Early in the year, as a part of the Nintendo Entertainment Podcast, I stated that one of the things that Nintendo had to be sure to do to have a successful year was make sure that Fire Emblem Three Houses was a masterpiece. Based on the recent Accolades Trailer that came out, many people feel it is close to that, and I would be among them. It’s not a perfect masterpiece, however, it’s one of the most fun and deepest Fire Emblem games ever made. And I’m already itching to do another run through it.
Game Name: Fire Emblem Three Houses
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 7/26/2019
To be clear, I’m writing this review after having done one complete house run. In this case, the Blue Lions run. But, my friends and Nintendo Entertainment Podcast partners Tyler and Will did the Golden Deer and Black Eagles run respectively. And we’ve been in touch in regards to what’s similar, what’s different, and more. To that end, we all agree that this is an amazing game, so our score would match each other.
As for the story, I’ll go light on spoilers and try not to delve too much into the other storylines in case you all haven’t gotten to get to them like me. The overall story is the same though. You’re in the realm known as Fodlan. Within this place are four major places. The Adrestian Empire, the Kingdom of Faerghus, the Leicester Alliance, and the Church of Seiros via Garreg Mach Monastery.
You are the son of a mercenary who comes across a trio of students from the Monastery, as it doubles as a school for the next set of leaders and nobles to the world. After saving them, you’re invited back to the school to be a Professor of a house of your choosing.
Now, if you’re thinking, “Well that’s just like Fates!”, you’re right and you’re wrong. You’re right in that as the three parts of Fates, you will have a different enough story to deal with. Also, especially in Birthright and Conquest, the characters you used were different. However, Three Houses go much deeper into the “different paths” than Fates did. Not to mention, unlike Fates, you get to truly raise your “class” the way you want to.
I won’t lie, I was very nervous about the gameplay aspect of teaching my students. What if I made them bad classes? What if I didn’t do the right skills with a character and they’re not useful as a result? And on and on. Thankfully, with great instructions on how to do everything, and plenty of time to learn your craft, it became very easy to teach the students. Not to mention, they’ll often give you suggestions on what to do in terms of guiding them and more. Then again, if you think you know what’s best for some (which I did at times), you can ignore them and have them be what you want them to be.
In one example, Ingrid (who was one of my best units overall) was set up to be a Paladin Knight by me. Then she came and wanted to be a Pegasus Knight. I realized I didn’t have a flying unit in my squad so I was totally up for that at the time. Then, after making her that, she comes back and says she’d rather be a horse knight again. And I was like, “NOPE!” You’re stuck. And I’m glad I did because her flying abilities saved my butt more times than I can count in the later levels.
Which brings me to arguably one of the best parts about Three Houses, the Garreg Mach Monastery. In an open-world section that is different than anything Fire Emblem has done in the past, you’re allowed to roam around the monastery and talk to just about EVERYONE there. Your students, your students in the other houses, the teachers, the monks, Archbishop Rhea, and more. Every month they’ll have something new to say, and you can interact with them on multiple levels. You can give them gifts to boost morale and increase your supports. You can return lost items to them for similar results. You can even have a little tea time mini-game that is easy to learn but sometimes difficult to master.
Add to that, there are activities there that can boost your “Professor Level”, and thus allow you to do more activities. You can cook and have meals with students and faculty, you can do gardening, host choir practice, and even fish for the experience. Tyler apparently spent 10 hours fishing during his run…which may be why he went over 65+ hours in his first story…
To be honest, it’s almost wrong how much fun I had during the monastery segments. During the early parts of the game especially I loved nothing more than to go and talk with all the students and faculty just to hear what they had to say. It was intoxicating, and I could spend an hour just running around to do so. But just as important to someone like me, the school changed from month to month. People were present one month and sometimes gone the next. If a “big event” happened, EVERYONE was talking about it in some capacity.
Plus, everyone, EVERYONE has voice acting! That may not seem like the biggest deal, but it truly brings everyone to life. The voices help flesh out their personalities, and it changes over time. Dmitri goes from a lighter voice in Part 1 to a war-filled voice in Part 2, and it shows. Even the “victory” comments change over time to reflect the characters personalities, and it helped me connect with them even more.
Which brings me to the OTHER best part about Fire Emblem Three Houses, the characters. From your father (who ranks up with Greil in regards to “Best Fire Emblem Dads) to your students, the other faculty, the other students of the houses, and more, everyone in the game feels like a fleshed-out character.
Many people, including the NEP group, have raved about their classes and how different they all are. The Blue Lions, for example, have a “paragon” prince as its leader, with knights both serious (Ingrid) and not (Sylvain) at his side. As well as a fierce defender (Dedue), a fierce swordsman with an attitude (Felix), a saint (Mercedes), a hard-working girl trying to do everything (Annette) and a young man trying to be a knight like the stories of old (Ashe).
Now, in most Fire Emblem games, you would “see” these other units and interact with them in the stories occasionally if the situation allowed. But here? They’re a true part of the story. From cutscenes where you are ALL discussing the plan to paralogues that help flesh out their stories even further, and of course, Support conversations, you feel much more connected to the characters.
The support conversations are without a doubt the best part of the game. They had me laughing hysterically, near tears because of their sadness and shocked at the darkness that was within the pasts of them. The Fire Emblem team went all-in on these characters and it showed.
And yes, you can marry one of the characters by the end of the game, and as I noted during a recent NEP episode, I thought I knew who I was going to marry, but by the time I had gotten to that selection part of the game, I had multiple characters that I wanted to make happy by marrying. I never had that issue with Awakening or Fates. Just goes to show you the great writing.
Moving on now to battles (how ironic that it took me over 1200 words to get this far?), it’s a mix of classic Fire Emblem affair in regards to large-scale warfare with turn-based units, but with certain things taken from the 3DS title Shadows of Valentia. Meaning, that there is no weapons triangle like in most Fire Emblem games. Everything does damage to units. And like regular Fire Emblem games, the weapons you use have amounts in regards to how many times they can be used. So if you don’t be careful, they’ll run out of “ammo” and will only do minimal damage in battle.
Also returning is the “reverse time” feature, now called the Divine Pulse. For those who play on Classic Mode (meaning permadeath), Divine Pulse is a godsend (quite literally actually…), because there were so many times that I lost a character because of bad luck or random circumstance that I couldn’t have predicted and it made me glad I didn’t have to restart.
The battles vary in difficulty at times. Early on you’re grinding so you can get your characters where they need to be to advance and survive. Three Houses gives you plenty of time and missions to make sure you level up, and I was grateful. Eventually, things do become easier because your units are all bosses. My Dmitri by the end of the run had 80+ health, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen any unit have in an FE game outside of a boss.
But don’t let that fool you, Part 2 of the game features some very hard missions, and the finale for my run was easily one of the most intense battles I’ve ever done because of many factors. And I had to use Divine Pulse multiple times to save me.
Another big addition to battles is Battalions. These additional units can unleash special attacks on the enemy, tripping them up, doing damage, and causing status effects at times. They help show off the “large scale” of a battle that Fire Emblem hasn’t been able to replicate before. Not to mention, it’s an extra layer of strategy in a very deep game.
As for the story, Three Houses arguably has one of the deepest and most thought-provoking stories in the franchise’s history. Each house has its own tale to tell with their characters. Part 1 of the game does run through many similar paths (outside of paralogues), but how the characters react to everything is different. For example, in one mission, a noble that was related to Ashe was accused of treason, and we had to kill him on orders of Rhea. Ashe was crushed after what happened. Yet Tyler told me that the Golden Deer had a completely different reaction to events.
Then, when Part 2 happens (which is after a 5-year time jump), the story diverges wildly as you focus on your house and their leaders as they try and “save” the world in their own ways. After finishing my run with the Blue Lions, I can’t wait to do the Black Eagles and Golden Deer’s storyline (as well as mysterious “fourth path”…) to see just how much more the story has to offer me.
The game also isn’t afraid to pull out all kinds of twists both shocking and dark. It may all seem standard Fire Emblem fare at some points (kidnapping, betrayals, murder, etc.), but one twist, in particular, is no doubt one of the biggest shocks in all of Fire Emblem. And with so many stories, characters, and elements tying into each other, you almost HAVE to play every storyline just to understand it all and get the answers you seek.
Ok, I think I’ve shown the game with enough praise, don’t you? It’s time for some small critiques.
First off, while I loved the story of the game, I wasn’t lying about having to play ALL of it to get all the story. By the end of Dmitri’s run, I was SURE that there were more levels to do for one reason or another. Yet the story honestly rushed to a conclusion, including denying a key reunion to get to the end. It didn’t hurt the ending per se, but it was odd. Yet, this may not happen in the other storylines, I’ll find out soon.
Second, while I love the monastery sections and having “months” to plan out lessons and battles with, it can get a bit repetitive at times. Especially when your units are so strong they can take out about anything, you don’t really feel compelled to do more battles to get a few extra levels on you. So you’re blasting through to get to the next story mission. That’s why my Blue Lions run was honestly 45 hours instead of like 55, by the end, I just wanted to keep doing the story.
Finally, LOADING SCREENS!!! GAH!!!! While I applaud Intelligent Systems for putting up monthly “most popular” lists to show how other players are using characters (apparently everyone loves the Black Eagles team…), the loading screens are sometimes really long, and when you’re waiting for the next section of cutscenes…you don’t want to see those.
Those very small gripes aside, I can say with absolute certainty that Fire Emblem Three Houses is one of the best games in the franchise and one of the best games on Nintendo Switch. And I seriously have barely touched upon all the great elements of the game and additions like sacred weapons, Crests, and more. You just need to experience it.
If you’re a fan of RPGs, storytelling, intense battles, and interacting with great characters, Fire Emblem Three Houses is definitely something you want to get for yourself.
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Fire Emblem Three Houses Review
Fire Emblem Three Houses had a lot to live up to, but in the end, the game is deep on every level imaginable. Great story, great characters, great customization and freedom to choose your teams how you want to, and more. If you love Fire Emblem, or have been meaning to try it out, get Three Houses and start your LONG journey!