Fire Emblem: Three Houses Is Fallout 4, In That It Was Once A Good Game

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daavpuke

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Edited By daavpuke

Spoiler warning: I'm nowhere near the end, but I reveal one or two big story beats in this. Do not read this if you don't want to know.

As much as I hate repeating myself, I bought a Nintendo Switch. I'm, also, still mostly playing Fortnite, since it's the lowest possible effort right now. I have, however, prestiged my battle pass by now, which is 200 levels. So, now I don't need to look at missions anymore, since that doesn't add anything, which has freed up some time. It so happens that, at around that milestone, I finally got my hands on a copy of one of the games that was recommended to me by you, the Giant Boomers. That's probably not a great name. We're old, though.

It's surprisingly hard to get physical copies of Switch games that didn't release recently. The rare few that are, in turn, still sell for full price and that just doesn't sit well with me. I'm sure Breath of the Wild is a good time, but it will have to wait until some second hand copy pops up. From all the games that ended up on the shortlist, I managed to indefinitely borrow a copy of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The Gameboy Advance predecessor is one of the best tactics games on the platform, so there's a pedigree there that has me interested in seeing its evolution. There's gotta be a reason that they keep shoving characters in the Super Smash Bros titles, right?

Welcome to the world of anime bullshit
Welcome to the world of anime bullshit

Three Houses has a scope far greater than its origins. Rather than just have fights, interspersed with conversations, the game now presents the protagonist with a hub. Your life as a mercenary has landed you a job as a teacher in a monastery, where youths are training to protect their side of the land. Out of the houses present, guess how many, you choose to lead one color-coded side. I went with the yellows, because their leader wasn't a serious as the others and they had a himbo named Raphael, who is a continuous delight to have around. Personality is a huge draw here, which is why you'll spend a lot of time in the monastery running around and getting to know people better, even the students from the other two groups. There are also a few side activities, like fishing and gardening, though those aren't nearly as involved. They're there. The place has a bright, colorful tone, though the cel-shaded textures are surprisingly low resolution for a game of this stature. Whether you're playing on a screen or in handheld, the smudgy edges are very noticeable, even if the overall art is solid.

As Three Houses is twofold, one part in the monastery and one in combat, I'll detail both. Each month, there's a mission that will happen. Until then, you can not just talk to students, but also instruct them in certain traits that raises skill levels and unlocks more attacks. Teaching requires motivation, which in turn can be increased by handing out gifts. I don't know why a teacher would do that, but that's the mechanism. Give a girl flowers and she'll want to be tutored some more. Someone good enough in a taught trait can pass an exam to become a more potent class of fighter, from thief to a wizard flying on a dragon. Well, it's a wyvern, if you wanna be nerdy about it.

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With these new powers, it's time to hop into a battle; whether it's the month's mission or auxiliary quests. Once again, the battlefield is weirdly ugly for a game like this, tiled in the most drab environment you could think of. After choosing the units you like, you'll fight in a traditional roshambo system. Sword beats axe, axe beats lance. There are a whole stack of other possibilities above that. Magic of different kinds, ranged attacks, special skills that reduce weapon durability and battalions with limited assaults that cannot be countered. As far as fighting goes, Three Houses hasn't missed a beat. Pour on top of that the personalities of the students and fighting is a joyful affair. I want my kids to do well, even the ones who are little douchebags.

A lot of emphasis is put into making these characters likable, whatever their archetypes might be. In fact, I could argue that relationships are the main priority in the game; in the tactics game. At first, I just talked to people I wanted to and got on with my day, until I realized that's a punishing way of playing. Any character that doesn't get attention also doesn't scale. Not talking to someone will hide information that will be needed later, to increase someone else's potential. On top of that, there are 'support' conversations between all the students, so that they do better while in proximity with each other in fights. I'm almost always talking to someone or watching someone talk.

I've recruited Petra to my house. They're great.
I've recruited Petra to my house. They're great.

At first, I thought Fire Emblem was about fifty-fifty between fluff and combat, which is already a weird ratio. The real slice, however, is a conservative 60/40. I spend at least an hour and change in the monastery and the mission is never longer than 40 minutes. In fact, if you'd only do the mandatory fight, you could easily play the game at around 80 percent dating simulator and 20 percent fights. That's insane! I enjoy my time with the people of the monastery, but there's a limit to how much blabbering I'm willing to do.

With all that dialogue, it's also hard to stay engaging. That's really where this game broke down for me. The first dozen hours of Three Houses are amazing, some of the best I've ever played. After that, the anime parts start rearing their heads, including cutscenes. Conversations get more generic, clichéd tropes are brought out. The wide range of possibilities funnels into a trodden story that Fire Emblem will tell, whether you like it or not. That point came to me as a major event was supposed to rock my world. My mentor wanted to tell me something important, but didn't have the time, as there was a dangerous mission ahead. That's a giant burning flare to say that person dies. It was very anticlimactic. Right after that, a character demands that I hand over the deceased's diary, even though no point until then would make me do so. You frequently get choices that can raise (or lower) your relationship, but in this case only one option worked. The other choice, not giving up a super personal item for no reason, would just loop back around endlessly. For a game that asks for your input every twenty second in dozens of hours in dialogue, it certainly doesn't give a fuck what you think, when it comes down to it. Why even ask anything of me, other than to waste my time.

I haven't seen a plot railroaded this badly, ever since Fallout 4 let you carelessly blow up the world for twenty hours, before making you suddenly deliriously emotional about your child that hadn't been mentioned more than once. Fallout 4 wasn't the franchise we were used to, just like Three Houses, but the evolution of it was enjoyable, until it stopped giving a fuck. Just like Fallout 4, there's a better game in here than the new Fire Emblem ends up being. The monastery is just like the settlements that you have to foster. The tactical combat of both is undermined by more popular, emerging game systems. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is Fallout 4; a divisive mess that will alienate a lot of older fans and will make others dig their heels in.

The game that brought you Fallout 76. That's where we're headed.
The game that brought you Fallout 76. That's where we're headed.

As I recruit more students and therefore have to sit through even more talks, I've started doing daily tasks around the house while they yap. I have to touch the controller, like all the time, but it's nothing more than a check, to see if I'm still there. Compelling. On the combat side, as your students get more involved, a huge rift grows between them. Anyone who is on a flying creature straightup obliterates the enemy. If you give that character a bow, it will even demolish archers, which are supposed to be a direct counter. As such, anyone not on a flier just can't keep up, especially when terrain gets harder to navigate. Anything with range scales twice as much, so I have to go out of my way to not super murder everything, just so a grounded unit can painstakingly kill some fodder. Admittedly, I'm playing on Casual so that I don't lose units, but that has only happened twice in the beginning. It also doesn't change the fact that ranged units trump everyone else. The game is stupidly easy once a few missions have passed; I barely pay attention anymore. It's almost like they just want you to get back to the dating sim part.

I still think there's a great game in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but the honeymoon phase has crashed and burned. Some characters still make my heart flutter when they appear, I do want to stress that. That's why I'll keep playing. Some of the writing is endearing and will land for you, no matter what kind of person you like in your anime bullshit. Then again, I also am forced to invite people to tea parties, just so I can raise my charm that I need to recruit others. It's clear that the priority for this franchise has shifted away. Where it was once a plot-driven tactics game, it is now a dating sim with some combat systems. Right on queue for me to fall out of love, they've announced a new Fire Emblem, subtitled Engage. Subtle. It looks like they've made it even more anime than before. I'm sure someone will like that, but for me the hype is dead.

Long live Fire Emblem.

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FacelessVixen

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...I mean, I wouldn't try to build a heavily armed slum yard in Three Houses, or teach Piper how to wield a lance and ride a pegasus, but that's one hell of an interesting way to connect the two games since my pick for a game or series that's more "appropriately" adjacent to Three Houses is Persona, especially after Tokyo Mirage Sessions.

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MindBullet

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#2  Edited By MindBullet

I can see where you're coming from with the comparison, but I think a big difference is that (at least part of) the FE audience is asking for and loving this shift towards more casual play that focuses on characters whereas Fallout 4 just kind of felt like an attempt to chase trends regardless of what what any part of the Fallout fanbase was really hoping for.

In fact, especially now that the newest Fire Emblem game has been announced, I am curious whether my gut feeling is correct in that the part of the FE fanbase that is into the visual novel/dating sim aspect of the series is only growing while the side that wants the crunchy/punishing tactics gameplay is slowly bleeding away as they search for that sort of thing in other games instead. I'm not deep in that community at all, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

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Efesell

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Honestly if there were older fans to be alienated they already got off the bus during Fates.

Three Houses seems to have mostly just been a big success.

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@efesell said:

Honestly if there were older fans to be alienated they already got off the bus during Fates.

Three Houses seems to have mostly just been a big success.

I also think because it's been so long since it came out, perhaps some people forget what a crossover success it was too? I knew tons of people that never played a Fire Emblem game, and just as many that had never even really played that kind of strategy game, and largely both groups seemed to love it. So...yeah, it just is what it is now. Personally, I think it is for the betterment of the series, but I'm also not a "diehard" fan (I've only played them since Awakening).

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D0rf

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going from the GBA games to Three houses is such a funny skewed view of the series because you started on titles that spurn veterans for mass appeal, skipped awakening where they lean even harder into it, ant then come back to three houses where they are actively undoing what awakening did. its like a star wars fan who has only seen the prequels looking at the force awakens.

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daavpuke

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@d0rf said:

going from the GBA games to Three houses is such a funny skewed view of the series because you started on titles that spurn veterans for mass appeal, skipped awakening where they lean even harder into it, ant then come back to three houses where they are actively undoing what awakening did. its like a star wars fan who has only seen the prequels looking at the force awakens.

I watched an hour or so of Awakening and skipped it specifically because of what it was doing. I'm aware of how it reboots the series slash interest. I think I saw the bunny girl 2-3 times before I knew that I wasn't going to get into it. Same with the next that did the Pokémon thing. I might get around to them, but Three Houses seemed like a much more organic jump point that tried to do a refresh. Don't get me wrong, it's cool that they undid some stuff, because I have zero interest in rubbing kids (that was luckily removed here), but I also feel that just not having the worst possible content is maybe setting the bar extremely low.

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Undeadpool

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I don't recall previous Fire Emblem games giving you much control over the central narrative, and honestly? This one gives you a decent amount by letting you choose a House (though I'll say: I think they should have locked the Black Eagles behind a 2nd playthrough as they seem like the most 'canon' choice and that path diverges to ANOTHER choice later on, unlike the other two), so I'm not entirely sure why the railroading of the storyline is all that surprising or frustrating. Hell, RPGs both J and otherwise, have been using the "but thou must" dialog loop for decades now. Unlike Fallout, which was a franchise built on choice and diverging options, so games like 4 and 76 feel a great deal more shocking for having a lack of choices (and don't even get me started on 3's bullshit martyr ending).

Furthermore, if you're finding the combat to be so little of the experience that it's not even half your playtime, I'd be interested what settings you're playing on as the combination of "Hard/Classic" can make the battles absolute nailbiters where you have to plan and think ahead quite a bit, even with the time rewinding potion. Or you wind up sacrificing units and then having to bring up others to fill that space on your roster (which will take care of the problem that you have too many conversations going on).

Because the characters' classes overlap so much, you don't really "need" to talk to all of them, only the ones you're actively using and want to talk to.

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Efesell

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Awakening is a great game honestly, it saved the franchise for a reason.

Fates is the only bummer of FEs recent history, and it's purely because the narrative is complete dogshit from every angle. The actual gameplay of Fates is perfectly solid.

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FRANZlSKA

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#9  Edited By FRANZlSKA

@undeadpool: I can see the argument that playing on higher difficulty would decrease time in the church and increase time in combat, but that really only works if you're the type of person to go for a harder difficulty.

I personally am not (if I know I'm getting into a 30 hour RPG, I'm probably not going to sign myself up to risk accidentally losing a character I like 20 hours in, I have better ways to spend my time,) and I've also been finding Three Houses to be a bit bogged down in the church segments as I get further in, even though I liked it when I started. Maybe even if there were just some way to skip over the bonding cutscenes I don't care about?

@mindbullet: I feel like I've seen that exact split play out, where a good portion of Fire Emblem fans are "oldheads" who are there for the strategy and are pissed with everything since Awakening focusing more on character bonding and pairing, while an audience is slowly taking over that's there for the character bonding and pairing. As someone who has basically only played Awakening, 3H, and a bit of Heroes, I'm kinda of the mind that Awakening had a pretty solid balance of that stuff, so the idea of them leaning even further in isn't particularly enticing.

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Undeadpool

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@franzlska: Well that's the beauty of Three Houses! You can turn off permadeath and keep the combat difficulty on "HARD," which is my preferred way to play it. That way you still get difficult combat encounters without the frustration of the enemy being able to charge in with no regard for their soldiers' lives while you're trying to save everyone.

As for the chatty nature of the bonding scenes, that IS difficult to overcome. The only thing I can say is: you don't have to recruit everyone, and many of the characters are redundant if you don't have permadeath, so you can largely focus on the ones you like. There's no real "penalty" apart from them being underdeveloped if you ignore them.

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GTxForza

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Very interesting thread.

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Relkin

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I think what you've written definitely has a lot of merit, but then again I would think that because I'm that ardent FE fan that hates what they did to it in Three Houses.

That being said, 3H hasn't soured me on FE, especially as Engage seems to just be a continuation of the Gaiden style (Awakening being the primary entry in that style), and that has me excited. Fuck all this modern Persona social sim nonsense.

Also, fliers (or mounted characters in general) being OP is unfortunately a Fire Emblem tradition, especially the divisive SNES era ones, Genealogy of a Holy War and Thracia 776

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daavpuke

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@relkin said:

I think what you've written definitely has a lot of merit, but then again I would think that because I'm that ardent FE fan that hates what they did to it in Three Houses.

Thank you, appreciate it.

I'll definitely wait for the Jan quick look of Engage. I vaguely remember him being pretty big on 3H. Though I'm pretty sure the Persona stuff is here to stay. I don't mind a 'little' Persona, but this game is mostly that.

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Relkin

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@daavpuke: Maybe, maybe not! I don't recall seeing any of the social sim stuff in that first trailer for Engage; considering how many people love that stuff, I would figure that a game featuring more of it would market it front and center.

Obviously this is all just speculation at this early stage, but it's mostly me just hoping that they'll continue to make some of the games in this series the way I like them. Let their big tent-pole releases be Fire Emblem Persona, but give me an off year game that's Awakening Styled, or better yet, remake Blazing Blade or Path of Radiance!

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Efesell

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@relkin: Well the leaks were right about Engage so maybe the Geneology remake will be real as well.

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#18  Edited By Relkin

@efesell: not the classic FE I'd like a return to, but at this point I'd take anything, if just to get the ball rolling on that stuff.

Also, make New Mystery of the Emblem available, you cowards!

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#19  Edited By jacksmedulla

I just wanted to say that I don't think Fallout 4 was "once a good game". I remember it being considered mediocre from the start.

Three houses is the FE game is spent the most time with, but I just got my notification stating that my Steam Deck should ship soon, so I'm looking forward to trying awakening again. I tend to agree with the frustration of the focus on relationship building in Three Houses. While I found it enjoyable for the first... 20 hours? I quickly found it tedious and that it got in the way of the battles I was itching for.

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@relkin said:

@efesell: not the classic FE I'd like a return to, but at this point I'd take anything, if just to get the ball rolling on that stuff.

Also, make New Mystery of the Emblem available, you cowards!

I'll admit, I'm kinda curious to see New Mystery of the Emblem because it's kinda fucked how they just skipped an international release, but at this point, who even knows what the Fire Emblem re-release strategy is? The success of Awakening and Three Houses has presumably convinced IS that most of the world is happy with Fire Emblem being "make anime teens talk to each other, also there are battles sometimes", so I honestly don't even understand how Shadows of Valentia ever got made, a game that has like 9 support conversations total and numerous characters that are old fucks (by anime standards).

And then they randomly put out a localized ROM of FE1 for like 2 months on the Switch eShop before throwing it back in the Disney vault. ????? That's business I guess? Who was that even for?

On second thought, I rescind my previous statement. I don't presume to know what IS thinks Fire Emblem is, anymore than I understand the Fire Emblem fanbase. Fire Emblem Heroes is somehow the most commercially mega-successful non-Pokemon Go Nintendo mobile game, despite the gameplay being wretched. There is no god.

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Efesell

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#21  Edited By Efesell

New Mystery is all right but it has that same ugly engine and boring art that the Shadow Dragon remake had and I simply cannot look past it.

It was a pretty late DS game and I don't remember Shadow Dragon blowing anybody away over here so it's a pretty easy game to skip. Echoes had the benefit of being after Awakening exploded so it's a much more obvious release.