Spoilers ahead! Continue if you dare.
The Fire Emblem franchise is in a bit of a weird standing. The series only came westward due to the success of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros Melee, and underperformed drastically until 2012’s Fire Emblem: Awakening. Awakening established a new formula for the franchise, and now they’ve shaken things up again. I’ve never played a Fire Emblem title, so it seems I’ll have my work cut out for me for this marathon. Released in 2019, Fire Emblem: Three Houses was developed by Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo. So how does Fire Emblem’s first foray onto home consoles in twelve years stack up?
In Three Houses you take control of a mysterious descendant of the goddess named Byleth. Byleth is the child of, ex-captain of the Knight’s of Seiros, Jeralt. Byleth has lived their life as a mercenary in Fódlan without relative issue until one day you run into three children of the Garreg Mach Monastary’s Officers Academy. After saving the life of one of these students, you become a professor at the monastery. You’re given the choice between the three houses Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and the Golden Deer. This choice will drastically change your experience. For some reason, a mysterious entity named Sothin appears in your head at the same time.
I went with Edelgard’s Black Eagles and took a very specific bonus route within it. During your time as a professor at Garagg Mach, you run into the Death Knight and Flame Emperor multiple times. It is revealed that fellow your fellow professor, Jeritza, is the Death Knight. Kicking off an investigation by the Archbishop into who else could be your enemy. This comes to a head when Jeralt is murdered in cold-blood by Kronya.
After these events, Edelgard reveals herself as the Flame Emperor. You’re given the choice to side with the Church, or with the Empire. I chose the Crimson Flower route, siding with Edelgard to go to war against the Church and Archbishop Rhea specifically. In this route, you find yourself killing many close faculty of Garreg Mach. Ultimately, Edelgard and Byleth slay Rhea in her true form, The Immaculate One, giving the Empire full control of Fódlan.
Each week Three Houses gives you many options to spend that day. You can explore Garreg Mach, battle, attend a seminar, view the marketplace, and mess with your unit’s class. At the start of my journey, I felt overwhelmed by this simple decision each time it came up. I wasn’t given a clear direction of one option being better. It is incredibly overwhelming, but also freeing.
Garreg Mach Monastary is a sprawling hub with many places to explore, activities to partake in, and quests to take on. In the first half of the game, you’ll find every student of the Officers Academy in the monastery. While exploring, taking certain actions will raise your professor level. Your professor level dictates much of what you’ll be doing in your time.
The most important effect your professor level has on you is how many activity points you have. You can invite students to a meal, tea, sing a hymn, answer mail-in questions, go fishing, enter a student into a tournament, or garden. It’s important to use your time wisely in the early game. All of the activities are incredibly important to your journey. They’ll help make money to spend on higher-quality items for battle, complete side-quests, raise your professor level, and improve student motivation.
A huge part of Three Houses is deciding what class your units will be. Any unit can take on the class of your choice, with some exceptions. Units can only have one class equipped on the battlefield, but they can use their abilities from any class once they’ve unlocked them. The hardest decision you’ll make in this game is “what class will I make X?” Certain units are better, or worse, fits for specific classes. The game gives you a pretty good idea of it on its own. If you have an idea, it wouldn’t hurt to look online.
Once a week, you can give a lecture. You get to individually work with units, and raise their level in specific skills. How much you can work with them is dictated by their motivation for the week. Working with units will be how you get into specific classes or class chains. A higher proficiency in a weapon allows a unit to use a more powerful weapon, so you’d rather a master of one than a jack of all trades.
That is not to say that a jack of all trades is useless in battle. Three Houses gets rid of the series-regular weapons triangle. Now specific weapons, or classes, are effective against another. You as the player get to dictate what a unit will do on each turn. It’s you’re typical strategy-RPG. I don’t have much to comment on the system, other than how fluid it always ran for me. This basic gameplay loop alone kept me with the game for 40 hours. If a battle takes an unfavorable turn, you may Divine Pulse. A time-rewinding safe button granted to you by Sothis.
As per usual, each unit has its own stats in battle. The hardest part to keep up with is the low amount of inventory space. My convoy was nearly full by the journey’s end, and every unit inventory was. There’s often just enough room for a weapon, an extra, a shield or stat-altering piece of clothing, and healing. This was my biggest issue with the battle system in Three Houses.
Three Houses is not a very pretty game. Its color pallet can look muddy and dull. It uses a lot of dark shades and browns. There are tons of corners cut on modeling, and texturing. The game is often made fun of for its flat fruit in the market. I’d much prefer a better-looking game, but I can’t say the art is what I was here for, to begin with.
What Three Houses lacks in visual fidelity definition, it makes up for in spades of music. There are a good 10 songs I can clearly remember, and a few got stuck in my head during my time with the game. Rei Kondoh couldn’t have done a better job with this game’s soundtrack.
Overall, I absolutely loved my experience with the game. I highly recommend anyone interested in it, or RPGs, in general, to pick it up. It might not be the best starting point for Fire Emblem, but I don’t have anything to compare it to. I struggle extremely hard with reviewing RPGs. I often find myself repeating the same points, forgetting key ones, or spending too much time on something that really doesn’t mean a lot. At the end of the day with this review, I feel like I missed an angle completely, and didn’t say a unique word about this game that hasn’t already been said. I did not do this game justice with this review, but I don’t know how to give it what it deserves either.
The Fire Emblem series is sort of infamous in the land of Smash. The internet meme “too many swordsmen” became so popular that even Byleth’s reveal trailer referenced it. Smash players have argued that there are “too many Fire Emblem characters” for years, and I don’t really agree with that sentiment. My immediate reaction upon seeing Byleth revealed was a fit of laughter. The roster only looks so bloated due to Ultimate bringing everyone back. I’ll leave my thoughts as brief as that on Fire Emblem as a whole. I’ll simply be covering the Three Houses content in Smash.
Byleth is the most unique Fire Emblem fighter yet! I’d dare call them one of the most unique fighters in Smash at all. They are sluggish, and heavy, but are built to be a master at range. Sakurai described Byleth as “the distance demon” when presenting the character for the first time. Something not typically seen in Smash, let alone amongst the Fire Emblem characters.
Byleth brought 11 songs, and 12 spirits with them. Alongside Garreg Mach Monastery as a new stage. With how great the Three Houses soundtrack is, I have to lament Byleth getting so few songs. I would’ve loved to see Three Houses get close to what SNK did, but I can understand why that wasn’t feasible. Garreg Mach is simply another traveling stage. It’s quite bland, but there wasn’t much better they could’ve done with Three Houses having so few static locations. Overall, I’m incredibly pleased with how the game is represented in Smash.