Nintendos beloved tactical role-playing series makes the leap from 3DS to Switch, but has it chosen the right strategy?
Most people probably still only know about Fire Emblem through all the character cameos in Super Smash Bros. The role-playing strategy series dates back all the way to 1990 on the NES and yet it wasnt until 2003 that any of them were released in the West. But even with the tie-in to Smash Bros. they were still never major hits until Awakening and Fates on the 3DS. You really dont expect that after more than two decades in the wilderness, but a lot of it can be put down to how well the series suited the 3DS console. But were not sure the same can be said of the Switch.
Fire Emblem is the sister series to Advance Wars and has a similar style of turn-based strategy combat. However, theres also a thick layer of role-playing elements on top of that, in terms of not just the stats of your characters but the melodrama of their lives and interactions with each other.
New entries have appeared on the GameCube and Wii but they were low budget affairs, before the success of Awakening raised the series profile. As such, there had been some speculation that Three Houses might be used as an opportunity to radically rework the formula, but its immediately obvious thats not the case. The combat is largely the same and while the role-playing has been expanded somewhat it rarely feels like something that couldnt have been done on the 3DS.
Theres usually very little connection between one Fire Emblem game and the next and certainly Three Houses requires no previous knowledge of the series. Its set in a Tolkien-esque medieval fantasy world, on a Westeros-like continent divided between three nations that are kept at peace by an overbearing church. Following a hastily sketched introduction your mercenary character is, for no immediately apparent reason, offered a professorship at the churchs main monastery – which also doubles as an officers academy for military-minded nobles from each of the three nations.
Youre given the choice of which house you want to tutor (long before youve had any real chance to weigh them up) at which point you realise that the games going for a Harry Potter vibe in terms of the setting, from the owls flying around everywhere to the teachers constant willingness to put students in mortal danger. As a teacher yourself you have to organise students timetables on a weekly basis, picking what subjects they study and dealing with their interpersonal issues.
Theres also an obvious influence from Persona, as you try to build up your personal bond with students (which gets worryingly creepy when you start trying to date them) and encourage each of them to get on which each other. Your bonding takes place primarily at the monastery, as you buy people gifts, run fetch quests for them, and return lost items. Which is just about as dull as it sounds.
Bonds between students are primarily formed on the battlefield though, by having them fight together in close proximity, which in turn increases the bonus they get when ganging up on an enemy and activating special moves.
Combat works largely the same as always and, despite what you might think of a strategy game, is very fast-paced and accessible. At a basic level all you have to do is point and click where you want a character to move to and then either initiate combat or some other action, such as healing, when you get there.
Surprisingly, the usual rock, paper, scissors relationship between different weapons is severely underplayed in Three Houses and makes almost no difference outside certain special moves. Whether thats an attempt to make the game more accessible or just less regimented is unclear but it does simplify most encounters to a surprising degree.
What isnt simplified though is the interface, which is an absolute nightmare to navigate in a hurry. Its not that its particularly illogical but that it makes absolutely no attempt to be helpful in any way. Related options are often kept completely separate and you can frequently spend more time farting about with the inventory screens before a battle than you do actually playing it. Going backwards and forwards between different menus just to check on equipment and stats is not only a chore but its mindless busywork.
The interface is such a pain you begin to curse the fact that theres not just a simple optimise button, that can default to all the most logical loadouts and top up your store/repair your weapons. But if there were half the game would instantly disappear, especially if the same logic were applied to battle decisions. Three Houses is full of options for almost every situation but too few of them are meaningful and often all youre really looking for is the most powerful weapon, attack, or character.
Fire Emblem is still a fundamentally entertaining concept but the problem with Three Houses is that it takes no advantage of the Switch and has no important new ideas. Each character now has a battalion of soldiers they can take into battle with them, that offer limited-use special moves, and there are a few other new wrinkles but none of it changes anything substantial. Even the magic crests that the noble-born characters have are more important to the story than they are the gameplay.
Theres also the fact that the graphics are terrible, and everything feels so low budget. The 2D backdrops that cut scenes take place in front of are especially embarrassing, but the battle animations are also very poorly choreographed, as battalion soldiers fade in and out with an ugly dithering effect or otherwise just stand around waving their arms. Even the basic character models are very stiff and simplistic, with a disappointingly bland art style. It all looks very much like an upscaled 3DS title, to the point where we now wonder if thats how the game staRead More – Source