By Isaac Espinosa
It’s like my school, and it’s not – because it’s much more than a school. I spent so much time as the new professor of the Officer’s Academy, forging pathways for myself, and my students. The experience of being able to decide the fate of the young people you care for can only be found in the strategy-filled Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the 16th and newest title in the Fire Emblem series, developed by Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo Games and published on the Nintendo Switch. It’s the first game in the Fire Emblem series to be released for a home console since Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, which came out in 2007 for the Wii. That feels like a generation ago! With these nuts and bolts out of the way, let the lesson begin!
The story unfolds in Fodland, with our main protagonist, initially named Byleth, waking up from a strange dream (players are free to choose Byleth’s gender or give them a new name). Byleth is the child of Captain Jeralt Reus Eisner, born in the Church of Seiros but hidden away by Jeralt because of their secret power. In Byleth’s dream, a young girl named Sothis seems to have a strange connection to Byleth and their mysterious power.
As Byleth and Jeralt wake up, they hear a commotion. Three students of the Officer’s Academy are being chased down by bandits, and Byleth manages to rescue them. These students are Edelgard Von Hresvelg, a young woman who is very serious and responsible, as she’s the heir to the throne of the Adrestrian Empire. Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd is the young prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and he lives a life of chivalry and honor, never wanting to resolve a conflict with violence. Lastly, there’s Claude Von Reigan, the heir to House Reigan, a young man who uses his strategic mind and intellect to pull through and win battles.
After their act of heroism by rescue, Byleth and Jeralt are brought to the Church of Seiros, where the Officer’s Academy is located. There, the professors of the academy, along with the archbishop Lady Rhea, greet Byleth with open arms, offering them a position as a Professor. Now, they’ll not only teach the students of the academy, but also slowly uncover the dark secrets of the church, and the reasons why certain people wish to destroy it.
As the player, you can choose among three houses before beginning to teach: the Black Eagles led by Edelgard, the Blue Lions led by Dimitri, or the Golden Deer led by Claude. Each house has its own line-up of students and each has a different perspective on the game’s story. So your experience will change depending on which house you pick.
Your main task is to lead your students to greatness. As each month of the school year begins, players are given a schedule that they must follow. Mondays are instructional days, during which you must teach your students. These topics include, among others, the use of swords, lances, axes, bows, magic (called “reason” in the game) and general battle skills. If chosen by the player, Friday’s will be dedicated to group tasks, where you can send two of yours students to work together and gain experience on certain skills. You can choose the students you work with, and go through the process of increasing your bonds with specific students. Or you can have the game choose for you, which moves things along more swiftly.
As your Professor level increases through interacting with your students, from E, the lowest, all the way up to to S+, you gain more instructor points, allowing you to teach more students per day. You are also able to increase your Professor level by exploring the monastery on your free day, which is Sunday. Unfortunately, aside from a few instances when battles take place on other days of the week, Monday and Sunday are the only days when the player interacts with the students.
At the end of each month, the player must send Byleth and the chosen house of students to battle. These battles are where Fire Emblem: Three Houses becomes truly intense and exciting. Deploying your units is as simple as selecting them and bringing them to a space on the map. Certain unit classes have different amounts of mobility. For example, cavalry units, or units on horseback, can move farthest and have extended mobility. Flying units, which can use either Pegasuses or dragons to take to the skies, even have the ability to fly above certain terrains, such as giant walls or hazardous floors covered in lava or poison.
Within a battle, it is omni-important to send out the correct units for the variety of enemies you encounter, so that you do not send units out into battles they can’t win. Depending on the difficulty level the player chooses, this could mean your unit simply retreats from a fight, making them unusable until the next battle, or your unit dies, in which case they’re gone forever.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is a phenomenal game from all perspectives. Whether you’re a veteran returning to the series or a new player coming for a fresh playthrough, Three Houses allows for an experience that not many other Fire Emblem titles are capable of replicating, since the ability to teach and bond with your students makes the Officer’s Academy feel like a second home.
Isaac Espinosa is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern. He’s the founder of the Lehman College Videogame Critics Circle.