Recently, Nintendo released the latest Fire Emblem game. Three Houses, a simple yet wonderfully intricate game reaching the Switch just a few days ago at the time of writing this. Like many before it, this game offers chock-loaded content in the form of frequent combat, plenty of roleplay and oodles of interactive, customizable decision making on and off the battlefield.
How has this game fared thus far? Per the usual, let’s assess what went right and what went wrong
Starting with the good:
1. The game is incredibly immersive with massive replay value
One of the earliest decisions the player needs to make is which house they’d like to be assigned to. Taking the place of Byleth, the veteran mercenary, your character will teach a class dependent on your choice here. We have the Black Eagles, the Golden Deer and the Blue Lions. Your ‘students’ under each house are all very different; different backgrounds, personalities, battle style, and they all seem to take on lives of their own, in a sense, adding tremendously to the immersion value of the game. Each house comes with its own ‘leader’, an individual which also acts in stark contrast to its alternatives.
Given how different the story arc can be based on house, the game has a “3 for the price of 1” feel to it. This is absolutely the defining characteristic of the game.
2. The combat system is very user friendly and easy to enjoy
If you’ve ever played a Fire Emblem from the past, or if you’ve ever played any number of Final Fantasy games, the combat system will immediately feel familiar. It is also very comparable to tabletop Dungeons-and-Dragons; each unit takes a ‘turn’ during a player or an enemy phase, and the two forces collide. New to the franchise is the ‘danger zone’- a player can know if they’re about to move a unit within range of an enemy attack based on where the purple tiles on the map are. This makes the game even more straightforward and easy to learn, though it can also be turned off if a player feels they are receiving too much of an advantage.
3. The potential for a completely unique, creative game is off the walls
Do you want a class full of burly, bulky tanks, units which take hits and never die? Would you rather have a large selection of healers, supporting each other while also laying waste to your enemies? Maybe you’d prefer to have a class full of Dark Mages, Brawlers, maybe Cavaliers… You get the point. Meld and bend your students to fit whatever role you’d like them to fill. The possibilities are practically boundless, leaving the player with endless ways to play the game. This also aids further with the game’s replay value.
4. The character development is off-the-walls flawless
There are nearly a dozen characters in every house, as well as a plentiful cast around your houses. Playing off of a point previously made in #1, every single character, even the rarely seen background characters, is incredibly well built. It is very easy to actually get attached to the majority of the cast because the game gives just about everyone a phenomenal background, unique role, and overall excellent dynamic. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Fire Emblem game without a little bit of romance. This game actually exhibits less opportunities for love, but your character has numerous options to play ‘matchmaker’ as well as obtain a suitor for themselves. All in all, the roster of characters is flawless and really gives this game a tremendous backbone to the story and gameplay.
Like most games, this game does indeed have flaws. Let’s take a look at some of its red flags:
1. The game requires a meticulous amount of attention to detail
Naturally, in a game as deep as this, there are lots of intricacies. LOTS of intricacies. There are lots and lots of things to pay attention to. Important game lore, game mechanics, killing monster bosses, optimizing students for the path you choose for them, it is all very mentally strenuous. While this isn’t inherently bad, it can potentially turn off more casual gamers who just want to drift through a more simplistic game.
2. The game often does not exhibit much attention to detail, and has critically damaging anti-immersion moments
Probably the most commonly seen exhibition of this would have to come in the game’s Classic mode. In Classic mode, unlike Casual mode, if a student of your falls in battle, they die and, barring Divine Pulse intervention, are removed from the rest of the game… Or at least, they should be. In actuality, a ‘dead’ student simply returns to the monastery and takes on the role of an NPC, who will never again be usable in battle. This would be fine and all if the game had made it clear that this would happen during the introduction at the beginning of the story. Quite frankly, for immersion’s sake, if your ill-advised actions (or perhaps actions to prevent a worse evil) cause a student to die, they should be out of the game, period, in every capacity. Doing so would inherently place more weight on the player’s decisions, and would add to the depth of the game as a whole. Additionally, the mechanic of this Classic mode truly implies that a character should die and be gone for the rest of the story if they do. Considering that Fire Emblem is a fighting game, one intended for a more mature audience than, say, Pokemon, Mario or even Smash Bros, having a character die and be actually gone would suit the overall game more, structurally.
Aaaaaand that’s pretty much it.
Overall score: A+
It is often difficult to find a game which is flawless. However, this game comes quite close to achieving just that. It is a masterful addition to the Fire Emblem franchise, and one which just about anybody could enjoy. I would genuinely recommend it to anybody.