The Fire Emblem series has been around for some time now, and surprisingly this is the first time I’ve played one of these games. I have played other SRPGs in the past, but it was Three Houses’ Persona-like elements that piqued my curiosity. So from that, I knew I had to give it a go!
As made obvious in the title, the game revolves around the three houses of the Garreg Mach Monastery, in which you’ve been chosen to be the professor of one of them. You’re introduced to the leaders of all three houses from the get-go, and it’s not long at all until you have to make that huge decision.
I went with Edelgard and her Black Eagles house, as she seemed to be the most intriguing of the leaders. Dimitri seemed a little too bland and Claude, being an archer/nature type, just really didn’t appeal to me. Also from the start you need to decide whether to allow for perma-death or not, and I opted for NO perma-death, as I didn’t want to miss out on any content/scenes with any of the characters.
Speaking of the characters, that is where I’ll start because they were the true highlight for me. Fire Emblem: Three Houses contains a massive cast of characters, each with their own unique personalities, background, and personal issues. Because each house has their own set of students, you’ll only really be able to get to know the ones in the house you choose.
Choosing the Black Eagles, I really loved my students and started to care for them, which is great that I didn’t choose the perma-death option! Throughout the game, you’ll interact with them and get to know them in depth through cut-scenes. But it’s not just you that interacts with them, as you’ll get to watch cut-scenes of the students having conversations with each other, and watching the different personalities clash was very interesting indeed.
But of course, being their professor, it’s not just about getting to know them. Each week you hold classes and determine how they grow as a fighter in combat. Depending on their motivation (which is another thing you must control), you can teach them in whatever skills you want, whether it be Swords, Bow, Black/White magic, etc. The higher their rank in these skills, the more abilities they learn. Of course, every character is geared towards certain classes anyway, so you may not have as much freedom as you think.
As much of a highlight as the characters were, they weren’t without fault. Over the course of the game, which runs over a long period of time, I just expected more character growth from them. For example, Bernadetta was a real introvert who never liked to leave her room. She had no confidence and was always apologising to everyone over the smallest things. I expected by the game’s end that through all the battles, and the game’s storyline, that she would turn a corner and become a much more confident character. That way, it would complete a personal story arc for her, and the same could happen with every character. But it never really happened. She and pretty much every other character seemed to be the same from when I first met them, which is a huge opportunity that was lost, and could’ve provided even more closure from them by the game’s end.
But at least having such a huge cast creates some great replay value, so regardless of what I thought of the rest of the game, just getting to know a new set of characters could be enough to replay the entire game multiple times.
Main Story & Storytelling
This was the one area that I was looking forward to the most, especially since each house eventually has their own specific unique story to enjoy. Unfortunately, this is the area that let me down the most.
I came into this game knowing it was going to be an epic one, a game that I would spend 80+ hours on, and the story would be equally as epic. The main story itself was fine, and by fine, I mean passable. It’s the kind story I expected it to have, but it just didn’t blow me away. The first half is what you play through regardless of the house you choose, but you can tell it’s clearly building towards something bigger. By the second half, the story diverges based on your house choice, so I can only go by the house I chose. The story definitely picked up and was much better than the slow first half.
But it’s the storytelling that really lets it down. There’s just simply not enough story told to you, as you’ll only do one story mission a month, and there may be a cut-scene or two throughout that time, and that’s it! It’s also kind of funny when you have an urgent mission to do, but you can’t actually do it until the very end of the month, so if anyone’s in trouble, they just have to wait!
I don’t mind a slowly told story, but there has to be more given to you in order for you to be invested. For example, the Persona games are similar in that they tell their stories slowly over a long period of time, but at least it’s constant enough to keep you hooked. Three Houses really failed in this regard, and could have been handled so much better.
So this is the real meat of the game. You’ll be spending half your time fighting through battles, and as expected, the combat was good fun! Ok, not having perma-death and playing on Normal difficulty may have lessened the experience for me, but I still had a good time. Throughout the majority of the game, I did find it quite easy, but I did spend the time grinding out multiple battles each month to ensure my team’s levels were above the requirements.
Had I set the difficulty higher, no doubt I would’ve enjoyed it even more as I had no problem having my character jump head first into enemy lines. If you’ve played any SRPG, you’ll how this game’s combat works. Playing on a grid-like map, you select what you want each character to do, such as moving, attacking, etc, and then wait while the enemy carries out their turn. Generally once you’ve eliminated all the enemies, you win the battle!
On the downside though, I found myself playing on a lot of the same maps over and over again, and because I wasn’t being tested, it all started to drag on, even though I needed these battles to level up my characters.
As your characters level up, you’ll be able to rank them up into more advanced classes, and this was always an exciting occasion. You could mix and match their classes to learn different abilities from each, but you still needed to be ranked high enough with certain skills, so I always just stuck to their intended paths and never needed to deviate. But I always tried to ensure I had a good variety of different classes, as they all had advantages that helped on the battlefield.
Overall, the combat was fun, but started to become repetitive and I ended up cutting down the amount of battles I took part in. If I had perma-death enabled, it may have been a whole other story, but I can only talk about my own experience here.
Almost every Sunday each month, you get to decide what activity to take part in. You can explore the monastery and talk to characters, do side quests, and more. You can take part in seminars to increase your (and other character’s) skills. You can rest for the week and give a little recharge to your student’s motivation. Or of course, you can take part in battles in order to level up and be ready for the upcoming main mission.
It’s great that there’s quite a bit of variety in what you can do. If you decide to take on the Explore mode, you can take your time and explore the Monastery. Depending on your professor rank, you’ll have a certain amount of activity points, which are spent while you perform activities. Such activities include sending your students into combat tournaments (which was my personal favourite activity), have meals with your students, cook with them, and even sing with them! There’s even more to choose from, and it’s mostly all in an effort to raise their motivation, which is necessary for raising their skills more in class.
As I mentioned before, there’s side quests to do, but unfortunately they’re nothing more than boring filler. Some will have you delivering an item to another person, turning in supplies you already own (completing the quest instantly), or maybe taking part in yet another battle. Like I said, they’re absolute filler and felt like more of a chore ‘to do’ list than anything. Even the rewards don’t feel that rewarding.
Within Explore mode, I just found myself routinely doing the same things over and over again. Talk to everyone, do the side quests, use up activity points, rinse and repeat every time. It eventually gets very boring and I really lost motivation by halfway.
That’s not just limited to Explore mode, the whole game just felt extremely routine. Every month I would explore one week, then battle the next week, then either do seminars or rest, and end with the main mission for the month. This routine was done every single month for the entire game, and I was over it with still half a game to go. I couldn’t exactly skip it, because I needed my characters to grow and get stronger, but it was all so repetitive.
Maybe if the main story was strong enough, that would’ve been enough to help me enjoy all the routine, but unfortunately it was not.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review Summary
My first impressions of this game were very good, and I saw so much potential here. Maybe the fact that I seemed a little harsh with this game is that I expected it soar as it went along, but it felt like it plateaued more than anything.
There’s still plenty to like about Three Houses- the huge cast of interesting characters, the combat, and the replay value. Yes, the character were bordering on becoming 1-dimensional at times, but I still felt like there was just enough there to enjoy their company. The fact that there’s 3 separate groups of characters to get to know will convince many to replay this epic game.
For me though, it’s that repetitive and routine nature of the game that really made it drag on. The weak storytelling doesn’t help either, and was a missed opportunity for a long game like this. I still consider this a good game, but it was these main criticisms that prevented Fire Emblem: Three Houses from achieving greatness.