In recent years the turned based strategy franchise Fire Emblem has expanded in popularity in the West thanks to games such as Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Fates. What was once considered a niche franchise known only by diehard Nintendo fans is now one of the company’s most profitable franchises. As a result of this increased financial success Nintendo has gone out of it’s way to promote the latest game in the series Fire Emblem: Three Houses by dedicating lengthy segments of their Nintendo Directs in order to build up anticipation. Throughout these previews and trailers a lot of focus was placed on the Officers Academy, an elite school that trains students in the ways of combat and magic. They primarily drew attention to the three separate classes that the player can lead. Needless to say it got people excited for it to release on July 26, 2019.
Fire Emblem Three Houses takes place in the fictional continent of Foldan, which is divided into three nations, The Adrestian Empire, The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus and The Leicester Alliance, which are currently in a state of peace. In the center of the continent is the Garreg Mach Monastery home to both the Church of Serios and the Officers Academy. The main character is a young mercenary canonically named Byleth who starts the game working alongside their father Geralt. After saving several Academy students from bandits the two are taken to the Monastery to meet the Archbishop Rhea. As a sign of gratitude Rhea offers Byleth a job teaching one of three school’s boarding houses. From there Byleth has to carry out his job training and protecting his house of students while the situation around the continent worsens and it becomes apparent that there are sinister powers targeting the Academy and even Byleth themselves.
Gameplay wise Fire Emblem Three houses are split into two unique sections. Firstly is the Academy section where Byleth can wander around the Monastery on their days off, engaging in side quests to earn items and interact with the students and faculty of the academy. On weekdays Byleth has to instruct his students by selecting a skill for them to focus on (i.e. lances, reason, horseback riding) and by the end of the week they will gain experience towards that skill and eventually level up, gaining the ability to wield stronger variations of weapons or use more powerful magic. The second sections are the battles in which you guide Byleth and their students across a map to clear an objective. Most of the time the objective is to defeat the enemies either by eliminating all of them or taking out one or more commanders. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, for example Caspar is skilled with axes and gauntlets but falters in using bows, reason (black magic) or authority. Every character also has a unique passive ability that usually stems for their established character traits for example Lysithea, the hardworking prodigy has the ability mastermind that increases her experience gains in battle or the skirt chaser Sylvain’s unique ability is Philanderer which increases his offense and defense by two points if he is placed adjacent to a female ally. Like most Fire emblem games each weapon has a durability limit and when it is reached the weapon breaks, however unlike previous games in the series broken weapons can still be used albeit with worse damage, accuracy, and no chance of scoring a critical hit.
A new mechanic introduced in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the battalions, which is groups of soldiers you can hire and assign to students. Students who have battalions can perform gambits; special moves that can either severely damage enemies or defend your allies. A massive benefit to using a gambit as an attack is that unlike regular attacks enemy soldiers are unable to counter it. While gambits are useful against standard enemies they are essential against beasts, giant monsters with multiple health bars that hit extremely hard. By using a series of gambits you can temporarily stun them allowing other units to attack them without consequence. Another key feature is the Divine Pulse that lets players rewind a limited number of times to fix any mistakes they made. This allows you to save units who have died in a previous turn and/or let you approach the situation in a different way. The Pulse can only be used around three to four times at first but later on you can upgrade it to give you more chances.
For me the highlight of the game is definitely the characters. Each unit is fully voiced and have established personalities. While some can initially come off as one note and annoying like Bernadetta being scared of everything or Raphael loving food later interactions and side quests helped develop them as characters and by the end they really grew on me. The story is decent but there are times especially early on where several moments of intrigue and mystery are spoiled due to over explanation. That being said even in those low points of the story the characters shine and by the end you’ll definitely grow attached to some of the characters.
My only major complaint story wise is with the main character Byleth. Having the main character be represented as an analogue for the player is nothing new for the series, previous heroes like Corrin and Robin where written that way and they worked fine. The problem is unlike those two Byleth barely talks or even has an established personality, which makes them, come off as incredibly dull. Without wishing to spoil there is an in-game reason for all of this and while it is interesting I kind of feel like it was just lazy. Another thing that bothers me are the lack in variety of objectives in the missions. Usually the mission is either to route the enemy or to kill the enemy commander and that is it through the majority of the game. Occasionally they mix it up by having you protect villagers or guide a unit to safety but these only happen two to three times per campaign. Finally one minor thing that annoyed me was some of music choices. For most of the game the music has a grand orchestra backing it up and it sounds great. However there are one or two songs that include techno and dubstep and it clashes with the tone like oil and water. It’d be like if the music for the climatic battle in Return Of The King was created by Skrillex.
I really enjoyed my time with Fire Emblem: Three House despite my gripes with the main character and the lack of variety in missions. The characters are the real selling point and while parts of the story drag early on once it kicks off it becomes very entertaining. The inclusion of three separate routes really adds to the game’s replay value. It may too be early to say but it might be one of my favorite games of the year.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review
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