For many months my Switch has lied dormant, gathering dust on a wardrobe shelf. Now, like a homosexual who refuses to keep their sexuality a secret, it has come out of the closet. The release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses has given me a reason to once again play on my Nintendo handheld. How fabulous! In this game, players assume the role of a mercenary named Byleth, who has been recruited by the church to teach at their monastary’s military academy. The students Byleth mentors include nobles and commoners from three rival kingdoms. Choose to guide the Blue Lions, Golden Deer or Black Eagles in a fantasy tale that will determine the fate of Fodlan.
Despite what the title may suggest, there are in fact four campaigns to play through in Three Houses. Thankfully you can tackle them all without any additional cost. Intelligent Systems, on this occasion, didn’t pull a Fire Emblem Fates and make consumers buy the same game multiple times to get the full experience. Three Houses’ story is divided into two parts. During the first stage players pick a house of rookies to lead and command them in various missions. The early skirmishes pit Byleth’s class against bandits and an army led by the mysterious Flame Emperor. Part two takes place five years later after a big event occurs, which plunged the continent into an all out war.
Unlike past Fire Emblem games, which had you fighting through a series of levels, there is a lot of downtime in between Three Houses’ monthly missions. During the weeks Byleth isn’t on the battlefield he/she can rest to recuperate motivation, organize seminars to raise the skills of his/her class or partake in optional battles to earn experience. Alternatively it’s possible to explore the monastery, where Byleth is based. The monastery acts as the game’s hub world. It’s here where players can complete fetch quests to earn various rewards or dabble in a spot of fishing/gardening. Other activities available at the monastery include fighting tournaments, choir practice and cooking. This is starting to sound more like Animal Crossing than a strategy RPG!
Who cares about catching trout at the pond or growing vegetables? I am a bloodthirsty chap who predominantly plays Fire Emblem to slay hordes of enemies. Well, for those of you who share my sentiments, fear not because the core gameplay is as fun as ever. On a surface level Three Houses handles like past titles in the series. Players take turns to move their troops across a map and lose their temper when bad RNG causes their characters to only improve one stat during a level up. Eagle eyed players will however spot that numerous changes have been implemented. These new mechanics give commanders more freedom in how they choose to customize their soldiers.
For a start characters can now wield any weapon they wish. Using a particular armament will cause a character to become more proficient in it. This will permit them to use stronger weapons of that type and when they rank up they shall unlock new abilities too. Once someone becomes skilled enough they also get the option of promoting to a better class. For example a character who improves enough in bows could take the exam to become a sniper. Someone who fists a lot can become a porn star… um I mean a grappler. Aside from weapons, Byleth’s troops can train in things like riding and magic. Spells are no longer tied to tomes and staves. Instead, what someone can cast is based on their faith and reason magic rating.
My rating for Fire Emblem: Three Houses is five stars. It’s easily the best Switch game that I own and right up there with Blazing Blade and Awakening, as a contender for finest title in the series. At the time of writing I have finished one of the fifty hour campaigns and have already started a new game plus to see how the story differs from another faction’s perspective. If you are a fan of strategy RPGs picking up Three Houses is a no brainer. Long time fans of the franchise may feel that the monastery content is just fluff designed to pad things out, but I am certain they will appreciate how much depth the new mechanics have added to character growth. Even the loading screen in this game is fun. I have yet to tire of using the gyro to move 8-bit Byleth across the screen when waiting for a load to finish. Yeah, I am easily amused.
In terms of story Three Houses compares favourably to its predecessors. The Game of Thrones style twist sandwiched between parts one and two caught me by surprise. Graphically, thanks to the power of a current gen system, Three Houses holds the honour of being the best looking Fire Emblem to date. I think the character designs are a little on the plain side though. No maids or half naked sorcerers in this one I am afraid. Personality wise however I have no complaints. I enjoyed learning more about the cast through the fully voiced support conversations that trigger when you build up relationships between characters. Speaking of relationships, it’s possible for Byleth to marry one of his/her students in the finale – providing that you get their support rank high enough. The marriages include some same-sex possibilities. Is all this gay stuff a side effect of me bringing my Switch out of the closet?