Ah, Fire Emblem. It’s been a hit series in Japan for a long time and only achieved widespread popularity in the West in more recent years. I remember being younger and vaguely knowing there was a Fire Emblem title on the Gamecube and knowing those sword guys in Smash Bros. were from those games, but otherwise knowing very little about it and not caring to learn more. Fastforward to 2019 and Three Houses releases for the Switch and I think, why not! Let’s dip my toesies into these strange, turn based tactics waters.
Shin Megami Sensei
The good thing about Three Houses is that it takes place in its own timeline in its own universe so for new players like myself, it’s easy to jump on in and not be lost story-wise. Which is good, because there’s a lot going on story-wise.
The game takes place on the continent of Fódlan, which is divided into three regions ruled by separate institutions but are all at peace, despite past rivalry. At the center of this continent is the Church of Seiros, based in the large school/Church/town/general hub called Garegg Mach the major religious faction of the continent and where you’ll find yourself spending a lot of your time. The player character (either male or female) is a mercenary who, after a coincidental run-in with some bandits and students of the school part of the Church, the player character is invited back and offered the position of Professor at the school.
Once given a chance to interact with the three houses of the school, each based on one of the three regions, they’re allowed to choose which house they’d like to head up. The Black Eagles, based on the Empire, the Blue Lions, based on the Kingdom, and the Golden Deer, based on the Alliance. Each house has their pros and cons, and mostly it comes down to the characters the player finds themselves most enamored with, as each house has a handful of characters that are all delightfully unique and fun to interact with in their own ways.
From there on, the player is tasked with teaching their students based on a calendar system which players of the Persona series might find familiar. Each month, the player is given a mission which will take place at the end of the month, and during the rest of that time the player will find themselves split between teaching, which takes place during the week and allows players to level up their students skills, and Sunday’s, in which the player is given the option to explore the grounds, complete missions, engage in battles or just take the day off and rest.
Tactical Turn-Based Action
Being new to the Fire Emblem series, at the beginning I really had no idea what I was doing. The game does its best to gradually introduce concepts, which more options being unlocked as the player progresses, but the sheer amount of controllable characters, class options, stats, numbers, weapons, etc. can be a little overwhelming to new players.
The good news is, the game also lets players be as hands on or off as they like, letting the AI do the heavy lifting and learning what options are best based on what the game suggests. The game can take over and complete turns in the battle, suggest how to level and advance characters and instruct those characters. Or, the player can take over and manually instruct and advance characters in the way they deem fit.
Each character starts off in one class, for example, they may be a swordsman. From there, they can continue advancing in sword-based paths, or the player may decide they want an unarmed brawler, or perhaps a bow wielding sniper. The game is all about choice and encourages the player to explore various options to build the strongest team possible.
On that note, did you choose one house and find yourself loving characters from other houses? Or the other professors? Well don’t fret! Should the player develop specific stats or their relationship with said characters, the option to recruit just about anyone becomes available, allowing the player to craft a team based on their favourites, or just the best tactical options.
The battles themselves take place in large arenas with movements based on class, for example, classes on horseback will travel further than classes on foot, unless the terrain hinders them. The arenas are divided into grids which dictate movement and attack. Sort of like a big game of chess but your pieces are cute anime characters.
I’m your dad now
There are basically two things Three Houses boils down to: being a dad/friend/teacher to all these characters, and then putting them into life or death situations. Sometimes quite literally, should the player choose the ‘classic’ mode in which when a unit falls, they fall for good. Which is why the ‘casual’ option is great, because if any of these kids died I would be distraught.
And that’s what Three Houses does particularly well. It draws you in and makes you care about the characters and their stories, makes you want to progress your relationships with them and see them progress with each other (which, in turn, has positive impacts on combat).
The game does its best to integrate every aspect of gameplay so it has an impact, so nothing you do is ever wasted, which makes exploring every option all the more interesting.
But most importantly, I have so many kids now, and I love them all.