Hype has been brewing for “Fire Emblem: Three Houses,” ever since the E3 2019 trailer that showcased a time skip in which the characters we once saw as plucky students turn into adults who have faced the harsh realities of war. The Fire Emblem fanbase saw this as a definite return to the series’ roots, as previous entries like “Fates” and “Awakening” had stories often lacking in thematic tension and impactful storytelling, filling that void with hyper-sexualized characters and anime tropes. “Three Houses” showed that it was willing to take its story to new heights and had callbacks to one of the best Fire Emblem games, “Genealogy of the Holy War,” as both have continent-spanning warfare and time skips.
The game is separated into two main parts. The school section sees you exploring Garreg Mach Monastery, as you chat up your students and fellow professors. Participating in tea parties, meals and a plethora of other activities gives off a major “Persona” vibe. Alternatively, the battle section utilizes a tactical role-playing game system where you control characters on a grid, akin to XCOM. Both parts of the game are enjoyable, as the flexible weapons system allows for endless customization on the battlefield, while exploring and conversing with students serves as a nice ease in the tension. The combat in the game is rewarding. As favorite students become stronger, the zoom shows them in action, trading the top-down grid for a freer, open-world camera. Moreover, the Divine Pulse feature allows you to rewind time and rethink your decisions, lest you send one of your students to their demise.
With a variety of characters and their diverse personalities, there’s a character for everyone, from the womanizing Sylvain to the blunt Felix. Personal standouts include Petra, Edelgard and the cake-loving Lysithea. Forming relationships with students gives insight into their personalities.
Where the game disappoints is in the rigidity of the class system it imposes. At first, it was exciting that characters could use whatever weapons they wished. As the game progresses, it introduces the Master Class, a promotion for level 30 students. Unfortunately, the majority of Master Class promotions are winged or horse units, and a number of the classes are gender-locked such as Falcon Knight being limited to females and War Master to males. These problems decrease the variety of units, creating multiples of the same — a complete 180 from the game’s beginning.
“Fire Emblem: Three Houses” is a perfect blend of the addicting, strategic action gameplay that the series is known for and engaging social aspects of matching quality. Its only shortcoming is the restrictive class system, which rears its ugly head only in the later stages. The game’s characters are all fully realized people with their own hopes, ideals and fears — endearing friends for a 100+ hour campaign.
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