Fire Emblem: Three Houses
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Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a RPG-strategy game developed by Koei Tecmo and Intelligent Systems. It came out on 26-07-2019. Nintendo published the game. Most rawgers rated the game as "Exceptional".
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is available on Nintendo Switch. The game is sold via Nintendo eShop.
It was produced by Hitoshi Yamagami and Masahiro Higuchi. It was directed by Genki Yokota, Hitoshi Yamagami and Toshiyuki Kusakihara. It was scored by Masato Kouda and Rei Kondoh.
System requirements for Nintendo Switch
Where to buy
Fire Emblem: Three Houses reviews and comments
Last thing, i'd like to confess my love to edelgard.
But yeah the story is trash. Long and meandering, subplots are brought up and later forgotten or just introduced randomly, at least as part of the Black Eagles story there are three final missions and not only are the final two pretty random, but they all end with very little fanfare. The character scenes are the best parts but the marriage mechanic is pointless, feels completely shoehorned in, and is easy to cheese if you decide who you want to marry early enough.
I get there's some element of replayability that's meant to be done but IMO that's too much of an ask for a game that's dozens of hours long with a bad plot where half of it is identical. Good overall for the strategy/RPG/life sim side, but the story really holds it back.
Similar in concept with the Fire Emblem Fates trilogy (although I greatly appreciate that it comes together in a full package and not in three separate games), Three Houses explore mainly three diverged “What if?” scenarios and gives you the illusion that you battle your dear friends to the death.
Seasons of Warfare
Its gameplay maintains the heights of past entries and adds a few tweaks. You fight in battlefields divided by a squared reticle and move your units accordingly, sometimes there’s a hazardous terrain or tiles inaccessible to land units but can be easily traversed by a flying unit. It is possible to master a lot of different classes that specialize in swords, magic, defense, avoidance, flying, healing, etc. They have a similar role like in Pokémon, where fire overpowers grass, grass overpowers water and water overpowers fire in a roundabout manner, add to the mix stats like speed and strength and you will have a complex but super addictive system.
The battle system has a lot of diversity and customization to it. In terms of stats and classes, every character can be customized as you like, it is not mandatory to have a though big looking guy to be your main tank if you don’t want to or the (most recurrent) female tiny character to be the healer, of course, their default classes leans toward to how their designs imply to be but you can do whatever you want in regards of variability, the game also encourages this by giving almost every character a unique skill by increasing another stat, often in the opposite direction of the character’s default class.
Classes are somewhat varied and determine how a unit’s stats grow. If the unit is a mage class, their stats will grow accordingly, these increases have a chance factor to them (as it has been for past entries), so even if you use the same unit with the same classes in a new replay, chances are that it will not be the same. You start with 4 basic classes that diverge into several ramifications through 5 generations, some classes are gender locked and some others require certain conditions to get them, but they’re just a few. Overall I had a great time balancing and tweaking my characters to get my desired class. The only issue I see is that the majority of the masterclasses (the final or ultimate classes) require the leveling of the lance weapon. However, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of this system that much, but I prefer a little more weapon versatility. To grow your stats and skills (that is how a unit specialty is named, such as lance, sword, cavalry, flying, etc.) your unit has to go to battles and assist them in the school classes but more on that later.
Tactical battles are one of the series’ strong points and one that is still true for this entry. Conquering these fights has a great taste of satisfaction no matter how easy they can get but, the harder the more rewarding. The basic drill of these battles is relatively the same as the series: taking turns to attack in a chessboard battlefield. Every time a character attacks an enemy they receive experience points for their main level and the weapon they’re attacking with.
I always have had a problem with the experience system in FE games, depending on if you hit or kill an enemy the experience you’ll get is greatly disproportioned, so if a unit often makes the killing, they will outgrow the other units and it can be a hassle to maintain them balanced if you’re trying too hard to keep them super balanced that is. With Three Houses, I finally come to terms with this system, and playing more with it became less than an issue and get that is not a bad system, but my lack of understanding made me dislike it. I now get that is a great system since it makes you use different units in different strategies to maintain balance and to keep battles unique from each other. In regards to keeping an eye on the levels of your characters, I think the better way to do this and not feel burnout is to just use your units without thinking that much, otherwise, you will end overthinking and do a lot of mock scenarios on which character should get the last hit, this will only lead to longer and tiresome battles.
Battalions are one of the new additions to the battle mechanics, they’re an abstracted representation of a group of warriors that accompany a unit and give them more stats and combat arts (the game’s attack abilities). Think of them as equipment with a lot of benefits, as they can boost a unit by a considerable amount, they can wear off when fighting to the point of being completely removed from your unit, each time your unit receives damage, they will be damaged too and when they reach 0 you’ll no longer receive their stat bonuses, not until you replenish their ranks after a battle that is, so if you are not careful you can temporarily lose this boost. The combat arts battalions provide are powerful, but what defines them is that they can’t be counterattacked so to have smoother victories towards enemy bosses these battalions are key to victory.
I always have had a problem with big larger pools of characters to choose from, don’t get me wrong I love to have diversity but my issue is that not everyone gets to battle or you have to compromise not leveling them up and leave them behind. In past FE games, if you perma-lose a character it was hard to replace them because possibly your spare units were under-leveled by no using them much. Three Houses introduces a sort of a solution to this matter, you can set up to three ‘Adjutants’ to another of your characters, they will trigger a defensive, offensive, or healing action depending on the class of the supporting character. It’s not that these actions trigger that much since it depends on luck and the supporting level the paired units have between each other. This system gives exp and skill points to the supporting character as well, they don’t get the full exp that the main unit gets but they get a pretty fair share nonetheless, so it’s a great way to maintain a balanced party. Not only that, all your secondary characters feel purposeful, you can organically connect with them, and in my case to not feel like a neglectful professor. I imagine that cutting the number of adjutants you can set down to three is a way to not let you be overpowered, but I think that it can be easily tweaked like the battalion system and have full party through and through, but maybe it just me, however, I welcome with open arms this system as it is nonetheless.
In games like Final Fantasy Tactics, battles revolve around positioning to attack enemies and increase the success of a hit and damage. The game-changer in Fire Emblem is not positioning but the support level between units, meaning that if a unit close to another ally attacks an enemy, the probability of hitting them and their damage will increase depending on the support level between those units. Support levels range from C, B, A and, S. To increase the support levels between characters you need to use them in battle when they’re close or to do activities together with them in the monastery.
The support system is not only a great tool to power up your units and tactics it also merges the game’s mechanics with its narrative beautifully. Each time you reach a new support level a cutscene with those two characters will be unlocked, not only makes those units more powerful when working together but it also deepens the bond between them and yours, both for Bayleth and you as the player to care for them. Three Houses is not only tactic battles, that is just one of the sides of this multilayered work. I’d like to think that is more like three games in one: tactical warfare, dating simulator, and teacher simulator, although the latter is more like a bridge between battles and dating, it still comes with its complex systems.
After you choose your character’s physical appearance and finish the tutorial part of the game, you’re now prompted to be part of a monastery in the center of the continent of Fódlan which serves as a neutral ground to the three central nations of the game, it also serves as a school for elite knights and mages or the sorts and you soon will have to choose between the three main houses the monastery has. These houses are a little ecosystem that represents the noble and wealthy people of each nation with just a few common folks as exceptions.
The dating sim and teacher sim are not as polished as their battle counterpart, but they’re pretty enjoyable nonetheless. Your time within the game is divided by a monthly schedule. Throughout the month each Sunday, you’ll be asked which activity you want to do, the main ones are: explore, seminar, rest, and battle. While rest and battle are self-explanatory, explore focuses on exploring the monastery and get to know better the members of your chosen class, you can also get access to side-quests and some mini-games that deepen your bond with other characters such as taking tea or having lunch together. You can fish or take part in quick battle tournaments to earn money and high-quality items. If certain criteria are met, students from another house or even other teachers can be recruited, this is not as hard as it may sounds but you need to get familiar to understand the better way to recruit them all. Exploring the monastery is the most “dating” part of the game and while it’s pretty basic it has a lot of charm to it.
In Seminars, you or another teacher teaches a skill, so depending on which skill the teacher focuses on, the more students are interested in that skill will attend. I didn’t use the seminar that much since it doesn’t seem to increase skill levels that much, but at least you have this option.
On Mondays, you become a full teacher, and you can select which students will be increasing their skill levels. Depending on what classes they will transform to, you can focus on what skill they’re lacking or to excel at it. Imagine that a student will be an advanced cavalier class but for that, you need a C+ level of lance though your student is only on level D, with this specific choosing classes you can speed up this process, however, the student needs to be ‘motivated’ and you need to increase your professor level (in a similar fashion with skills, the more leveled up you are, the more students you can teach and you can do a lot more activities while you explore). As I say, being the teacher is the bridge between the dating and battle systems, and what better way to do it while you hone the skills of your students and bond with them to transform them into fearless warriors that will annihilate the enemy.
At the end of each week, all your recruited characters increase their set skills by a default growth The rest of the days have random activities such as birthday celebrations, chorus days, or holidays. Depending on how you want to play you can do a lot of things or not to do them, but overall that is how Three Houses go in regards to the monastery time. Finally, at the end of each month, you will do the main mission, you can’t run away from it but from the beginning of the month you can see what is the recommended level to do it, this way is easy to choose which activities to do in the monastery, if you have the feeling that you need to increase your level you might choose to battle on Sundays instead of exploring, you can battle at least one time each week (if you are playing on normal there are no limited times)
If to this point everything sounds overwhelming is because it is, yet the sum of all of these systems makes for an amazingly rewarding experience, that not only focuses on the rewards you’ll get in the long run but in little rewards through every step you make. Each in-between level rewards you with passive or active abilities and combat arts, each time you do activities such as fishing or taking lunch gives you professor points, so you’ll always get the feeling that you’re going forward and also being rewarded. And when you finally understand how this works, you’ll be automatically doing these activities.
Overall I have a great time with Three Houses and its campaigns but before we delve a little further into what each has to offer, let’s talk about difficulty. One of the things I crave the most from Fire Emblem is its challenge. FE games or at least the modern ones that I have played, offer you a wide range of difficulties. I always go with hard and classic mode (classic mode means that if you lost a unit in battle it never come back to your party) and always have a good amount of healthy challenge and thrills, it can be masochistic, but the reward of conquering an event of life and death (in the safety of a videogame) has a great impact when one choose to gamble the units lives at the very beginning of the game (in the safety of a videogame).
Defining difficulty in Three Houses is nebulous, overall is OK with a tendency to the easier side even in hard, but there’s a game-breaking element newly introduced to this game: Divine Pulse. This mechanic consists of rewinding time in battle, meaning that if you make a wrong turn and get yourself or a unit killed, you can rewind time as far as you want, at first you can only redo time a couple of times, but you can get 13 recharges at the end of the game. It is not only introduced as a battle mechanic but it also part of the story, at first they make us feel like is an integral part of the narrative, but it is only used such a few times that I’m convinced that it was implemented far into the game’s time development to give us players an extra couch when battling.
The problem with Divine Pulse is that it makes stakes non-existent, the reason why I choose hard and classic modes is to have some thrills, and to have them removed by a game mechanic feels too frustrating. I know that someone could say that it is an optional mechanic and you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, and that might be true but at least in my case, games are all about immersion. The best moment when you are playing a videogame is when you forget that you’re playing it and are transported to the game’s world. So when I’m having battles of life and death I don’t want my immersion to be broken by a mechanic, in this case, if I get a unit killed it would be hard for me to let them die because I choose to not doing so, basically it will be letting die a comrade by pure negligence. It also can make your strategies lazier, considering you can redo time at any time not only when a unit dies. In my first playthrough, the times I get myself killed were more for the lack of taking battles too seriously, so this Divine Pulse not only lowers the stakes but also makes the mood too trivial.
I’m not saying that people who want to relax or get along with just the story are wrong, but I would appreciate it if any kind of player has the experience they’re looking for. In my case, for the sake of my immersion I did use DP a couple of times till the middle of the campaign when I started to waste all of its usages at the beginning of each match, this is hardly a great way to deal with it, but for the rest of the game I have some of the thrills I was looking for (although the 5th time you do this, it becomes a chore), Three Houses is not as challenging in its hard difficulty as past entries, but it was good still. For my second and third playthroughs, I choose to never use it, but I never lost a unit still. To be fair, I became well versed with the game’s mechanics so that also helped. There’s also a third difficulty called ‘maddening’ that you get via free download (sorry for the future players who would not get the chance to get it), but from what I read, it seems truly punishing and hardcore, maybe for a 4th playthrough I will try it, but it seems that from the three types of players of the game we hard-players in the middle are in the loss here.
That being said, Paralogues offer the best content in terms of challenge or some instances even story, a lot of these fights were challenging and in some of them, I was gripping my teeth the whole time. So be sure to play them when you can.
Recollection and Regret
I got mixed feelings towards the main campaigns overall. To some degree, depending on which house you choose, the events will unfold entirely differently in the middle of each route. My first campaign took me around 100 hours to finish, I didn’t go full completionist, but I did a lot of stuff in the meantime. Even if you’re rushing through, I imagine they will be still pretty lengthy nonetheless, so if you’re planning to beat this game only once you better choose carefully which house you prefer the most, considering that each story has different values, and in my opinion, at least one is inferior to the other two by a considerable amount, it would not only impact the story you’ll get, but also the enjoyment you will get from the game.
As much as I like each FE game that I have played, one of the weakest points of the series are their stories, they always have this generic plot with one-note antagonists and they tend to have a problem of foreshadowing, to the point they kinda spoil things and you end knowing what will happen next miles away. It is pretty sad because you always have an immense roster of interesting characters but the story never truly does interesting stuff with them. It may sound that I hate those stories but, they’re serviceable and aren’t that bad, still, I was hoping that Three Houses gave me a story in the same height as its characters and mechanics, and in some ways it did.
The first half of each story unveils the same, the only difference is that you see it from a different perspective each time. In terms of story the first act falls in more or less the same conventions of generic conflicts and not so interesting situations, it is not a great issue because all this time it is kinda world-building and it keeps you somewhat expectantly, however, it is still the half of the campaign or in my case 50 hours (easily surpass the length of the more standard 25 hours game) so depending in your mood it can be either a good or a bad time.
The second half is when things get interesting, although that will depend on what path you choose, yet, there is a problem with the game’s promise with the friends of the past conflict. In my first playthrough, as I didn’t recruit many people from the other houses (half by mistake, half by not understanding entirely this mechanic), I fought to the death with characters from the other houses, but for me, it was like fighting with random enemies with a cooler design. It’s funny because when a big battle was about to begin, all your students will be worried and comment on things like “I don’t want to fight my friends” but most likely you’ll hardly know and care for them. The problem is that if you don’t recruit a character is because you didn’t interact with them that much, or even if you interact with them, is not that easy to get attached to them when your support levels are low. Interacting with them spends precious points that you would likely prefer to spend with your house students since is because of them you choose that house, to begin with.
On the other hand, if you recruit them, you won’t get the chance to battle them in the second act, so this “enemy-friend” system has a lot of compromises. I didn’t notice this conflict till the second act of my first playthrough but playing a second time where I recruited every character didn’t make things more dramatic, on the contrary, I fought only generic enemies except for the scripted and designed bosses. I can recall one exception though, a character left my ranks and fight with me in the second act but when beating them I was able to choose to kill or let them live, I choose to let them live and they returned to my crew, so I imagine maybe there can be more situations like this, although in my three playthroughs this was the only time it happened.
While it’s promising, this system requires a lot of the player to do the heavy lifting and math to manufacture more meaningful moments in the second act, so is hardly a triumph, still, I do think it has a lot of potential for future entries and with some tweaks, it could do wonders to the FE franchise.
The Three Houses
Getting back to the main paths, you can have a different experience depending on what you choose, if you’re planning to play the three main paths then this won’t be a problem, although, now that I know what I know, I would prefer to do the paths in another order to get a better experience.
Each path offers not only different events and endings but also have a theme that represents a little the struggles of its protagonist and class. The order that I think works best is as follows:
Azure Moon is the path of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, its house leader is Dimitri (the blonde guy). The Kingdom was once part of the Adrestian Empire but it earned its independence a few hundreds of years ago. Its class members are manly nobles with the particularity that some of them have been stripped away in some manner of their privileges, it also is the house with more inside conflicts. Dimitri as a character is like the strict and righteous knight that does everything by the book, you can think of him as a student president. I played Azure Moon as my second playthrough but it works best as the first entry, it shows plenty of the lore and conflict of the game’s story while maintaining a sense of dreadfulness without spoiling other campaigns. It has a rocky start at the beginning of the second act as one of its main characters can be a little one-note and it gets tiring at some point but, once that is wrapped up, the story takes a great turn for the best. It is a little gritty and doesn’t follow the conventions of past entries which I appreciate greatly and do have incredible final battles and an ending with a lot of weight.
Crimson Flower is the route of the Adrestian Empire, its house leader is Edelgard (the white-haired girl). It seems that once upon a time the Empire occupied the majority of the Fódlan continent but now is one of the three-thirds of it, although it is the biggest one in terms of territory. Its monastery house has more nobles than the others, aside from one student (Dorothea) and the struggles within are more focused on things regarding its noble status. Like Dimitri, Edelgard feels also like a class president however she is more direct and she’s no-nonsense yet she vents out her insecurities more often. This was my third playthrough and the one I enjoyed the most, it feels more polished and complete in regards to what you get and how the story transpires through your time with it. Is the only route on which decisions feel more decisive regardless of the recruiting problems discussed before. If you’re only playing the game once you can go with Azure Moon or this route but I strongly recommend that you take this one instead, if you’re going the three routes playthrough, I recommend that you play it as a 2nd path.
Verdant Wind represents the route of the Leicester Alliance, Claude is its house leader (the brown-haired guy). A few years after the Kingdom earned its independence from the Empire the Alliance do the same with the Kingdom and is the only nation with a democratic (if only by little) ruling model, with 5 families having the reins of the youngest nation. Its house hosts more commoners than the other houses and its struggles resonated more to me than the others, they’re more focused on problems of real middle-class people, not that it isn’t concerned with noble issues, after all, it also hosts one of the noblest (and best) character of the game. Claude as the other 2 main protagonists have two sides to him, he’s always joking around but it is also the most diligent and hardworking student of all. This was my first playthrough and speaking in a general manner it has my favorite class students (including its main character), however, this route has two big problems that didn’t let me enjoy it that much. First is that it falls in the conventions I feared this game would fall of past entries: spoilery foreshadowing and generic plots and enemies, the second issue and is intertwined with the first one is that this route doesn’t clash as organically to the other two parallel paths as the other have personal conflicts within them, Claude in the other hand doesn’t have much of a problem at all with them, if Three Houses was a date, this route will be the third wheel. Although in regards to lore, this route expands and goes beyond the other two, so in a way, it is fitting, for Claude is always thinking ahead of the other characters. I think the best way to play this route is as a third playthrough, at that point, you will have plenty of knowledge of the game’s world and wouldn’t mind that it doesn’t have a properly established conflict with one of the other two houses.
Overall that is what I think is the best way to play the game in regards to order, still, there is a 4th “secret” route that I hadn’t touched yet and maybe it changes the way I see this “correct” way to play the game. In reality, you can go whatever way you want and that is the beauty of this game, in my case, I chose the Verdant Wind route first because Claude and the characters within that path aligned more with my points of view, in the end, its story didn’t do much for me but I had a great time knowing and conquering their struggles nevertheless.
Seeking New Heights
Finally, how the game looks and sounds? Well, I think the game looks good but nothing to write home about. Character design and art direction are incredible, each character says a lot with just a simple look and that’s great, although the charm is that each of them breaks their visual stereotypes in a well scripted and believable manner, so if you think if by just seeing their designs you know them, you’ll be surprised. This is not the case for some enemy designs, that more often than not if they look like they are antagonists is because they are and they tend to be one-note, but they’re just a few. The 3D environments in the monastery are OK but nothing great really, the same goes for the battlefields, they don’t look that different from a 3DS FE game, this time though you can zoom in the camera while battling to the point that you can see the battlefield in third person view and appreciate it more, sadly this way of playing isn’t ideal because your view is way too tunneled, and you are more prone to doing mistakes.
There is a lot of dialogue and voice acting and I imagine that the budget went towards that side and I think it was the right choice. The original Japanese voice actors did an amazing job, from their range of acting to the way they can change their voice in the subtlest of ways to convey emotion among other things that I won’t spoil.
Music, on the other hand, I think this is the one FE game which a lot of tunes stuck with me, there are also unique final bosses tunes for each route, particularly (and it seems a lot of people think this way too) the final boss song from the Verdant Wind is outstanding. There are dubstep or more modern sounds that one wouldn’t think will fit in a “medieval” fantasy game but here, not only sounds good but they fit right in place. After playing 250 hours I listened to the battle tunes quite a lot and it surprises me that they didn’t bother me at all, I still like to hum some of them, I’m no music expert by no means but that says a lot to me in regards of music quality.
A Guide for the Future
Setting aside the things I dislike are nitpicks in comparison to the good ones, for what it’s worth, Fire Emblem Three Houses is a massive experience and goes well beyond what a video game could offer from other media. The fact that three people could play this game and have three different massive experiences blows me away. I’m not saying that other games don’t offer this kind of experience, after all, a lot of modern games have this “your decisions” matters structure, however, Three Houses is a beast of its own and it blurs the line of what replayability means. I said that you can play just once and it’s OK, but to properly exploit this game you surely have to play the 4th routes, after all, even when I don’t like that much Divine Pulse mechanic, and it is used just a couple of times in the story it certainly fits quite great within the game’s metagame and each playthrough is none other than you using that power yourself, I find that simply brilliant.
History (sadly) is written by the people who win the fights and they get to choose who was right and who was wrong, who’s to say that Dimitri did the right choice or Claude or Edelgard? In reality, you can undo history itself, but in Three Houses you can always reconsider what would happen if you chose the other house instead? And in fact, rewrite history.
It is not flawless tho. First of all, some characters are gonna become useless very very quickly often dying in just one hit. Also, exploring the church on sundays is one of the most boring and tedious aspects of the game, especially because it almost goes the same way and you have to go through it to pump up the motivation of your students so they can level up in some categories. I don't wanna make the obvious comparison to Persona, but i have to since the world in persona is so rich in character with just a lot of things to do to level up your skills and your links to the side characters, there's some things you can only do in a specific day of the week or a date but in Fire Emblem, aside from some side tasks, everything is there every sunday, the characters are always waiting for you to talk to (besides the church looking very generic without any sense of personality or identity). Also, this might be a nitpick, but the ingame animations are complete garbage, i know this is expected coming from an RPG, but in this game they feel especially bad.
Overall, it's a fun game, the good parts are great, often having you think twice about what you're gonna do (the time travel really helps if you're like me and trying to not get any of your characters killed) but between them, there's this long, boring and tedious sections of exploring the monastery with a couple of sidequests that while deepen the character's lore, are so sterile and lacking any impact on the actual game which was a wasted opportunity in my opinion. Try it, but expect a lot of very tedious sections of gameplay