In my current situation reviewing games for the site, it’s rare that I get a chance to go back and replay a game once I’m done reviewing it. Most of the time there is something waiting to be reviewed next. So unless something is really special, or easy to jump-in/jump-out of, unfortunately it may only be played through to completion once. Fire Emblem: Three houses perfectly fits the bill for the type of game I’m going to be returning to for a long time to come. After spending over 50 hours with the game and my fellow Black Eagle students, I wanted to dive straight back in once I finished it, not only to spend more time in the world with characters I grew to love but to see how the story would play out from a different perspective if I chose to mentor a different house.
In Fire Emblem: Three Houses you play as a mercenary who after a sudden turn of events travels to Garreg Mach Monastery where you’ll be asked to teach at the Officer’s Academy. The Officer’s Academy is comprised of three houses, the Black Eagles, Blue Lions and the Golden Deer. Each of these houses have their own interests and motivations but you’ll have the option of selecting which house and group of students to lead in your adventure, and your choice, along with your character interactions throughout can massively change how things play out and the side of the story you witness.
Before Three Houses launched, and certainly now post-launch it began to draw a number of similarities to Harry Potter. And yes it does contain some similar themes. The game takes place within a large Victorian style castle, this castle houses a school where students attend classes to develop their set of skills and who can forget the animal based school houses. There is one big difference though, instead of teaching the students how to cast spells and defend themselves from the dark arts, it’s your job to teach them the ways of battle and war, helping the students enhance their skills and combat abilities throughout the year.
But while the Harry Potter similarities are definitely there, when it comes to video games, I found Three Houses to actually be more in tune with another popular JRPG franchise. The Persona series. Especially when it comes to the way the story and key events progress. Three Houses’ story is told throughout many ‘chapters’ with each chapter taking place over 1 month of in-game time and concluding with a key battle at the end of the month that closes out the chapter. Throughout the month, you’re able to visually see a calendar that highlights key dates, such as when story cutscenes, Birthdays etc will occur as well as the days where you’ll have free time or teach lessons. This allows you to see and plan out how many chances you’ll get for doing side quests, developing relationships with students in your house or enhance skills and prepare before having to jump into the battle at the end of the month.
Each Sunday you’re given the choice of what to do for the day, and you’re presented a number of options. You can complete side quests, practise combat, conduct seminars to help enhance the class’ skills, rest, but best of all, this is when you can also freely explore the Monastery. Doing so will allow you to discover hidden items, talk with the other characters roaming the grounds, some of which will present you with new quests to do, share a meal with characters within your house to try and deepen your relationships or partake in some activities that grant their own in-game perks such as fishing or gardening. You’re given a lot of freedom around how to spend these days, allowing you to shift focus during any week to focus on levelling up whatever aspect you see fit at that time.
The free Sunday is followed by a day of Instruction on the Monday. These days allow you to spend activity points on the characters within your house to increase some of their attributes, allowing you to increase things like proficiency with a certain type of weapon, magic skills or overall strength. Students need to be motivated in order to effectively take on your instruction, meaning you should do your best to interact with those characters in some way on your free days or supply them with a motivating gift on their Birthday. The way many of Three Houses’ systems played into each other like this was one of the key reasons I got so much joy out of playing it.
This system allows you to fine tune each player within the party, level them up and spec them towards the way you want to use them in battle. Though if you prefer to just get back into progressing the chapter, you have that option too, with the game allowing you to ‘Auto-Instruct’ and take care of the allocating of skill points for you.
When the end of the month roles around, you’re ready to jump into the second core part of what make Three Houses so great, the combat. As with most entries in the series, Three Houses also uses a tactical turn-based combat system that comes with it’s own sub-systems and learning curve.
Your success in battle primarily comes down to picking the right strategy and properly aligning your units with the enemy’s so you have the best chance of success. Having archers take down flying enemies, sending axe wielders to go up against heavily armoured foes or picking off enemies from a distance with magic spells are all examples of how you can gain a leg up if you read the battlefield and set yourself up properly. Taking advantage of the environment, such as using the cover of grassy areas for additional defence and avoiding traps are something you should also be keeping an eye on when working out the best approach for taking down the enemy army.
Three Houses has also introduced Combat Arts. These are special attacks that allow each of the characters to perform an attack that comes with additional perks such as enhanced range or strength for the attack. There is a risk/reward system built into using them though, yes they’ll typically deal more damage but come at the cost of lowering your weapon’s durability. And I’m sure you can imagine how effective a unit is on the battlefield without a weapon.
Another new addition is the Battalions system. This allows you to assign a small army of NPC troops to assist your character with their attack. Battalions come with their own attack perks called Gambits and include their own set of abilities such as preventing enemy movement in the next round and preventing their chance at a counter attack.
Strategically choosing the best times to employ Combat Arts or Gambits is critical, as both systems have their limits, not thinking multiple moves ahead may leave you stuck down the line. Thankfully Three Houses has brought back the rewind mechanic, allowing you to turn back the rounds and try again if you find your strategy has a massive flaw or something terrible went wrong. As with previous entries, Fire Emblem: Three Houses has also brought back the option of playing in casual or classic mode. This is an option you’re presented with at the start of the game and choosing classic mode will have you permanently loose characters if they happen to fall in battle.
One thing I loved about Fire Emblem: Three Houses is that it presents a world and a set of characters but hands you full control of what to do with them. Control over how and when you decide to level up your students, control over what classes and attributes they’ll be, control over what to do on your days off and control over who you decide to develop relationships with. All of these things have direct impact on how the story may play out and how things will go down on the battlefield.
But at the end of the day, the hand’s down greatest aspect of Three Houses is it’s set of characters. Yes the world and setting is great, the battles are a lot of fun but the game wouldn’t be anywhere near as addicting as it is if it weren’t for it’s characters. They’re deep, each with their own likes and dislikes that you’ll come to learn as you watch them grow throughout the months, but most of all they’re believable and have been written and voiced so well. With the game’s cast of voice actors consisting primarily of top talent from the games and anime industry today.
You’ll get to know the students from your house very well over time but also have the option to recruit students from the other houses if you posses the attributes they’re looking for in a teacher. Allowing you to build a well rounded team and fill any weaknesses you may have by poaching students from other houses.
There was only one gripe I had with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and it’s a small one. Occasionally while freely exploring the Monastery, I did run into some instances of the frame rate dropping. This happened primarily in the main grounds of Garreg Mach where a number of students reside. I witnessed this in both handheld and docked mode but it did quickly resolve itself and didn’t carry any impact on the gameplay. It is a small trade-off I was willing to put up with anyway considering how rich with life the Monastery is. It’s like walking through a real school, with students walking around and conversing with each other as you travel through the halls and the grounds appearing to have their own lives and interests outside of what you may speak to them about.
As I mentioned in the opening of this review, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a game I’m going to be coming back to and playing for a long time to come. It nails it’s characters and their sense of growth, has some really fun and strategic combat and gives you the freedom to control how things play out. It’s a long game, but it’s a great one. And if you too want to see all three story paths, it’s going to keep you entertained for a long time to come too.
A Nintendo Switch review code was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.
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