Co-developed by Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo Games, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest installment in the iconic Fire Emblem series, and a much welcomed return to the home console after more than a decade solely on handhelds. In this particular iteration, the player takes on the role, initially at least, of a professor at the Garegg Mach Monastery. Shortly after being brought to monastery by the Knights of Seiros (the faith associated with Garegg Mach Monastery, you are tasked with choosing a House of the school to represent as professor and guidance provider. The houses each represent a different region surrounding the monastery, with the Black Eagles representing the Adrestian Empire, the Blue Lions representing Faerghus, and the Golden Deer representing the Leicester Alliance.
While this might seem like an insignificant choice at first glance, the house you choose to represent greatly impacts the storyline that you get to experience for the rest of the game. Thankfully you can play through again with New Game+ to experience the other storylines, though at an estimated 80 hours per playthrough this can be an awfully daunting task. For the playthrough represented in this review I went with the Black Eagles.
Story wise, many of the typical RPG tropes can be found throughout. Mysterious characters, the main character hearing a voice (that basically has amnesia no less), characters born of commoners trying to prove themselves to the upper crust, characters born of nobility trying to prove themselves to commoners, and faith-based conspiracies abound. However, this certainly does not present itself as a bad thing, and in fact helps to make the player feel at home almost immediately. Past that, you will have to play the game yourself because I refuse to spoil such a great story for anyone.
Rout Those Enemies, Fam
Outside of beautiful cut scenes, much of the story of Fire Emblem: Three Houses is moved forward using the tactical, turn-based goodness of battle that fans of the Fire Emblem series have come to expect. Mild battle changes have been noted compared to previous games. Rather than the traditional weapon triangle (such as sword beating axe, axe beating lance, and lance beating sword) deciding who is more powerful in a battle, Three Houses instead focuses on utilizing how skillful the character is with the particular class of weapon to influence the results of the battle. This can be further altered through power combat arts that unlock with increased skill, even with some combat arts simulating the weapon triangle itself.
Another interesting addition to battle comes in the form of battalions. Upon unlocking the Battalion Guild, each character can “equip” a battalion of NPCs as a way of boosting certain stats depending upon which battalion is chosen. Additionally, battalions grant the character gambits, or additional moves that can help sway the battle in their favor if used appropriately.
Finally, if playing the game online, you will occasionally find spaces on the battlefield with purple or yellow swirls on them representing where “fallen soldiers from the past” have died. By having a character finish their turn on one of these spaces, certain benefits will be granted such as stat/xp boosts for the yellow spaces and items like rusted weapons for the purple spaces.
Apart from battling it out, players should expect to spend a significant amount of time socializing in the digital world of Fódlan. Part of the significance of choosing a house to represent, in fact, is knowing who you will be spending most of your time within game. Through conversations and other activities engaged in between battles, you can increase bonds with members of your house, learn more about their likes, dislikes, and personalities, as well as seeing how they interact with their fellow housemates. In fact, depending on who you interact with during your socializing time, you can watch side interactions between characters for the purpose of increasing their support for one another in battle.
Speaking of socialization, like myself, did you also fret endlessly as to which house to represent, spending entirely too much time going back and forth between all of the choices? Never fear! The game essentially allows you to do the same socializing with members of the other houses and even some of the other Monastery staff. In fact, if there is a character that want to be part of your house instead of whatever silly house they started in, if you meet the requirements that that particular character looks for in a house you may be able to recruit them to join you. If you are not sure you want to put in all that effort for a particular character, you even have the option to invite a character from another house to tag along and join your house for a month for most battles to test them out first. The only exception to these options is with the heads of those houses. In other words, as I chose the Black Eagles as my house, the option to recruit either Claude or Dimitri from the other houses was not available.
It is also important to not ignore other staff members. I frequently received helpful, interesting information from the guards stationed around the monastery. Likewise, improving bonds with the professors of the other houses and a couple other important folks unlocks the ability to train your character’s abilities much like you do for your students.
Teach the Children Well
In order to properly prepare your students for the many battles they are expected to participate in, you have two choices. The first option is just practice battling through non-story missions on your off days. The new option added in for Three Houses, however, is the ability to teach your students through group projects and seminars. While this (much like many other options) can be set to automated, the more enjoyable option in my opinion was to choose who to teach what each week based on what you need improved for battles. The improvements mostly come in the form of increased weapon skills, which then result in new spells for magic users, new combat arts for weapon wielders, and so on. Group work can also be assigned to two students at a time, which again improves skills but also has the added benefit of improving bonds between the students.
Upon reaching certain skill thresholds and class masteries, characters become qualified to take certification exams in order to unlock additional and more advanced classes. While you may enjoy the class that you students are already in, due to changing battle requirements/terrain differences it is still advantageous to unlock other classes in case they are needed later.
Other Interesting Bits
Just like with any game that offers such in depth game play, it is easy to get burnt out on the process after a while. Thankfully, Fire Emblem: Three Houses sprinkles in a nice combination of other ways of improving stats and such to give enough variety to break the monotony. As the game progresses you slowly unlock further areas of the monastery to explore, as well as other side activities to engage in. I can report that I probably spent WAY too long fishing in the beginning, but that is why it is there! To give an alternative from time to time on days off. Other activities such as cooking with a student, eating with a pair of students, even singing in the choir with a pair of students are also available as alternatives ways to learn about characters and improve relationships with them. However, some of these activities do require activity points, preventing you from just eating or singing for hours at a time. Activity points are increased by leveling up your professor rating, though proper prioritizing of activities remains important throughout.
Overall: 9 out of 10
If you have ever played a Fire Emblem game before, and more specifically played one and enjoyed it, you will not be disappointed here. Fire Emblem: Three Houses certainly represents a positive return to home consoles for the series, while also moving the familiar formula forwards in the best way possible. This is not really a quick, pick-up-and-play game in any sense, and in fact will end up taking you several hundreds of hours of playing to experience all of it. However, if you enjoy storytelling, tactical battles, and dealing with the craziness of socializing with vastly differing personalities, this is the game for you.