Nintendo really knocked it out of the park in 2019 with its first-party lineup making for arguably the best year to date for the Nintendo Switch. Spearheading its summer schedule was Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which marked a glorious return for the series on home consoles after a staggering 12-year absence. Three Houses packed a ridiculous 150 hours of content (across all three campaigns), showcased the best visuals we have seen from the series to date, and saw us take on the role of professor to train our troops as we saw fit.
Three Houses sees your silent protagonist appointed straight to the role of professor at the Garreg Mach Monastery after wowing of a group of students with your valiant efforts against an attacking group of low life bandits. Seriously, does hard work and an education really not mean anything here in the continent of Fodlan? It's in this debatably deserved position that you are given the arduous choice early on of which house you wish to lead and this will largely dictate how things will pan out across your roughly 50-hour journey. No pressure then.
Battles in Three Houses operate across a grid-like map and during each turn you need to decide where to position your troops and what attacks you'd like to unleash. You can use combat arts, for example, to deal more damage but these have a higher impact on your weapons durability making it more likely to snap something during the heat of battle. Battles often come with a central objective such as clearing out all troops or protecting a group of visitors from being attacked, for example, and things become steadily more complex as you progress with more challenging troops types and different terrain for you to be wary of. The series staple of permadeath is also optional this time around making combat more accessible and removing one of the most intimidating barriers that newcomers previously had to face.
Your time in Three Houses is dictated by the school calendar with Monday's set aside for lecturers, Sundays for downtime, and with the end of the month concluding in the next story event. As a professor, you'll set goals for your students and you can manually select which weapon skills you want them to advance with, providing they have enough motivation. You can select group tasks too which appear as menial jobs such as weeding and clearing out stables but this can help you gain experience and strengthen the bond between characters. Deciding how you advance your students in these moments makes just as much difference as your actions out in the battlefield as this where they will really start to hone their specific expertise.
So much attention has been given to making each student feel human as they all come with their own backstories, stats, and individual likes and dislikes. As the professor, it's vital to bond with your students by helping them with their problems and taking them out for a meal or a cup of tea, as this can improve their motivation for studying. You can even meet students from other houses when exploring the monastery and they can join you providing you've working your magic. Getting to learn more about these characters deepened our attachment making the bitter sting of permadeath that much more painful when one of them sadly perished in battle.
There's also a fair amount of flexibility given to how you wish to spend those peaceful Sundays. You can take a much-needed snooze to replenish your student's motivation, you can explore the walls of the monastery, or you can hold a special guest seminar. Exploring the monastery means you can engage in smaller distractions such as fishing and cooking, and during seminars you can invite guests for a second shot at boosting particular weapon skills. We enjoyed this flexibility as it meant that no week on the calendar felt the same and whatever we chose it felt like we were still making meaningful progress.
Three Houses ranks as one of the finest games that we have played on the Nintendo Switch and we can't wait to see what's still to come as the expansion pass continues to roll out DLC. The series' Switch debut offered us so much freedom in how wanted to shape our army and we loved the attention to detail that was given to each individual character. It also offered three individualised storylines, each one overflowing with 50 plus hours of content, and it helped to push the visual fidelity of the series to new heights tapping into the power of the Switch. Whichever way you look at it, the new Fire Emblem is one of our favourite games of the year.
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