Fire Emblem Three Houses: My GOTY 2019

Fire Emblem Three Houses (FE) is the latest in a very long lived franchise and is the first to be released on the Nintendo Switch. FE is a strategy role playing game set in a fantasy medieval world, where you play a mercenary turned teacher. I loved this game so much that for me personally, this was my pick for Game of the Year 2019.

Gameplay? 9/10 – Strong character relationships, fan pleasing perma-death, and a strong battle system makes gameplay as strong as you’d want it to be.

Fire Emblem Three Houses has you take control of the protagonist who becomes a teacher at an officers academy called Garreg Mach Monastery. The Golden Deers, the Black Eagles and the Blue Lions. You end up leading one of these 3 houses and they are formed of citizens from the three realms that surround the Monastery. 

Each house has their leader, Claude for the Golden Deers, Dimitri for the Blue Lions, and Edelgard for the Black Eagles. These house leaders are all the next in line of succession to their respective realms and within their house stars a selection of students.

Dorothea is Best Girl. Fight me. That is all.

As this is still an RPG there are obviously levels to be gained, where are they gained you might ask? Well this will come as a surprise but it’s from battles. There are side missions that are smaller fights and then there are story missions that are normally longer battles that may also have extra criteria.

I feel it would be insane to talk about a Fire Emblem game and not discuss difficulty at least a little. This game can be hard. It still has options for hardcore FE fans to take advantage of, such as harder difficulties and the option to turn on “Classic mode” which switches on perma-death, so if one of your characters dies in battle they are gone from the game forever.

What I like about this FE is that it gives a novice like me the opportunity to actually play this game but giving me an easier difficulty, the ability to turn perma-death off and the time rewind ability. I think this accessibility is one of the main forces driving the success of this game.

Battles are fought from a starting position for your team, they could be spread out or put into a tight group, you can rearrange them, swap out members, and change weapons and skills. When you start you move along a field split into squares like a chess board. The number of squares you move will change based on each characters stats, class and abilities,

In most battles you win when you have defeated all enemies on the field, however there are some alternate criteria like defeating a boss enemy or getting to a specific point on the map.

Experience is slightly different in this FE than some other RPGs, here you will gain experience every time that you attack or are attacked, not just when you defeat an enemy, you will also gain experience in the proficiency that you are using, like axes. 

This form of progression is very close to my favourite kind, I always find it the most rewarding when you make constant and gradual progression. The only downside with the progression system is that every level, for any character, has a completely random stat increase. You can sometimes get a big increase, so every stat, or you could get a really small increase, say one stat. This level of randomness is not ideal but I didn’t find it to be too hindering.

You will spend a lot of time between battles and story missions exploring the Monastery, you will have many activities to keep you occupied. You will only get a certain amount of actions per trip to the monastery. The important activities are seminars, the tea parties, meals together, gardening, and fishing.

Seminars are used to train a student, or yourself, to increase the proficiency in a given skill such as with Axes, Swords, Magics and Horse Riding. Increasing these not only gives you more skills and bonuses, it also leads to a student getting the ability to retrain in a new class through a certification test. 

Having tea parties and taking meals together allow you to use your time to select other party members and build your relationships with them which unlocks support conversations.

Gardening allows you to plant seeds once per visit to the Monastery, these will then grow into other items, sometimes even special items that can raise your stats. Fishing is a small minigame that allows you to, well, fish. You can catch fish that can either be sold for money or used as ingredients for meals.

I find that pretty much all of these activities in the Monastery are enjoyable and rewarding, improving all relationships to unlock new support conversations in particular always feels worthwhile, even in subsequent playthroughs.

The only problem at the Monastery is having to give lost items to people, this is a chore sometimes in of itself but the fact that each character has one quote when you try to give them the wrong item is irritating.

I won’t be spoiling the story too much anywhere in this review but I will mention that there are multiple endings available through each of the campaigns for the different houses. At the end of a campaign you are able to start a New Game +, it has to be said that I think FE has one of the most perfect versions of NG+. When you start NG+ it gives you a choice to play the game from scratch, however if you want to keep some of your progression from your previous playthrough if you wish to purchase them with ingame currency. This choice is not often given to this extent and I seriously appreciate it.

Visuals? 9-10 – With graphics that could be mistaken as a proper Anime it’s safe to say Fire Emblem: Threw Houses looks fantastic.

Let’s start off with the 2 main issues that I have regarding the visuals of this game. The first is that sometimes when you are speaking with someone the backdrop has a weird kind of mirror effect. This isn’t particularly pleasing to look at but other than that, it affects nothing else.

The second issue is that some of the more distant scenery goes quite low res, if you just focus on everything else then everything seems perfect! Mostly these seem to just be some of the limitations of the hardware. 

Not including these however the game is beautiful, in handheld and docked. There are 3 distinct areas where the visuals can be measured: the cinematics, the battles and the Monastery. 

The battlefields aren’t the best that you’ll ever see but that they are well laid out, the highlighted grids for the battle set up are bright, colourful and clear. The character models and the little fight scenes particularly stand out during battles.

The cinematics in this game genuinely seem full blown Anime worthy. To be fair if they made a full blown Anime based on the story of this game I would watch that in a heartbeat. Anyway, they look good! My favourites are the opening  battle scene which is well choreographed, and the first time that you set your eyes on Garreg Mach Monastery, both of these are early on and they aren’t the only cinematics but they are my favourite.

This leads on to the Monastery itself, the pure majesty of this fortress looking structure. It very much gives a Hogwarts vibe, except the sun is out so it’s obviously not in Scotland. I think it paints a perfect picture of the grandeur of this game right off the bat.

Audio? 10/10 – Moment appropriate music and good technical audio makes this a flawless entry for the game.

Audio really is not my strong suit. Maybe I should work on that… I don’t know. I’ll try my best anyway! 

An important note is that I personally found no audio bugs or distortion at any point in any of my hundreds of hours of gameplay. I have zero complaints in regards to the audio.

It will be mentioned more below but the voice acting in this game is superb, some of the best I think I have experienced in any game in recent times. 

The music used for calm sections, such as going around Garreg Mach Monastery is both serene and sweet. It seems to be orchestral with a slight up beatness in places which is nice when you are effectively doing mundane tasks. In somewhat contrast to this is the battle theme, it retains the orchestral sound but makes it much more upbeat and is much harder.

Both these seem to fit perfectly in their respective scenes but all match the world that has been built and the settings that you are in. 

Story ? 10/10 – With immense personalities, and wonderful personality, Fire Emblem builds a fantastic world to live in for a few hundred hours.

What an amazing world that has been built in this game. As already mentioned you become a teacher at Garreg Mach Monastery and are given the choice of which of the Three Houses (get it?) you want to help lead, more on this later. As of when this game was released there were 3 initial paths to take and 4 main endings to the game, depending on which house you choose the story subtly changes, some characters personalities are different, some of their powers alter and who is the real enemy in the game may ultimately change as well.

Now for the actual story. I will try to avoid basically all actual spoilers as best as possible but I will talk about the opening hour or 2. 

The game starts with a pretty amazing cutscene fight between 2 armies and seemingly the leaders of each have a fight to the death, good start. Next you are shown a young looking girl with green hair who seems sleepy, you talk before you are awoken. You are then introduced to the main character, you are a mercenary working under your father’s band. 

Quickly you find that 3 young soldiers are in trouble, and you and your father are asked to intervene to save them from some bandits that are attacking them. Your father recognises the uniforms but you are informed that the bandits have reached you and you go to fight.

Here you are given a simple tutorial on how combat works in this game, you fight alongside the young soldiers that asked for your help. You win this tutorial fight but a cutscene starts where you protect one of the soldiers from being attacked and are in the process killed yourself, you have another chat with the sleepy girl and are given the power to rewind time. You rewind time to before you die and this time deflect the attack saving yourself and the young soldier.

Fight complete, everyone alive so happy days. Here is where you are told that they tell you that they are officers in training at Garreg Mach Monastery but also that they are each next in line to run each of their respective realms. They all ask you to join their realms and help them out. You can make an initial choice here with who you would like to work more with, this improves your relationship with the one that you choose and does little else.

You and your father travel with the 3 students back to the Monastery where you are surprised to be asked to become one of the teachers here at the Officers Academy and that you can choose whichever house you would like to tutor. Your first quest is to travel around the Monastery and meet all of the students from each house. Some of the students that you meet will become your “party members” once you have chosen your house.

I have already rambled on about the start of the story enough but just to finish up, after you have chosen your house you teach, train, and fight alongside your students for the remainder of the game as you uncover and stop a dark plot. This story is definitely engrossing and learning about each side’s motivations and learning more about each person’s circumstances as you play is a grand experience.

This opening especially is a great way to get you started in this game. It introduces key characters early and lets their personalities shine enough in this brief exchange. It gives you a simple but surprisingly thorough initial fight tutorial. Finally it also briefly introduces the support mechanic.

Acting? 10/10 – With acting that make you wish there was an accompanied TV show, it’s hard not to be thoroughly impressed at every turn.

The voice acting in this game is flawless, every character comes to life and has such believable emotion. It is very easy to become enthralled in the development of these characters, obviously part of it is the writing, because the voice actors performance was so good. 

I would very much like them to make an Anime adaptation and if they ever do I think they should very much keep all of the voice actors the same.

Writing? 10/10 – Much like other Fire Emblem titles, the characters and relationships elevate it to new levels, aided by no end by the writing.

Fire Emblem games have always been praised for their story building and character interactions and Three Houses is no exception. 

FE uses a support conversation system where every party member can interact and have conversations with every other member. I think the support conversations in this game may be the most in depth and intricate of any game I’ve played before, other games have had you speaking to other party members, sometimes even having these party members interacting with each other but never have I ever experienced something quite like this. Every single member has their own mini story arc with each other member, these are unlocked, as mentioned above, by fighting alongside each other and by sharing meals.

Now for the actual story, it is incredible. I described the start of the game above and I still don’t want to spoil too much but I love the way in which each house that you take gives you a slightly different story. To make that a little clearer, each house that you choose will obviously give you a different realm to fight for but it will also change some of the personalities of the other characters going forward and also their motivations. Again not to spoil too much depending on who you side with may very well dictate who you see as the good guys and who you see as the bad.

This is amazing storytelling and gives you something new to discover in each playthrough.

Performance? 9/10 – Despite the obvious drawbacks given by the platform, Fire Emblem hides them terrifically.

The Switch is a less powerful system than it’s 2 main competitors: the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. We know this, they know this, everybody knows this. This means that in areas there will always be a drop in performance somewhere and I think that should be taken into account when discussing Switch titles.

That being said, as mentioned above in visuals, the only area In FE that has any issues are in some of the backgrounds, some of them are low resolution and sometimes they just look bad plain and simple. In my 200 hours or so of playtime I had no frame drops or other issues, either in handheld or docked.

Fun Factor? 10/10 – For fans of the genre, there’s almost no end to the fun that can be had here!

FE is interesting, engaging, replayable, challenging, and rewarding. I cannot think of a more fun way to spend my time. For some reason, I am finding it really hard to put into words quite why I enjoyed this game so much but suffice it to say that I could not put it down and spent nearly 200 hours playing this game without taking a break or playing anything else.

Value? 10/10 – With potentially hundreds of hours to play through, Fire Emblem could almost be considered a bargain.

Now for me personally, I think that FE is incredibly good value for money even at release, at full price. I’m no Fire Emblem expert and I did listen to all of the support conversations,  that will bloat it a little, so each campaign that I finished took me around 80 hours or so. There are multiple stories and endings which gives you many extra playthroughs, so you could easily get 300 hours without playing the exact same story every time.

From what I have seen it seems that the game is being sold for around £40 online, this is slightly down from release. In my opinion Fire Emblem Three Houses is till very much worth this price.

How Much Did The Reviewer Enjoy It? 10/10 – Fire Emblem: Three Houses was my GOTY for 2019, amongst staunch competition.

I think this may be a running theme with my reviews but the title really says it all. I absolutely adore this game. This was my first Fire Emblem game so I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on the quality of this game within the series but what I can say is that this was the best game that I played throughout the whole of 2019. 

I never intended to buy this game until around a month before it’s release when I started watching a lot trailers, news and some of the early gameplay, just watching these made me so excited for the game that I bought it on release, I played nothing for the following 2 or 3 weeks and I had multiple all nighters because I could not put this game down. 

I couldn’t stop playing, finishing one story line just wasn’t enough and the moment I did, I instantly started again so that I could follow another of the houses through their story line. The NG+, as mentioned above, is perfect in this game, it gives you a choice not often available to play the game from scratch or using skills and things that you unlocked in your previous playthrough(s) to help you experience as much of the game as possible.

Fire Emblem Three Houses was definitely, and definitively my Game of the Year for 2019 and nothing gave me as much joy nor engrossed me as much as this game did and nothing game close. I love this game.

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