[fire emblem three houses review]Fire Emblem Three Houses review： A game 30 years in the making ｜ Technobubble
Nearly 30 years ago, Nintendo decided to release an unproven, character-driven tactical RPG series on its 8-bit Famicom console in Japan. Fast forward to today and “Fire Emblem: Three Houses” marks the latest entry in a franchise that has grown into a successful global phenomenon.?
It wasn’t always that way.?
When “Fire Emblem: The Shadow Dragon and Blade of Light,” first bowed on the Famicom in 1990, it started out as a flop due to lukewarm sales. It wasn’t until positive word of mouth spread about the game that it mounted a comeback almost half a year after its original release. It’s almost amazing to think of all the classic Fire Emblem games we would have missed out on had that comeback never materialized.
Since then, however, the first Fire Emblem’s launch difficulties seem like a tiny little speck in the series’ rearview mirror. Fire Emblem: Three Houses kicked off its first month by tripling the launch sales of immediate predecessor “Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia,” which used to be the record-holder for the series. Digital copies alone were estimated to number 800,000, according to industry tracker SuperData Research.
Three Houses also marks a big leap for the franchise in one more way. While Fire Emblem Awakening, Fates and Shadows of Valentia were released on the 3DS handheld console, Three Houses represents the first entry in the Nintendo’s hybrid flagship, the Switch. Awakening and Fates were impressive in how they were able to squeeze every ounce of power from the aging 3DS. At the same time, the limitations also showed and it was obvious that the series was long overdue for a refresh on a beefier console. Given the miracles that the Fire Emblem team managed to conjure on the 3DS, I was especially interested to see what it could pull off on a console with more muscle. It didn’t take long for me to notice the difference.?
The benefits of the platform switch — pun so totally intended — are immediately obvious in the game’s visuals and presentation. Thanks to the extra brawn that the Switch provides, the game that feels grander in scope and also more fully realized than its recent predecessors. Gone, for example, are the “chibi” or scrunched-up characters with tiny little feet that were used outside of the fancy cinematics. Instead, you now have fully proportioned character models, not just in the cinematic cutscenes but also the overhead battle map and the battle cutscenes. Admittedly, I’m an old-school gamer who has a soft spot for chibi characters. Despite that, I found the switch in styles to more proportionate characters to be a good thing as it provides better continuity between the cinematics and the gameplay aspects of the game.
The benefits of the move to the Switch are also evident in the battles, which feel more like, well, battles. When characters fight on the field, for example, you’re shown the sights and sounds of actual skirmishes, including other soldiers in the background. You can even hire battalions that you can use on the field to rush enemies, which helps further increase the immersion. Fights in past games felt more like isolated one-on-one encounters between various characters at times. In Three Houses, even one-on-one fights feel like they’re occurring within the greater scope of a large battle thanks to the excellent use of sound effects as well as other soldiers appearing in the background.
Battle changes are not limited to presentation. Three Houses also refreshes the battle system by no longer closely hewing to the classic weapon triangle from past games. It’s a change that some series purists might balk at. At the same time, however, the new mechanics help freshen up the combat by encouraging players to approach things differently or in a new light. There are also a plethora of options to choose from when nurturing your characters into the ideal fighting force, including which classes are best for each character in relation to your own playstyle. It actually can be quite intimidating at times and it took me a long time to start the game because I was agonizing about not just which house to pick but also which classes to pick for my characters.?
Those options extend to the battlefield, which provides plentiful ways for you to approach each skirmish. Do you blitz the main target for each battle and end things quickly? Or do you methodically go through each foe while garnering experience for your troops? I also love how you can strategically trade items between allies during battle, including the ability to employ some strategic weapon switching. Each weapon for example, has a durability meter, which can cause that weapon to break once it’s expended. As such, you want to be especially judicious with your powerful gear, especially your relic weapons. One neat tactic you can use is to start off with a relic weapon to attack or even take down a tough foe, then use another character’s turn to switch out the relic weapon of the character who already moved. This lets the first character counter with a regular weapon when?attacked by other foes, saving the durability of the relic weapon.
For folks who miss the old weapon triangle a bit, your characters can learn special skills that allow them to wreak extra havoc on a particular weapon class. Then you also have special gambits and combat arts that help give you an edge in battle, especially when fighting demonic beasts that come with powerful barriers that need to be taken down. For times when you make a mistake that cost you a character in battle, you can use a feature known as Divine Pulse to rewind time up to a certain point. Divine Pulse has its limits but can be helpful in a pinch, especially when playing with permadeath in Classic Mode. These are just some examples of the various things you can do during battle that make Three Houses’ combat quite deep.?
Then again, Fire Emblem: Three Houses isn’t just about battles. One notable change is how it further builds on the activities you do outside of fighting, particularly with the addition of school life on the menu. As a teacher at the Officers Academy, your main character Byleth starts out by picking a house to mentor among the Black Eagles, Blue Lions and Golden Deer. This sets which path you choose in the game’s narrative but also provides various opportunities to interact?with the various students, including those from the other houses you didn’t pick. In fact, you can pretty much recruit whoever you like, provided you satisfy the requisite conditions. You can use school days to mentor students and fine-tune their growth to match your needs and playstyle. You can also use free time to explore the Garreg Mach Monastery or use activity points to hang out with other characters to improve your bonds with them. This helps break the old Fire Emblem cycle of battle, cutscene, battle while also adding more opportunities to further flesh out the story and get to know the game’s various characters better. Three Houses does a really great job in synergizing Byleth’s role as a teacher with character growth for your team, making Byleth truly feel like a teacher.
Storytelling is also quite chunky, providing plenty of content for players who decide to check every narrative nook and cranny that the game has to offer. Each of the various paths provide a compelling story about the individual drama facing each house as well as the Church, and how those different perspectives tie into the general conflict gripping the land. It isn’t all pretty, either, and you will find yourself conflicted at certain points in the game about the decisions being made, even by your own allies. Add the fact that you can relive the story through the eyes of multiple families and you can spend hours upon hours playing Three Houses.
As much as I love Three Houses, however, it also has its share of hiccups. While I love Byeleth’s design, for example, he or she — depending on which gender you pick — mostly acts like an empty husk for the majority of the game. I know the school of thought behind making a character seem like an empty canvas so players can better relate or project themselves on the character. Link comes to mind as an example. In Three Houses’ case, however, that approach just doesn’t seem to work as well. A lot of times, I just felt detached from the events that are going on due to Byleth’s lack of personality. In this case, I’d much prefer a more realized character than a mostly blank shell as controlling Byeleth felt like playing around with a marionette sometimes.
Also, while school life is a nice addition overall, it also starts to drag a bit later in the game. As you get closer to endgame, the mechanic starts to feel less fresh, especially since it fails to add much new stuff to the mix. I also miss the ability to recruit new random people you’ve never seen before on maps, which you could do in previous games. Some folks might also decry the lack of child-rearing in Three Houses, though that’s something I personally don’t really have much of an issue with.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses marks another stellar entry in a beloved series that continues to find ways to keep the experience fresh even after three decades. From its improved presentation and solid voice acting to its deep combat system and compelling narrative, Three Houses serves up a lot of meat that fans of the long-running franchise will gobble up. The main character admittedly can feel wooden at times and the school life part peters out a bit toward the end. Nearly 30 years after its humble beginnings, however, Three Houses is proof that Fire Emblem’s flame continues to burn brighter than ever.
Rating: 9 out of 10Cost: $59.99, Switchhttps://fireemblem.nintendo.com/three-houses/
Jason Hidalgo covers business?and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews video games as part of his Technobubble?features. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this contentSupport local journalism with an?RGJ digital subscription.