Title: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 26/07/19
Price: £49.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first – Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a strategy RPG where you play a Professor at a Military Academy, in charge of one of the titular three houses’ training but also acting as their field commander during battle. It’s the fourth in the series since it’s semi-reboot for the 3DS, Fire Emblem Awakening, and I think on par with that game in terms of quality.
As noted above there are three houses to choose from early in the game, the Golden Deer, Blue Lions and Black Eagles. I picked the Black Eagles for many reasons, though the most prominent of those being that they were top of the list. Also, the Eagles are the only house led by a woman, and playing as a male protagonist, I thought it best to pick that house as I wanted to be able to romance the house leader. More on that later.
Fire Emblem Three Houses is an exceptionally well written game, as you would expect if you have played previous games in the series. My house was full of excellent characters who seem one note on the surface, but the more you speak to them, the more you see their hidden depths. One character feels complicit in his family’s murder of the father of another character, another a terrified agoraphobia, and one is an opera singer following the footsteps of her idol. And that’s just the Black Eagles, friends who I’ve spoken to about their houses insist that theirs is full of amazing characters.
The story itself was also very well told. While I played I felt like all of my characters were so integral to the plot and like neither of the other houses could hold a candle to it, but then my friends playing Blue Lions or Golden Deer all say the same. I’ve struggled to complete previous games in the series over a month or so, but Three Houses took me 43 hours over two weeks, playing every single day. And I can’t wait to get back to my second playthrough. I struggled to stop myself from playing to sit down and write this review!
The game is separated into chapters, with each chapter taking place over a calendar month. Monday to Saturday you are teaching your students, picking which skills to improve or allowing the game to choose for you. On Sundays you have a free day and can do several things; battle, take a seminar from another character which will improve set stats, rest to regain motivation (the energy with which you train your class) or explore the monastery that the school is run out of. The Fire Emblem games have long offered a place to spend free time and deepen your relationships with others, but this is the first time in the series that it has been a fully 3D area for you to explore rather than be interacted with through menus.
I will say I only really have two criticisms of the game, and the sections where I spent time exploring the Monastery were one of them. It felt like the whole process of exploring was just a time sink after a certain point, and I would have liked the option to do everything through a menu as in previous games. I liked that the Monastery felt like a real place with memorable locations and lots of stuff to do, but also I didn’t feel like most of the things to do were super fun or worthwhile. Early on, I would spend 40 minutes exploring the Monastery multiple times a month, but in the second half of the game, I would be done in around 5-10.
The good part of the exploring was that it let you go and speak to everyone, deepening your relationships through conversations over dinner, giving them gifts or returning lost items you find while exploring. You can also invite them to join you for tea, where picking your conversation topics well can result in a huge affection gain. But there’s a massive downside to these relationships which is a real loss over previous games in the series, and that’s the fact that there is no romance at all. Not between your character and others, or between students. There is an implication of marriage, but this is never openly shown or discussed during the game.
Aside from those two gripes I had with the game, I enjoyed my time with the students of the Black Eagles house. While the game was not exactly stunning, especially in comparison with a lot of other titles on the system, the design work and the music were amazing. Also, almost everything is fully voiced, which is very impressive in a game this size. Even completely insignificant non-playable NPCs have fully voiced dialogue.
For me, the highlight of this game was the outstanding story and characters, but the battle gameplay was also very fun. For those unfamiliar, your characters and the enemy are on a gridded battlefield, not unlike a chessboard. Characters can move a certain number of squares and have an attack range of a certain number too. You move and attack with all your team, and then the opponent does the same with their units. Most battles you must defeat all units or defeat a commander unit to win, though some have you escorting a unit to or defending a particular area.
One thing that I have heard from friends is that they thought the game was too easy on its default normal difficulty. I did find the majority of the game to be quite easy until the last 10 hours or so, but I don’t agree that it was too easy. I still found it fun to play and loved to see my favourite characters steamrolling multiple enemies.
Since Awakening, you have been able to play Fire Emblem games without one of their signature mechanics, that when characters die in combat, they are completely gone. This is called Casual Mode, which I prefer to play to protect the story. The original Classic Mode where characters stay dead is still in Three Houses, though this is mitigated by a new battle mechanic whereby you can turn back time a certain number of times per battle. I liked this mechanic, as it let me try out tactics before using them or rewind if I had made a mistake. I will say though that I barely used it for the first 30 hours, as playing on Casual meant I didn’t have to worry about a unit dying and no longer having that person to interact with.
I’ve heard recommendations that if you are comfortable with the mechanics of the gameplay, you should start off playing on hard difficulty but in Casual Mode, and I think this is a good recommendation.
Fire Emblem is one of my favourite game series of the last few years, and this is a fantastic entry into it. I haven’t played a game in a very long time that has hooked me so much, and also that has me desperate to play it a second time immediately after finishing it. If you have read this review and think that the game described above is something you’d be interested in then don’t wait around – buy it! I’m confident this game will be remembered as one of the highlights of the Switch library, and this generation overall.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Fire Emblem: Three Houses from the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch/Fire-Emblem-Three-Houses-1175482.html