Nintendo — unsurprisingly — has mastered the recipe for video game ambrosia.
Combine equal parts of extremely compelling and deep strategy gameplay with the ability to form complex relationships with your peers — ones that allow them to become more efficient on the battlefield, and add the ability to administer standardized testing to students in a high fantasy setting.
The toothsome result is Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
I’m going to start by saying that I’m a relative newcomer to the series. I’ve only been playing this series since Fire Emblem: Awakening was released on the 3DS, but I can appreciate how hardcore the series was before that point.
In this game, every decision matters.Nintendo
Three Houses is the most accessible of the Fire Emblem games thus far, and I think that’s what makes it great. There are the usual options, such as classic and casual mode. In classic, characters lost in battle are gone for good; whereas, in casual, they come back after the battle. For an extra challenge, there’s also a hard mode that makes enemy units a bit beefier and harder to kill than those found when set to normal difficulty. This mode is perfect for those familiar with the series who may find the standard-setting too easy.
Familiarity is also evoked through the grid-based combat style that is used in the series.
The combat itself is fantastic.
To the benefit of newbies, the addition of a few tweaks makes things a little easier on those who want a less harrowing experience. Obvious to Fire Emblem veterans is the removal of the weapon triangle. No longer are players restricted by being forced to have units of a particular type on their roster for the sake of counter picking. While some would argue that this dumbs down the series, more than Awakening did, I would argue that it makes it a little bit more open.
I like having the flexibility to put my squadron together exactly how I like. If I want to see how badly I get wrecked by fielding an entire squadron of mages, then I’ll do just that. While something like that may not necessarily be the best option, I’m glad that there’s at least a chance I’ll succeed by trying it.
Which I did. It went horribly.
Three territories. Three houses. Your very own journey.
A tale filled with memorable characters and intense battles awaits in the latest entry to the #FireEmblem series. Shape the future of the land of Fódlan in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, available for #NintendoSwitch 7/26. pic.twitter.com/vIV4x9atSf
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) February 13, 2019
Another new feature is the use of battalions, which are essentially an extra army you attach to your units. This feature gives them an additional ability they have access to on their respective turns. While a helpful aid on normal difficulty, the battalions are all but necessary on hard mode. The added challenge reduces the damage to tougher enemies, who will take little to none until the battalions soften them.
Perhaps my favorite new addition is that of the Divine Pulse, which allows the player to turn back time to a previous action made in the battle. Sometimes this can make all the difference between losing a well-developed unit that you’ve spent countless hours building, and keeping them alive to see another day.
On top of having great combat, Fire Emblem has a great story that differs depending on which of the titular three houses player chooses to align with. There is also a fourth secret route that can be taken, but some specific requirements must be met to access it.
For the most part, the characters are likeable and do a good job representing some anime stereotypes. For example, there’s the womanizer, the girl that never leaves her room, and the Hot Topic mall goth.
On the weirder side, although players are supposed to teach these kids, players have the option to increase their bond with them to the point of romance (there’s a time skip that happens to keep it from being mostly creepy).
That said, I like the aspect of being able to teach these students whatever skills your character has developed, and then, in a sense, becoming the student.
My biggest gripe about the story of the game is that the romance options are relegated to the literal end of the game and are a menu choice. Gone are the days of Awakening when you could romance a character, have a child with them, and have that child join your army to fight alongside you. It’s a minor gripe, but its something that I definitely miss.
Part persona, Harry Potter, and traditional Fire Emblem, Three Houses is an incredible entry in the series. I logged about 80 or so hours in my first playthrough, and I’m sitting at about 12 for my second.
It’s a game that begs for you to experience it multiple times and I honestly believe its worth it. I can totally see myself sinking hundreds of hours into Three Houses just to see how the story goes from each houses’ perspective. The game is addictive to the point that I was even playing it in between sessions of writing this review and is an absolute must-have for Switch owners. Otherwise, they are doing themselves a major disservice.
To sum it up: there’s enough challenge here to appeal to the hardcore fans, while also giving people some lighter options to simply experience the story.