Developed by Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games Published by Nintendo of America Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
The last time a Fire Emblem game was released was the remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, called Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia for the Nintendo 3DS in 2017. The last mainline game in the series to be released was the two (or three if you purchased the DLC) simultaneous released games, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Conquest in 2015. To go back even further, the last time a mainline game was released on a home console was Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn on the Nintendo Wii a full decade before that. So now that we’ve got a brand new adventure in the franchise on a system that’s both a handheld and a home console at the same time, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an excellent adventure to experience whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer.
You play as this game’s avatar character, Byleth, who saves some students from a group of bandits. Each of them is a prominent member of noble society from their respective homelands. They each request for you to come to their school to personally become an instructor to teach each of their houses: Black Eagles, The Blue Lions or The Golden Deer. Once you make your choice, you begin instructing and training a class exclusively from that country. As the story progresses, you begin to learn about the mysteries that surround the nations as secrets and conspiracies are uncovered over the course of your tenure teaching.
Fire Emblem Three Houses plays like most other Fire Emblem games. You go through the story, and in between you control your units to either route the enemy troops or complete the mission goal. When you battle your opponents, you still control one unit at a time, choose your actions, pick which weapon to use, and then let the actions play out. But there are several differences and additions to the formula. For example, there are new weapons added to the game like the gauntlets, and so along with that comes new classes to unlock such as the Grappler and Warmaster.
All of the other classic weapons are here. The weapon triangle system has been tweaked so that it’s not as prominent as earlier games. Instead, as your character grows, he or she will learn abilities that specifically target or gain advantages over specific classes or weapons. Speaking of classes, you’re no longer limited to only a handful of classes per character. While everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, you can put anyone into just about any class when they go into the battle field. How it works is what you do outside of battle.
The game progresses on a calendar like system that you’ve seen in games like the Persona series. Once you choose the house that you’d like to teach, you spend time with each student as they study up on specific areas of combat. For example, you can either further along Edelgarde’s axe wielding abilities even further since that’s already her specialty, or you can have her learn how to use a bow or even magic. You also set goals for the students to study on their own time so that at the end of every week their stats in their main focus can grow even outside of battle.
The avatar character can improve their stats in a variety of different ways too. Outside of combat, you can also attend group seminars taught by the other teachers or have one on one lessons once a week from each of the other teachers. Once you reach a specific level you can start testing to be able to change into one of the advanced classes. The idea is to get high enough in a rank to have a 100% chance to pass, but you could always try to take the advancement tests early at a lower percentage if you’re willing to risk failing and wasting the items needed to change.
If you’re worried about being locked in for your choices in picking a house, you can actually recruit nearly every character from the other houses. There are other characters that do show up as the story progresses that aren’t affiliated in any houses that may be recruited as well. Just establish a relationship between said character over time or level up specific traits for your avatar so you can prove to them that you’d be able to train them in what they’re interested in.
The sound and visual presentation for the game is pretty top notch. For the first time in the series, players can select between English and Japanese audio tracks. The music in the main story’s missions is fantastic. The paralogue and side mission battles have a different theme that leaves much to be desired. If you happen to have any Fire Emblem amiibo in you possession, you can scan them to actually change the battle theme to whatever throwback tracks that amiibo character is from.
The visuals are the best they’ve ever been since this is the first console release for a mainline Fire Emblem game since Radiant Dawn. While it still keeps the traditional top down view, once a battle begins, the camera zooms into the action seamlessly to get a much closer look at the characters. But if that’s not even enough for you, just pressing the + button on the controller will let you zoom in even further and you can see the character’s detailed battle model. You can also take control of them and move them in this close up mode. However, it’s not recommended if you like to see the full map as you make your moves. If you don’t pay attention, you could easily get flanked by enemies you might not have noticed even with the mini map still available in this mode.
Another fine addition in battle is now you can see target lines of sight that tell you which enemies will attack you the first chance they get before you end your turn. This prevents carelessly losing your units. If you still manage to accidentally lose a unit, there’s a new rewind feature that allows you to go back to a specific turn. This will prevent you from having to reset the entire console just to get that perfect game if you’re looking to save all of your units until the end of the game. Permadeath is still in the game as long as you play on the normal difficulty setting. You only get a couple of charges at the start of the game, but completing challenges and side quests will net you more rewind chances. If you run out, you can hold the shoulder buttons and the + and – buttons for a quick reset.
Playing the game is extremely safe as well as the various chances to mulligan in the off chance you do make a mistake does make the game seem much easier than its predecessors. Even that is fixed with just changing the difficulty settings at the start of your game. If that’s still not enough, you can unlock higher difficulty settings once you complete the game. Which is likely since to experience the story differences between each house you may end up playing the game multiple times. In some cases, the story will dramatically change between each run through and the choices you make in them.
Overall, if you always wanted to get into Fire Emblem then this is the absolute perfect game to start with. If you already were a Fire Emblem fan, then you definitely want to pick up this game. You’ll want to keep playing Fire Emblem Three Houses because it’s a phenomenal game that’s great to play at home or on the go.