Guys, this might be it.
This might be the “perfect Fire Emblem” that I’ve been looking for. Three Houses belongs in my highest tier of games, the kind that capture my imagination and remain in my mind long after I put the game down. It’s a contender for my Game of the Year for sure.
Intelligent Systems had a lot of guts to continue experimenting with the series, especially since the 3DS games were so successful. The transition from handheld to HD console was not without some hiccups (or a few holes in the story), but overall Three Houses blends several storytelling and gameplay mechanics into the most ambitious and immersive Fire Emblem yet.
Let’s start with Garreg Mach Monastery, a massive school filled with things to do on your days off as a teacher — fish, give students advice, cook meals, have a cup of tea, or even train with faculty — all of which increases your students’ stats and support levels. You can juggle multiple things at once, focus on just the activities that you like the most, or skip exploring the monastery entirely for that week.
Visually the monastery is a mixed bag. Some vistas convinced me to stop and admire them, while other areas (like the marketplace’s vegetables) gave me flashbacks to the N64. But I quickly forgot about the visual flaws as the students and faculty submerged me into a living, breathing place. Three Houses is one of those games where you want to talk to every NPC, because they almost always have interesting commentary on the story, or new lore to explain, or foreshadow what’s to come.
The first half of the game, before the time-skip, had one of the strongest stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game. The comparisons to Harry Potter don’t end with just the setting — think of all the mystery, ambition, angst, and humor that Books 4 through 7 had. But Three Houses took it even further. Claude, Edelgard, Dimitri, and even the Church all had reasons to like them… and to distrust them. No single faction was 100% right or wrong. And because everyone operated in a morally grey area, I had to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions that actually mattered. Students’ lives were saved because of me, but others weren’t so lucky. And that’s just the main story. The side quest chapters pulled me in even further as they explored each individual student and fleshed out their backstory. I picked Golden Deer, because how can you resist Claude’s charm?
The story after the time-skip was not quite as compelling, but still more interesting than most Fire Emblem plots. The moral ambiguity fell away into a definitive “let’s go get the bad guys” story, though having former students as “the bad guys” was heart-wrenching. Dimitri especially had a transformation and demise that tore me up. Near the end, however, I had several questions about unexplained characters and plot points, and the game only gave partial answers to them all. As exciting as the last chapters were, I was disappointed to see that some key pieces were missing. Some of that I attribute to me only playing the Golden Deer route, so I’m sure more will be revealed with the other houses. But still. It felt like the game’s story stumbled right at the finish line.
You know, I’ve talked this entire time and still haven’t gotten around to the actual strategy RPG gameplay. That’s how big this game is. The combat is as polished as ever, with beautiful maps that you can see from a new zoomed-in perspective. The lines that show where the enemy will attack is a great quality-of-life addition, and the gambit system adds a satisfying layer of strategy. The map design for optional battles are a bit stale, but the story maps have unique gimmicks to keep you on your toes. The three-sided battles were my favorites — fighting two enemy armies at once was a thrilling challenge.
If it weren’t for the endgame plot holes, I’d give it a 10/10 perfect score. In all fairness, I’ve yet to play the Black Eagle and Blue Lion houses, so it still has that potential. Even if it doesn’t solve my story issues, though, Three Houses accomplishes so many things that I can forgive most of its mistakes. I highly recommend it. Even if you’re only mildly interested in anime or strategy RPGs, this one is worth checking out. It’s easy to pick up for newcomers yet contains a lot of depth for veterans.
All in all, I didn’t want Three Houses to end. Garreg Mach Monastery will forever stay in my heart as the place where I met so many eccentric and well-rounded characters. As I developed relationships and heard their support conversations, I felt close with all of them, even the students that I initially disliked. While Byleth (your avatar character) is himself a boring silent protagonist, it’s the supporting cast that truly carries this game. I was rooting for all of them to meet their life goals.
I immediately said “yes” to starting a New Game+. I just gotta save Dimitri. And I need to know why Edelgard went down the path that she did. And hopefully I can fill in the other gaps as I go.