Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a modern blend of blend of previous Fire Emblem games that is likely to please fans, old or new. For those who are not familiar with the Fire Emblem franchise, the games have gone from intensely combat-focused to a veritable romance sim. In Three Houses you play a professor at an academy for young knights, which provides the perfect setting to find the balance between the combat and social aspects of the game. While those seeking a pure fighting game (or purely social game) will have to make some compromise to get the most out of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it is well worth doing!
When you open Fire Emblem: Three Houses you have some serious decisions to make; you have to choose your difficulty, if you want to play in Classic or Casual (essentially a permadeath on/off switch for your characters) and more. Possibly the biggest decision to make is which of the Three Houses to offer your tutelage to. Once you have done this, you follow a calendar of events that allows you to spend your time and activities on training your students in all of the various combat techniques available. Each of these Houses features a different set of characters and follows a unique storyline, allowing for some serious replayability.
Once you have that behind you, you will be enter Garreg Mach monastery, academy for young knights. As their newest professor, you will be introduced to your students and immediately begin training and fighting alongside them. The calendar mentioned above can be a little confusing a first, but actually follows a very straightforward pattern. Mondays are for instruction to increase students’ skills, Tuesday through Friday are typically skipped unless a special event or birthday is triggered, Saturday is a short cut-scene based on your instruction on the previous Monday and Sunday is where the biggest choices are made and most of your time is spent.
With the exception of the last Sunday of the month, where you are forced to complete the mission given to you at the beginning of the month, every Sunday offers many different options for you to pick from. Your first option is to explore the monastery which allows you to complete quests, compete in various tournaments, give gifts to others, recover lost items and return them to their rightful owner, fish, garden and more. This is typically a good choice unless you have either: no events going on at the monastery (indicated by the lack of icons on the calendar), a combat quest picked up from last Sunday to complete, or you do not wish to spend the time to use all of your action points.
The other options are much more straightforward: attend a seminar (increases skills for those in attendance), rest, and take to the battlefield. The battlefield is extremely useful for building the strength of your students, as you can repeat certain battles infinitely, allowing you to gain combat levels as you see fit. There are also hefty gold rewards that will typically outweigh any costs accrued by broken weapons.
Once you engage in a battle there are many options available on how you wish to equip your students, something that must be carefully monitored as your weapons will break over time. Keeping yourself stocked on weapons and supplies is vital to success on the battlefield. The preparation screen will also allow you to review support levels and Combat Arts available for your students. Combat Arts are special moves unlocked by your students that provide more powerful attacks at the cost of greater weapon durability loss.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses also allows you to set each character’s skill focus manually, allowing you to mold your students into a well-oiled fighting machine by balancing your front line, ranged and support units for the greatest tactical efficiency. Students may even approach you on their own to request that they change their focus, which you can accept or reject. Over time, as your students gain weapon skill, you can have them take tests to unlock new fighting classes, each of which comes with their own pros and cons.
Equally important to combat is how you interact with your students in your free time. When you choose to explore the monastery, it is very important to use this time to foster relationships with students so that you can increase their motivation, build support levels with them and further develop their skills. Eventually you will even be able recruit students from other Houses to join you! One thing that should be mentioned here is that the camera is VERY sensitive while you are exploring the monastery, and can be quite frustrating to direct properly until you get used to it.
For those primarily interested in combat there are many options which allow you to automate the instruction of your students. If you choose this route, I highly recommend at least keeping an eye on their skill focuses to make sure you keep a good blend of weapon-proficient students in your roster. It is also wise to build support between your students, as this has strategic benefits as well.
If you choose to focus heavily on the social side of the game, be mindful that it does not impact your team’s combat ability and support levels. It is important that your students build support and continue to train their combat skills, or you will not be able to complete the mandatory combat missions at the end of each month. Another mildly frustrating aspect of the social side of the game is that at times your responses are very limited. For instance, you can be asked a yes or no question and your options are to say “no” in two different ways. Each response does affect the other person differently, however.
As you may have noticed, there is a lot to do in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It is quite rare to see a game with such a deep combat system and a fully-fleshed out storyline, let alone three. It is even more extraordinary to have so much to do in a game and not feel lost or afraid that you’re making the wrong decisions. While all of your decisions will have an impact on your game, it feels always as though they simply alter the path forward, not blocking or hindering you at all.
Overall, the depth of Fire Emblem: Three Houses is simply magnificent. The storylines are rich and intriguing, and the gameplay mechanics have an easy-to-learn difficult-to-master feel that offers satisfying growth as you progress through the game. As someone who enjoys both strategic combat and social interactions that actually impact the game you play, this is a dream game. If you are at all a fan of these genres, this game is a must-have. You will not be disappointed.