Nothing good can exist without there being ten of it! This is the law of the video game industry! Toward that end, I’m going to say this ten more times, since it’s a favorite maxim of mine – you can predict what games will come by whatever made a splash last week. Speaking of splashes, once upon a time decent games in the life sim/RPG subgenre were pretty sparse, at least those available for western gamers. For the longest time practically the only quality choice was Persona 3, which combined elements of a life sim and an RPG into a classic mix.
Since then, we’ve seen heavy-hitters like Mana Khemia, Trails of Cold Steel and now Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the latest in this subgenre and one of the more innovative entries in Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series.
The land of Fódlan is divided amongst three political entities – the Adrestian Empire, the Leicester Alliance and the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Between them all lies Garreg Mach Monastery, home of the Church of Seiros and the Officer’s Academy. This is where the mercenary Byleth winds up after they have a chance encounter with some students from the academy, and thanks to their famous father they end up with a teaching job.
Byleth will have to choose one of the three houses of the Officer’s Academy to lead – the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions and the Golden Deer, each representing one of the three nations of Fódlan. The decision they make will guide their fate and that of the land as they learn about their past and the history of the world. Either way, there are villainous forces at work behind the scenes that Byleth and their students will have to confront.
Three Houses takes the standard Fire Emblem high fantasy formula and mixes in a little of that tasty life simming. As a teacher, it’s up to Byleth to instruct their students and ensure that they’re ready for battle. You’ve got a limited amount of time each week to explore the monastery grounds, conduct teaching seminars, write up lesson plans and engage in auxiliary battles. Proper time management in order to achieve the most efficient gains possible is vital for success.
Well, it if is you’re playing on Hard. Three Houses is something of an anomaly in the Fire Emblem canon in that it’s fairly easy once you’ve gotten past the initial hump. Gameplay-wise it’s got a lot in common with previous games, including the classic weapon triangle and many familiar classes, but the teaching mechanic tends to push characters toward being good at multiple combat styles rather than just one. That means that your team ends up being extremely versatile and, as a result, extremely badass. As mentioned, you’d probably want to play on Hard.
You’ll also probably want to play several times on Hard, since you do have three different story routes to explore. They’re substantially different, as well, featuring varying party members, plot points and battles. All the writing is fantastic, almost uncharacteristically so for a video game, and it’s great getting to know your students over time. There’s definitely plenty of content to enjoy here, and replaying Three Houses doesn’t feel like a chore as it does in other games with this sort of mechanic.
Battle, exploration and teaching alike are great fun, even if they tend to be a little less challenging than expected. They also look about as good as one can hope given they’re on the Switch. Combat animations feature that beloved flashy Fire Emblem style, though spell effects tend to be somewhat underwhelming. Voice acting, meanwhile, is somewhat iffy from an English perspective and decent enough from a Japanese perspective.
There’s so much going on in Fire Emblem: Three Houses that, assuming you don’t hate strategy-RPG combat, chances are you’ll find some aspect or another that you’ll love. If you’re into the life sim/RPG subgenre, there’s definitely something for you here – and it really shouldn’t need saying that Fire Emblem fans should sign up. As for which House you should pick first…I mean, in the interests of objectivity, let’s just say it rhymes with “fellow.” Obviously.