I’m finally done. I’m free! And just in time for Pokemon!
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a good game. It isn’t always a pretty game, but the story is so good and the gameplay is so addictive that it makes it difficult to care! The game provides tons of content, making it well-worth the sixty dollar price tag! It is a ton of fun to play!
Grab a cushion, because here comes the but.
There is a lot of game here! In fact, I’d say there’s too much game here! If you want to experience the full story, with all four (yes, four, not three) story routes and as many of the side-quests and support conversations as possible, you will be here for a long fucking time! By the time I finished my second playthrough, I wanted nothing more than to put the game down and leave it alone forever! And I was only halfway through!
If you take your time and pace yourself, you’ll have a lot of fun with this game. But if you need to burn through it quickly for the sake of writing an online review? Well… You’re fun will be living on borrowed time.
Buckle the fuck up. Because this is going to be a long fucking review.
Story: To Soar Above the Standard
If you’ve read my other Fire Emblem reviews, one point came up time and time again. My most common critique was always, without fail, in regards to the story. They’re all fine, but they’re nothing more than generic fantasy fare. Fun, but not memorable. So, going into this game, my expectations for the plot were as low as my hopes for ever finding true love.
I’d say that this game subverting my expectations breathed new life into my search for love. Unfortunately, I soundly murdered that a long time ago. But hey! At least the game’s story is really good!
You play as Beyleth (or whatever the fuck you want to name them), son/daughter of famed mercenary Jeralt. While on a job with your father, you meet three children from the prestigious Officer’s Academy of Gareg Mach Monastery. After rescuing them from bandits, you’re brought to the Monastery, where your character is given a strange job by Rhea, the archbishop: to become a professor and teach one of the three houses of the academy!
From here, you pick one of three stories. You could work with Edelgard and the Empire with the Black Eagles, Dimitri and the Kingdom with the Blue Lions, or Claude and the Alliance with the Golden Deer. While your choice has no immediate effects, aside from a few varying scenes in the first half, it does dictate which story you’ll get in the second half. Will you be saving the world? Or will you be conquering it? That is up to you.
Except that it’s a bit more complicated than that. See, the game never clearly defines who is good and who is bad. Every side of the conflict has enough depth to them to make them completely sympathetic! Sure, a certain character is waging a war to conquer the world. But she’s doing so to liberate the world from a tyrant! And said tyrant has been protecting the world for years! Who in this conflict is good? Who is bad? The game never makes it black and white. People actually get into debates online about who is right and wrong!
Huh. It’s almost like war is a complicated thing that is morally gray no matter whose side you’re on!
It helps that the characters within this story are rock solid! Each and everyone one of them is memorable, all in design, personality, and depth! All of them are expertly written, with detailed backstories that affect every aspect of their personalities and goals! On the surface, they seem just like the casts of other Fire Emblem games; likable, goofy, with a few forgettable bores in the mix. But when you dive deeper into them? They become some of the most interesting and likable characters in any Nintendo game I’ve ever played!
Though in fairness: the bar there is set pretty low.
Better yet, the individual stories of these characters actually come into play throughout the game! Through the Paralogue missions, you can assist these characters in conquering their demons and advancing, or even sometimes completing, their character arcs! Better yet, these missions provide a decent gameplay challenge and beneficial rewards for the missions to come! And they may even shed some light on mysteries yet unsolved in the main story!
I love this story! Each path tells a compelling and engaging narrative that can suck you right in! They don’t compare to a story like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. But by Fire Emblem standards? This game is amazing!
Unfortunately, the story suffers from the same problem as the rest of the game. There’s just too much of it! Each one is about forty to sixty hours long, maybe longer if you play on a higher difficulty! By the time you play through all four (yes, four, not three, because this game hates people with limited time on their hands) you will have every single line of dialogue from part one memorized, every mission will be as familiar as the back of your hand, and every character as intimately known as if you’d slept with them!
Which, if you performed some simple save scumming to get all of the romantic endings, you probably have. I sure have. #noshame #collectallthewaifusandhusbandos #thisiswhyihavenohopeformyreallovelife
Presentation: A Fuzzy Mess
This being the first HD Fire Emblem game, I thought that this would look decently good. I mean, come on! This is the same console that gave us the beautiful Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey! Everything pointed to this game being gorgeous!
And then I discovered the fruit textures.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when this game looks great! Some of the character models are rock solid (even if the others feature lots of grainy, out-of-focus textures), and the environments look pretty nice (even if the characters have no sense of presence within them). It mostly runs well, at a low but smooth framerate (keyword there being mostly, there are a few dips very consistently). The game looks great!
Okay, all joking aside, this game looks far from great. While I can excuse the character models being a mixed bag, I cannot excuse their stiff facial animations. During support conversations, characters will go through the same repetitive gestures and faces. Worse yet, there are no facial animations during a battle, which make the characters seem like lifeless dolls rather than organic, living people.
In animation, it’s important to animate the character’s eyes. It’s the eyes that really bring them to life since the expression in said eyes is an easy reflection of that character’s emotions. But when that character’s eyes just stare forward, unblinking and unfeeling, it transforms them into lifeless dolls. And sadly, that’s exactly what these characters become during battle.
And then there are the support conversations! Hoo fucking boy, these things are a mess! The environments and the characters go about as well together as oil and water! Each support conversation feels like watching a high school green-screen project! The characters never have any sense of presence within any scene!
It gets especially bad when the characters need to do something that they weren’t animated to do. Like sitting! See, none of these characters were animated to do that. But there are plenty of scenes where the characters need to sit down to talk! So what do they do? They fade to black and position the camera at a low enough angle to disguise the fact that the characters are totally standing up.
Yeah. The illusion didn’t work.
Worse yet, the game suffers from some major frame rate drops all throughout. When setting up for battle, the map overview is noticeably choppy. Later in the game, when more people start hanging around the Monastery, the frame rate can drop to single-digit numbers for a long period of time!
And no. Before you ask, it doesn’t improve in Docked Mode over Handheld Mode. In fact, I’m pretty sure it gets worse.
Luckily, there is one area where the game’s presentation doesn’t falter. The music!
It’s no secret that Fire Emblem soundtracks are always incredible. And this one is no different! While no track is especially memorable, all of them are excellently composed and a joy to listen to. The credits song, ‘Edge of Dawn’, has also taken the slot as my new favorite Fire Emblem song ever made. I’ll have to take the time to seek out the OST because it is pretty damn good!
I do wish I could’ve been more positive in this segment of the review. Unfortunately, my list of complaints simply overwhelmed all of the positives. Luckily, we’ll be taking a turn for the positive in the next segment.
We’ll also be taking the most time. Because there is a lot to talk about in the Gameplay department.
Gameplay: Persona Emblem
Take the time and social mechanics of Persona. Combine them with the combat of Fire Emblem. And boom! You’ve got Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
The core gameplay is the same as Fire Emblem has always been. When going into battle, you select a team of units, each with their own equipment and abilities, then head into battle. Complete that battle’s objective and you win. But if the enemy completes theirs or your main characters end up dead, you lose. Units that fight alongside one another build support, which can lead to them getting married…
At the end of the game. No children from the future this time! Thank God…
You know the drill. Swords beat axes, axes beat- nope. Not this time. No weapon triangle here! Swords are just as effective against spears as axes are to swords and spears to axes. No magic is superior to any other form of magic. There is no rock-paper-scissors system in this game at all.
Although an archer will still ruin a pegasus knight’s day.
If you make a mistake, don’t worry! You have the Divine Pulse ability! You can rewind to any point in any turn during any fight if you want to go again! Did your dude get hit by a rogue critical hit and die? No need to worry! If you so wanted, you could rewind to the beginning of the entire match! And given how many Pulses you get every match, you are more than secure. Unless you consistently fuck up. A lot.
There’s also a new enemy type: monsters! These big-ass monsters take up numerous spaces on the board, have numerous health bars and magic shields that reduce damage, and they can deal a lot of damage. If you break all of its shields, you can leave it vulnerable. Plus, you get some useful materials!
And then there’s the Batallion system. You can equip each character with a Batallion, which gives them access to one super-powerful attack called Gambits with extra effects. You can stun enemies, light the environment on fire, poison enemies, heal your team, or just do lots of damage over a wide area. If you’re near other units in your party, the chances of your Gambit succeeding will go up. If you’re lucky, this ability could change the tide of battle. But be warned: the enemy has these Battalions as well.
Combat wise, this game is practically the same as always. It’s every other gameplay mechanic that diverges this game from its peers. And where the depth is.
This game runs on a timer, going week-by-week, month-by-month until the game is over. Every week, you have one free day and one day for teaching your units various skills. Every month, you have one main story mission that progresses the plot. Make sure you prepare for that, otherwise you’ll find yourself in a spot of trouble.
Every free day, you can choose to do a few things. One, you could explore the Monastery. While doing this, you could visit the shops to buy supplies, talk to the various characters, or partake in minigames like fishing! Through these various activities, you can raise your support with the other characters or increase Beyleth’s skills with weapons or magic. Raise your skills/support high enough and you can recruit characters to join your class!
If exploring doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you could partake in a seminar! This brief lesson boosts your stats and increases the motivation of the other characters, which will be useful to raise their own abilities. Or, if you just want to burn through the day and increase everyone’s motivation a bit, you could just rest.
Or, if you’re in the mood to kill stuff, you could go into battle! There are a few types of battles: quest battles, which you pick up at the Monastery, Paralogues, which you unlock by building support between characters, or regular battles. These are useful if you want to grind for experience, get some quick gold or resources, or just want to make teenagers mercilessly murder hundreds!
After every free day, you have one study day. In these, you can pick individual characters and help them raise their various stats. Doing this helps build support and quickly boosts a character’s various abilities. If you set certain goals, you can change boost your way further towards a class upgrade.
Speaking of which, I love the class system in this game! Any character can go into any class, should you pour the necessary points into the necessary skills! This makes it easier to customize your team to your liking! Do you like this character but need a spell caster? Just pour some time into them and you can turn him into exactly what you need! But be warned: they may not pass the test. So be careful not to gamble.
This gameplay system is incredibly addictive! Throughout my first playthrough, I had a hard time putting the game down! The in-game days quickly became weeks, the weeks became months, and before I knew it I had burned my entire day and poured over a dozen hours into the game!
I have an addictive personality, leave me alone.
But this goes back to the game’s biggest problem: its length. Again: there is just too much here! By the end of playthrough one, I was thoroughly satisfied! By the end of playthrough two, I was content but exhausted. By the end of playthrough three, I wanted nothing more than to stop playing and go to something else. After finally finishing playthrough four, I was feeling less satisfied and far more relieved to just be done with the damn thing! The only thing that kept me going was the drive to experience the complete story!
This game is fun to play, yes. But by the time you’re finally finished, you’ll forget what other video games look like! When I started playing Crash Bandicoot during my playthrough to relax, I was genuinely taken aback that it wasn’t a tactical RPG! Every game became Fire Emblem! I closed my eyes and saw Fire Emblem! I felt like an alcoholic trying to go sober! It was misery!
But it was fun the first time around. Just like drinking!
Regardless of its faults, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is still a great game. One of the best games on the Switch! It is an absolute blast to play in the initial days! I’m willing to bet that, if you properly pace yourself, you could have fun from beginning to end!
But when you need to burn through it for the sake of a review? Well, that’s not exactly an option, is it?
I’d recommend playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It’s one of the best Fire Emblem games, if not the best, ever made! However, I must preface: you need to pace yourself! Take your time, play it in short bursts. Do not marathon through it as quickly as possible, lest you burn yourself out on the game!
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the video game equivalent of that.
Why do I suddenly feel so free?