Fire Emblem: Three Houses review – Nintendo Switch debut is strategy RPG perfection

Fire Emblem has always been the best in class for the grid-based strategy genre and now that it’s finally on the Switch, people might start to give this series the credit it truly deserves

Jack Webb
Friday 26 July 2019 17:24 BST
Picture: (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems)

Fire Emblem: Three houses is the first mainline Fire Emblem game on a home console since 2008, and the first on Nintendo Switch.

And what a first it is. Three Houses breaks the mould of past games to devastatingly brilliant effect – boasting myriad innovations to the strategy role playing game formula.

Fire Emblem is a fantasy tactical role-playing franchise which first released in 1990. Each game revolves around strategic movement of characters across grid-based maps, incorporating story devices, characters and environments from traditional role-playing games.

With it now finally on the Nintendo Switch, it’s clear to see how Three Houses is an amazing evolution of this beloved series.

The new game from the basic Fire Emblem formula of fighting battle after battle. Instead, when you’re not fighting, you now have important things to do in the interim, namely to explore and interact with the students you’re training to be soldiers.

Running around the fully rendered Monastery
Running around the fully rendered Monastery (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems)

Assuming the role of a teacher in (surprise, surprise) warfare, you choose either a female or male avatar, canonically named Byleth. (You can change the name to whatever you fancy). Byleth is hired to be a professor at the Garreg Mach Monastery which is essentially just Hogwarts in a beautiful and far more compelling medieval setting.

At the start of the game you choose one of the three main houses to teach. These houses are the main power players in the kingdom of Fodlan: the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions and the Golden Deer.

You’ll be able to experience a range of storyline scenarios based not only on decisions you make while playing, but also which house you align yourself to. Expect multiple playthroughs here as Three Houses is absolutely bursting at the seams with content, but never feels like it’s wearing you down.

If however you find teaching is not to your liking they’ve added the option of everything being auto taught and you can skip ahead in the calendar to your next battle.

You’d be doing yourself and the game a massive disservice by doing this. It’s highly recommended to do all be teaching and exploring yourself as you will miss a lot of the colour, charm and development this game has to offer in spades.

Battles are fast-paced and difficult. Veterans of the series will be pleased to know that the option of having your units die permanently if they are beaten in battle returns.

To this end, playing the hardest difficulty will result in truly nerve wracking battles. Mix in the inevitable emotional attachment you have to these students and you’ve got a lot to consider for each fight.

Getting to know the students from the house you choose feels absurdly rewarding. Each character has their own quirks, charms and qualities which make them unique and superbly compelling.

Combat (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems)

The support system from previous Fire Emblem games has been wonderfully fleshed out, expanding the social simulation aspects tremendously. Now you actually spend time with your allies doing various activities like cooking meals, drinking tea and eating dinner together.

All of this serves to strengthen the bonds between your students and add a base level of emotional attachment to the characters, minor and major, that hasn’t been explored or properly conveyed to such an extent before.

Each character has a lavish and detailed backstory, ranging from their close friends at the school, to their own likes, dislikes and interests. Thanks largely to the superb and clever writing, you won’t have a choice but to be downright charmed by each of these dynamic students.

Tea time lets you enjoy a drink with one of your students.
Tea time lets you enjoy a drink with one of your students. (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems)

After a certain point in the game these interactions will blossom into romantic relationships by achieving an S-rank in your support level, and finally, your main character can begin a same-sex romance.

One thing Nintendo deserves some modicum of praise for is the actual presence and acknowledgement of LGBT romance options for your main character, but much like a lot of Nintendo’s history with representation, it doesn’t go far enough.

For too long Fire Emblem games have brushed aside queer romances and instead have had only men and women coupling allowed, with some small, insulting exceptions in a previous game.

It’s an important step for representation at a basic level, but it doesn’t go far enough in Three Houses. Some of the same sex S-rank dialogues are downright dismissive and ultimately handles the male-male relationships in a wholly disrespectful way.

But you’re not just here to be best friends with your students, least of all a rather creepy would-be lover. You actually have to flex those teaching chops every now and then to whip the sorry lot into soldiers.

You have a limited number of actions you can perform each day. In Three Houses, this system is simplified; every Sunday of the month is your free time and this is where you can explore, fight battles or spend time with your students.

While daunting at first, the actual teaching side is extremely fun as it offers near endless customisation options for your students.

Each one has their own default goal, for example to specialise in a certain weapon type, but with enough encouragement, praise and training, you can change this goal to anything you want.

Helping your students to grow.
Helping your students to grow. (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems)

The students have access to pretty much all battle classes in the game. To change to a certain one you need to have the right weapon specialisation and this is where some strategic planning comes into play.

It’s a glorious innovation on the old system of Fire Emblem which was rigid and only let certain units be certain classes. Planning out a path for your students to grow should not be as fun as it is.

The series has come a long way since the days it was on a Game Boy Advance and the 3DS. The stunning character models, overall art direction and level design are so sublime you’ll almost need to remind yourself you’re playing Fire Emblem.

Fire Emblem has always been the best in class for the grid-based strategy genre and now that it’s finally on the Switch, people might start to give this series the credit it truly deserves.

No matter which house you end up picking or how you choose to spend your time, this game is damn near perfection and you will enjoy every second, minute, hour and day you spend playing it.

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