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<pre><pre>Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an almost perfect mix of strategy and life sim

Nintendo has been running for a long time Fire emblem series is primarily known for two things: in-depth strategy battles and appropriate epic fantasy stories. But for the most part, one of those halves has always been much more involved than the other. Players spend hours making very small decisions about practically every facet of the fight, but when it comes to the story, they just sit back and enjoy some very long cut-scenes and dialogue sequences.

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Fire logo: three houses, which will be launched on the Switch tomorrow, changes that approach. It still has ridiculously deep and exciting strategic battles, but it compensates them with a new story structure that makes forming relationships just as important as a well-placed sword attack. The result is one of the best Fire emblem games so far, and it is an experience that breathes new life into the series without running away from what makes it so great.

Three houses puts you in the role of a mercenary professor at a military academy run by a powerful church. You can choose your gender, but otherwise the character is pretty well defined. The school is divided into three houses, each connected to a specific area in the region. In the beginning you have to choose one to help you in your role as a professor. This is a big decision: every house has its own unique characters and storylines, and the events in the game play very differently, depending on where you promise your loyalty early on. (This also makes the game ideal for multiple playthroughs.)


The first thing that happened so long ago Fire emblem fans will notice Three houses is his new structure. In accordance with the school theme, almost everything is regulated, with specific events taking place on specific days. As a member of the faculty you teach most weeks from Monday to Saturday. You start by drawing up a lesson plan, teaching specific students the finer points of sword fighting or flying horses, and then there are regular events such as choral exercises or trips to clean the stables. Sometimes students come to you for advice on everything from their future career to tips on fishing. In short, you spend a surprising amount of time viewing a calendar, and on Sundays you have free time to do what you want: wander around the school grounds when completing side quests, doing optional battles or just resting.

This is all building on the next big story mission, which takes place at the end of every month. At first they are all fairly basic. You can try your students in a fight with some local villains who have caused problems, and later fight them against the other houses in the battle for bragging. The game is later tense as various factions in the world, including the church, begin the inevitable march towards a total war. (The monthly structure is less narrative if the missions have nothing to do with school activities.) This creates a pleasant rhythm because you are preparing the early part of the month before you embark on a new mission.

The special thing about this structure is how, just like the Persona series, it closely links the story and gameplay. I've never felt so close Fire emblem characters as I did in it Three housesand that is because I have spent so much time with them. That time had real, tangible benefits. During lunch with my star archer, she felt motivated to learn, which in turn meant that she gained more skill points in the class. This of course made her more skilled in the fight. Some connections are very smart. Before a student can go to a new character class, he must do a test. It also becomes a challenge because you have to make difficult choices about how you can spend your limited free time and with whom you can spend it. (Yes, there is a romance option in the game, although it only really becomes clear until the end.)

There are, however, a few uncomfortable situations, in particular the option to invite students to tea. It starts harmless, where you have to guess what they want to talk about during snacks. But if you are successful, you will be "rewarded" – not only with a more motivated student, but also with the option of essentially looking at them for a long time. It is the kind of & # 39; fan service & # 39; that often occurs in Japanese games, although it seems out of place here, given the powerful dynamics between you and the students. It is also strange because there is not even a romantic association with the mini game, because you can only stare.


Fire logo: three houses

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One of the real highlights of Three houses is the school itself. It is a vast place, reminiscent of Hogwarts, with everything from a greenhouse and fish hole to a huge library and dining room. It is a place with a rich history and many mysteries to discover. It is easy to lose hours by wandering around and talking to people, especially early when you get to know the world and its characters. I especially enjoyed exploring after an important story, where everyone had their own experiences to talk about.

This structure is also very flexible. If you want to play Three houses like a Persona game, and maximize your relationships with your favorite characters, you can. You can concentrate on the small details of your lesson plan or try to grow any variety of local herbs. But you can also automate much of the process if you want to play it more like a traditional game Fire emblem game. In fact I noticed that I did both. For the most part of the game I was very detailed, I tried to shape my squadron exactly the way I wanted and to learn more about my students. But as the game approached its climax, this became less important and I rushed through these scenes to battle and see the next big twist or spin in the story.

Of course you can't talk about it Fire emblem talking about his turn-based fights. And although there is a renewed focus on the narrative side of the experience, fortunately this is not at the expense of the fighting. It is still the same grid-based strategy that the series is known for, with a variety of unit types to choose from. The goal in most battles is simply to destroy all your opponents, but the campaign is also full of really interesting mission designs. One has saved you a village where half of the inhabitants have become crazy murderers, while the other has caught you thieves before they escape. There is also a big focus on monsters this time, with new massive beasts that have multiple health bars and require unique strategies to beat.


Fire logo: three houses

For newcomers, the battle is a lot to take. Even in casual mode, Three houses requires that you pay attention to many different things at the same time. You must keep an eye on all your weapons over time and deal with systems such as the battalions that can help in the battle and the relationships between characters that can influence how well they work together. This all comes on top of the standard strategic RPG gameplay that is already quite demanding. Even as a series of veteran, it took me many hours to feel that I fully understood all the different combat mechanisms and character adjustment options. Fortunately, there is at least one feature designed for new players: a magic device rewinds your battles if you make a bad decision, giving you another chance without starting over.

Some fights can be long and tiring – a few took more than an hour to complete – but the calendar structure makes this much tastier. After a stressful mission, you get the chance to relax and focus on other, lighter aspects of the game. It took me just over 40 hours to get through the campaign (Nintendo says it can take up to 80 depending on how you play), but the remarkable thing is that Three houses never lost its momentum during that long run, largely thanks to the more balanced structure.

Three houses is a game that cleverly performs the update Fire emblem formula to create an experience that offers what fans expect, but in a way that is much more resonant. It is also incredibly epic: the story extends over several years, and seeing your students grow and mature over time, largely thanks to your guidance, is very satisfying. Three houses doesn't get away from strategic gameplay – it just makes lesson plans and lunch dates just as important.

Fire logo: three houses will be launched on July 26 on the Nintendo Switch.