90 hours. That is the amount of time I have spent on Fire Emblem: Three Houses since receiving it on July 30th. Mathematically, this would mean I have averaged (not including today) 8.2 hours per day dedicated to playing this game. It would not be hyperbole to say that this title has destroyed my motivation to indulge in other interests. Three Houses has become something of a very special experience to me, every aspect considered. What better way to come back from a near-month-long (not planned) hiatus from the Visualist’s Veranda than with a post dedicated to highlighting my thoughts on a game that has thrown me completely off my typical routine.
My premiere House of choice was the Golden Deer, highlighted by their leader, Claude, who seemed way more interesting than the straight-and-proper Dimitri and Edelgard. With him, I also came to cherish the other members of the House: Lorenz, Lysithea*, Leonie, Raphael, Ignatz, Marianne, and my waifu** Hilda. Not initially keen on Raphael or Lorenz, even they were given adequate enough expansion on their characters through meticulous dialogue conversations and a winding plot that ventures into both high and low emotional settings. I can say wholeheartedly that I love all of them, and do not wish to kill them in my second run (as I left Lorenz unrecruited before the second part of the game).
*My experience with Lysithea is actually limited due to my negligence early on in my first run. I had her killed in an auxiliary match among the first few chapters in the game and actually forgot that she was missing in battle for the following chapters, assuming auxiliary battles didn’t count to the permadeath (she was still in the hub area afterwards). By that point (as each chapter takes me a few hours to go through), I was too lazy to go back and do it again. The final message screen kindly informed me that she lived a shortened life after the final battle of the game. Made me feel great.
**The recipient of my waifu status is actually a hot-debate internal topic. Many points throughout the first playthrough, I wondered if I actually liked Marianne (who is great in the second part) or Leonie (who looks great in the second part) more than Hilda, who all the way through the proposal sputtered annoying nonsense about not wanting to do anything and have me support her with all my might. Very romantic, indeed. Yet… Hilda just has this strange quality… Also note that I did not recruit a single person from other houses during my first playthrough, as I was unaware of the benefits later on down the line (and I thought it seemed shitty to do to the other House leaders; I’m such a nice guy!).
I speak at length about the characters and the House straight out because these were the areas that most concerned me. I am no Fire Emblem aficionado; I have played Awakening and nothing else. From Awakening, however, I grasped two things about the state of the franchise at that point: Combat – Good. Writing – Bad. I braced myself for much of the same with Three Houses, which ended up being somewhat true in specific circumstances.
Is anyone reading this a fan of ProZD? For those unaware, ProZD is a Youtuber/voice actor who has made a name for himself as a satirical sketch artist, making (actually funny) comedy videos about things from video games to anime and whatever else on a “nerdish” spectrum. Bringing him up should spell bad news for Three Houses, which is, by all extents and purposes, hardcore anime. ProZD ended up being on my mind a lot while reading through the emotionally-winding hurricane that is this game’s central plot. Most notably, this video and this video describe this game so hard that it makes it borderline laughable. I also resonated with this video while going through the first run.
Joking and shilling aside, there are various segments of the writing I find immensely cringeworthy. Various characters that have one personality shtick and spam it throughout many conversations with little intricacy (Raphael, Sylvain, Bernadetta, Marianne, etc.) makes the desire for further conversation fairly low. As much as I’ve come to enjoy Lorenz in the second part, his first part is still heavily obnoxious (though I understand that’s the point). Sylvain’s constant womanizing is never amusing or charming, and I’ve never been fond of the “food guy” in anime-esque settings. These little things make support conversations, which help in other aspects of the game, almost worth skipping over.
And then we have the main narrative! Granted, I have gone through one and a quarter of those available, from the completion of one I can say that it is very boring and dumb. Not all of it, mind you, but some. Three Houses does a good job of creating moral ambiguity among what is considered good and evil. Allies that turn on you may only being doing so for their own ideals. Does that make them bad? Not necessarily, though their decision to cause mass bloodshed makes this harder to solidify. Characters (especially the House leaders) are given an ample amount of opportunity to showcase differing opinions to the state of society, wondering if what’s occurring and how they handle it are truly the right cause. These are aspects of the main story that I like, which thankfully are the majority.
Unfortunately, we also have “Those who slither in the dark.” These folks are the token “Evil for the sake of being evil” group which seeks world domination and blah-blah, who cares? Three Houses attempts to make them three-dimensional by giving them some backdrop of believing as a society that the Church of the region is evil and is oppressing their freedoms and what-not. This attempt would be a lot more believable if they did not design the characters and people from said society like evil sorcerers with pupil-less eyes, pure-white skin, and giving them “I am totally evil” vibes with every ounce of conversation. These assholes serve as filler for the very end of the game, and woe, does the end of the game draaaaaaaaag. Not interesting, not enlightening at all. By that point, I just wanted the game to be done.
I also don’t like the heavy emphasis on fulfilling “epic” fantasy twists and turns, shrouding the MC in mystery throughout and otherwordly bombshells aplenty. Wow, the MC is special because they have a super powerful force residing within them which makes them turn super saiyan and wield ancient weapons of mass destruction because why not? Yep. Super fascinating. Never seen that before. Completely devoid of self-indulgency, my faaaaaaaavorite aspect to stories. And then we have legends lost to time suddenly returning out of nowhere because… umm? How convenient that everything seems to be spilling from the graves upon constant reminders through chapterly conversation that these figures used to exist. Totally subtle. About as subtle as having a “good”-turned-“bad” character saying “I care not for friendship” as their first line in the game. Go back and watch that first ProZD video again.
Overall, though, I think the writing is a vast improvement compared to what I found to be very poor in Awakening. Such exemplary prowess can be viewed with the support conversations, which not only give more heart to the characters involved, but give a bigger picture of the world of Fódlan. Also noticeably down is the usage of “funny” bits involving the negative traits of characters (though not absent), which I found annoying more than anything in Awakening. Three Houses goes for more of a wholesome approach, where characters confide in one another or get into altercations that enhance their perspective of the world. It seems the writers really wanted to emphasize the beauty of collective cultures and the differences in others that make life interesting. Perhaps we need it.
With the gameplay, it’s everything I thought it would be and more. Completely intuitive, accessible, and always a blast. I shit you not, I never get tired of grinding in this game, making my units ten levels over the suggested level of each chapter on normal occasions. Battling is never not fun, making the desire to grind and get each collected unit up to par with the others a delight. The variety of places, enemy types, space conditions, and even side quests make the “Battle” option among my favorites in the whole game. But everyone knew this already! Let’s get to the new features!
One is able to “explore” the main monastery setting in an open-world-esque mini-map and interact with dozens of characters and tend to a variety of activities. This… is something I feel gets old the farther one gets into the game. Remember when I said I didn’t recruit anybody during my first run? That made exploring the monastery in the second part very boring, as there was practically no one there! It’s the characters that make this option fun, and when they’re not there, the vast emptiness provided by the limited activities really takes shape.
When exploring the monastery, one is capable of doing three things that have nothing to do with other characters: fishing, gardening, and shopping. The last of the three is pretty self-explanatory: you shop for stuff. Not all that enticing. Fishing and gardening are a tad more complex, but not so much on a fundamental level. With fishing, one has to press A at certain sequences to catch a fish. One is literally just pressing A over and over again. Again, gets old. Then with gardening, one is collecting material to plant and dousing it with special stuff to improve the predicted output. Again, not too engrossing. When the second part comes into the fray and most of the benefits of these things has lessened, they’re more done out of obligation than anything; it’s easy for me to stop fishing altogether after a certain point, really.
This new exploration option is truly beneficial for the sake of further fleshing out the characters. When they are not involved, it’s an empty, near-meaningless existence that only serves to give a break from the main story, battling, or studying (something I won’t elaborate on because I have nothing to say about it). I felt the full force of this emptiness upon my first run, when I only had about nine or ten characters in this big monastery to talk to every month (by the way, this game runs on months). Fishing and gardening became more of a chore than anything. It felt especially hollow, and what once seemed refreshing was now a floundering pestilence. With far more characters recruited in my second run, I’m hoping it doesn’t feel that way again.
Everything that it is, it’s something of a shocking adoration. I never imagined I would like this game much more than Awakening, which I gave a 7/10 almost purely for combat reasons. I even recall seeing the first trailer for Three Houses a year ago and thinking, “Yeah, I think I’d buy that.” That sort of unenthusiastic, slightly-middling proclamation of interest for something that might be worth one’s time. I’m 90 hours in less than two weeks, and I might be able to say that this is my current GOTY. There’s a great magic to it that keeps me coming back, and it is the only game I’ve played since receiving it. So, thanks, Nintendo. You went ahead and reinvigorated my love for Fire Emblem, seeded so many years ago with Awakening. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Okay, that’s all the time I’ve got. I gotta get back to playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses™ on my Nintendo Switch™.
Thank you for reading. Have a great day.