Nintendo has had an amazing year in terms of quality games coming out for the Switch. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is their next big exclusive that everyone has been looking forward to. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the latest instalment in the franchise developed by Intelligent Systems/Koei Tecmo Games and published by Nintendo.
Developer & Publisher // Intelligent Systems & Koei Tecmo, Nintendo
Platforms // Nintendo Switch
MSRP & Release Date // $59.99, July 29, 2019
Reviewed On // Nintendo Switch
Fire Emblem starts by letting you pick between a male or female protagonist. After an amazing opening cutscene that gets you very hyped to play, Fire Emblem: Three Houses dives straight into the gameplay. The initial hours of the game are well-designed to introduce new players to some of the core game mechanics.
The story is very well-thought out with branching paths that really do reflect the choices you make. What makes this Fire Emblem narrative unique is the opening choice between three very distinct houses of students to train at the Officers’ Academy. This alignment will drastically change your experience, so when choosing between the Black Eagles, Golden Deer, and Blue Lions, choose wisely.
Each house has very disparate personalities, strengths, and weakness. For example, Golden Deer specializes in archery, and so naturally have a huge weakness to close-quarter combat. The environments are really diverse, with each house owning their own section of the game world. Despite an easy avenue for an overarching conflict between the three houses, Fire Emblem interestingly, allows the three houses to come together to resolve world issues and don’t really have a lot of conflicts between each other.
Now, as amazing as the story was in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I did have some issues with the ending; particularly, I found the final boss encounter to be wholly unsatisfying. While it didn’t take away from the overall narrative in general, it definitely was a pet peeve of mine. I’m sure some will love it and have no issue. Overall the tale of Fire Emblem: Three Houses is worth the purchase of the game alone. If you enjoy a great narrative that is told well and love twists you will not be disappointed here.
Graphics and Performance
Fire Emblem: Three Houses does not run very well or look that impressive on the Switch. I played exclusively in handheld mode for this review. Fire Emblem pales in comparison graphically to most current generation games. The game consistently loses frames, which at times can ruin the gameplay experience. These performance issues are very noticeable in the hub world called the Monastery. It’s an area of the game where you spend a lot of time interacting with your characters, engaging in special tournaments, and cooking dinners for your team.
This part of the game annoyed me the most in terms of bugs. Some of the gates in the Monastery would not register your character running through them, so you would phase right through the gates instead. This felt like a chore most of the time, and I hated coming there because the world map was very small. You could barely see certain icons clearly. The textures in this area and pretty much everywhere else in the game are not aesthetically pleasing.
The menus and character models were passable graphically and the majority of the cinematics come across very well. Although there are a lot of negative points about Fire Emblem performance-wise, the other parts of the game are extremely well done. I realized how much fun I was actually having in the game, and within a few hours I never really gave it too much thought anymore.
The single best part of Fire Emblem: Three houses is its stellar gameplay. The game calls to mind the very best aspects of the endlessly enjoyable and beloved Final Fantasy Tactics (which just reaffirms how much I want a remake of that game). The combat is a strategy grid JRPG battle system. Think chess but instead of a king or queen moving with defined rule sets, units can move and attack in unique ways, and all units can change their entire way of fighting if specific requirements are met. This can mean transitioning a hand-to-hand warrior to an archer for example.
The game does an excellent job of providing player choice in the combat to rival that in the storytelling. Another great design choice was to have different difficulty levels for newcomers that might have never played a game of this genre before. In my opinion, this is a good middle ground to encourage new players to try out the game at a lower difficulty setting, yet still have harder settings (including permadeath) to satisfy hardcore players.
In addition, Fire Emblem provides a lot of useful information and constantly keeps you aware of everything on the battlefield. You will be notified who the enemies are focusing on during their turn of attack and other helpful identifiers. Another great thing about this game is the options you have on whom you can recruit to your team. Some very cool characters can join your cause as long as your main character has the stats that they desire.
New game plus adds a ton of replayability to the game as each house has its own completely different perspective. This makes the gameplay feel like a unique and contrasting experience every time. The side quests were kind of boring and mostly consisted of fetch quests that at times were frustrating. Lastly, if you grind for the last set of unlockable classes, they can be a bit underwhelming once acquired.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is not perfect by any means. However, they prioritized the fun factor of moment-to-moment gameplay. This is a decision that I truly favor in this industry and is very rare for most developers to accomplish these days. I want more developers to remember why we play games in the first place. Having fun as a gamer is something I feel Nintendo does extremely well. They don’t try to market games that look like movies or play like movies.
Does Fire Emblem: Three Houses look the prettiest? Does it run the best? The answer to those questions is no. What it does best is remind me that games don’t have to look graphically amazing to be fun, and I appreciate that. Fire Emblem alone is not a reason to purchase a Switch. It is merely the latest in a massive volume of amazing games to arrive on the platform in 2019. However, if you love games like Final Fantasy Tactics, this is a very worthy purchase for 60 dollars. I have clocked over 45 hours in the game, and I can’t wait to go play more of the other houses.