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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Over 150 hours of content to finish
Large DLC expansions
Incredible story and characters
Engaging gameplay with variable difficulty
Graphics could be better
Needs more map variety
Tactical RPGs and dating sims shouldn’t work well together. Yet, Fire Emblem: Three Houses blends them so phenomenally that it’s one of the best games in the Nintendo Switch’s catalog.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a brilliant game that fuses two seemingly disparate genres—tactical RPGs and relationship simulator— into one harrowing experience. Its 60-hour playtime will give you plenty of time to delve into the realities of war and teenagehood, should you accept your responsibility as a professor of Garreg Mach Monastery. It’s one of the best games you can get on the Nintendo Switch and, by far, my favorite.
For the rest of the best role-playing games on the Nintendo Switch, check out our guide.
There is too much to say about Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ writing. It’s difficult to really discuss the depths of this game’s impact and success without delving into spoilers, but I’ve tried my best to convey a spoiler-free overview so you don’t have to worry.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a masterpiece in storytelling through characterization. A lot of the conflicts sprout from the inherent incompatibility of many characters’ ideologies, values, and life experiences, so it’s impossible for everyone to have a happy ending. That means it falls to you to make the difficult choice of who you want to support.
There are four different story paths in Three Houses, each of which explores a different theme. All of them are incredible, and more impressively they support each other. When you finish one route, you’ll want to jump back into another route to fill in the gaps of what happened and why things turned out the way they did. Throughout each route, you will laugh, you will shout, and you will cry.
Each character has a decently developed personality, as well. Compared to previous Fire Emblem entries, Three Houses’ characters are incredibly complex. As you build supports with your team, you learn that your students are often deep and more multifaceted than they initially let on.
Quite a few of the characters in Three Houses will leave you shaken. Several of them have become who they are through years of neglect and abuse by their families, by cultural strife, and sometimes even by genocide. Some characters have uncomfortable relationships with each other, and even time may not be enough to mend them. Byleth, the playable character, is arguably the happiest character in the cast.
No matter which route you take, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll come to love your students, and you’ll do anything to protect them by the end of the game.
If I had to reduce the gameplay to one word, I’d say it’s entertaining. For those of you new to Fire Emblem and other tactics games, Three Houses plays like augmented chess: it’s a war game. You move your troops on a board, have them make their moves, and try to wipe out the enemy as efficiently as possible. Within these confines, Three Houses has a lot of flexibility to adapt to your preferred playstyle and difficulty.
Okay, I lied: Three Houses is also a teaching simulator, and a fishing simulator, and a pet-feeding simulator, and a meal-eating simulator. Three Houses is a JRPG protagonist life simulator. When you’re not commanding troops on the battlefield, you are simply roaming the monastery as Byleth, trying to be the best teacher and role model you dare to be. Or maybe you just want to match-make your students by eating eight square meals a day with them. We don’t judge how you spend your Sundays at the monastery.
You will have days dedicated to gardening, days for teaching your students, and days for completing battles. To prepare for battle, you can train your students in over twenty different classes, including nine end-game classes.
Old Fire Emblem games emphasize the spear-axe-sword trinity, but it’s downplayed in Three Houses. Here, many classes can wield any weapon, and there are several classes that blend physical attacks with magical attacks. There are classes with dark magic, bows, healing magic, flying units, and cavalry.
If you want the brutality of the older Fire Emblem games, you can play Three Houses in “Classic” mode, which means that a character who dies in battle stays dead for the rest of the game. If you’re a wuss, you can play in “Casual” mode, which disables permadeath.
If like me, you’re a half-wuss who still seeks some sort of challenge, you can select different difficulty modes. Currently, Three Houses have Normal, Hard, and Maddening mode, with a rumored 4th difficulty coming in later DLC.
This is undoubtedly one of the best games on the Switch.
Before Maddening mode came out, a lot of fans have complained that this Fire Emblem entry is too easy, even on Hard mode. I agree that Normal is frustratingly easy and that even Hard mode feels trivial by the time you reach the endgame, save for certain maps.
While it feels like your enemies are no match for your troops most of the time, Three Houses does a great job of making the important battles feel like a true slog for your army. Campaign battles can get frustratingly difficult due to unique circumstances that may pop up, and while you may want to pull your hair in the moment, it really serves to bolster the story.
And if you can’t get enough of the game, Maddening mode lives up to its name. I wouldn’t recommend it for a first playthrough, but it’s great for veterans or for reruns of Three Houses.
There is a lot to do in Three Houses if you can figure out the menus. Navigating the UI in Three Houses is a nightmare. The menus are full of submenus, irrational options are too easy to take with the press of a button, and even seasoned players forget all the controls of this bloated UI. Your battalions are part of your inventory while the flowers you gardened are part of your storehouse— why aren’t they also in your inventory? Why are skills and abilities part of the inventory, instead?
On the battlefield, things get a lot clearer. The game paints arrows that trace the paths your characters can take on a turn, and it spins lines that indicate which enemies are likely to attack you and for how much damage. Planning your battle strategy is really easy in Three Houses because of the UI indicators, and if you do mess up, you can use Rewind to go back a turn or two.
Three Houses is also a teaching simulator, and a fishing simulator, and a pet-feeding simulator, and a meal-eating simulator. Three Houses is a JRPG protagonist life simulator.
The graphics in Three Houses are a mixed bag. Design-wise, there’s a lot of great choices for characters, props, and environments. Every character looks unique and easily recognizable at a glance, and their appearances often match their personalities. The maps are also easy to glean, with well-distinguished terrains and barriers, even if they can look silly in the top-down view (a small bush symbolizes a patch of trees, for example).
The game really drops the ball in texture quality and variety. A lot of textures are low-resolution, especially if they are background textures or building textures. In-game cutscenes feel like a weird mash of PS1-quality backgrounds with modern 3D characters. Furthermore, the scenes and maps get reused often. After ten or so chapters, I felt sick of seeing the same room used over and over for support cutscenes.
On the other hand, the pre-rendered cutscenes are a joy to watch. Many of them are 2D-animated, with vivid, bright colors that accentuate the fluid action of these cutscenes. Most importantly, they know how to be beautiful while still letting the story take the spotlight. I often found myself rewatching the cutscenes just to admire the details in the characters’ movements.
In future updates, I would love to see an updated texture pack to bring the aesthetic quality up to par with the writing and gameplay.
While the tracks are all very fitting of the moments they’re featured in, they’re not very memorable and they get repetitive after a while. The game needs more reprisals of the themes, especially for the Monastery theme, a two-minute track that gets repeated over hours upon hours of walking around the monastery. The audio cues are fine; they make it clear what actions I’m taking in-game or what’s happening, but they don’t add to the auditory experience, either.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ cast of voice actors is phenomenal. Every line in the game feels real, believable, and appropriately emotional. Even minor characters, such as the Gatekeeper, deliver their lines with charm and elegance. Major characters, such as the house leaders, speak with unique cadences and convictions that not only make the characters memorable but also unmistakable.
Understandably, some players may find some characters annoying, such as Bernadetta or Raphael, because of how they carry themselves. However, that only speaks to these characters’ strengths as believable characters. Bernadetta’s shrill, shrieking voice accentuated her anxious traits so much they made me nervous, and Seteth’s deep, authoritative voice made me take notice. There’s not one character who stood out for mediocre voice acting in this game.
The free updates that have come to Fire Emblem: Three Houses have been plentiful and extensive so far. Since July, we’ve received new characters, new activities, and even a new difficulty mode. Intelligent Systems has done a great job of ensuring that this game remains enjoyable to replay for everyone.
The paid DLC is more extensive, offering extra interaction in the base game and new storylines. So far, we’ve seen new outfits, stat-boosting goodies, a new monastery area, and interactive dogs and cats with the DLC updates. Anna, a funny fan-favorite shop merchant, is now a playable character, but you can’t build support with her. In February, a whole new campaign will be introduced with a new house to play through. We’ll see whether its quality lives up to the base game.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has a dizzying amount of quality content for $60. Most $60 gaming campaigns last about twenty to forty hours, but you can easily get 100 hours out of Three Houses and have only seen a third of the storyline. If they had split this game into three different versions, each version would still be a good value for $60.
It’s not an obvious comparison, but if you’re looking for a turn-based tactical roleplaying game, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (view on Amazon) is one of the closest you can get. It takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom, has a similar tactical battlefield and movements as Fire Emblem, and a great dose of humor with loveable characters. It’s a bit more kid-oriented though, so it might not appeal to Fire Emblem which tends to have an older audience and somewhat more complicated gameplay mechanics.