This game is a lot of people’s first Fire Emblem, and it’s probably a good thing. Three Houses is a very impressive entry in the series that is going to appeal to a far larger demographic than the three other typical entry-points in the series (Blazing Sword for the GBA, Shadow Dragon for the DS, and Awakening for the 3DS). It is accessible, immersive and is actually very fun to play.
For those of you who read my Kingdom Hearts review way back when, this will be a similar affair. I’m just going to say what I liked and disliked. There will be some very minor spoilers, nothing to do with actual plot points though.
T H E P O S I T I V E S
- The story is good from the start and remains good throughout. Starting out as a mercenary is a plot point that worked well in Path of Radiance and it worked well here, except they didn’t waste any time getting to the good part of the game like Radiance did.
- The three lords are good characters. I won’t say much about their individual arcs, but they all present themselves as attractive options to choose.
- All classes being able to use almost any weapon is super cool, and the skill development system is fun to use and well-balanced.
- Facing other students at different parts of the game and seeing them improve alongside your students is both satisfying and fun to watch. Ditto recruiting them to your own class.
- Dancer no-longer being genderlocked is wonderful. It was brought into the narrative in a satisfying way, and it has a good reason for being locked to a single student.
- The ding-dongs are the first couple of notes from the Fire Emblem theme. Love it.
- Fishing isn’t a ballache. After bullshit like Monster Hunter and Final Fantasy XV fishing, this is a blessing.
- The number of supports available is great, and they feel like effort has been put into them, both in writing and voice acting. The changes to supporting in itself (some not being able to go up to A-Rank, some requiring multiple conversations to progress) really mix it up a little too. Time-locking supports makes for a better, more cohesive story too.
- Raphael’s shirt.
- Manuela gives me Edna Krabappel vibes and she’s brilliant because of it. Also, she has like, a genuinely interesting character.
- Instructing is great. It feels great to see yourself really having an effect on the development of your students.
- Map design is quite interesting, with maps feeling large, but not intimidatingly so. Looking at you, Genealogy.
- Monsters are a fun take on monster enemies. Sometimes they require smart positioning and unique strategies to take down, which is welcome in an overall easy game.
- An inspired New Game + system which lets you have as much or as little of an edge as you can possibly desire, provided you put the effort into it.
- Awesomely drawn inter-chapter painting sequences with a sexy voiceover.
- Bringing new promotees’ stats in line with their new class is a very useful function when you get screwed over by the Random Number Generator. It means your units are allowed to really excel, but it’s very difficult for them to truly fall behind.
T H E N E G A T I V E S
- For a series that built its reputation on being a challenging experience where every move matters, whether you play on Casual (units return at the end of a battle) or Classic (dead units stay dead), this game is dead easy. On Normal mode it really doesn’t take long until you start steamrolling every chapter with a handful of glorious units. On Hard mode, you get to that point still, but it takes longer. There will be additional difficulties added into the game eventually but they really should have been present at launch.
- Byleth gets a hair colour change around the halfway point and it looks stupid. I hated their hair colour to begin with, and the second colour is even worse. Like, Jesus. Awful.
- Byleth is a mute-avatar who can choose to say some things during supports and story scenes. This is a character who is supposed to be charismatic and likeable, enough to say they can marry someone at the end. While past avatars (Kris, Robin, Corrin) haven’t been perfect, at least they’ve had some personality. Byleth as a character, even with their interesting backstory, is not great.
- Class exams are annoying and boil down to saving beforehand and resetting to try next week if you don’t pass. They are not inspired, they are not fun, and they are not a substantial or involved roadblock to progress.
- The dark magic, brawling and pegasus classes being genderlocked is stupid. Fates did away with genderlocks for the most part. Get rid of it.
- Three gay S-Supports and two of them are with utter daddies who aren’t actually gay? Awful. At least Linhardt is nice. But yeah. There’s been enough discourse about this but I will say I do feel just incredibly disappointed.
- The load screens. Constant tips. Even when you’re on the last chapter of the game it feels fit to show you a tip on how to invite your students to tea – an option to turn them off would be great.
- A lot of map-reuse for auxiliary maps and paralogues.
- Removal of the weapon triangle. Not crucial to the series, but I liked it.