Thoughts on Fire Emblem: Three Houses
This was my first Fire Emblem game, and probably the first JRPG that I’ve played, so going into it, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
Two months, and 70 hours of gametime later, I think I got some idea of what Fire Emblem: Three Houses is all about... And, honestly, I love this game. It’s incredible! But let’s start with the basics…
What is Fire Emblem: Three Houses?
Fire Emblem is a decades-old, role-playing game series hailing from Japan, known for fantasy settings and good storytelling. At least, that’s the extent of my limited knowledge of the franchise. Before FE: Three Houses, I’ve never played a FE game, partly because I didn’t own a Nintendo system on which to play, and partly because I was intimidated by the series. I mean, there are 15 Fire Emblem titles out there! It’s crazy...
Anyway, what drew me to Three Houses and convinced me to give the game a try were the comments praising it for its well-developed characters and satisfying narratives. (Yes, narratives. Plural.) There were also some mentions of immersive gameplay, which is something I didn’t quite buy into at the first glance, but once I got into the game... yeah, I was hooked.
In short, Fire Emblem: Three Houses kinda has it all.
The story is amazing
This is high fantasy at its best! There’s magic, gods, kingdoms, political games, conflict, war… And if you’re wondering whether you should play any of the other Fire Emblem games first to better enjoy this one – don’t worry. Three Houses isn’t tied to any of the previous games in the series, it offers completely new and original content.
The game also offers animated cutscenes!
The story takes place in Fódlan, a continent divided into three factions that currently live in peace but have a rather bloody history. I won’t go into any details/spoilers, but it’s safe to say that Fódlan has rich and enticing lore that most fans of the fantasy genre would appreciate. Certain world-building aspects of this universe are very comparable to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books (which I love). But even if you don’t care much for made-up kingdoms and events, all those details make Fódlan alive and dynamic as you play the game. Which brings me to the player’s role in the story…
Most of the game takes place at a monastery, where talented youth from all three regions of Fódlan come to train and learn. The students are divided into three houses, and it’s all starting to sound like Harry Potter all of a sudden, isn’t it? But here’s the thing: Your character isn’t a student, but a mysterious mercenary-turned-professor!
At the start of the game, you choose one of the three student houses to lead, and afterward, it’s your duty to mentor a bunch of young adults and help them accomplish their goals. There are also some curious events centered around your character, as well as storylines larger than any one individual character, but the game balances well these different narratives and creates a compelling story. And all of it rests on good writing and good characters.
The Blue Lion house is the best btw :P
Getting to know various characters, watching them develop and react to the escalating events around them… this was the highlight of the game for me. The narrative, although epic on its own, wouldn’t have had the same impact if not for the bonds you form with the characters involved.
I found that the world and the characters of FE: Three Houses somewhat remind me of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated show). There's something very idealistic and uplifting about the main heroes and their view of the world, and yet, there's plenty of dark shit thrown their way. Meanwhile, the story also tackles some heavy issues and it does so maturely.
Now, I know I’m being rather vague here, focusing on my impressions rather than anything concrete, but the story of this game is huge in scope, detailed in execution, and very much meant to be experienced on a personal level. The story I played through might be completely different from the one you’d end up playing! Not only is it unlikely that different people would form the same bonds with the same group of characters, but the game also offers three completely different story arcs! When you choose a house to lead at the start of the game, you also choose a unique main story to play through… My 70 hours of gametime were just one storyline!
And honestly, that storyline fucking rocked. Overall, I found it to be a beautiful, engaging, and gratifying experience. One that’s going to stick with me for a long while.
As for the gameplay…
There’s a lot to talk about here, but I think I can narrow down the gameplay to three major elements:
- monastery activities,
- and character development.
Though the monastery activities vary and offer some simple mini-games, this part of the game mostly comes down to training your students for battle. But don’t get me wrong, you’ll spend a lot of time running around the monastery and preparing your students. They act as your fighting units on the battlefield, so if you wish to beat the game, it’s in your best interest to build them up. Especially if you’re playing on classic mode, which I strongly suggest.
In classic mode, if a character dies in battle, that’s it – they’re dead. They’re not coming back. Whatever progress and whatever stories they had end then and there. And the reason I suggest playing the game on this mode is that it will make you that more invested in the game’s combat.
You can also take other professors or monastery knights into battle if you befriend them.
Knowing that a low effort on the battlefield could cost you the lives of your students is kinda a good incentive to give it your best. Though, honestly, even your moderate will do. The combat isn’t all that difficult, and the game offers certain mechanics that make it easy to keep everyone alive. But still, given the stakes, even a small chance of loss feels like a big threat, and that’s something often absent in most games.
As for the basic combat mechanics, well… they’re rather basic. Battles play out as a turn-based strategy. Meaning, you order your characters where to move and who to attack, then the enemy gets to retaliate, then back to you, and so on until one side wins. Some thinking is required, at least at first (until your units become stronger). Also, depending on how you train your students, your units will have unique abilities and weapons that also come into play. But still, the move+attack notion covers the gist of things… which perhaps doesn’t sound too exciting, but it gets the job done.
The epic music and the attack animations help make the combat lively, but the core of it all mostly comes down to characters again… There’s just something thrilling about seeing a character use a bow like a pro, when you know this character had trouble mastering the weapon, and it was due to your actions at the monastery that they overcame their insecurities and got good at it. And there are tons of special instances like this throughout the game! That is why I also consider character development a gameplay mechanic on its own.
To me, more interesting than winning battles and leveling units were the opportunities to deepen relationships with the students and the other characters around the monastery. It’s also fun and rewarding to help those characters build stronger bonds amongst themselves! Units with strong bonds are more effective on the battlefield when together. Meanwhile, you unlock cutscenes that show character growth whenever you make progress with this whole bonding mechanic business!
Oh, and the voice acting is great!
The game surprised me with its writing and with how many character moments there are… And again, unlocking these scenes is something you have to work for. Some of the progress happens naturally, through the main activities and battles, but if you want to see these characters and their relationships fully develop, you’ll end up doing a lot more on the side as well!
Ton of wisdom in this game, too...
That’s why the gameplay is so addictive, even if seemingly lackluster. You’re given a strong drive to keep going, and before you know it, you’re completely sucked in. It also helps that you get to choose when you want to fool around the monastery, and when you want to take your students into the field. Controlling these elements makes for good pacing, and I never got tired of any of it!
When I look at this game and my experience with it, I have zero complaints.
Fun fact: It took me forever to get this dude to smile...
Sure, it might’ve been cool if the combat system had more to offer, but I was pretty engaged in every battle as it were. And yeah, I guess the graphics and the inventory system are goofy at times, but none of it takes away anything from this game. There was no point at which I was bored, disappointed, or left indifferent by any measure whatsoever! The more I played this game, the more I loved it. And this story and these characters… shit, I think I miss them already.
And not to mention I only experienced a third of what Fire Emblem: Three Houses has to offer where the story is concerned… When it comes to multiple choices in RPGs, I’m usually well-satisfied at leaving a game with the one definitive journey I had in it. With Three Houses, however, there’s no doubt that I’ll be going back to it after a break. I’m compelled to see how the other two stories play out. I want to experience more of this world, to see what paths I had missed, and learn more about this universe.
From my understanding, each of the game’s three paths deals with a different aspect of Fódlan’s lore. So, I suppose, playing all three narratives might just reveal an even larger story – one that sheds more light on each of the singular storylines! Perhaps I’m wrong to think that, but there’s only one way to find out... and I’m excited to put this idea to the test, even at a cost of another 70 hours, or more! After all, at end of the day, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a 10/10 for me.
And that’s about it...