Fire Emblem: Three Houses has finally returned to the living room on the Switch, and it’s better than ever. With a vast and open base hub to explore, new ways to turn the tide of battle with your chosen band of colorful characters, and a story that’s as brutal as the choices you’ll have to make on the battlefield, Three Houses is everything I’ve ever wanted in a turn-based strategy game.The story begins by leaning on some traditional JRPG tropes: a silent protagonist with amnesia, a mysterious girl with pointy ears, and a gruff dad type acting as a mentor on the field of battle. I’ve certainly been here before. But Three Houses takes a sharp left turn with the introduction of the Officers Academy.
Three Houses puts you in the role of a mercenary-turned-professor at a military academy run by a powerful church. You can choose your gender, but otherwise the character is already pretty well-defined. The school is divided into three houses, each tied to a specific territory in the region. Early on, you have to pick one to help run in your role as professor. This is a big decision: each house has its own unique characters and storylines, and the events of the game play out very differently depending on where you pledge your allegiance early on.Three Houses takes this idea and puts it center stage, realizing a direction the series has been taking in a way that has never been done before. It prioritizes stories like these over combat – a poor girl living in poverty turned songstress or a shut-in archer with a childhood of abuse – with a Persona-like relationship simulator that tasks you with learning likes, dislikes, histories, and ambitions in order to build an army you care about. The tight, challenging turned-based combat is still there, it’s just not all that Fire Emblem is anymore.
Nearly right away, you’re thrown into an introductory battle alongside three of the game’s principal characters: Dimitri, Claude, and Edelgard. Once you help them out, it’s off the Garreg Mach Monastery, which sits in the center of a continent called Fodlan. Garreg Mach is also home to the Officers Academy, where Dimitri, Claude, and Edelgard serve as leaders of three different houses of students.It has a great division of labor between its school and battlefield segments. The characters are all quite likeable. The three storylines are different enough to beg additional replays, as is the promise of knowing everyone has unseen potential to become the units you want them to be. It’s a fantastic game that will easily become one of the NIntendo Switch’s most memorable titles.
in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, you get the power to rewind time using the Divine Pulse. Mapped to the left trigger, it allows you to rewind as far as you’d like in a battle when you activate it. You’ll start out with limited uses, though you’ll earn more by the end of the game. It doesn’t drastically figure into the strategy beyond acting as an alternative for save scumming, but it does teach you how to play smarter.In battle, you move your pupils around a grid, not just matching the right skill set to enemy (wielders of black magic fare well against hulking knights in armour) but ensuring that fighters are paired with their best mates. Combat in Three Houses lacks the puzzle-game immediacy of previous Fire Emblems: positioning feels less vital, and there’s no longer a simple rock-paper-scissors relationship between types of weapon.
But in Three Houses, everyone knows that what they’re doing is worth it. It isn’t pretty or easy, and it comes with more than its share of heartbreak. But it is worth it: to fight, to resist, to push for a better world. In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Dimitri, Edelgard, and Claude all envision a future for Fódlan that’s radically different from the one they live in. By the end of the game, one of their dreams will be realized. It’s nice to spend time in a world where that’s not only certain, but believable.There’s a lot to do when you’re exploring the monastery, and you’ll spend a large amount of time doing it. I was actually surprised by how much time exploring the monastery can take, especially if you want to use all of your action points each time and talk to everyone you encounter. You can even use this time to recruit students from other houses or ask them to join your team in battle temporarily, but if you want them to switch houses, you’ll need to fulfill certain stat requirements before they’ll accept.