This article contains opinion.
“Fire Emblem” is a popular series of tactical turn-based roleplaying games, with players utilizing a variety of weapons, spells and abilities to defeat their opponents with as few casualties as possible.
After fans and critics were generally disappointed with the last new entry in the fantasy series’ large franchise, “Fire Emblem Fates,” fans were equally excited and anxious when the next entry in the series, the Nintendo Switch exclusive, “Fire Emblem: Three Houses,” was announced. “Three Houses” seemed to hint at both a return to form for those who felt a lack of depth to the story and combat found in “Fates” and an introduction of new and game-changing mechanics and situations to give players a new experience, making the game a wholly unique experience for even series veterans.
“Three Houses’” main feature that differentiates it from the rest of the franchise is its unique setting, an academy for training the young leaders of three different nations within the continent of Fodlan.
The Officer’s Academy acts as the base for the game’s core content, structuring the story, gameplay, out-of-battle gameplay and character interaction. The player, whose avatar’s default name is Byleth, finds themselves going from the role of a silent, emotionally stunted mercenary to that of a professor at the prestigious Officer’s Academy. The academy is owned and operated by the head of the church, Archbishop Rhea. On your first day as a professor, you must choose between three “Harry Potter”-esque houses, which will be the group of students your story and battles focus on.
The three available houses are the Blue Lions, which has students hailing from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, a kingdom built around nobility, a loyalty to the church and following the code of chivalry; the Yellow Deer, which has its students coming from the Leicester Alliance, a rebellious group of dukes and lords that formed a council-governed nation after breaking away from the Kingdom; and the Black Eagles, which houses students from the Adrestian Empire, an ancient Empire that once conquered all of Fodlan and gave the Kingdom its territory at the end of a revolutionary war.
Each house has its own strengths and weaknesses, in terms of story, character and gameplay. The Blue Lions feel the closest to a classic “Fire Emblem” title, focusing on a blue-clad lord and his journey to save his kingdom from disaster. Due to the knightly nature of the kingdom, most members of the Blue Lions excel in using lances, and swords, but many Blue Lion students struggle with dark magic or archery.
The Blue Lions is my favorite house, personally, for its role in the story as the defending kingdom against an invading enemy, but also as a uniting force that forms ties with both the Alliance and the church that the academy is built by. Liking or disliking a character is subjective, but most players tend to admire the interesting and compellingly written balance of darkness and honor found in Dmitri, the house’s leader, while his allies are hit-or-miss.
Characters like Dedue or Annie come off as boring and one-note, and characters like Felix and Ingrid come off as abrasive or jerk-ish, but characters like Ashe, Mercedes and Sylvain have been loved for either their kindness, honesty or depth.
The Yellow Deer naturally excel in the use of bows but lack multiple options for roles in the group, with units easily falling into the role of “the tank,” “the healer” or “the high damage-dealing unit” and leaving one vulnerable if they lose that key member of their team composition. The Yellow Deer are generally liked for their personalities, except for Lorenz, who is hated by everyone, and their cool, collected and at times lazy leader, Claude.
The Black Eagles, which is currently the most popular house, boasts a strong team of mages, dark mages,and skilled warriors but lack many users of healing magic or bows. The Black Eagles’ enigmatic leader, Edelgard, has captured the hearts and minds of many players but turned off many would-be allies with her choice to wage war on the Church, sacrificing any Blue Lions or Yellow Deer that would get in her way. The Black Eagles are also quite popular for having a large roster of attractive female characters, which has boosted their popularity in the United States and Japan especially.
The major gameplay changes that “Three Houses” bring stem from its setting and core themes, the three houses and the Officer’s Academy. Between battles, which remain as the series’ core tactical turn-based battles, the player can choose from several activities within and around the academy.
These activities range from training battles, fishing, cooking, eating lunch/dinner with students and faculty, performing in the choir, taking lessons in certain skills from experienced professors and knights, attending/teaching seminars on skills that the player or an ally excel at and inviting close allies to tea parties. These serve to give the player the ability and choice to aid in the two main forms of growth that units experience, besides leveling up through combat experience.
Activities like performing in choir, attending seminars and training in practice battles can help units and the player level up skills and abilities, such as swordsmanship, faith (light magic), or authority and leadership skills. These are important in aiding the unit in combat, as proficiency in different skills allows units access to better equipment and better performance with that type of attack, or can allow better success in passive traits, such as taking less damage from attacks while wearing armor, moving farther and dealing more damage while on horseback or healing more health whenever using white magic on allies.
The authority skill is a new addition to the series, as it is the skill required for succeeding and advancing in working with and hiring battalions, a new gameplay feature introduced in “Three Houses.” Battalions, large groups of nameless and generic soldiers coming from some guild, group or organization you have gained the trust of, boost the stats of their equipped unit and give access to exclusive special attacks, such as a ranged attack for knights or a spell to heal multiple units at the same time.
Activities like meeting up for lunch or attending tea parties serve two purposes: motivation and bonding. Motivation is a feature present in some of the previous entries in the “Fire Emblem” series but has had its purpose slightly change throughout. Motivation in “Three Houses” acts as the energy a unit must attend classes, attend seminars, teach seminars and other activities that would aid the unit in leveling up their skills and abilities.
Bonding, however, is a recurring feature in the “Fire Emblem” series, which has had its role growing larger since the record-breaking “Fire Emblem: Awakening.” Units, including the player, can form bonds with their allies in the form of Support conversations between two compatible units, which give additional story on the lives and personalities of the characters, a boost in battle prowess whenever two bonded allies are near each other and leads to eventual options of marriage between the player and a potential spouse.
“Fire Emblem: Three Houses” is a large, tightly packed game filled to the brim with content and choices for the player to make and characters for the player to love or hate. “Three Houses” brought several great additions to the game, including battalions, sacred weapons with unique special abilities and between-battle seminars and lessons to level up abilities.
The game advertises itself as a 40+ hour experience, but at times, several of those hours become a slog to get through. The worst parts of the game are the last few “months,” the in-between periods in which you can explore the academy or participate in activities between battles, where so few new events appear, and the player has acquired so much energy to do activities with, that each individual week takes as long as two months took during the first hour of the game.
Overall, the game is a great entry in the “Fire Emblem” series, succeeding in matching (and exceeding) the quality of gameplay mechanics in the previous entries in the series, and contributed great new additions to the gameplay, which can hopefully be tuned to be more efficient and enjoyable in future games. The game stands as my second favorite “Fire Emblem” game and earns a 9/10 from me.