Oh my gosh!!! I don’t even know where to start. Ben got me interested in Fire Emblem not long after we met and I must admit I tried most iterations within the franchise with various degrees of sticktoitiveness. My favourites have always been the home console versions because they’re simply more immersive and I really appreciate having a console that does a little bit of both. The Nintendo Switch is just so versatile!
So Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest installment in the franchise and is great for new players and veterans alike. The thing I’ve always criticized the franchise for in the past (as a fan) is that these games are tremendously dialogue friendly, they really like to use a hundred words where three would have sufficed, and it’s not even to the benefit of additional description, often times I’ll find characters reiterating information I already know. The games also follow a very predictable formula, generally it’s cut-scene, world map, dialogue battle, dialogue, dialogue, battle, dialogue and a few more world map explanations thrown in for good measure. The story is certainly sophisticated and largely well explained. Plot wise, these games are always compelling, and this installment is no different in that sense.
Focusing on the gameplay for a second, Three Houses adds an explorative element to proceedings which definitely breaks up the action and allows the player to complete quests, talk to your students and cohorts and explore the grounds of the vast Garreg Mach monastery, which does a excellent job of reminding me of all the whimsy of the Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s refreshing because at the start of the game, Fire Emblem almost made me feel like Turn-based battles weren’t at all the focus point of your adventure.
As you progress throughout the year, you’re presented with a calendar and what you do on weeks without events is largely up to you. The calendar will remind you when it’s someone in the monastery’s birthday or when an important event or occasion is observed and you can choose whether to interact with that event or not.
Sundays are your ‘free time’ in which you can choose to explore Garreg Mach monastery itself, do battle (which presents you with an array of side-story missions and auxiliary skirmishes as well), attend seminars with your students in order to better yourself at various fighting and magic skills or simply rest to regain your house’s motivation. A separate menu allows you to reclass or unlock new classes for your roster , engage in support conversations to deepen the bond between characters and visit the marketplace, among other things.
Mondays are typically reserved for lectures and allow you to train your class of characters, here you can also change their goals (what they’ll focus on when progressing throughout the week) and they may even approach you to change their goals or seek advice automatically.
Each month there is usually an event that takes places at the end which progresses the story and this is perhaps where the game becomes the most engaging for classic Fire Emblem fans. Here it becomes the game everyone remembers with revamped graphics, a couple of new game mechanics and an extremely engaging plot. I am just over forty hours in which is unheard of for me. I have never completed a game of this size or calibre before. Generally I tend to shy away from things I think may get too involved or difficult but Three Houses offers the ability to play this game in a variety of methods which really makes it suitable in difficulty for everyone. More on this point, another interesting observation from me is just how easy, or slow the learning curve, is for someone who is playing this game on casual and easy mode, it really enables you to progress with the story, but I haven’t found many battles that were difficult or even challenging at this point so it’ll be interesting to see what this game offers in terms of difficulty upon subsequent replays.
Is there room for improvement? Yes, particularly in one area of this game. Like I’ve said before some of the dialogue in RPGs as a genre can seem a bit cumbersome and possibly heavy-handed at times. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is no exception to this rule. I’m almost a little disappointed that this game does not offer much in the way of representation. Romance is something that has been mentioned throughout the game, and traditionally this is associated with top-rank support levels with various characters in the game, I can’t comment on what the female form Byleth encounters but there are only three S-rank conversations available to you as male form Byleth and of these two are not romantic, whereas, quite accidentally, I’ve managed to already A-rank a female character from my house and things are already quite charged shall we say. You can get an S-rank with most of the female characters, though I’m sure some of these will not conclude with a romantic ending, it’s still a little disappointing that we’re in 2019 and there’s still a poor show in terms of equality and diversity within the RPG community in general.
Overall, I can already see this becoming one of my all-time favourite games to play. The replay value of this Fire Emblem: Three Houses is tremendous, I can already see myself asking ‘how does the story change if I pick a different house?’ or ‘What if I were playing as Byleth (the player character) in the female form?’ or ‘I wonder how I’d fair playing on classic mode?’ and so on. Another impressive feat I’ve really come to enjoy is that I’ve yet to come across a single line of dialogue that has not been voice acted! If you’ve never played a Fire Emblem game before, this is certainly a great introduction to the franchise, there’s so much that you can customise about your gameplay experience that it’ll take a lot of subsequent replays to even get close to seeing all that this game has to offer, so long as you like turn based tactical battles, you’re on to a winner here. If you’re a seasoned Fire Emblem veteran, there’s still a lot here to admire and adding the monastery and teaching mechanics really spices up the gameplay, I can’t speak to the difficulty of the game at the moment, but you’ll probably find the harder difficulty settings more to your interest.
I will be back with an update after completing the game. So long for now.