“Fire Emblem: Three Houses” Review

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

For a few generations of gamers, ‘Nintendo’ is synonymous with video games. Think of all the things that come to mind when that word is spoken: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon. So many childhoods are filled with these titles, and for many people they encompassed the entirety of their experience with video games.

But in spite of this, Nintendo has had several franchises that are quite obscure to the average gamer. Sure, we all remember Mario, but few could remember Fortune Street, or Custom Robo. Even Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto, arguably the most acclaimed game designer of all time, has had one or two titles never make it to America (anyone remember Devil World?).

And for the longest time, one of those obscure franchises was none other than Fire Emblem. Outside of an aborted attempt at releasing Fire Emblem Gaiden, this pioneering Simulation RPG series was completely obscure and unknown to Western gamers….that is, until Super Smash Bros. Melee, when one of the franchise’s most iconic heroes (Marth) and the protagonist for the then-unreleased Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (Roy) were included as unlockable characters as an afterthought (they were supposed to be replaced during the game’s localization). Gamers overseas were curious: Who were these characters? What Nintendo franchise did they come from? And why did they kick so much ass?

From then on, FE became something of a cult favorite. However, it was with what was supposed to be the series’s swan song, Fire Emblem Awakening, that the franchise finally reached the kind of critical and commercial success that had long eluded it in western markets.

And now, with the release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the franchise has returned to its mature story-telling roots and challenging gameplay, while revolutionizing some of its most basic facets.

What Is It?

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest installment of Nintendo’s storied Simulation RPG franchise, Fire Emblem. Created and developed by in-house studio Intelligent Systems, this famously elaborate and difficult series is well known for its expansive world-building, strategic RPG gameplay, and dragons (there are always dragons). These games are both addictive and tough.

This time around the game takes place on the continent of Fodlan. You play as Byleth (who can be either male or female). Byleth is the child of an itinerant mercenary named Jeralt, who is acclaimed as one of the strongest knights who ever lived. During a fairly routine mission of bandit-clearing, you and your father run into a group of young nobles who are attempting to survive the bandit’s onslaught. These nobles, as you soon discover, are students of the elite officer’s academy at Garreg Mach monastery, which in turn also houses the central office of the Church of Seiros, Fodlan’s primary religious authority. After a recommendation from the Knights of Seiros themselves, you are offered the job of becoming a professor at Garreg Mach’s academy.

It is here that the titular Three Houses of the title comes into play. Students at Garreg Mach are divided into these houses based on their origins:

  • The Black Eagles (representing the Adrestian Empire) are led by Edelgard, who is next-in-line to become Emperor.
  • The Blue Lions (representing the Holy Kingdom of Faergus) are led by Dmitri, the prince and heir to the throne, and…
  • The Golden Deer (representing the Leicester Alliance) led by the son of the most prominent noble family, Claude

After choosing which house you want to teach, your place in this story (and the fate of Fodlan) is set. You will be a part of their lives as both their teacher and their defender, both within Garreg Mach and long after they’ve graduated. You will teach them in the classroom, fight with them on the battlefield, and build relationships that will last a lifetime.

They’re going to need you, as it happens. Sadly, the machinations of feudal politics wait for no one, and already there are some serious intrigues happening under the surface. There’s also this little girl with green hair that keeps talking to you in your sleep……

Fire-Emblem-Three-Houses_2019_07-12-19_008

Why Should I Care?

If FE is known for anything, it is its emphasis on both world-building, and challenging strategy. FE: Three Houses manages to maintain both, while also changing some things up and adding new social elements that enhance the experience.

At it’s heart, this is still very much an FE game. As in FE games past, you and a group of soldiers will take to the battlefield to fight opposing forces with strategic, turn-based, one-on-one combat. Depending on your weapon, strength level, and class of a particular unit, one may either whittle-down or outright massacre an enemy soldier. Byleth will be on the battlefield, of course, but your students (and whoever else you manage to recruit) will be there with you with their various strengths and weaknesses. The series’s traditional weapons triangle has been discarded to allow more varied strategy, and a new Batallion feature allows you to hire and command a squad of soldiers to assist you in battle.  Also, as is the tradition with FE, permadeath is a factor (though optional, as has been the case with recent installments).

However, when you are not on the battlefield, you are in Garreg Mach as a teacher. Your time is run on a schedule with a set number of action points that determine how many activities you can undertake. You spend the beginning of each week in the classroom, either tutoring a set number of students individually or allowing an auto-tutor to decide it for you (and depending on the amount of enthusiasm your students may have, this may on occasion be the best option). Every student has their talents, and all have a wide range of battle classes to choose from, all of varying degrees and power. Although a student may be a particularly good archer, they may decide that they want to focus their talents elsewhere, and may choose another class such as magic or swordsmanship. There is a high degree of customization here, and the possibilities are virtually limitless. You can even recruit students from other houses if they like you enough.

Of course, you aren’t in class all the time, and you’ll get at least one free day per week. Here, you can use your day off to explore the monastery (where you can keep in touch with your students, run errands and take part in various activities like cooking and fishing), have you and some other students take part in a seminar (which is taught by another professor or Church official), go out on the battlefield (where you can take part in side-quests and side-stories for characters), or simply just rest in your private quarters (which will rejuvenate your student’s enthusiasm and recharge some of your more powerful weapons). You can also use this time to go to the marketplace and restock and/or repair supplies and weapons, hire battalions, and sell old items and loot. You can also use the blacksmith to forge stronger weapons or repair old ones (though you’ll need the proper materials to do this). You can also, depending on the level of a particular unit, upgrade to a stronger class by taking exams of varying difficult (from Beginner to Advanced).

Fire-Emblem-Three-Houses_2019_07-12-19_011

What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?

About half way through the game, I faced a dramatic reveal about a certain antagonist that put the entire game into perspective. Unlike FE games of the past, there is no over-all puppet master pulling the strings in the background, or malevolent deity who is feeding off of Fodlan’s aggression. There is no secret Golden Ending where everyone unites as one to restore peace, or some over-arching villain that everyone can unite against. All of the issues on the continent of Fodlan are purely of human origin, and every faction has agreeable reasons for why they are doing what they’re doing. No matter what, you will have to kill one of the leaders of the other houses, and there is no way to avoid this.

And it will hurt. For the first time in the history of the franchise, we have actual character interaction, character arcs and relationships that feel real. These aren’t just nameless grunts you’re dealing with; They are all fully-fleshed out people with hopes, dreams, quirks, and plans for the future. Your time with them effects how they grow up, and there are few things as rewarding as seeing your pupils prosper, nor are there few things as painful as having to kill them (if fate so decides). All of these characters develop relationships not just with you, but with each other, and these relationships can grow from friendship, to even marriage. I myself gravitated towards Edelgard, but I also grew fond of the likes of the mousey Bernadette or the brash tomboy Leonie.

Honestly, however, if I have any quibbles they are minor. Primarily, my issues are graphical, as though the Switch may not necessarily be a graphical powerhouse, it still is not used enough in this game. I occasionally encountered some minor clipping, and NPC characters being stuck in a corner seemingly unable to get out. There is also the use of pre-rendered scenery during cutscenes, and though effective,they are noticeable in their decline of quality. Also, as this is probably the most accessible FE title, it might not be quite as difficult as FE aficionados are used to.

But if anything, I’ve learned that you don’t need mind-bending graphics to make a great experience. In fact, I am distinctly reminded of the Trails of Cold Steel series, in the way that it uses a school environment to tell these miniature story arcs involving virtually every character you encounter. The graphics for those games aren’t mindblowing, and neither are they in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. That might be the reason I like it so much.

Title:
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Platform:
Nintendo Switch
Publisher:
Nintendo
Developer:
Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
Genre:
Strategy RPG
Release Date:
July 26, 2019
ESRB Rating:
T
Editor's Note:
This title was purchased by the reviewer.

For a few generations of gamers, ‘Nintendo’ is synonymous with video games. Think of all the things that come to mind when that word is spoken: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon. So many childhoods are filled with these…

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

For a few generations of gamers, ‘Nintendo’ is synonymous with video games. Think of all the things that come to mind when that word is spoken: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon. So many childhoods are filled with these titles, and for many people they encompassed the entirety of their experience with video games.

But in spite of this, Nintendo has had several franchises that are quite obscure to the average gamer. Sure, we all remember Mario, but few could remember Fortune Street, or Custom Robo. Even Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto, arguably the most acclaimed game designer of all time, has had one or two titles never make it to America (anyone remember Devil World?).

And for the longest time, one of those obscure franchises was none other than Fire Emblem. Outside of an aborted attempt at releasing Fire Emblem Gaiden, this pioneering Simulation RPG series was completely obscure and unknown to Western gamers….that is, until Super Smash Bros. Melee, when one of the franchise’s most iconic heroes (Marth) and the protagonist for the then-unreleased Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (Roy) were included as unlockable characters as an afterthought (they were supposed to be replaced during the game’s localization). Gamers overseas were curious: Who were these characters? What Nintendo franchise did they come from? And why did they kick so much ass?

From then on, FE became something of a cult favorite. However, it was with what was supposed to be the series’s swan song, Fire Emblem Awakening, that the franchise finally reached the kind of critical and commercial success that had long eluded it in western markets.

And now, with the release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the franchise has returned to its mature story-telling roots and challenging gameplay, while revolutionizing some of its most basic facets.

What Is It?

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest installment of Nintendo’s storied Simulation RPG franchise, Fire Emblem. Created and developed by in-house studio Intelligent Systems, this famously elaborate and difficult series is well known for its expansive world-building, strategic RPG gameplay, and dragons (there are always dragons). These games are both addictive and tough.

This time around the game takes place on the continent of Fodlan. You play as Byleth (who can be either male or female). Byleth is the child of an itinerant mercenary named Jeralt, who is acclaimed as one of the strongest knights who ever lived. During a fairly routine mission of bandit-clearing, you and your father run into a group of young nobles who are attempting to survive the bandit’s onslaught. These nobles, as you soon discover, are students of the elite officer’s academy at Garreg Mach monastery, which in turn also houses the central office of the Church of Seiros, Fodlan’s primary religious authority. After a recommendation from the Knights of Seiros themselves, you are offered the job of becoming a professor at Garreg Mach’s academy.

It is here that the titular Three Houses of the title comes into play. Students at Garreg Mach are divided into these houses based on their origins:

  • The Black Eagles (representing the Adrestian Empire) are led by Edelgard, who is next-in-line to become Emperor.
  • The Blue Lions (representing the Holy Kingdom of Faergus) are led by Dmitri, the prince and heir to the throne, and…
  • The Golden Deer (representing the Leicester Alliance) led by the son of the most prominent noble family, Claude

After choosing which house you want to teach, your place in this story (and the fate of Fodlan) is set. You will be a part of their lives as both their teacher and their defender, both within Garreg Mach and long after they’ve graduated. You will teach them in the classroom, fight with them on the battlefield, and build relationships that will last a lifetime.

They’re going to need you, as it happens. Sadly, the machinations of feudal politics wait for no one, and already there are some serious intrigues happening under the surface. There’s also this little girl with green hair that keeps talking to you in your sleep……

Fire-Emblem-Three-Houses_2019_07-12-19_008

Why Should I Care?

If FE is known for anything, it is its emphasis on both world-building, and challenging strategy. FE: Three Houses manages to maintain both, while also changing some things up and adding new social elements that enhance the experience.

At it’s heart, this is still very much an FE game. As in FE games past, you and a group of soldiers will take to the battlefield to fight opposing forces with strategic, turn-based, one-on-one combat. Depending on your weapon, strength level, and class of a particular unit, one may either whittle-down or outright massacre an enemy soldier. Byleth will be on the battlefield, of course, but your students (and whoever else you manage to recruit) will be there with you with their various strengths and weaknesses. The series’s traditional weapons triangle has been discarded to allow more varied strategy, and a new Batallion feature allows you to hire and command a squad of soldiers to assist you in battle.  Also, as is the tradition with FE, permadeath is a factor (though optional, as has been the case with recent installments).

However, when you are not on the battlefield, you are in Garreg Mach as a teacher. Your time is run on a schedule with a set number of action points that determine how many activities you can undertake. You spend the beginning of each week in the classroom, either tutoring a set number of students individually or allowing an auto-tutor to decide it for you (and depending on the amount of enthusiasm your students may have, this may on occasion be the best option). Every student has their talents, and all have a wide range of battle classes to choose from, all of varying degrees and power. Although a student may be a particularly good archer, they may decide that they want to focus their talents elsewhere, and may choose another class such as magic or swordsmanship. There is a high degree of customization here, and the possibilities are virtually limitless. You can even recruit students from other houses if they like you enough.

Of course, you aren’t in class all the time, and you’ll get at least one free day per week. Here, you can use your day off to explore the monastery (where you can keep in touch with your students, run errands and take part in various activities like cooking and fishing), have you and some other students take part in a seminar (which is taught by another professor or Church official), go out on the battlefield (where you can take part in side-quests and side-stories for characters), or simply just rest in your private quarters (which will rejuvenate your student’s enthusiasm and recharge some of your more powerful weapons). You can also use this time to go to the marketplace and restock and/or repair supplies and weapons, hire battalions, and sell old items and loot. You can also use the blacksmith to forge stronger weapons or repair old ones (though you’ll need the proper materials to do this). You can also, depending on the level of a particular unit, upgrade to a stronger class by taking exams of varying difficult (from Beginner to Advanced).

Fire-Emblem-Three-Houses_2019_07-12-19_011

What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?

About half way through the game, I faced a dramatic reveal about a certain antagonist that put the entire game into perspective. Unlike FE games of the past, there is no over-all puppet master pulling the strings in the background, or malevolent deity who is feeding off of Fodlan’s aggression. There is no secret Golden Ending where everyone unites as one to restore peace, or some over-arching villain that everyone can unite against. All of the issues on the continent of Fodlan are purely of human origin, and every faction has agreeable reasons for why they are doing what they’re doing. No matter what, you will have to kill one of the leaders of the other houses, and there is no way to avoid this.

And it will hurt. For the first time in the history of the franchise, we have actual character interaction, character arcs and relationships that feel real. These aren’t just nameless grunts you’re dealing with; They are all fully-fleshed out people with hopes, dreams, quirks, and plans for the future. Your time with them effects how they grow up, and there are few things as rewarding as seeing your pupils prosper, nor are there few things as painful as having to kill them (if fate so decides). All of these characters develop relationships not just with you, but with each other, and these relationships can grow from friendship, to even marriage. I myself gravitated towards Edelgard, but I also grew fond of the likes of the mousey Bernadette or the brash tomboy Leonie.

Honestly, however, if I have any quibbles they are minor. Primarily, my issues are graphical, as though the Switch may not necessarily be a graphical powerhouse, it still is not used enough in this game. I occasionally encountered some minor clipping, and NPC characters being stuck in a corner seemingly unable to get out. There is also the use of pre-rendered scenery during cutscenes, and though effective,they are noticeable in their decline of quality. Also, as this is probably the most accessible FE title, it might not be quite as difficult as FE aficionados are used to.

But if anything, I’ve learned that you don’t need mind-bending graphics to make a great experience. In fact, I am distinctly reminded of the Trails of Cold Steel series, in the way that it uses a school environment to tell these miniature story arcs involving virtually every character you encounter. The graphics for those games aren’t mindblowing, and neither are they in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. That might be the reason I like it so much.

Date published: 08/17/2019
4.5 / 5 stars


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