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Fire Emblem: Three Houses mixes classic strategy with Persona-style relationships

Fire Emblem: Three Houses mixes classic strategy with Persona-style relationships


Permadeath becomes even more devastating

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In most Fire Emblem games, your biggest decisions are about tactical strategy. But in the upcoming Fire Emblem: Three Houses for the Nintendo Switch, you’ll have much more pressing dilemmas: like what you should do on the weekend.

The new game features the core experience fans have come to love for nearly three decades. That means huge turn-based battles, and units you can customize with a dizzying array of skills, special abilities, and class types. And, as per usual, those units are more than just generic soldiers; they’re characters that you’ll grow to care about over the course of a lengthy campaign, and they can build relationships with each other over time. In the standard mode the game still features permadeath, so you have to be careful. It’s possible to fall for a character, only for them to die in battle and never come back.

But Three Houses also introduces an entirely new structure, one that shakes up the formula dramatically. In the game you play as a new instructor at a military academy, and story events happen based on a calendar. From Monday to Saturday, you’ll be teaching your budding soldiers, and then on Sunday you have time to do what you like. At the end of each month is a major battle, so you’re essentially spending the time prior preparing your squad as best you can.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

What’s great about this setup is that, much like in the Persona series, social interactions are linked to the core game. Everything you do — whether it’s tutoring a student, giving them an assignment to clean the stables, or sharing a meal with your two most promising pupils — has an effect. It might be as simple as raising their motivation levels so that they pay closer attention to your lectures, which, in turn, means their skills will level up faster. Other times the impact could be more pronounced: a student might come to you asking advice about their future goals, which in the game means changing which class of soldier they’re working to become.

Everything you do consumes “activity points,” which means that you have to make tough choices about how you spend your time. Just like a real teacher, you can only give so much focus to any particular student without leaving the rest of the class behind. Similarly, your character also joins the soldiers in combat, and so you need to carve out time to improve your own skills by training with other faculty members. There’s a lot going on: I spent around 45 minutes with the game, and it was hard to really wrap my head around all of the various interactions in the school portion in that short span.

Curiously, you can skip this altogether if you just want classic Fire Emblem strategy action, and the game will simulate it for you. But from what I saw, it’s an integral tool for customizing your squad and digging into the story. You won’t really get the most out of the game if you don’t engage. Sure, there are other big changes in Three Houses — most notably a new skill that lets you rewind time to retake turns in battle — but the new structure feels like the biggest shift for the core Fire Emblem experience. It pulls you deeper into both the narrative and the role-playing.

Strategy in Fire Emblem is no longer just about your tactical choices — it’s also about your social life.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses launches on the Nintendo Switch on July 26th.