|Dev: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo|
|Release: July 26, 2019|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 720p-1080p||Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Jenni Lada
We often only see one side of a conflict. When heading out onto virtual battlefields, we might encounter foes we sympathize with, but rarely get inside their heads to understand what they’re thinking. Fire Emblem: Three Houses goes beyond not only what players might expect a Fire Emblem game to be, but also what people might expect from a game’s story. With its multiple storylines and limitless character potential, it takes you into a military academy where the students really can “be all they can be.”
Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ story begins with a mercenary company in the right place at the right time. It is led by a father and his child, Jeralt and Byleth, who are renowned for their skill. Which is fortunate for three students from the Garreg Mach Monastery, an officers academy guiding the heirs to the three powers ruling the country of Fodlan. The Adrestian Empire’s Edelgard, Holy Kingdom of Faerghus’ Dimitri, and Leicester Alliance’s Claude have been attacked by bandits, and one of the professors who was supposed to be there to help ran off. Fortunately, Jeralt and Byleth save the day. (Though, a mysterious woman inside Byleth’s head named Sothis did have to turn back time to keep her and Byleth from dying.) When the student’s remaining professor comes around, it turns out he knows Jeralt. The two were members of an order of knights together, and he went missing.
As everyone heads back to the monastery/academy together, you get a hint of things to come. Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude initially attempt to recruit Byleth to become part of their retinue. Then, when you arrive, archbishop Rhea names you the newest professor. (Even though you seem to be the same age as your students.) You then get to pick which house you will teach, with each one connected to one of the heirs you just saved and consisting of their classmates and supporters. If you’re starting to think it sounds a little like Harry Potter with swords, lances, axes and magic, you’re not wrong.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses differs from past games by telling its story in two different phases, with different sorts of gameplay offered in each one. The initial half of the game takes cues from series like Persona by being part student-raising. Each month, you dedicate most of the time to teaching the characters in your class to build their skills in certain areas, getting to know them better to build up relationships, making yourself a better person by learning from fellow teachers, helping people with their troubles, shopping and poaching students from other houses. Each of the three houses has its own storyline and path, which varies and determines the course of events. You could consider it three games in one.
On weekdays, you determine which subjects your allies will study to make them stronger. For example, having Ingrid learn to wield lances and practice flying will help prepare her for eventual life as a Pegasus Knight, while forcing Felix to study reason and riding could lead to him becoming a Dark Knight. Different levels of proficiency determine the eventual classes characters can become, which influence their stats and different abilities they will learn. Teaching people authority will determine what sorts of battalions they can command for extra power in the field. When weekends come, you can do things like explore the academy, take on supplementary battle missions and paralogues, attend seminars from other professors to boost a group of people’s intelligence in certain areas or rest to recharge motivation and relic weapons. It is compelling and encourages replayability.
The relationship building is important in this part. By connecting with other characters, you can learn more about them. These storylines provide insight into who they are, help them work better together in the field and make it more likely for you to get a student from another house to join yours. Higher support levels mean stronger boosts when fighting alongside each other in the field. (It can also mean getting a shared ending with two characters.) When trying to lure another character to your house, giving gifts, spending time with them, finding their lost items and helping them out is also a necessity. It works well and provides even more excuses to talk with one another. Unfortunately, the same-sex relationship options are lacking for relationships between male characters. (However, quite a few female characters are able to enter into romantic relationships with a female Byleth or other heroines.)
Once each month, your house will have a mission to accomplish. This is a story-centric fight. That means heading out onto a map, which is laid out on a grid, and taking part in turn-based fights. Since the typical Fire Emblem weapon-triangle, where sword beats axe, axe beats lance and lance beats sword, is absent unless you have certain skills equipped, it becomes more about knowing what your enemies and units are capable of and carefully moving out. Other changes to the formula include beast enemies that are larger than normal, have multiple HP bars to whittle down and sometimes are best handled with battalion’s gambits. You can also use a Divine Pulse, the ability granted by Sothis, to occasionally rewind time and undo a tragic mistake. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, your actions could result in losing people for good on the battlefield.
In the second portion of the game, well, things change a bit! A timeskip occurs, giving you a chance to see how actions at school played out and paid off. Things proceed slightly differently, since your students are no longer teenagers and young adults. The difficulty and stakes also increase each time you head out into the field.
The only real downsides with Fire Emblem: Three Houses can come from little technical issues. The font size is atrocious for a game with so much reading. Especially if you are playing undocked. (Have some eye drops handy, and not the ones Marianne offers as part of a sidequest chain.) The online interactions aren’t all that enthralling and mainly serve as a way to get more items. I also noticed some lag in one hall in the monastery when a lot of people were present and I was playing undocked. But still, these are minor issues.
Especially since Fire Emblem: Three Houses is both an absolutely splendid entry in the series and strategy game in general. It has a great division of labor between its school and battlefield segments. The characters are all quite likeable. The three storylines are different enough to beg additional replays, as is the promise of knowing everyone has unseen potential to become the units you want them to be. It’s a fantastic game that will easily become one of the NIntendo Switch’s most memorable titles.