only one small complaint about something that happens near the end of the Black Eagles route, but it’s very minor.
Fire Emblem Three Houses is an achievement for this genre of game and possibly the best Fire Emblem game made yet. It pushes the series and genre forward with great gameplay additions and having a great story filled with memorable characters and events. It’s a game with massive replay value in choosing a house and with just how different the story can be from doing so. Intelligent Systems seems to have really looked at the feedback they got on Fire Emblem Fates and have taken to heart, with this game being such a drastic improvement over the areas where that title came short. I give Fire Emblem Three Houses a 9.5/10. Black Eagles gang rise up.