Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Four Seasons, Three Houses?

Once upon a time, I stumbled upon an unknown game series within the pages of Nintendo Power titled Fire Emblem. I was incredibly enamoured by what I read from the confines of yesteryear, and I wondered in that moment if I would ever get the chance to play said game. NP was previewing a Japanese exclusive Super Famicom game by the name of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, more specifically.

I knew I wanted to get my hands on the game as soon as humanly possible, but it wasn't until later, during the Game Boy Advance years, that I'd finally be able to do so — but with a different game simply titled...Fire Emblem. I fell in love with the series instantly.

And now here we are in the year 2019. The summer season is currently passing us by in the northern hemisphere, and I've had almost two months worth of being fairly engrossed in the newest Fire Emblem sequel, Three Houses. I have clocked over 100 hours of playtime during my first run of the game, and I've enjoyed every level up, critical hit, and class change the game has had to offer me. But let's dive in further, yes.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is your typical strategy JRPG fare when it comes to controlling and moving your units around the battlefield. However, this new iteration of Fire Emblem now allows you to zoom the camera down onto the battlefield, and it's here that you're given full analogue control to move your unit; a small mini-map appears in the corner to show you the actual grid-by-grid steps you're taking while moving around. Movement on the battlefield can also be done via the D-pad as well (my preferred method.)

This same style of movement also exists while exploring the monastery. There's no jumping or any other Zelda/Mario-like control mechanics, but you do have to two speed settings — a brisk walk and a faster run.

There are quite a few menus to rummage through, too, but accessing everything is easy to do, as there are on-screen prompts for almost every window and individual stat.

Goodness, where do I even being? Three Houses introduces so many new Persona-like concepts to the series. I mentioned the monastery earlier, correct? That's sort of a new gameplay addition to Fire Emblem. Moving around in full 3-D space was actually introduced in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, but it was very limited in scope. Here, however, Three Houses goes all out. There's full camera control for starters. And you'll need that, since you'll be scouring every nook and cranny of the monastery looking for gifts and lost items for all of the students you'll be trying to persuade to your cause.

Speaking on persuading your cause, there are various activities and events — essentially text-based mini-games — in which you either skittishly flirt with or positively acknowledge your students by answering their questions with short-form replies. This can be done through an adorable tea time sequence, cooking/eating dinner, giving correct responses to the monastery's guidance counsellor, or by walking up to each student who might possibly have a question for you. Answer correctly, and you'll increase your support with said student. It's a drastically new way to promote support and motivation levels when compared to previous Fire Emblem entries, and it's one I welcome wholeheartedly. You absolutely can still increase supports between units on the battlefield by fighting in grid spaces near each other, too.

There's fishing now! Hold on, hold's nothing to really write home about, but it is a fun, new addition to the game added a mini-game to increase your professor level. And you'll want to raise that, too, because with each grade level increase in professor level, you'll be granted more turns during each monastery run to do all of the various events around the grounds. But fishing, yes, it's all about timing a button press as ring moves inward toward a smaller ring. Time it correctly, and you'll get a 'perfect'...granting you bigger, better fish and more points toward your professor level. Score!

So, the game is subtitled Three Houses for a reason. At a point near the beginning months of the game (there's a calendar system, by the way, which is how you progress through the story), you'll be given the choice to pick which of the three houses in the monastery you'll preside over. Making this choice does indeed affect the way the story plays out to the very end. This means that, yes, there are three routes to take to get the full story of this game. However, one of these three houses has a secondary split path, offering a fourth route. The Japanese title of this game literally translates into the four seasonal paths each of the three houses take...crazy, right?
Class changes work a bit different here in Three Houses compared to previous entries. You now have to level up specific weapon/magic/stat categories via grade ranks, and once you reach the desired rank, you take a proficiency exam — given by having seals of a particular type (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.) Passing this exam will grant you a class change. Ta da! Your myrmidon's now become a thief! (My favourite class. Hehe.)

There is no weapon triangle system in place, but flying types are still vulnerable to arrows. However, once you become proficient enough in a weapon, you unlock a skill that essentially recreates the damage you'd typically deal from previous entry's weapon triangle system. Axebreaker, for instance, is a skill you can equip once you hit B rank with a sword that allows for additional hit rate and avoidance against axe users. Unlock all of the skills for maximum proficiency!

Three Houses has an interesting art style with varying degrees of detail. The character models are very nicely constructed and painted with a remarkable cell-shaded finish. During battle and around the monastery, the students and staff are all highly detailed in this particular style and beautifully animated. The monastery and battlegrounds, however, tell a different story. For the most part, textures are fairly detailed, but when it comes to some of the smaller items lying around here and there, detail takes a nose dive to GameCube and PS2 level of detail — the same holds true for ground textures on the battleground maps. They're horrendously ugly and don't mix well with the detailed and animated characters.

The cinematic scenes that play throughout the game are animated well enough, and they get the job done as far as telling the story goes. Twists and turns await you with every scene that plays out. I was highly pleased with my run through of the Golden Deer campaign in that regard.

The typical Fire Emblem themes are in place here — every sound, chime, and musical progression you'd expect from levelling up, selecting menu items, and even the main Fire Emblem theme itself. It's all beautifully scored. My one gripe, however, is with the sound effects used during battles. Attacks don't sound like they have enough oomph to them. After playing previous Fire Emblem titles, and especially after playing Shadows of Valentia, that snappy 'KAPOW' just isn't there from previous games. It's a bit disheartening, and attacking doesn't come across as forceful or as impacting as I'd expect from a game in this series. I really do believe this is where Koei-Tecmo had a major part in this game's development, because all of the attacks sound like they hail from the Warriors series of games. That's a big no from me. I like Warriors games, mind you, but they're supposed to be sloppy fun. Fire Emblem isn't that. I expect hard-hitting critical attacks with sound effects to match. It's a bit disappointing.

Overall, Three Houses is a wonderful new entry in the Fire Emblem series. It takes ideas from a couple of other more recent huge JRPGs and spins them in only a way Fire Emblem can spin them. Battles are fairly faster-paced than previous entries, and I enjoyed the story immensely. This game is in the running for my game of the year after all. Just remember, Claude is best boy, and Petra is best girl. From there, you'll have a great time.