Fire Emblem: Three Houses is Just the Right Mix of Old and New

The Fire Emblem series was, for the longest time, a complete mystery to me. For the longest time, all I knew about it was that Marth and Roy were in it. Who were Marth and Roy? Just two annoying swordsmen characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee. That was about all the contact I had with the series for about 14 years. It was just a passing interest and nothing more. For some reason though, I bout Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright back in 2015 and became something of a fan. Fast-forward to 2019, and I think I might finally be able to say I’m a fan. I really enjoyed Fates, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses has got me completely enthralled, and I absolutely love it!

So, what’s old about Fire Emblem: Three Houses? Well, not all that much come to think of it. It’s still a turn-based, tactical game; units’ stats still rank up at random; all the old unit classes are still here; supports are still present; weapon proficiency is still a thing, and permadeath is still an option for those that want it. Beyond that though, this is an entirely different game. I don’t think most longtime Fire Emblem fans will like it to be perfectly honest. Unless one plays on the hardest difficulty with permadeath on, there isn’t nearly as much challenge to be had as in past titles. I can’t really say whether or not that’s a good thing, but it’s a quality that fans should be aware of before jumping in.

As for the new stuff, I’m not really sure where to begin. Fire Emblem: Three Houses does quite a bit to set itself apart from its predecessors. The weapon triangle is gone (it’s all about level and weapon proficiency now); you can now take the time to level up all your units evenly if you want (though this might only exist on the lower difficulty); more emphasis is placed on growing your units and getting to know them, and wandering around your home base (Garegg Mach Monastery) is actually very important. Essentially, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a game divided into two parts: combat and teaching, and both are equally interesting.

As a relatively new Fire Emblem fan, I love how combat works in this entry. It’s still the basic setup: move a unit and have them perform an action, but there’s a lot built on top of it. Everyone gets “Combat Arts” now, which allow them to apply special effects to them. Archers can shoot farther at the cost of accuracy, axe wielders can immobilize opponents, sword-users can get bonus damage on monsters, the list goes on. They all come at the cost of weapon durability, but are nonetheless quite handy in a pinch.

Same goes for Battalions; these are units of soldiers one can assign to their units, and they provide additional options and buffs for attack, with the effects depending on the kind of battalion used. Flying units still can’t take on archers, but that’s probably for the best. It would really suck if there were nothing to check the Flyer’s incredible mobility. All these things don’t really change how overall strategy works in Fire Emblem. Playing defensively is still the best option for the most part, as it’s still easy for a unit to get overwhelmed if left by themselves. There’s also rarely anything pushing the player to quickly cross the map.

Yeah, the combat is still quite fun, but the teaching and monastery might be my favorite part of the game so far. It’s not as tactically interesting as combat, but there’s something about conversing with the students and faculty at Geregg Mach that really strikes a chord with me. I’ve actually found myself caring about who these characters are and wanting to see them grow.

Perhaps it’s because they’re written a touch better than past Fire Emblem characters, or maybe it’s because developing a good rapport with them is essential to improving them as combat units. It might even be that Intelligent Systems made them seem like actual people with lives and goals of their own, and then placed them in the care of the player character as students. Whatever the case, there’s something to exploring the monastery and interacting with these characters that’s just fun. Hopefully, they’ll be able to incorporate this kind of setup into future entries as well.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses brings quite a few new things to the table, but it still feels like Fire Emblem to me. I love it, but I’ll leave the question of whether or not it’s an actual improvement to fans more invested than I. All that said, if you’re looking for an RPG with a great story, reasonable difficulty (if you want it), and great characters, then this is a game you should look into.

What do you think of Fire Emblem: Three Houses? Is it good for the series or does it stray too far away from its roots?

Lede image from Nintendo eShop page