Ryan Review: Fire Emblem: Three Houses — One House down, two to go.
I don’t know what it was about the Nintendo 3DS that did not click with me. I had a Nintendo DS growing up, but gaming was still a hobby that I did not take as seriously as I do now. It was high school, so part of me liked the collecting and playing hours on end, and part of me was busy keeping a proper workout schedule for cross country and keeping my grades up. I had a small circle of friends who gamed, but my group was into the PS2 and a little bit of Gamecube, because who wasn’t playing Melee back in the day. But for whatever reason, I never got into the “modern” Fire Emblem games that really made the series popular here in the US.
I loved the first Fire Emblem game that came to the west. Appropriately named “Fire Emblem,” this game starts out with a 10 chapter prologue that follows a young girl named Lyn, who learns that she is actually the grand daughter of the marquess of Caelin, meaning she goes from a lady of the plains to a noblewoman. I thought the game was over after that, but low and behold Fire Emblem opened up wide and revealed an even deeper story with new nobles like Eliwood (who is actually Roy’s dad from SSBM fame), Hector, and the return of Lyn. The three work together to uncover a plot that involves hunters, thieves, dragons, and the evil faction “The Black Fang” working to suck the life energy out of people. My favorite characters were the archers Wil and Rebecca, Erk the mage, Guy the sword master, and of course, the Angel of Death Jaffar, and the humanizing Nino.
The game was broken down into chapters, with each chapter challenging your inner tactician to find the most efficient way to make your way through the rock-paper-scissors battles. Further, the story was engaging, special paralogue chapters delved deeper into some of the relationships between the characters, and of course, the perma-death mechanic that defines the gameplay. I was sucked in. I cared about my squad. I helped develop supports between units to strengthen bonds, resulting in higher accuracy, damage, and chance for a critical hit. I didn’t want my units to die. I quickly learned the soft reset buttons for the GBA in case I lost a unit and had to restart a chapter.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones followed soon after and brought us new characters, new world, new story, but the same familiar and addicting tactical gameplay. Only 20+ chapters in this one compared to 30+ chapters in the first, but the game split our main lords and siblings, Eirika and Ephraim, helping pad out the game and showing us two sides of the progressing story.
The new mechanic in this game for me was promoting units to faster, stronger, harder hitting upgraded versions of their previous class. Before, a mercenary would promote to a hero, a mage would promote to a sage, and an archer would promote to a sniper. Pretty clear cut, no option but still helped to enhance the unit and make them stronger. Well in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, tacticians now had the opportunity to choose between two different promotes for their units. Archers can still promote to a sniper, prioritizing bow damage over everything else, or promote to a ranger that rides on horseback and can use bows and swords. Calvary units could promote to a paladin or a great knight, thieves can prioritize thievery and become a rogue or focus on critical hits and become an assassin. It was exciting! I could customize my team and play the way I wanted to, and then change it up on my next playthrough with new characters, new supports, and new promotes.
I did not play another Fire Emblem game until the mobile game Fire Emblem: Heroes came out on iOS. It was fun, fulfilled a Fire Emblem void in my life, but it wasn’t the same. It’s a mobile game so I did not expect much, but it was fun to create teams with characters from different games and pit them in the area. The game lost it’s luster for me with the premium currency attached to the gotcha-style lottery system to get new characters, but I still liked rolling out my team of Lyn, Marth, Micaiah, and Soren.
I got a Switch right when it came out, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it for the past two years. When Fire Emblem: Three Houses was first announced, I was wary at first, having missed the past couple installations, only hearing about the new mechanics and not knowing how they operated first-hand. The monastery sections of the game sounded daunting, the new classes seemed complicated, and I was not sure if I would be able to handle all these new changes. I was actually starting to feel old, thinking that video games were better back in the day because they were easier to grasp and understand. I like options but I felt out of the loop because I missed four games in the series. Luckily I was wrong, and the monastery sections were much easier to handle. Teaching my students, watching them excel in different skills, and them joining them in battle sparked mad joy.
The hardest decision is also the biggest question the game throws at you as soon as the game begins, choosing your house: The Black Eagles led by the tenacious Edelgard, The Blue Lions led by the chivalrous Dimitri, or The Golden Deer led by the laid-back Claude. I went with the Blue Lions because I liked the leader, Dimitri, and also a handful of the students. You can recruit students into your house once you get certain stats leveled up or get to a certain support level (or both), but with it being my first playthrough I went with the house that had students I liked, being Felix, Ingrid, Annette, and Mercedes. Each student has their own attitude, goals, aspirations, backstory, the whole nine. It’s fantastic, but a little daunting at first. Honestly I recommend focusing on your own house for the first couple chapters and get to know your students though support conversations with Byleth and with other students in the house before going out to recruit others. I wasn’t too far off from starting some spreadsheets to figure out what my team needed and how to get there, but I digress.
At it’s core, the game remains unchanged, and that’s a good thing! It’s a tactical strategy game where you utilize your units specialties on the battlefield to take down the opposing army. You and your units level up throughout the game, increasing their stats and opening up promotions to further skills and specializations. When you’re in the monastery, your time is valuable, and you get to choose how to spend it. You can share meals with students to increase their supports and motivation, give them gifts or return lost items, or sing! The first couple chapters were a little clunky, not because the game did not explain what to do, but more for me trying to optimize my time with my students. Once I figured out my rhythm, the month of game time between chapter and story events is a delight. It wasn’t until the end when I wanted to push through to the finish is when I wanted to rush through the month, but by then I knew what moves I could take to both finish quick but also get my units the final experience they needed to take on the final challenge.
Speaking of which, the end of the game was….not what I expected. Without spoiling anything, it became pretty clear to me that this game requires multiple playthroughs with all the houses if you want the full story. It’s a tall task, seeing as how my first playthrough wrapped up after 62 hours, but I am excited to jump back in with a higher difficulty, new game +, and a new house and new story to follow. Plus, now I feel better equipped to take on the game’s challenges and finish stronger.
With that said, I really did enjoy the character arc Dimitri takes during the course of the game. The overall story may not have gone the way I expected, but his personal story throughout the game was enticing and had me rooting for him when he was at his lowest. I’m going Black Eagles on my second run and I’m excited to see how I will need to adjust my play style for this new house with an emphasis on magic, rather than the infantry/calvary focus with the Blue Lions.
If you’re on the fence about playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I would try and talk you into giving it a shot. I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a seasoned vet, seeing as how the series has multiple games spanning a myriad of consoles, but I would say that as a fan of strategy games, this game is worth your time. You develop relationships with your students in the game, and you’ll want to defend them. This game started perma-death, meaning if your unit dies, they die! Casual mode exists but I recommend against it because it helps to raise the stakes and makes you really consider your choices on the battlefield.
Ryan Review: 9/10 — AWESOME!
Thanks for reading! This is a fun creative outlet for myself, but I’m happy to hear any constructive criticism.