Fire Emblem: Three Houses – REVIEW (Nintendo Switch)

It’s been twelve years since a mainline
Fire Emblem has appeared on a console. And while the series has reached new heights
of popularity thanks to Fire Emblem Awakening, there’s a different expectation when it
comes to handheld games. The series might have stumbled in the eyes
of some fans with the release of Fire Emblem Fates, but I felt that Intelligent Systems
rebounded well with its follow-up, Fire Emblem Echoes, and it made me optimistic for the
future of the franchise. But now that the latest game, Fire Emblem:
Three Houses, has arrived on the Nintendo Switch, can it meet or even exceed the expectations
of so many? For my money? Yes. Three Houses takes place on the continent
of Fodlan, which is ruled by three separate factions, the Adreistrian Empire, the Kingdom
of Faerghus, and the Leicester Alliance. But at the center of them all is the Church
of Seiros, a religion that reveres a goddess that watches over the continent. This church is centralized at the Garregg
Mach Monstastery which not only serves as the seat of power for the Archbishop and her
knights, but serves as an officer school for students around the continent. And it’s here that the majority of Three
Houses’s story takes place. Players take the role of a young man or woman
raised to be a mercenary by their father. But a chance encounter leads to a meeting
with the future leaders of each faction of Fodlan. After rescuing them from danger, the church
decides that you will serve well as the school’s new Professor, and it isn’t long before
you must choose one of their Houses. It’s here that events can take extremely
different forms. Now upon starting, the differences don’t
seem to be that major. It mostly comes down to the students in the
House you choose and how they react to events in the story. But the farther along that I played, the more
apparent it became that things would be vastly changed in the other playthroughs. And that in itself is an exciting concept
simply because of the replayability. As I said, each House begins roughly the same
with you guiding the students through a school year where each month, a certain mission must
be completed. But as that year comes to a close, the differences
begin to take shape. And the story is absolutely changed after
a five year time skip takes place, as revealed by Nintendo themselves. The entire continent is at war with one another
and the complexities of it tie back to which House you chose. And this is handled much better here than
it was in Fire Emblem Fates. The idea of choosing a side feels like it
matters so much more thanks to the fantastic writing, memorable characters, and the impressive
amount of world-building. While at first it seems like Three Houses
will be relatively light-hearted, there are some surprisingly dark moments that take place. Torture, child abuse, lofty expectations,
and fading beauty are just some of the themes explored after choosing my House. Every character has a story to tell and, unlike
past Fire Emblem titles, all of them seem to matter. Yes, you might recruit new characters with
cool abilities during the course of a playthrough in the old games, but you never really learned
much about them. They rarely felt integral to the story. And though there are obviously bigger players
than others, the cast of Three Houses feel involved as they give their thoughts on what’s
happening after each chapter. One of the best examples of this is when they
comment on killing their first person when battling bandits. It’s an extremely humanizing and character
defining moment. Much of that ties into the world-building. The history of Fodlan is surprisingly detailed
with events given much more import. The founding of each nation is explained,
the politics of their nations are well presented, and the way the children of nobles tie into
these aspects is given proper due. Even their relationships with countries that
border Fodlan are elaborated upon. That said, only the essentials are spelled
out when it comes to this world-building, but much more can be discovered that adds
layers to choices and events. At the time of this review, I have only completed
one of the House’s stories. Much of the school year is spent crafting
mysteries that made me absolutely curious to what was really going on. And although it came to a satisfying conclusion,
not every answer was provided in my playthrough. In fact, many of the answers would be revealed
thanks to support conversations with my own character or could be inferred by what shown
during my story. This emphasizes that while you may know most
of the answers after a single playthrough, every house must be seen in order to understand
it all. Considering the fact that a single playthrough
took me 60 hours, that kind of time investment may be a turn-off to some. Now I did make sure to do as much as I could
in that playthrough and it’s possible to rush through it all, but that extra time I
took added to the story experience. So future playthroughs will be faster, but
only slightly as I find the story to be so fascinating and want to see it all. Thankfully, the game is fun enough to support
my desire to see all those story threads. But it’s not without issues. Three Houses doesn’t change that much when
it comes to the basic gameplay formula of the series. It’s still a turn-based strategy RPG where
characters utilize different weapons and their power and accuracy have to be taken into account. However, a key aspect is missing, the Weapon
Triangle. In many of the previous games the Triangle,
where Swords beat Axes which overpowered Lances that then defeated Swords, made the player
more conscious of where they were sending units. It provided the series with an identity and
emphasized the strategy aspect. And yet that’s never a concern in Three
Houses, as it’s been replaced by Combat Arts, Gambits, and Abilities. Combat Arts are weapon-specific special moves
that allow them to do more damage, be more accurate, or even be more effective against
certain other units at the cost of that weapon’s durability. Instead of a single point of durability lost
for each strike, using a Combat Art could cost up to five, which could leave the unit
with nothing but broken weapons if abused. And while Combat Arts absolutely had their
uses, I didn’t find them to be essential during my first playthrough on Normal difficulty,
only helping to get the job done just a little quicker. However, when I tried Hard mode for my second
House, I found that the accuracy of my units were a lot lower making the Combat Arts a
near necessity. And that added to the strategy as I had to
balance their use to avoid burning through my inventory. Next are the Gambits which are how Battalions
are accessed during battle. Battalions can be hired and assigned to each
character and come with a variety of abilities ranging from attacking directly and pushing
the opponent back, to unleashing a wide-ranging fire spell, to helpful abilities such as healing
or even granting boosts to surrounding units. They only have a few uses per battle, but
they can prove useful in a pinch, especially since enemies can’t counterattack when hit
by them. Of course this also means you can’t either
when enemies use their Battalions. In terms of a normal fight, I found them to
be a fun addition though rarely necessary. But when Demonic Beasts entered the fray,
they became an extremely useful tool. These creatures have multiple health bars
that need to be whittled down one at a time. Even if a unit causes more damage than what’s
left in a single bar, those extra hit points don’t carry over. It’s as if they got a full heal. But when using a Battalion against them, the
beasts can be stunned, allowing other units to wail on them without fear of a counterattack. However, if they’re not defeated that turn,
they’ll use a powerful area of attack that could put multiple characters in danger. It made for a fun back and forth and I found
myself enjoying the fights against these beasts as it forced me to use more of my repertoire
and carefully plan my attacks, especially when the map was full of them. Finally, there are Abilities which come in
three flavors, Personal, Class, and Equippable. Personal Abilities are unique to each character
and can give bonuses such as earning more experience, grant extra defense when choosing
to wait instead of attacking, and even boons to using Battalions or the ability to naturally
open chests and doors. Class Abilities are buffs that come from the
character’s chosen Class and change depending on their current one. So for example if you have a Cavalier, they’ll
be able to use Canto, which allows them to move after attacking. And then there are the Equippable Abilities
which are earned from leveling up a character’s skills such as Swords or by mastering a Job
Class. It allows players to customize their units
however they want and this is also how the Weapon Triangle makes a slight appearance,
allowing you to equip a specific weapon buff against another, such as Sword vs Axe. I found myself constantly wanting to improve
my characters to see what Abilities they would earn, many of which made them incredible on
the battlefield. These Skill levels also tie into Combat Arts
and Magic. Sometimes, leveling up a Skill will provide
a new attack rather than an Ability. And this is most significant when it comes
to Magic. Instead of having to wield Tomes much like
other weapons in past games, magic in Three Houses is learned. They still have a limited number of uses,
but it replenishes after each battle. So rather than having 20 Heals right off the
bat thanks to a staff, I needed to be more cautious when using the 5 Heals that I had
in the beginning. But as I raised a character’s Skill in Reason,
for Black Magic, and Faith, for White Magic, the more powerful spells they had at their
disposal. This also meant that the previous spells had
more uses. I love this system. I used Mages more than I ever have in a Fire
Emblem game and felt rewarded each time. They were some of my best units and I found
myself wanting to raise their Skills just to see what Spell they got next. It’s that customization that really makes
Fire Emblem: Three Houses shine. And it all stems from the introduction of
the school and its related mechanics. When I first heard about the school setting,
I was concerned it would make the moments between battles unnecessarily complex. I was there to fight and test out my strategies,
not teach kids and wander a school. But it works, and I found myself wanting to
do everything I could each time I returned to it. The school, along with the Three Houses themselves,
is what really gives the game its unique identity. And that feels like a necessity because the
actual maps are rarely exciting. Most battles have the goal of destroying all
enemies or defeating the commander with few exceptions in my experience. Extra battles are possible, as I’ll talk
about later, but even then it mainly consisted of old maps used in slightly different ways. Choosing a different House also had me playing
most of the same maps as well. Unique maps for each story didn’t really
appear until the time skip. I would find them enjoyable, but I still wanted
a bit more variety. With that said, let’s break down how a month
typically works as this will also introduce the many different side activities available
between the story battles that lead into the next month. Things typically begin with a short story
sequence where your mission for the month is laid out, such as dealing with a rebellious
noble. You have the entire month to get whatever
you need to done, but that doesn’t mean that every day is free for you–This isn’t
Persona. Instead, every Monday is used to set the lesson
plan for that week while every Sunday is a free day where players can choose to do what
they’d like. Lesson Plans essentially boil down to how
you want each unit to grow and allows you to guide them however you’d like based on
the Goals you set for them. Goals are essentially the Skills that a unit
will focus on. These can be changed at any time in the main
menu as well, but they only go into effect after a lesson, where the characters will
receive a nominal boost that will eventually increase their rank and grant them new abilities
or magic. But players can also personally instruct each
student to grant a small bonus in whatever skill they want, which ties into the student’s
motivation. The more motivation they have, the more times
they can be instructed and potentially increase their skill. How much skill they earn ties into their own
preferences, how well your character excels at that skill, and other bonuses that can
be obtained when exploring the school. In addition, how well they take to the instruction
determines how many points they earn. A Good rank will only give the set amount
of points while Great multiplies it by 1.5 and increases affection for Supports. Then there’s Perfect which doubles the amount
of points, increases affection, and even restores a little motivation, at least the first time
a Perfect appears. For those wanting to save time, there’s
also Auto-Instruct which chooses several units and raises them according to their previous
goals. And then there’s the Group Tasks which has
two students work together on a project that will increase their skill in Riding, Flying,
or Heavy Armor while also raising their Support with one another and earning extra money. Once the Lecture begins, the students earn
their skill points and hopefully increase their levels allowing them to be more effective
on the battlefield. And this is where Certifications come into
play. Every Sunday, students can choose to take
an exam that will change their character class. Everyone begins as a noble or a commoner but
once they reach level 5, more options become available until they have access to a multitude
of choices. What they can become is dependent upon their
Skill levels and multiple skills are required for later classes. For example, you might have an Archer who
you then made a Sniper, but there’s no better class of pure archery after that. Your best bet is to make them a Bow Knight
which in addition to Bow skills requires Lances at the A rank and Riding at least at C. So looking ahead and see what you want each
character to become is important so you can properly plan out their growth. It sounds complex and I felt a little overwhelmed
at first, but it wasn’t long until I had plans for each student and was enjoying the
fruits of their learning. In fact, I rarely changed classes as they
became available, instead wanting to master what I had in order to receive more Abilities
and then making the change. There’s also a percentage chance of passing
these certifications. It’s possible you want to change a class,
but you don’t have the skill levels for it yet. Well, based on how close those skills are
to what’s required, you can still attempt to pass the course. It might work or it might not, but it is possible
to save beforehand in case it doesn’t. Between the Lesson Plans and the Certifications,
it leads to a lot more possibilities in terms of what your characters are capable of. And there are suggestions to what they could
be, but they don’t need to be followed if that’s what you don’t want for them. Along with Certifications, players can choose
to Explore the school, take a seminar with their students, partake in extra battles,
or simply rest to partially restore everyone’s Motivation for the next batch of lessons. Of these options, I found Explore and Battles
to be the most essential. Rest could help on occasion but I rarely found
it necessary and Seminars have another professor teach you and other students in the skills
that they excel at. Exploring the school is how you talk to students
both in and out of your house and take part in side activities, which I’ll cover soon. The core of much of this comes down to the
player’s Professor Level. This determines what you can do and how often
you can do it. For example there’s the garden which allows
players to plant seeds, cultivate them, and then harvest them upon the next visit. The higher your Professor Level the more seeds
you can plant and better you can cultivate them in order to get better results. These plants can come in the form of food
that can be used in the dining hall or as flowers that can be given to the students
as gifts. When a gift is given to a student it increases
their affection and will even restore some motivation to your own students. This means that Supports with people outside
of your class is possible though the battle bonuses for that are obviously not there. However, it’s also possible to recruit other
students into your class. It may take a while though as each one is
looking for something specific from you as a teacher. You need to be proficient with a certain skill
and have a high enough stat such as Strength or Magic. So if there’s a certain student that you
want to have in your House, you can focus on building your character in that way. This is helped along by the other adults at
the school as they’ll teach you how to increase skills that they’re proficient in. However, this does take away a unit of time. Time, in this case, is determined once again
by your Professor Level. The higher it is, the more time you’ll have. And not every activity will consume it. Gardening is free to do though it can only
be done once per exploration and the simple fishing mini-game is freely available. Both give nominal experience to your Professor
level and are fine for what they are, a distraction. The fishing never reeled me in completely
as I eventually stopped bothering later in my playthrough, but it does provide fish for
the meals in the dining hall. And the dining hall is where I found one of
the most consistent ways to increase my Professor Level. Here you can choose meals to share with any
two people in the school allowing you to boost Support levels between the three of you, completely
restore their motivation, and even provide a solid amount of Professor experience. It was one of the most solidly useful options
and allowed me to see many more of the Support conversations between the people of the school. There’s also an option to cook with a particular
student in order to provide buffs for stats such as attack or defense for the next month. Unfortunately, it never seemed necessary during
my playtime. Finally, there are the sidequests which pop
up each month. Many of the early ones are used to gradually
introduce new activities but eventually they broaden in scope to include fetch quests and
quest battles. Quest Battles must be chosen on another free
day in order to actually complete them and this applies to the side story Paralogues
that return once again. The quests usually reward players with money,
items, and renown, which is perhaps one of the most important resources in the game even
though it doesn’t appear that way at first. Eventually players can spend their renown
at the statues of four saints, each of which grant bonuses when learning skills or even
increase the amount of Divine Pulses at your disposal. Divine Pulses essentially work the same as
Mila’s Divine Turnwheel in Fire Emblem Echoes, allowing players to rewind as much as they
want in order to fix potential mistakes. It was a great system before and it’s largely
unchanged here, helping players adjust for anything that might catch them off guard. But renown truly becomes important when it
comes to New Game Plus. Rather than having access to everything you
unlocked previously right away, it must be regained thanks to renown. This includes your professor level, your support
levels, your skill levels, and even access to previous abilities. The only thing that carries over are the items
unlocked in shops and the bonuses from the saints. So I didn’t have enough renown to do everything,
but simply raising my Professor Level much higher than it would’ve been otherwise helped
me make much faster progress than I did previously. It’s a different kind of New Game Plus,
but one I really enjoyed. With the jump to the Nintendo Switch, Three
Houses is by far the best looking Fire Emblem game to date. The battle maps are still simplistic in design
but have enough details to look good. Where it really shines is when you explore
the school. Every inch seems thought out and it feels
like a place that could really exist. There’s enough people milling around that
it doesn’t feel empty, and it really did feel like home after a while, bolstered by
the routine that I had created for myself. I also enjoyed the character designs as none
seemed too over the top, even after the time skip. What really surprised me was how well they
emoted, to the point that I rarely paid attention to the portraits next to their text. That said, there are moments where slowdown
does occur while exploring and it takes a while to access certain sections as they need
to load in. Looking closely at any one place will show
some lower quality aspects of the school such as pixelation. But none of it ever bothered me. It was a slight annoyance at worst and something
easily glanced over most of the time. It might not be a complete graphical stunner,
but the style works and I thought it looked great for what it was. However, it’s Three Houses sound design
that has me utterly delighted. Every line of dialog is spoken, even for the
random people milling about the monastery. And the voice actors, across the board, are
fantastic. There are small moments that each one has
that does just a little bit more to truly humanize them, and this might be one of favorite
casts in a Fire Emblem game. There’s just so many standouts with plenty
of hidden depth. And if desired, there’s the Japanese voice
language option as well. But it’s the music that truly caught my
attention. It is absolutely gorgeous with battle themes
that pump me up, school themes that sell the setting, and mysterious melodies that emphasize
the darker undertones. It is fantastic across the board. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a marvelous return
to form in terms of storytelling and character. I was enthralled with what might happen next
or what the answers to the questions raised might be. And it’s been a long time since a Fire Emblem
game has done that for me. They’ve been entertaining, but the plots
are usually straightforward. Here the curves enhance the journey through
these different stories. The gameplay, while still fun, just didn’t
quite match up in terms of excellence. I rarely had to really think about my actions
due to the lack of the Weapon Triangle and the overall ease of the game. It was a Normal mode that made me go on autopilot
for most battles, which I normally can’t do in this series. That said, the sheer amount of customization
and seeing how my units evolved kept me engaged despite the tactical weakness. I like the game a lot and see it as an excellent
entry point for series newcomers. There are plenty of options to ease you into
its gameplay and Casual Mode returns so there’s no need to worry about permanently losing
units. I absolutely recommend longtime Fire Emblem
fans to play on Hard Mode though as it will provide much more of a challenge than Normal
ever does without getting ridiculously brutal. And there is enough content here to keep occupied
for a long time to come. It’s one of my favorite Fire Emblems to
date, and I’m still looking forward to seeing how the stories of the other Houses play out. Thanks for watching and make sure to subscribe
to GameXplain for more on Fire Emblem and other things gaming.

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