There are a lot of moving parts to Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Battles, politics, relationships, and more — all working in tandem to create something truly special.
Being a novice Fire Emblem player, I was a bit intimidated by the game at first. There is a lot thrown at you in the first couple of hours. However, once I started to learn the ins-and-outs of every gameplay system, the addictive nature of its gameplay loop becomes second nature.
At the start of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, you’ll choose one of the three houses: the Black Eagles, Blue Lions, or Golden Deer. This is an important decision as whichever house you choose will affect how the story unfolds and who is a part of your initial group students.
One of my favorite parts of Fire Emblem: Three Houses is that no one person will have the same experience. While students from your chosen house are available for battle at the start, you have the ability to recruit new students, and even professors, who aren’t from your house. To do this, stats like Faith, Strength, Authority, and more will need to be built up in order to win them over.
Building your team into your ultimate clan of warriors is a welcomed challenge thanks to the amount of choice given to you. Obviously picking one of the three houses mixes things up quite a bit, but the disparity between playthroughs doesn’t end there. You’re able to change any of your students’ classes entirely and switch their focus to multiple things at once. For example, my Bernadetta could be a swordsman warrior but yours could be an archer mage.
Battles and player agency
Weapon durability returns and is a focus in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. You have a limited number of uses of a weapon before it reaches its breaking point. Each has a set damage total, hit chance, and critical hit associated with it. Characters, too, also affect if a critical or hit opportunity will arise.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses loses the weapon triangle gameplay mechanic many Fire Emblem fans have grown accustomed to in prior titles. Instead, it focuses more on power, speed, critical hits, and dynamic placement on the battlefield. As I noted before, I’m no hardcore Fire Emblem vet, but am more than acquainted with the franchise. To be completely honest, the removal of the weapon triangle never really crossed my mind after the first few hours. I do understand this key feature might ruffle feathers of longtime fans. But for me, it didn’t hinder my experience.
Class is now in session
There are a hefty amount of classes to choose from within four different brackets, ranging from beginner to master. Sooner or later, though, whichever class was chosen advances to the point where you can take a certification test and become a more advanced fighter in that class. You can actually advance early if you want to risk losing a seal, an item that doesn’t come cheap at the item shop. It’s disappointing to fail a test, but nothing a quick game reset can’t fix. When you pass, however, it’s pretty darn satisfying. Sorta like evolving Pokémon early with a stone except with no negative repercussions.
Between what house you choose, your recruits, and how you teach your warriors, Fire Emblem: Thee Houses offers an almost overwhelming choice to the player. As previously mentioned, no two experiences will be the same. Sure, everyone’s will be similar in some fashion, but every player will go about building their team into something unique.
Take one for the team
Fire Emblem: Three Houses does a great job at humanizing its characters. Students have preferences about what their role is on the battlefield. They will come to you throughout the game and ask if they can switch their focus on a different class or multiple classes. Then, it’s up to you to decide whether not you think it’s the best fit. Multiple times throughout my playthrough, a character would come to me and say they aren’t passionate about what they are doing and wanting to make a switch. But, I had to turn them down because I knew what was best for the team.
This element is more than just a gameplay mechanic. It offers a humanizing experience to characters that might otherwise simply fill the NPC role. I found myself reflecting on their feelings, as well as my own, often even becoming attached to them emotionally. This only deepened my experience, alleviating what might be an otherwise robotic experience if it had been done differently.
I love the Monastery
You’ll spend a hefty amount of your time in Fire Emblem: Three Houses‘ main hub area known as the Monastery. This open-segment style of gameplay is brand new to the series, breaking up the monotony of the RPG grind. Here you can do side-quests, which are usually just fetch-quests, and mini-activities, like one-on-one battles, choir, gardening, and more.
Although sometimes repetitive, the Monastery is a great way to unwind and to get to know your students more. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it gave me the warm and fuzzies. The kind only the likes of Christmas morning could provide. There was something to always come back to and be surprised by. The mix of majestic tunes and the fact that it was filled with characters I formed bonds with, and even watch grow from students to warriors, was nothing short of a showcase of charm.
The lovable characters
One thing that has impressed me when playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the sheer amount of dialogue in the game. With more than thirty students and teachers, there are a surprising number of characters with fully developed personalities and backstories, not to mention unique voices that are rarely just sheets of on-screen text.
Students and professors will have something new to say after pretty much every event in the game. To add to that, every character has support conversations with not only Byleth but other characters as well. You can learn backstories and watch friendships blossom through these support conversations, many of which can be either heartwarming or heartbreaking. Needless to say, Fire Emblem: Three Houses leans more into characters, relationships, and side-stories than ever before—and it pays off.
Between the story-related dialogue, the monastery dialogue, and support conversations, there is a ton of rich stories and lore to uncover in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The best part about it all is they weren’t just aiming for quantity, but quality as well. The game is chock-full of intriguing dialogue. Developer, Intelligent Systems, somehow accomplished stellar world-building through still text-bubble conversations. The Monastery, character interactions, and side-stories are half the fun of Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Pretty (ugly?) game
As I mention in my preview coverage, Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ character models are impressively detailed. Along with that, special attacks feature hyper-polished animations. Unfortunately, those two sections of the game are the most visually pleasing parts in an otherwise unpolished world. That said, this is the first time the entire map is continuously loaded with 3D models and environments. You can instantly swap between traditional grid-based gameplay and a new third-person perspective. Taking that into account, the quality of the visuals is actually pretty impressive.
However, the new groundfloor perspective, while neat, doesn’t really add much to the strategic thinking of the game. So I would have preferred to leave that option out in place of better visuals overall. Aside from the graphics being a little lackluster, I have one other nitpick. In Three Houses there’s a weekly calendar system (similar to the Persona series’ day-by-day system). Because of this, you’d think the weather would constantly change throughout the year. Sadly, it doesn’t. It’s unfortunate cause I would have loved to see how the monastery looked with fall leaves or coat of snow over it.
My final nitpick is the inventory system being a bit of a scattered mess. Moving items from the store to specific characters can be a bit tedious. You’ll constantly be backing in and out of the items screen and the storefront, which should be better connected in the menus.
An exceptional story
I typically don’t like diving deep into story details for narrative-heavy games in my reviews. And as I’m sure you know, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is very story-heavy. I like to keep things vague, as (even small) spoilers could possibly hinder your enjoyment of the game. What I will say is this — from the opening cutscene and forward, Three Houses never stopped surprising me.
Three Houses packs quite a dark story and that caught me off-guard. The game also features beautifully animated cutscenes with top-tier voice acting to go with it. I had never been so emotionally invested into a JRPG since Persona 4 Golden. An honestly, that’s the highest praise it could receive from me.
I have never beaten a sixty-hour game and immediately wanted to jump back in for round two. Fire Emblem: Three Houses pulls you in with its rock-solid grid-based combat. But it keeps you invested by offering rich characters, deep squad customization, and an enthralling story that keeps you guessing. It is easily the best RPG of 2019—so far.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Are you planning to pick up FE: Three Houses? If so, what house will you be choosing? Be sure to leave all of your thoughts in the comments section below, or join the discussion over on our Facebook page.
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