Nintendo - Tested on the Nintendo Switch in 2020
Fire Emblem is one of the oldest tactical RPG series on the market. The whole series started on the Nintendo Famicom in 1990 and never received a release outside of Japan. It would take another thirteen years until a Fire Emblem game was being released in the west, but ever since then, the series grows in popularity by each title that's being released.
The last title that had been released by the time this review was written, was "Three Houses", a title that changed some things in the Fire Emblem formula. To see how the game turned out to be, just read on, I'll try to explain everything as good as I can in this review.
"Three Housese" tells the story of a young man or woman called Byleth who lives with their father, a mercenary on the subcontinent of Fodlan, which is split up in three countries. These countries live together peacefully, although the rivalry of the nations, built up in countless wars throughout the ages and political intrigues is always close to the surface. Yet, three youths, all heirs to the thrones of the three nations, come together in a military school to have their skills as leaders trained.
Byleth, being dragged into that school within a monastery, starts their life as a professor of warfare and military strategy just as their father is required to join the churches' forces. There are some people who try to sabotage the Church of Serios, a powerful organization within all three countries. The monastery lies just on the border of all three nations and was able to hold their place for almost thousand years.
Byleth teaches the young heirs and their entourages, goes on battles to fight off bandits here and there and spends their free time strolling around the huge area of the monastery on sundays.
Battles are fought on square grids in typical tactical RPG fashion. Players choose what to do with their units, attack enemies, heal allies or go for treasure chests. If an encounter between a party member and an enemy occurs, the camera zooms in and shows the action in a quite dramatic action. Unlike in some other RPGs of that genre, in Fire Emblem, the attacked units can always immediately try to counter. So often enough, when an enemy attacks one of the players' units, it's the enemy that dies. Only after inflicting damage, of course.
Battles usually take up fifteen minutes (if they're short) to one hour (if they're story driven). The later battles could take some more time, and the last battles are just insanely long. But overall, given the presentation and the story behind this game, battles are fun to play.
The music is incredibly strong in this game and offers a wide array of musical variation. The melodies are great to listen to - it's a soundtrack you could also play outside of the game and enjoy the melodies anytime. Character design is also strong (and sometimes reminds me of the later Persona games), the character models and facial expressions just look tremendously good. The backgrounds are okay. Nothing special, but they do the job. The background of some cutscenes or private actions between characters look quite ugly, as they are just the regular backgrounds put together like a wallpaper that's been put badly together.
Outside of battles, every sunday, Byleth can wander around in the monastery. It's like strolling through towns in a regular RPG, where players can interact with NPCs and battle members. It's the first time that Fire Emblem offered some freedom like this, and it's really great to have some calm moments in between battles. In earlier installations of the series, the peaceful moments were limited to watching cutscenes and navigating through menus.
Within the free days, Byleth can also build up relationships with other characters, which could ultimately lead to marriage proposals and the like. Also putting characters next to each other in battle can help build up their relationships. This whole concept gets cheesy at times, but it's a welcomed addition to the formula.
Also, very early in the game, Byleth can choose which house they would like to give lessions to. Choosing one of the houses will result in a different storyline later on. Not unlike Suikoden III, but in Suikoden, all storylines come together eventually, and here the experience is highly different for every story the player chooses.