To Dimitri, Leader of the Blue Lions and Crown Prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, I pledge my allegiance!

How do you take a venerable game franchise and modernize it for the latest generation? You do exactly what Nintendo did with Fire Emblem: Three Houses for Nintendo Switch.

Three Houses expands upon the engrossing tactical role-playing combat of yesteryear by introducing incredibly deep and satisfying new gameplay mechanics. Furthermore, the relationship sim elements are so vastly enhanced they’re almost a full game unto itself. Then there’s the sprawling monastery hub world, which perfectly encapsulates how ambitious this massive project is.

The end result is a Fire Emblem experience that feels familiar, yet decidedly bold. It’s less evolution and more revolution for what a Fire Emblem game can be. If Nintendo was hoping to entice more gamers to the franchise, I have no doubt Fire Emblem: Three Houses will do exactly that.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Info

  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developers: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo
  • Genre: Strategy RPG
  • Modes: Single-player
  • ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Three factions, three houses

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A single playthrough of Three Houses can take upwards of 50 hours, and guess what? That’s just the beginning of what this game offers. The biggest reason why is because you get three full story arc routes to explore, ranging from the Adrestrian Empire to Leicester Alliance to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus.

Each group is represented by a “House” at the Officers Academy within the Church of Seiros—the primary setting of Three Houses. The best parallel for the Academy and three houses is to think Harry Potter and Hogwarts; heck, the castle-like Academy is even filled with owls! I was half expecting a spontaneous game of Quidditch to break out any minute.

I was half expecting a spontaneous game of Quidditch to break out any minute.

Like Hogwarts, students of the Academy must all join a house, only instead of a magical sorting hat, they’re placed based on their birthplace within the continent of Fódlan. Those to the east (Leicester Alliance) join the Golden Deer house, citizens of the south (Adrestrian Empire) are members of the Black Eagles and finally, those born to the north (Holy Kingdom of Faerghus) form the Blue Lions house.

Turning our attention to you, well, well, well, aren’t you lucky because you’re able to choose from any of the three houses. It’s a pretty big decision as it sets the course for the rest of the game, so make sure you select wisely! But how should you choose?

Screenshot of castle in Fire Emblem 3 Houses Golden Deer video game

Getting to know your House

Blue

Deciding which House to join mostly boils down to picking characters you’re keen to assume control of and get to know better. After researching the three factions, I chose the Blue Lions, headed by the blonde debonaire and Crown Prince of Faerghus, Dimitri. He’s a sophisticated, chivalrous leader that felt like he’d have the most “traditional” story arc in line with past Fire Emblem games. For the most part, that ended up being true.

I also considered the seven other support characters that make up the Blue Lions banner. The curt, aggressive Felix contrasted perfectly with the soft and gentle Mercedes. The happy-go-lucky Annette effortlessly played the role of comic relief, while Ashe’s youthful eagerness was utterly infectious. Ingrid felt so stuck up, but she eventually opened up and became more interesting. Then there’s the women-obsessed Sylvain who I legit wanted to smack upside the head until I learned he actually had some principles. Finally, Dedue is the hilariously overbearing vassal of Dimitri who follows his highness around like a bulldog puppy. If that isn’t an interesting bunch of characters, I don’t know what is!

By the end of the game I could recite each characters’ likes, dislikes and main interests by heart. Don’t worry Mercedes, next time we go cooking together I promise not to add too many spices!

The majority of the Blue Lions crew are young teens, in the 16-19-year-old range, with Mercedes being the lone exception at age 22. Don’t worry, knowing your group’s ages is just the beginning—Three Houses is just as much about bonding with your team as it is intense, strategic battles. By the end of the game, I could recite each characters’ likes, dislikes and main interests by heart. Don’t worry, Mercedes, next time we go cooking together I promise not to add too many spices! The fact that I was this interested in every last detail of my house members is a testament to how superb the game’s writing is.

Life at Garreg Mach Monastery

Study

So now that we’ve covered off the Blue Lions, what about yourself? Well, you step into the role of Byleth, a (male or female, you decide) travelling mercenary turned academic tutor. How that role change happens, I’ll leave you to discover, but soon enough you’ll wind up at Garreg Mach Monastery with professor gown in-hand.

As a teacher, you’ll need to guide the Blue Lions (or whatever banner you chose) through academic weeks that follow a specific rhythm. Monday’s you’ll create the plan for the week, which can be a mixture of group tasks, one-on-one skills training, and selecting student’s individual academic goals. Sundays are the fun-days where you can freely roam around the Monastery to undertake several different activities.

When I say there’s a lot you can do in the Monastery, I mean it with a capital A-L-O-T.

When I say there’s a lot you can do in the Monastery, I mean it with a capital A-L-O-T. You can go fishing in the sparkly pond, go gardening and harvest the crops, and partake in weekly combat tournaments. Other activities serve primarily to build bonds between you and your students: cooking together, sharing meals, going to choir practice and having tea parties, as examples. But you have to choose wisely as each action requires one Activity Point, and you’re only given a small number of points to spend every week.

Now I know what you might be thinking—some of those activities sound weird. And yeah, listening to Sylvain talk about the latest woman he conquered over tea can be a bit awkward, but that’s the whole point. You’re supposed to be getting to know these characters on a deep level, and sometimes that means listening to their dirty laundry. Other times it could be, well, on the romantic side, such as that time I went dancing with Annette and sparks flew. Ultimately though, every interaction builds trust between your characters regardless of how juicy (or unsavoury!) the conversations and activities were.

Screenshot from Fire Emblem 3 Houses Golden Deer video game

Who’s up for a field study!

Battling

All right, now that we’ve had our fun and games at the Academy it’s time to get serious. At the end of each month, you’ll take on a “field study” a.k.a. subjecting your students to live combat scenarios. This is where the story moves forward, and you learn about sinister forces attempting to reignite past rivalries to disrupt the stability Fódlan has only recently known. This is also where you’ll put your educational lessons to the test with your crew tasked to apply their skills on the battlefield. You ready? To war!

Three Houses offers so many fantastic, meaningful updates to Fire Emblem‘s tried-and-true combat it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps the most significant update lies with the sword-axe-lance weapon triangle system, which has been tossed right out the window. Now you can worry less about what weapon your opponent wields and focus more on planning unit actions, using terrain advantages and keeping tight formations. There are still weaknesses to stay vigilant about though, like flying units being more susceptible to arrow attacks or teammates possessing poor magic defence.

Felix gave me a good laugh when he asked to stop dividing his time between Sword and Brawl Skills and focus entirely on sword fighting.

In another huge change, you can now train your allies in any of the 11 Skills available, such as Sword, Axe, Bow, Flying, and light/dark magic. Plus, you can train units in multiple skills to equip them for a wide range of battle conditions. For example, I had my beloved Mercedes concentrate on healing “Faith” Skills, while also developing her bow skills. She became quite adept at both, allowing her to inflict punishing at-range bow damage or heal up the group depending on what’s needed.

What’s cool, too, is your teammates will even suggest Skills they want to improve. Dedue started out as a brawler and later asked permission to learn “Heavy Armour” Skills; he would eventually get promoted to Fortress Knight and became my team’s go-to tank. Felix gave me a good laugh when he asked to stop dividing his time between Sword and Brawl Skills and focus entirely on sword fighting. I gave him the OK to double down on his training, and soon enough, he developed into a lethally effective Swordmaster.

Battalions are another new consideration, and they shake up the gameplay in several exciting ways. To begin with, hired Battalions can support a single unit by providing them with stat bonuses—and Battalions can rise in level offering larger stats boosts.

Secondly, and more importantly, they give your unit a Gambit attack that’s usually quite powerful and has special properties. For instance, I gave Ashe a Battalion that stunned enemies for one turn following the attack. Other Battalions can damage multiple enemies at once, and some even come with healing abilities to keep your group in tiptop shape. Best of all, enemies generally don’t counterattack Gambits, so you get a clean hit with no retaliation.

Battalions are another new consideration, and they shake up the gameplay in several exciting ways.

You might be thinking with so many Skills and Battalions at your disposal that combat would be absurdly easy, but thankfully, it’s not. Enemies often advance in large groups, and most maps contain bosses or mini-bosses that really test your strategic mettle. Your adversaries are like sharks, too, and smell blood from a mile away—so expect them to target your injured units and exploit stat weaknesses frequently.

Should you ever have an unfortunate turn of events, like a unit dying in battle, you can always activate your limited-use Divine Pulse. This mechanic works just like Mila’s Turnwheel from Fire Emblem Echoes: it allows you to rewind time and rethink your approach. Divine Pulse is especially useful if you’re playing on Classic difficulty that enables permadeath. For a lighter challenge, there’s Casual mode where fallen units will rise immediately after battle.

Byleth and Pirate fighting in Fire Emblem 3 Houses Black Eagles video game

Top-notch visuals and voices

Presentation

Visually, Three Houses is a real looker. The gorgeous animated cutscenes are the standout, but I also enjoyed how well-animated characters are during your one-on-one activities and group lectures. Even better, all characters are voice acted, and there are hours upon hours of recorded lines. Keep in mind, as well, that I only did the Blue Lions route—so I assume the Golden Deer and Black Eagles routes contain even more cutscenes I’ve yet to see.

The stoic Dedue was comedic to listen to; so often I just wanted to yell, “loosen up, pal!”

Given how crucial relationships are in Three Houses, the superb voicing breathes life and personality into every one of them. The stoic Dedue was comedic to listen to; so often I just wanted to yell, “loosen up, pal!” The soft-speaking Mercedes melted my heart every time she spoke about scented flowers or going back for another prayer. Annette’s peppy voice always captured my attention, no matter if she was talking about her love of doing laundry or how much she hates the dark. Oh, and if you’re a purist you can also toggle on the Japanese voice track, a great inclusion!

Fire Emblem excellence

Final

Nintendo took some big risks with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but it’s all paid off in spades. The game effortlessly integrates the tactical role-playing and relationship sim genres into a wonderful cascade of fights, flowers and friendships. And hey, if you want to find love and get married, that option’s available too!

To me, the mark of a good game is whether or not you had fun the whole way through. Building on that, the mark of an exceptional game is when the fun factor is so high you think about it even when you’re not playing—and Three Houses does precisely that. I’m curious to know, did Sylvain have a nice date last night? How was Mercedes morning prayer today? I feel legitimately connected to these characters, and that’s something to celebrate.

The game effortlessly integrates the tactical role-playing and relationship sim genres into a wonderful cascade of fights, flowers and friendships.

I rarely find myself so enthralled in a game, and for that reason alone I give Three Houses my highest recommendation. When I’m playing it, I’m having an utter blast. When I’m not, I’m looking forward to continuing the adventure. Speaking of which, I’ve got two more full story arcs to play through, so now the big decision is what’s next: Golden Deer or Black Eagles? Let me do some research.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Pros:

  • Incredible cast of characters. (Go team Blue Lions!)
  • Garreg Mach Monastery is fun to explore.
  • Love all the side activities, even choir practice.
  • Amazing new battlefield systems, like Battalions and Skills.
  • Fantastic presentation, both visuals and voice acting.
  • Mercedes. (She’s my in-game wife and would appreciate the shout out!)

Fire Emblem: Three Houses – Cons:

  • You need to research online to choose your preferred house—the game doesn’t really help with this decision.
  • First half of the game is more story-driven, and it’s better.
  • Requirements to upgrade classes can be steep.
  • Takes a long time to recruit members from other Houses.

Game Score:

Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 9.5/10
Replayability: 9.5/10

Overall Rating:

37/40 (93%)