By Josh Speer / August 9th, 2019
Now, let’s touch upon the combat. Fire Emblem games live or die based on their battles, and I can say those in Three Houses are very satisfying. While I will always miss the Weapon Triangle, I also don’t feel its loss too keenly. Maybe that’s because the last Fire Emblem I played was Echoes, but regardless the tactical component of the game is no joke. While your weapon choice won’t dramatically affect your performance, there’s tons of other factors to keep in mind. As you grow, all your units will learn new abilities based on their class. You can also learn budding talents unique to certain characters, usually by having them focus on a weaker attribute. Proximity to your students will also improve their efficiency in battle, more so if you’re emotionally close with them. One of the coolest new mechanics in the game is the Divine Pulse. Essentially it lets you rewind the clock in battle, undoing a stupid mistake or saving a character who suffered an ignominious defeat. There’s a limit to how many times you can do this per battle, though that can be increased over time. Most importantly, it gives older Fire Emblem fans who are used to resetting their games anyway a more seamless way of doing so.
As far as the interface, that’s also wonderfully efficient. You can rotate the camera, as well as zoom in or out on any map, and by zooming out completely, you get a full view of the area. It displays enemy positions, numbers, you goal and factors which cause you to fail the mission. You are even able to enter the Marketplace or your Convoy before you start the mission proper, which is a nice touch. Pretty much the only thing you can’t do is take Certifications to change your class, so make sure to do that before you accept any mission. Also a nice touch, you can use the shoulder buttons to both toggle the enemy’s entire attack radius as well as shifting between units. One nice new feature is that you can see a glowing red line which indicates which units enemies will target for attack next turn. You can even see a preview of how much damage you’ll receive, which is a life saver. Another new feature unique to Three Houses are Battalions. You can equip these like weapons, and they’ll provide the equipped character boosted stats and the option to use Gambits. These are powerful attacks involving hordes of soldiers that usually inflict a status effect, such as poison or freezing a foe in place. Battalions level up with your characters, up to level 5, and they can be pretty helpful. Similar are Adjutants, which lets you support one of your units with another that isn’t taking direct action in combat. Adjutants will sometimes attack with their ally, and other times support them with special effects, such as healing them, or deflecting an attack against them. Finally, there’s Combat Arts, which lets you sacrifice item durability to utilize powerful attacks. You’ll learn these as you get more proficient with any weapon, and they directly parallel how you learn spells. I liked the give and take of Combat Arts, but found most of them somewhat underwhelming. Especially since when you’ve used up a weapon, they don’t disappear entirely, and can be repaired at the Blacksmith, which hurts the urgency of using them for Combat Arts.
There’s one last thing I need to mention regarding battle, and that’s the demonic beasts in the game. These reminded me fondly of the many monsters in Sacred Stones, though these tend to be much more powerful. For one thing, each demonic beast has multiple layers of armor you’ll need to slice through to finally kill them. For another, they get more dangerous the less armor they have. There’s a wide variety of these creatures in the game, and they’re massive and terrifying in equal measure. To beat them you’ll usually need to surround them with units and pray they don’t kill anyone in the process. Around the time you first encounter them in the game, you can expect things to get a lot more challenging.
The plot in Three Houses starts strong but ends on a weak note. Part I seems very well organized and purposeful, giving players a glimpse of the world of Fódlan and the secret machinations happening on the shadowy periphery. I quickly grew very suspicious of the Church of Seiros’ motivations during the game, but there are other more immediate threats you face, such as the Flame Emperor, the Death Knight and Those Who Slither. I liked the how the game kept you constantly guessing as to who you could trust, and had dramatic unmaskings for certain characters. There are great aspects such as magical Crests passed through bloodlines which determine nobility. What I liked less was how the story dropped the ball towards the end of the game. Several mysteries were left unaddressed, such as the character of Sothis, the identity of the Death Knight, the story behind the Flame Emperor’s creation and much more. Frankly, I was a bit shocked there wasn’t a part III to the game, cause I truly felt there were too many unresolved dangling plot threads. While it’s certainly possible these will be clarified by playing through the other two routes, I can’t help but feel the plot was somewhat incomplete for not addressing them. Also, fun fact, while you can romance and marry your own waifu or husbando, you literally don’t get married til the very end of the game. That struck me as incredibly awkward and anticlimactic. Having said that, there’s still a lot to enjoy here, but you’ll mostly be invested for the characters, not the story. Which is a shame, since it initially seemed like it was going to be an incredible one.
On the point of aesthetics, this is a very pretty game. They have a cel shaded visual style, and animation during combat is very fluid and fierce. Each character also has a great design, though that can change dramatically after the time jump you’ll encounter. Some characters age well, others less so. I personally loved the design for the demonic beasts in the game. Some are scurrying rat-like creatures, others are winged fiends and some are even heavily armored titans. Likewise, the villains in the game all look dramatic and eye-catching, from the least important to the most significant. A good example is Cornelia, who is dressed like a Victorian call girl, and who I would gladly make my waifu if she wasn’t such an evil bitch. Another cool and very distinct artistic touch are the illustrated scenes that display at the start of each chapter, which all look like they could have come from a beautiful old book. Musically, this is a very enjoyable game. The music differs wildly depending on the the tone of the scene, and it’s always catchy. The voice acting is wonderful as well, though the faceless narrator can be a bit mechanical at times. Put together, this is a very attractive package.
While there’s very few serious complaints I have about Three Houses, I want to address some minor inconveniences. While it’s true the user interface is mostly pretty helpful, there are some areas it’s less than intuitive. Such as how you need to press X before you can move the cursor over menus to get a more clear view regarding details about abilities or stats. Another is that Unique classes, which are only available for certain characters, can be hard to find on some menus. Furthermore, it wasn’t clear at first that the star by a class meant it had been mastered. I was a bit disappointed that, in such a big game, the pleased animation while instructing characters is the same for all boys and all girls. It felt strange to see an older woman like Manuela leaping for joy just like the sprightly young Annette. Mostly I felt this hurt their individuality somewhat. Also, if you liked visiting villages and homes to acquire items and save villagers in other games, you’ll be sad to hear that feature is absent here. Which is strange, since supposedly the Church of Seiros’ primary goal is to help those in need. Also, there are significantly less playable characters than in previous games, only about 8 per House compared to Awakening, which had around 40 playable characters, or even Echoes which had around 15. That said, this does make you care more deeply about your students and work harder at keeping them alive, as well as making recruiting other characters far more important.
At first, I honestly thought Fire Emblem: Three Houses was going to get a perfect score. There’s a lot of great stuff here, both old and new. Unfortunately, a few minor issues coupled with an ultimately disappointing story kept it from those lofty heights. That said, I’m still very impressed with the game. I spent about 48 hours to beat my Blue Lions campaign, and you can multiply that by 3 to fully beat the game. Then there’s New Game+ which lets you get through the game faster and bring over hard to get items with you. If that wasn’t enough, there’s cool features such as finding spirits that provide weapons and extra experience when you play the game while connected to the internet. And that’s not even talking about the DLC and amiibo functionality. When you factor all those in, you get a lot of game for $59.99. I’m happy I was able to play this latest Fire Emblem, even if it stops short of being perfect. Even then, this easily might be the best Fire Emblem game in a decade. If you’re a returning fan or just like strategy RPGs, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Review Copy Provided by Nintendo
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