Fire Emblem Ate My Entire August
On July 26th, 2019, Switch owners everywhere were wracked with a single, burgeoning need: the latest installment of the acclaimed Fire Emblem franchise.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses, like its many predecessors, is a tactical roleplaying game with a linear story. Although the franchise has been in production since the 1990s, my first experience with Fire Emblem was with Awakening, released in 2012. Awakening ignited my love for the franchise and satisfied my penchant for both impassioned storytelling and D&D-style turn-based combat. The 2015 release of Fire Emblem: Fates, with its unique option to choose between two different games (à la Pokémon), only strengthened that love.
So, with a Switch at my disposal and a predisposed fondness for Fire Emblem in my back pocket, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of Three Houses.
Tragically, every GameStop in the greater Joliet area had been straight up ransacked. The empty, war-torn gaze of each employee I encountered spoke volumes, and my failure to pre-order such a highly anticipated title led me to bask in the miserable glow of a three-hour direct download.
"Go faster," I whined, watching as the download hopped from 38% to a whopping 39%. The empty bag of jalapeño chips on my chest rose and fell with my agitated breathing. So this was what Dante was talking about.
Little did I know, those three hours spent waiting would be a mere pittance compared the the hours I would sink into the actual gameplay.
Games such as Skyrim, Fallout, and the illustrious Stardew Valley have held my spare time captive before, and Three Houses is no exception. The engaging story, tactical combat, and well-rounded characters that typically make up a Fire Emblem game would normally be enough to keep my interest, but what truly makes Three Houses stand out is its emotional depth and outstanding replay value.
The opening chapters guide the player character into professorship at the mysterious Garreg Mach monastery (despite their young age and lack of teaching experience--a little too on the nose in terms of college graduate wish fulfillment, but hey, they know their market). After getting to know the environment, the player must then choose to lead one of three distinct houses of students: the Black Eagles, the Blue Lions, or the Golden Deer.
Before starting my game, I did what I always do and performed investigative research. Each house is connected to a different region of the continent and is composed of students with a unique class makeup, allowing the player to choose a house based on their personal preferences. The Black Eagles, for instance, pad their numbers with magic users, while the Golden Deer boast of their proficiency with bows. As an avid RPG player with a fondness for party balance, I chose the Blue Lions first--a class with a relatively even number of sword, spear, bow, and magic wielders.
The replay value of Three Houses is directly connected to the house you select and the motivations of the house leader. After sinking about forty hours into my first route as professor of the Blue Lions, I began the Golden Deer path and was met with an exclusive narrative with new missions and distinct goals. Choosing a different house not only allows the chance to get to know characters you otherwise may not learn much about--it reveals secrets that other routes do not. The Blue Lions story, for instance, didn't offer much in the way of secrets kept by the Church of Seiros--something I had to play the other routes to fully uncover.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has been more than a welcome addition to my video game collection--it's enriched my life, as well as provided a treasure trove of memes to laugh at and share with my friends whose Augusts were also consumed by this game. The quality writing and character development stirred me to tears, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a game rooted in strategy is second to none.
In short, the hype surrounding Three Houses is no fallacy. The depth and creativity of this game, as well as its adherence to traditional Fire Emblem cornerstones, is bound to enchant veteran players and new players alike. Three Houses is more than just another RPG--it's a journey that will hold your heart hostage.