It’s not an understatement to say the latest entry into the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a meaty one. At a somewhat rapid pace, my first house – the Golden Deer – still took just about 45 hours. Pick from the Black Eagles, Blue Lions and Golden Deer, and as their professor – default name, Byleth, appearance non-customizable – train up your students for battle. You can recruit students from the other two houses, and pick up the various staff at the Garreg Mach Monastery on the continent of Fódlan. What follows is a by-now standard Fire Emblem formulaic story, which is nevertheless highly engrossing thanks to the strength of its writing.
I only recruited around three students from the other houses, and the staff were an afterthought in my initial run. If you’re going in blind, you could be in for an overwhelming amount of things to do. To the game’s credit, most of these systems are easy to pick up and understand, and you can go at your own pace.
This review touches on slightly later game mechanics, but no story spoilers.
Three Houses makes the full leap to 3D-rendered areas for the Switch, and it’s well-realized. You can find your students, fellow professors and NPCs milling around the various monastery locations, ready to talk to you. All named character locations are displayed on the map, so you can always refer to it to find the one person you haven’t chatted up yet.
In battle, you can zoom in to the individual units to check their class outfits. Later on in the game you can set adjutants – think pairing up – and battalions to them, and they’ll show up too. Some textures may look a little lower quality, but generally there are no exceptional faults to the presentation.
Fancy critical hit animations with accompanying cut-ins are present, so you could see your wyvern rider make one grand swoop before dealing triple damage to an unfortunate foe.
I have minor nitpicks. For whatever reason, Three Houses‘ font size is quite tiny for handheld mode, and there are no options to adjust them. If you’ve purchased the expansion pass and applied Byleth’s DLC Academy Outfit, it unfortunately does not change in the pre-rendered cutscenes.
If you’ve played any Fire Emblem game, even Heroes, you’d be readily familiar with the meat of the combat. For the uninitiated, the Fire Emblem series consists mainly of turn-based strategy games. You’re able to train units and select them to use in battle. Each character typically has their own “growths”, or a percentage of chance that they will gain a particular stat. Yes, level ups are random in Fire Emblem games, and it’s no different in Three Houses. All characters are generally able to reclass into anything if it’s not gender-locked, but some will be better at certain classes.
The level cap is 99 in Three Houses, which you’d barely need. For comparison, Awakening had a soft cap of level 20 for initial and master classes. For Three Houses, a unit can reclass when they reach the appropriate level AND skill ranks, along with a corresponding seal. Your units will then undergo a “Certification” test. If they have enough levels in skill, the reclass is guaranteed. You can still choose to reclass without a 100% chance, but you lose the seal if it fails. You also cannot reclass if the success rate is below 30%.
Three Houses adds more layers with Explore and Instruct. Explore is where you use an in-game day to wander the monastery. You can talk to people, bond with them, do various activities and find lost items. You’ll be wanting to raise your Professor Level, which gives you more Activity Points, to do even more things. Instruct lets you both bond with your units and raise their skill, but you’ll be limited by both Instruct Points and a unit’s motivation. Lost items are just that, you can wander the monastery and interact with blue points to pick up items and give them back to the correct person.
Getting Professor Levels comes naturally as you do the various activities, like fishing, around the monastery. It’s up to you how quickly you want to level it, as time will not pass as activities only consume Activity Points. It does turn to sunset just for setting, with everything bathed in orange light.
The Support system is largely unchanged from entries like Awakening or Fates. After spending enough turns near each other, or with activities/lost items, Byleth can unlock stories that explore a unit’s relationship with Byleth, or with one another. Supports can affect the end-game credits, while in combat they provide boosts depending on the support level (from lowest to highest, C to A/S). There are same sex S-support options for Byleth – who is the only one who can S-support – but I did not explore them to sufficiently comment.
I prefer to play on Normal/Casual (no permadeath) so gauging Three Houses‘ difficulty is not on me. I would think the challenges would come more from map layouts on Normal. If you think Normal is too easy, you cannot raise the difficulty, but going Hard to Normal seems possible. Classic (permadeath) mode is available, and Lunatic mode is said to be coming soon.
Weapon durability is in, but you can opt to repair them at the end of battles. Unlike previous games, breaking your weapon only means a loss of attack power and easier enemy follow ups, compared to losing it completely. Magic operates as a number of charges that refreshes after battle, for both healing and attack. You can opt to hire “battalions”, that provide stat boosts and an additional skill. Battalion skills can either be supportive or offensive, and typically has an area of effect.
There are online features, but I did not try out any of them. You’d be able to pick up items from where enemies or player characters have fallen, or check various statistics, which are arguably more cosmetic than necessary.
In regards to Instruct, unit Motivation does not restore automatically, limiting your possible chances to train skills. If you’re fully intending to min-max your units, you must plan in advance. Units can gain new abilities from class masteries, and at various skill levels. Things like flying, heavy armor and riding need a unit to actually be in a relevant class in combat. The class customization is far more in-depth than previous entries, so start having those spreadsheets open.
Since the game follows an in-game calendar, time is something you are going to be limited in. Casual is, of course, going to be an easier time, but Classic/Hard will need you to plan more strategically. As mentioned, reclassing requires a certain level of relevant skill.
Say you want skills like Renewal (to heal 20% of max HP), Aegis + Pavise (% chance to reduce damage), and Lance/Axe Prowess (+ Hit, Avo, and Crit Avo when using weapon) on a character to make them an unstoppable Great Knight tank. Renewal is on a healer line class (Bishop), which the end goal of Great Knight (cavalry) is not. You still will need the minimum skill level – in this case, A in Faith – to even unlock the chance to obtain Bishop. You can gamble the reclass as soon as you’re able to, to reduce the time needed to master the class while you train your lances/riding/heavy armor skills for your end goal. Allocate your time right, and you’ll have a Great Knight able to charge into front lines and allowing your softer mages to provide backup fire.
The soundtrack is fantastic. Takeru Kanazaki, Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh have come together to create a stellar collection of tracks I would listen to on loop any day. If you’re willing to listen to even the regular battle theme when you do nothing else but fight, I’d say that’s a mark of excellent composition.
A cute detail when you’re in the monastery is the bell that does the main Fire Emblem theme at the beginning and end of the day. The music also shifts to a more choral arrangement when you enter the church building, which was a nice touch.
I played with Japanese voices on, so I will not comment on the English version. There’s no one I would say had an unfitting voice, though of course it can be subjective. If there’s an English voice actor you like – most of them have introduced themselves via Twitter – then you’ll have to ensure you’re on English voice from the main menu under the Extras tab. There is no way to change them while you have the game running.
Days pass via an in-game calendar. On a weekend, you can decide to Explore, attend Seminars, Battle or Rest. On the first day of a new week, you’d be able to Instruct your class. Seminars increase skill levels and motivation for attendees. Rest refreshes your recruited units’ motivation so that you can Instruct them more often. Explore was already discussed, and Battle is self-explanatory.
Paralogues not only provide more story, they can also provide unique rewards upon clearing. You do have to be careful about allocating your time; Paralogues and certain quests use up Battle Points, and you’ll be taken to a new week when you’re done. Paralogues also have to be cleared by certain dates. Other battles provide Renown points, which have later game uses as well as New Game+, apart from their listed rewards. Some quests require you to Battle to clear as well.
As you gain more Professor Levels, shops also start stocking better things, or use the blacksmith to forge better items. Rare monster battles can appear, dropping rusted weapons that could be anything from silver weapons to a named “legendary” weapon.
You’ll be moved from story mission to story mission at the end of every month, so the story itself moves at a steady pace. It flows quite naturally, the month to month being enough time for your rotation of things to do, and short enough to keep it brisk. It would seem that different houses have different campaign lengths, a change in formula.
New Game+ lets you carry over any earned renown, statue levels – your first use of renown slightly later in the game – and shop levels (i.e. you can buy high end weapons immediately). It definitely can make the game much easier and the early game progress faster, as your renown can buy certain items, unlock supports and boost professor levels.
If you’re wondering about the hype or if this is would be good as your first Fire Emblem game, I would heartily recommend Three Houses. There’s much character interactions to be enjoyed aside from the tactics and micromanagement. You’d still be able to accomplish your tasks even without “full” efficiency. With three possible routes, you’d be sinking time into raising your favourite characters and likely, getting wholly invested into one specific group.
As of this writing, the Three Houses expansion pass is also available, with a new outfit for Byleth, and various other promised content. There’ll be more yet to play through, and I look forward to even more things to do.
One of your hardest decisions yet is here for you to make: which House do you choose?