I was slightly late getting to the Fire Emblem party, joining it when it Fire Emblem: Awakening first appeared on the 3DS. It’s also no secret that I’m an avid player of turn-based strategy games and since making it to the party, the Fire Emblem series of games are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of its genre. It’s had its ups and downs, great and poor entries but that still didn’t stop me eagerly awaiting its Nintendo Switch debut with abated breath. Well, now it’s here with Fire Emblem: Three Houses and boy, it’s the most banging party I’ve ever been to and a title that was well worth the two year wait that I’ve had to endure.
Developed by Intelligent Systems and published through Nintendo, this latest iteration within its series now contains a certain finesse, with a perfection in all of its familiar mechanics, as well as introducing a whole host of brave, new features to produce one of the most compelling role-playing, tactical turn-based strategy games to have ever appeared on any console. Lessons have been learned and communities listened too to overhaul every element that the series is renowned for with a finely balanced challenge, complete graphical overhaul and a level of immersion that simply draws you into its fantastical world of combat, students and calenders.
The story revolves around a main protagonist, namely you, who begins life as a Mercenary. After helping to save the lives of three students being pursued by a group of bandits, you end up within the grandeur of the Garegg Mach Monastery; a Hogwarts-style establishment of education that is home to the influences of the Officer’s Academy and the serene Church of Seiros. It’s a place that lies pivotal within the larger picture of the land of Fódlan; a continent made up of three ruling nations: The Adrestian Empire, The Leicester Alliance and The Kingdom of Faerghus. Each of these are represented within the Monastery through a group of students who reside in three houses: The Black Eagles, The Golden Deers and The Blue Lions.
After your heroic deed, you are invited to the appointment of becoming a Professor within the school and taking the lead within one of the three houses. Once your decision has been made, the game opens up to work on two fronts. Firstly, there is the day-to-day running of the school in tutoring your classes to develop your students, building relationships with your fellow academics and undertaking a series of tasks that can range from fishing and growing plants to serving meals and undertaking mock battles or real skirmishes to ensure the safety and reputation of the Monastery. The second phase revolves around the combat element of the gameplay, which sends you to a series of detailed battlefields with environmental advantages and an array of moves and weaponry with which to utilise.
Whatever phase you are participating in, the presentations of each are sublime. All cut-scenes and interactions are fully narrated, with some beautifully animated sequences that brings the whole world to life. However, when conducting your duties within the Monastery, the game takes on a 3D, free-roam style of play where you travel through the halls to check on tasks, interact with students and fulfil tasks for them in order to gain trust and build relationships. This in turn carries over to the battlefield, with partnerships forming that bolster defensive or offensive capabilities. It all runs around a calendar system that goes through the seasons and the day-to-day tasks and engagements that are required for that particular phase of the moon.
Once all matters have been attended within the school, your party are then taken to the field in a series of mission-based skirmishes within a series of battlefields. In large, the core mechanics of gameplay that the series is renowned for remains the same. Namely, the turn-based combat across a series of grids, as well as the formation of relationships and building of characters. However, everything here is much more fluid than previous iterations, with impressive animations and close-up views that really brings you into the action. The environment can offer certain boosts, such a wooded areas that can offer defensive cover and certain units also posses differing abilities from long-ranged attacks to healing and move distances to area of attack.
As with previous games, there’s a distinct cat-and-mouse mechanic at play, with certain unit types being weaker against others or more dominant; depending on your foe. Despite its new graphical overhaul and mechanics at play, there’s also an air of familiarity that brought a flurry of goosebumps as the recognisable tone of levelling up blew its fanfare. However, despite some its familiarity, there have also been a number of additions to produce a layer of depth that will satisfy any budding armchair general within the conflict of turn-based strategy. This comes in the form of creating battalions to add a strategic layer to the tactics in order to boost allies or weaken enemies.
This new battalion mechanic is best treated as an special style of attack, with the ability only limited to two or three triggers per bout. These essentially change the familiarity of 1v1 battles to a much larger force that comprises of a number of troops with which to attack. There are distinct advantages in using this technique, as it not only greatly boosts the attributes of characters, but also allows for secondary attacks or reduces the ability for the enemy to counter the attack. There’s something that’s deeply satisfying in sending an army of troops across the battlefield in an animation of mass combat. However, using this technique a number of times can reduce combat efficiency and ultimately, break up your formed battalion, producing a level of strategy that requires your full attention at all times.
Overall, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a stunning debut for the series upon the Nintendo Switch. It contains an air of familiarity, yet introduces a number of new fronts that excels this iteration to easily one of the best of its series. Everything here has been lovingly crafted, from the mechanics of gameplay to the overall presentation of its cut-scenes, battles and monastery explorations. In truth, there’s simply so much to the game, that within this review, I have barely touched the surface. Couple this with three houses to play, essentially producing three variants of the game and an overall play-time that can go into the hundreds of hours, this a game that satisfies deeply and will keep you engaged over the long-term. For me, personally, this is the best game to have come to the Switch since its release and could, with its instant recipe of becoming a classic, end up being the definitive game within the console’s life. The Zelda’s can keep Linking, the Smash Bros can keep Smashing and the Mario Karters can keep Karting. Me? Well, I’ll just keep firing my emblem amongst the three houses in this impressive and addictive game for a very long time to come.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses Nintendo Switch Video Game Review
Gameplay - 10/10
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Replay Value - 10/10
User Review( votes)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses debuts on the Nintendo Switch to produce the most compelling entry into its series to date.