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Fire Emblem: Three Houses review: Back to school

Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes a new turn for the series, sending players to an elite academy where they'll need to become a master instructor. But is this new path worth traveling? Our review.

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As the first game in the Fire Emblem series to make the jump to the Nintendo Switch, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a blend of the last several Fire Emblem games’ mechanics. In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, players take on the role of a mercenary turned instructor at the Officer’s Academy, a prestigious military academy run by the Church of Seiros. Players must train their pupils, and themselves, as they fulfill their duties as a teacher, all while unraveling the mysteries that surround the main protagonist and an enigmatic girl named Sothis, who only appears to you.

Unlike previous Fire Emblem games, Three Houses focuses much more on the academic side of things and building relationships with the students under your care. It’s still every bit as much the high fantasy story that fans have come to expect from the series, though, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses never holds back.

Become the teacher

Fire Emblem: Three Houses review - the Church of Seiros

After a brief introduction battle and some narrative, players are introduced to the Garreg Mach Monastery and the Officer’s Academy that resides within it. This is where you’ll spend a majority of your time as an instructor in charge of one of the three main houses that make up the land of Fódlan. You can choose to take over as the teacher of The Black Eagles, The Blue Lions, or the Golden Deer, all of which include one of the royal members from the three primary nations in Fódlan.

The house that you choose to take control of will vary depending on which kind of fighters you want to focus around as each house includes a different focus of unit types from magic users to fighters, and so on down the list. Don’t worry if you see a particular unit that you want to add to your house, as you’ll have plenty of chances to recruit additional students throughout the story.

While the thought of teaching a bunch of spoiled, rich kids might not sound all that enticing to some, the gameplay loop in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is very well-paced. A good deal of your time will be spent instructing your students, though there is also the auto-instruct feature which takes care of all of that for you if you aren’t feeling in the mood. As each week passes, though, you’re also given one free day at the end of each week to do whatever you choose with it.

These free days are the real bread and butter of the gameplay loop. On these days you can choose to wander around the academy, interacting with your students or even trying to recruit other students to your house. Or, if you want, you can head into different skirmishes that the Church of Seiros has reported to you. These will allow you to level up your army, and you’ll probably spend several free days doing just that.

On top of free days, though, your house will also receive one important task from the Church of Seiros each month, and you’ll need to work throughout the month to prepare your students for that task. Many of these tasks involve running out bandits from nearby areas or even storming castles that have been taken over by enemies of the Church. Each of these steps along your journey brings you closer to the mysterious girl Sothis—an unknown being that only you can talk to and interact with. Sothis sticks with you through the story, playing an integral part in the game’s main story.

Evolving the formula

Fire Emblem: Three Houses - evolving the formula

While the Fire Emblem series has always differed from entry to entry, Fire Emblem: Three Houses brings in quite a few changes that players might find a bit confusing at first. Not only is the Triangle of Weapons still missing from the formula (the original Fire Emblem games used to revolve around a triangle system to determine which weapons were better against others), a new Attack Speed feature allows you to hit enemies twice during single combat encounters.

Players will also find that regular attacks and magic have been separated in the action menu, and a limit has been placed on how many times a unit can cast a magical spell each battle. The changes don’t make much sense until you start to dive into the skill system, which now allows units to specialize in more than just one particular thing. For instance, I was able to take one of my units and train him to not only provide healing support with magic but also the ability to use lances in combat. This turned what would normally be a helpless support unit into something that could defend itself a bit better in combat.

Perhaps the biggest change to the combat system, though, is the new Battalion system. Battalions are groups of soldiers that can be hired and equipped alongside a unit to provide support in battle. The battalions can be leveled up and even moved from unit to unit as needed. You’ll, of course, want to set each battalion up with a unit that it can properly support. For example, assault battalions should go with more assault-oriented units, while magic-based battalions will be more at home supporting fellow magic users.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses also introduces a new time-control feature that allows players to turn back time and replay moves. This specific power is very limited in each encounter, but it’s a nice addition that adds some extra padding to your strategic plan. You still need to remain just as vigilant as ever when keeping an eye on enemy positions to ensure that your units aren’t overwhelmed and overrun.

Growing stronger

Fire Emblem: Three Houses - open world exploration

One of the biggest things in previous Fire Emblem games has been growing your units and training them to become different unit types altogether. Swordfighters become Myrmidons, ax users become Fighters, and so on down the list. While this system is the same as its always been, you’ll now be upgrading your units to new types through the use of tests which require you to find Seals.

Players who have spent a good deal of time in previous iterations of the series will no doubt remember their first hunt for a Master Seal, which allowed them to promote their Level 10 and above units into their second-tier classes. Now, players will find that they have four tiers of promotions available for their units, including Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and a final promotion that requires users to reach a Professor Rank C before they can even look at it. These Certifications, as they are called in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, are a big part of advancing each of your units, and it allows them to grow and change their goals as the story progresses.

Upgrading units isn’t the only important thing you’ll need to do to grow stronger, though. Like any Fire Emblem game, recruiting new units is an important part of the process. Unlike previous titles, where you’d mostly recruit new units by talking to them with a particular unit, Fire Emblem: Three Houses allows users to level up specific skills, which in turn will allow them to recruit other students to their particular house. This is the primary recruitment method in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and it makes it easier to pick and choose which units you want to help bolster your ranks.

Teacher of the year

Fire Emblem: Three Houses - teacher of the year

Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes the signature turn-based combat of the Fire Emblem series and twists it into something new. While the game holds fast to the features that players love, it adds some nice new mechanics that help to make your strategic options feel deeper and each turn feels important as you strive to be the best instructor you can be at the Officer’s Academy. While the game doesn’t bring back the beloved weapon triangle, the new Attack Speed feature offers a nice strategic piece for players to master.

Casual and Classic gameplay modes return, allowing players who aren’t as well-seasoned in the art of war to enjoy the story and mysteries that unfold throughout Fire Emblem: Three Houses in an environment that works for them. The new recruitment system adds a bit of flair to the entire unit system, and the ability to change a student’s focus and goals allow you to guide your units where you want them to be.

All in all, Fire Emblem: Three Houses does a great job of bringing the series to the Nintendo Switch. The graphics are fantastic, bringing the heroes to life with stunning artwork and visuals. Performance is smooth in both docked and handheld mode, allowing you to enjoy Fire Emblem in its traditional portable form, or from the comfort of your favorite spot on the couch.


This review is based upon a review copy of the game provided by the publisher. Fire Emblem: Three Houses will be available on Nintendo Switch on July 26 for $59.99.

Guides Editor

Joshua holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and has been exploring the world of video games for as long as he can remember. He enjoys everything from large-scale RPGs to small, bite-size indie gems and everything in between.

Pros
  • Fantastic visuals and graphics
  • Great performance in both docked and handheld
  • Plenty of unit variety
  • New skill system allows better control of your army's growth
Cons
  • Weapon triangle system is missing still
  • New skills can be overwhelming at first
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