I got it bad, so bad, I’m Hot for Teacher.
Back in 2013, I experienced my first Fire Emblem game; Awakening. I knew of the franchise before then, but the tactical chess approach to moving units across a grid-like battlefield was something that just never did grab me. As I dived more into Awakening before its release, mostly due to its character artwork and a strong recommendation from a close friend, I decided to take the plunge and experience the franchise I was told was amazing. And boy, was I told right.
Awakening was aptly named, and its characters, combat, and story was nothing short of brilliant. Fates, the follow up, which saw split releases ala Pokemon, was just as good, if not better due to its wealth of characters and playable options. I even dabbled into Fire Emblem: Heroes, the mobile spin-off that has become wildly successful for Nintendo and a game that features every character the series has ever known. I was also a massive fan of Fire Emblem Warriors, another spin-off that replaces the turn based combat with its real time hack and slash approach. When Three Houses was announced for the Nintendo Switch, I was more hyped for this than almost any game currently available on the platform. While its story doesn’t quite live up to the previous entries I’ve enjoyed, mostly due to some poorly handled reveals and its failure to offer us up a compelling villain, Three Houses succeeds greatly due to its vast replayability with new game plus, and yet another memorable cast to add to the franchise.
While there is a decent amount of replayability with how you’ve handled units in any Fire Emblem game, choosing or not choosing the permadeath option of living with your failures, choosing who you will romance, or which of the games you played via Fates, they simply don’t hold a candle to the vast options available here with Three Houses. While some of the reasons are secured behind narratively deep spoilers, just know that there are tons of options that open up and let you experience the story in several unique ways. While much of these differences are based around the students you’ll teach, the house you choose, there is a drastic choice you’ll make far into the game that has some major repercussions, provided you’ve chosen a certain house, that is.
Taking place on the continent of Fóldan, are three territories that are under a banner of peace; The Leicester Alliance to the east, the Adrestian Empire to the south and west, and the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus to the north. The Garreg Mach Monastery, where much of the game takes place, holds the Church of Seiros, which has held the peace between these lands for quite some time. As it turns out, these lands had seen a devastating war, one that saw the Church as its victor. Since this infamous battle, each nation has retreated back to their lands, all the while maintaining that very peace. To further their contribution to its existence, they have sent their best and brightest youth to the Monastery to learn and shape their future.
While my first playthrough was via the Black Eagles house, I did recruit several other students from the other houses as well, something I’ll get into a bit more shortly. Each student comes with their own unique personality that is attached to equally varied backstories of being a ex-songstress, an anti-social recluse, a flirtatious womanizer, or a young woman who is still coming to grips with learning the language. There are several other backgrounds these characters find themselves a part of and are begging to be explored. While you can talk and interact with all of them, it’s as you get closer and develop strong bonds with them where you start to dig into more about who and why they are. This allows you to get further attached to them, and makes them feel vastly more important when you’re choosing a tactic that might get them killed in battle. While I’ve loved the stories in previous games, it is the small character moments that really sell me on why I love this franchise. Three Houses doesn’t disappoint in anyway when it comes to its enormous cast of students and other Professors.
I loved the moments when Bernadetta, the recluse, would panic everytime I said or did anything, only to eventually open up and become far more comfortable around me. Seeing Petra struggle with the language was often fun, and reminded me a lot of Starfire in the Teen Titans cartoon series, often rephrasing certain words to make them sound cute, or in a way where their meaning was quite the opposite. Even the moment with Caspar, a reckless student, who has been living with a poor choice for some time, was incredibly touching and heartfelt when he addressed his worries with me. I found myself more attached to this group of characters than in previous entries, and while I still feel Fates and Awakening’s had more memorable designs, and this may be due to the lack of school uniforms present, these students here resonated with me more so and I’m eager to teach another house through new game plus to explore more backstories and create new bonds.
As you develop those bonds and become more closer with your students, you’ll develop your support conversations as well. Now, characters will develop these alongside other students also, making them become closer friends and allies, but this system is also there to trigger the romance system Fire Emblem is wildly know for. While you aren’t having kids and then having them visit you from the future, assisting in battles, you do get a single option later in the game to make the move on your highest ranked relationship. This develops into a single conversation at the very end, that while touching and sweet, it made it feel like the romance system was added very late into development. It just doesn’t feel as engaged or meaningful, and while I’ve seen people rather pleased with its simplicity, I just wanted to see more interactions down the road as my character’s romance with Dorothea would continue. You do get stories once the game ends that goes into detail about where your surviving characters ended up, but I still feel the romance system here was an overall disappointment in regards to its depth and meaning.
The central story is based around the everlasting peace throughout the kingdom, and that dark forces are swirling around the Church, eager to wipe it, and its goddess, from existence. Much of the conflict comes in bite-sized pieces, often introducing us to a villain only for them to scamper off and then encounter them later on down the road. One of which, is the masked Flame Emperor, seen below. Now, this could have been a very interesting character, but much of the early storytelling tries to hide who this mysterious villain is, playing on who it could be, only to be far too on the nose that the eventual reveal is downright pointless. The remaining threats you’ll encounter are equally lacking and it’s not until the final few chapters where the story starts to really pick up and some interesting things occur. The story can often times be fantastic, but there are several times it felt weird waiting a whole month for events to play out, mainly due to how the game uses the calendar month to plan your objective. The final battle is incredibly interesting, wildly satisfying, and hands down the most intense battle of the entire series. To say I survived by the skin of my teeth, well, that’s not too far off, many students perished.
As you’re welcomed into the Church of Seiros Monastery, you are granted a teaching position at the school. While there is an air of mystery as to why, it’s a decent length into the game where you are fully given that answer. You can choose between teaching the Black Eagles, the Golden Deer, and finally, the Blue Lions. Each of these school houses comes with its own unique brand of characters, and as you learn and discover new skills yourself, you can recruit those who catch your eye, convincing them to join your house if you fit a certain criteria of theirs. While you can choose to run with just your own class, there are vast benefits to increasing the size and scope of your school house with several of the other students. Now, keep in mind that you’ll want to focus on certain characters as building your class to big means some students are going to fall behind as you won’t be able to teach and guide everyone with the time you have.
Throughout the story, you’ll take on the role of Byleth, a male or female that has only known life as a mercenary. You are also connected in some strange way to a mysterious girl with green hair that is as unsure about how she’s connected to you as she is with who she is herself. This girl, also allows you to turn back time during battles, allowing you to correct disastrous mistakes, such as saving a student that was recently killed, or a move that just didn’t pan out. It’s a system that the community is as odds with, due to how it affect difficultly, but a system that has saved several of my students from an unfortunate dirt nap.
Byleth is only voiced during battle, or when you’ve leveled up, all the while being completely silent during conversations. While you can often guide his/her dialogue, it’s unfortunate you’re character didn’t have a fully voiced impact into the story. Byleth can often feel like they don’t have a personality, and several of their interactions are reusing the same animations over and over again.
For each of your students, and those who join you along the way, you’ll choose the goals they need to work on; the weapons they’ll wield and if they fancy riding a horse or a pegasus or wyvern, that too. Every step you take with their teaching will dictate what classes they can take exams for. As you instruct them within those goals, as well as using those skills on the battlefield, they will increase their grade and become more efficient in their use. This increase will then contribute to the percentage chance they have for passing that exam. For example, if a requirement for their sword skill is an A, and they are a B+, then they will have a possibility for failing that exam, despite having a possible chance of 73% in passing it. While you can eventually take it again, or just reload your save, exam seals do cost money and require sometime before they can attempt it again. If you have a certain goal you want to reach with a specific character, it’s best to ensure you are changing their goals ever so often to keep in line with what class you eventually want them to be. You can set a single goal for them to focus on, or customize their reach with two specific ones. Occasionally, you’ll have them approach you with ideas of their own, but should you not want that for them, you can put a stop to their wishful thinking.
The school system takes place over the course of weeks and months. You’ll often have a single objective for the month, and in the meanwhile, you’ll have a few days to teach, to interact with the students on the grounds, or enroll them in seminars for a quick increase to their skills. Exploring the school grounds will allow you to not just converse with your students; strengthening your bonds with them, but you can invite many of them to tea, offering them gifts, or retrieve lost items that you’ll find frequently as you tour the grounds, keeping an eye for out shiny blue glimmers. While these actions will help you grow closer and develop relationships with many of the cast, you also have activities you can take part in that increase your overall Professor Rank. You can put some work into the greenhouse, go fishing, share a meal with your favorite students, as well as cook alongside them, and more. Some students, like the shy and introverted Bernadetta, loves cooking, and is eager to entertain you with her skills as a chef.
As you complete these tasks, you’ll increase your Professor Rank which allows you to take part in more of these activities during a single day. As your teaching career starts, you’ll only have the ability to perform a single option, but that drastically increases as you level up. The main objective to these activities is in keeping the motivation of your students high. This allows you to teach them during the days you’ll have class with them. Unmotivated students will not be able to increase their stats during that lecture, so doing what you can to motivate them is crucial to getting the most out of that student. Students will also have questions during class that can increase their bond with you as well as grant Professor Rank experience should you offer up the answer that suits them best.
In addition to teaching and walking the grounds, you can take your students into battle. While there are battles you can grind out for as long as you wish, several battles are only able to be completed a certain number of times each week. As you rank up, this changes from a single battle to two. While there are just typical “kill the bandit’ missions, you’ll also complete Paralogue quests that are story based and specific to either a single student, or a small group, such as Petra wanting to show Bernadetta the countryside, or putting a stop to Ingrid’s arranged marriage. These small narrative bites are some of the best content in the game, and it’ll take several full playthroughs to see all of them. Apart from those, there are quests you can complete, but none of these have stories attached to them, and frankly, they simple reuse the same few environments without really changing up enemy placement or the types of enemies you’ll encounter, apart from the battles you can do with the more monstrous threats. It’s a shame that these aspects of battle are not changed up to make different use of the environments and would have forced you to think differently about each battle, despite the identical battleground in front of you. It does get tiring seeing the same five or six locations used again and again and once you’ve found a specific strategy for that location, then its just rinse and repeat for many of these grinding battles.
Environments do come with some hazards as remaining on lava-based tiles after a turn will burn your characters, or attacking from the bushes will increase your chance of evading an incoming attack. There are tiles that will offer up some healing upon the next round, and in one instance, tiles that teleport you across the map in the chance of unlocking new paths to treasure, or the ability to take down some out of reach foes. If you’ve played a Fire Emblem game before, you’ll know that locations are usually designed around offering multiple ways to traverse them, allowing for flanking positions should you split your team up for a more direct approach. Again, many of these locations are the same battles again and again, so it’s really up to you on how you take part in these skirmishes.
The turn-based battles in Fire Emblem: Three Houses are very similar to that of the previous entries. Each character has a certain reach to move on the battlefield, and depending on the weapon, you can either attack on each side of you, to an angle, or from a distance should you have a decent bow skill, or even a long bow equipped. Fire Emblem has long used a triangle system where Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Lances, and Lances completes the triangle by beating Swords. At first, this system doesn’t really appear to be present, but as you start using and developing those weapons, your Lance, for example, will unlock the sword breaker ability and make it far more effective against enemies wielding a sword. Now, there are also other weapons like bows. gauntlets, and magic, but these operate outside the triangle, for the most part. Much of the power behind your student’s attacks will vary on the grade they have with that weapon and how often they use it. This makes teaching and the student’s own personal goals more important than ever. Boosting certain stats can allow your character to attack a second time, or even dodge several incoming strikes. Changing their classes as well, can often benefit how you want a certain student to act in combat. Thankfully, there are several classes to change to, offering a wild range of units across the battlefield. One such class, the Dancer, is available to you during the game, should you unlock it, and allows you to dance up a nearby character to allow them to attack a second time. It’s incredibly useful and helped me greatly in the final battle.
As you move your students, as well as yourself, across each location, you’ll be shown how the battles with roughly go down as you trigger combat with a nearby foe. While critical attacks or misses are not always shown, it’s a solid indicator of what could happen should those characters clash. This allows you to plan out your battles with permadeath on, ensuring you are able to plan out strategy, and also knowing their survival chance should you trigger combat. You can also equip items that assist in battles or items you can consume to boost an individual’s skills. Weapons also have a durability, and should you boost the attack by selecting Combat Arts, it will burn through the durability faster, but often provides a stronger and flashier attack in the process. Magic spells have a finite use as well during the battle, like healing, fire, or the far reaching meteor strike, so equipping weapons to magic users is a solid choice in case they lack the ability to call upon their mystical arts.
Another aspect of combat brought to Three Houses are in the forms of Battalions. These take the form of units that assist characters in battle, liking having their own little personal army. Battalions, which also alter a students stats, vary on a character’s authority rank, and its strength is dependent on their charm stat. As your authority rank is increased, they can equip more battalions and learn new attacks called gambits, which are effectively using those armies in battles. These attacks usually negate counter-attacks, and can see nearby students boosting their allies gambits, making them stronger. Battalions can level up, increasing the stats they offer, making them essential to surviving many of the more difficult battles ahead.
Being built for the Nintendo Switch, Three Houses is simply gorgeous, with maintaining a pretty standard 30 fps through nearly every encounter, regardless of being docked or on the go. While the game is much sharper when played on the TV, the visual differences are very minor unless you’re really looking for them. This allows Three Houses to be played really anyway you like without feeling like you’re suffering due to the format. Character’s embody the classic anime style well and are wildly detailed with only minimal blurred textures on a few of the cast. The presentation and menu’s are solid and everything is highly detailed and easy to make out, apart from several instances of very tiny text when playing the game in handheld mode. While I’m sure that’s something that will be addressed in a future patch, it didn’t really bug me as much as it has others.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is very close to being my favorite game in the series, despite some issues I feel really hold the game back from being that perfect experience. Had the grinding battles shook up enemy placement or had a procedural aspect to changing up the terrain on every fight, as well as some of the glaring story issues, then I feel this could have been a true contender. Apart from those issues, which I’ll admit are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, Three Houses is a massive recommend to even those who have never once experienced the series. As the Nintendo Switch is wildly successful this generation, this may very well be the game that brings in a whole new league of fans, and frankly, it’s a wonderful place to start, and get pulled into its learning curve of battle, tactics, and romance.
The Launch Trailer does offer a few glimpses of late game story elements, proceed with caution.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Nintendo Switch.
All screenshots were taken on an Nintendo Switch.