By Josh Speer / August 9th, 2019
|Title||Fire Emblem: Three Houses|
|Developer||Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games Co. Ltd|
|Release Date||July 26th, 2019|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence|
In a way, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a culmination of the Fire Emblem games that have released over the past decade. It builds upon the previous entries in interesting ways, takes elements from several and generally excels. Three Houses has combat and a magic system that reminds me of Fire Emblem Echoes, without the focus on a Weapon Triangle and a ton of flexibility. Story-wise it reminds me a lot of the mystery and menace of Awakening, whereas the multiple narrative routes distinctly reminded me of Fates. There’s a lot of inspiration in this game, and for the most part they do a tremendous job. Which brings us to the question – is this the best Fire Emblem game in a decade? Or is Three Houses less than the sum of its parts?
The story starts with a massive battle being joined by two armies. One is guided by the gruff Nemesis, wielding the Soulcalibur-esque Sword of the Creator. The other is guided by the green haired, furious beauty, named Seiros. You’d think she was the weaker of the two leaders, but after an epic fight she comes out the victor, brutally murdering Nemesis with several angry thrusts of her dagger. Then we’re dragged from the scene of battle, seemingly through time to another green haired woman laying at rest in a throne. Without too many spoilers, her name is Sothis, and she’s vitally important to the story and your main character in particular. For some reason, she’s a sort of guardian angel for the hero, Byleth. You can hear her in your head and she’s seemingly able to protect you from harm. But we won’t linger too much on that, for the sake of those who haven’t played Fire Emblem: Three Houses yet. Instead, let’s move onto the larger plot of the game.
You play as the young mercenary Byleth. Working with your father, Jeralt, you’ve roved the land and earned your bloody keep for many years. But your whole life changes when three young wards, Dimitri, Edelgard and Claude, beg for your assistance in the dead of night. Turns out, they are all students attending the school at Garreg Mach Monastery. Not only that, but they’re all royalty (well, two out of three are), and after you aid them with a bandit problem, they all implore you to come with them to the Monastery. Once you arrive, you’re introduced to the basics and given a choice of which House you’ll instruct. Your choices are the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions and the Golden Deer. Depending on your decision, the flow and narrative focus of the game will change dramatically. My first time I chose Blue Lions, and was made professor of Dimitri’s band of goofballs. Their story is one of duty and adherence to religion and ideals. But no matter which House you choose, you’ll grow quite fond of the students whose lives you instruct. Not only that, but you’ll also go into battle with and watch them grow from fledgling fighters into battle-hardened warriors.
Before we get too far into combat, we need to spend some time talking about Garreg Mach Monastery. It’s the seat of power for the Church of Serios, and each of the three Houses of the Officer’s Academy therein represents a different faction. Dimitri is set to become King of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, Edelgard is princess of the Adrestian Empire and Claude leads the disparate band that is the Leicster Alliance. While they all play together nicely in the first part of the game, some very dramatic events change all that for the second, and final, part of the game. Your goal in the interim is to spend time doing odd jobs and instructing your pupils. In a weird way, it almost seems like Three Houses takes nods from the Persona series. Each month, you can explore, grow closer to your wards, and fulfill quests for the Church. As you do, more options open up, and you’re rewarded with Renown. At first it seemed superfluous, but later on you can spend it at holy Statues to increase the growth rate for your students. You can make it so they learn how to use a Bow or Axe faster, for example. This is especially useful since all these attributes are used to determine which class your students can become.
Like in previous games, you’ll need Seals to promote units. One way it’s different is that there’s not always a guaranteed chance your unit will be promoted. It depends on how closely you adhere to the class’ recommended attributes. If you want to become a Pegasus Knight, you’ll need a good Lance and Riding proficiency, for example. Quick note, if you liked Archers before, you’ll love them now, especially since they all learn Close Counter early, which lets them retaliate if attacked head on. Another way this game is different is the use of magic. Unlike previous ones, it’s not tied to a weapon. As you level up your Reason or Faith attribute, you’ll learn Black and White magical spells. These have a set number of uses in each battle, but thankfully that refreshes upon completion. Once learned, you can use your magical spells with any class, so long as that class is capable of using magic. I admit this took me a while to wrap my head around, but thankfully there’s a lot of choices for classes that can multitask this way. Though such classes tend to be squishier than physical only ones, they make up for it with a versatility of options, such as healing others with Heal or Restore, putting protective Wards on allies or draining health with Nosferatu. Or if you prefer Black magic, there’s tons of attack spells, such as Wind, Fire, Thoron and much more.
Since you’re a professor at Garreg Mach, it stands to reason you need to actually teach your students. At the start of each week, you’re given the opportunity to teach them. Depending on their Motivation level, they can get more sessions in. These are incredibly simple to do, you just pick an attribute such as Sword proficiency or Charisma, and the student will improve a bit in that category. Usually they’ll get a Good or Great, meaning they only earn a bit of experience, but sometimes they snag a Perfect, which gives you another chance to teach them. They’ll also get Bad on occasion, but by properly reading the student, and either critiquing or consoling them, they’ll rally through. You can also set Goals for each student, and they’ll focus on improving those stats at the end of each week. If that all sounds too complicated, you can always choose auto instruct, though I preferred just figuring it out through trial and error. As you move through each week, you’ll celebrate student’s birthdays, answer their pressing questions and attend ceremonial events. You can also invite other professors to teach Seminars, helping increase your student’s proficiency in their areas of strength.
Besides all that teaching, there’s other things to do. You have the option to Explore a few times each month, which lets you wander around Garreg Mach picking up odd tasks and further bonding with students. You’re able to eat with them, sing in choir with them, garden and fish (which is surprisingly fun), and lots more besides. Though your focus is your small group of students, you can also befriend characters from other Houses. If you can impress them with specific accomplishments in attributes they respect, you’re able to recruit them to your House. Just expect a lot of effort to get your stats up to task. As you progress, more areas are unlocked in the Monastery, opening up even more options. Thankfully, you get the ability to fast travel to any location you’ve visited, which makes running around Garreg Mach far less of a chore. You also are able to take on optional quests and Paralogues, which reward you with items and increased Motivation for your students. Frankly, there’s more things to do than I can spend talking about in this review, but suffice to say, you can spend your time in Three Houses pretty much how you choose. The only thing you can’t avoid are the story battles that occur towards the end of each month. They start pretty easy and ramp up slowly. For most of Part I, I had little to no problem winning battles. But the farther I got, the more wrinkles they add, such as reinforcements and blinding fog. There’s other things I can’t mention, so just be wary and never expect any mission to be as simple as it first seems. Oh and if Part I is too easy for you, just wait for the battles in Part II.
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