Snap Judgment: Nintendo Direct - Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Posted by Nick Fisher on 2019-03-14 07:38:33 UTC
The big Pokemon and Zelda announcements might have stolen most of the headlines during February’s Nintendo Directs. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any other amazing revelations - in fact, there were tons. And Fire Emblem: Three Houses might just be the most intriguing one of them all.
After spending over a decade as a Japan-only favourite, the Fire Emblem saga has finally become one of Nintendo’s critical franchises in the West. This is despite the fact that Stateside releases for the franchise have been going for a while. The Game Boy Advance, Gamecube and Wii entries all made it to North American shores, and all earned critical praise. But it wasn’t until Fire Emblem: Awakening’s global release in 2013 that the RPG series properly anchored itself. Since then, there’s been four more 3DS titles and a surprisingly addictive mobile game. Could some changes in the formula be needed to keep the momentum going for its Switch outing?
Nintendo seems to think it might - at least if Three Houses’ trailer is anything to by. The Fire Emblem games have always followed a pattern of pitting you as field commander for a band of heroes and heroines, guiding them through a storyline broken up by turn-based battles. The flow of each game may have become more sophisticated over the years - adding extra features such as the ability to forge bonds between characters to enhance their battlefield abilities (or, amusingly, fall in love and marry each other). But the core has been very much the same: issue commands to your units, each of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses, and guide them to win each battle. In the outset it looks as though Three Houses will offer similar gameplay, but this time with far deeper caveat. You’re not just a master strategist, you’re also a teacher at a military academy. And the ‘heroes’ you guide are your students.
Set on the fictional continent of Fodlan, Three Houses sets itself around three separate kingdoms - the Adrestian Empire, the Kingdom of Faerghus and the Leicester Alliance. You play a former member of a mercenary unit, who through some kind of mysterious incident is whisked off to the monastery of Garreg Mach, a neutral central point between these three territories. This monastery also happens to hold the Officers’ Academy - a military school that organizes its pupils into separate ‘houses’, one for each kingdom (hence the game’s title). Wherever the story takes you, you'll at least be serving at the Officers' Academy as a head tutor, guiding Fodlan's prospective soldiers from greenhorn status to victorious warriors on the battlefield.
From these three houses - The Black Eagles for Adrestia, The Blue Lions for Faerghus and the Golden Deer for Leicester - you will eventually encounter the House Leader that acts as commander for each. Not much is given away about them by the trailer, save for their names, and that they’re all heirs to the thrones of their respective domains. They all seem quite chummy with each other too, but who knows what kind of treachery the plot has in mind? Some politically motivated backstabbing is bound to be a part of things, for sure. I've watched too much Game of Thrones to think otherwise.
Something even more exciting though are the enhancements the setting will give to the gameplay. Battles themselves look like they’ll follow the traditional, turn-based Fire Emblem formula (albeit with whole battalions for units). But it’s what goes on outside of them that really catches the eye. It seems like Three Houses will really go all out in the scholastic department, allowing you to train your students - each with their own unique personalities and skills - and hone them as you see fit. The trailer appears to provide some considerable customization options, and with Fire Emblem’s tradition for injecting charisma into even its most minor of characters, it’s looking like players will have a blast tailor-making their motley band of mages and fighters to perfection. It’s looking like Game of Thrones meets Harry Potter - who couldn’t get hyped about that?
No doubt, if Three Houses is going to have you mentor these students, you'll figuratively become attached to some of them, too. Which means another feared Fire Emblem aspect is also going to play a critical role: character permadeath. Fire Emblem games have always carried the threat of you losing your characters for good if they lose all their HP in battle. With a teacher-student dynamic now operating between you and your army, this threat now has the potential to be downright heart-wrenching. Ragequit-worthy too if you lose a character you’ve worked so hard on building thanks to a strategic blunder. But it’s a very clever way to add more emotional importance - and zero room for error - in certain battles. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
In any case, the game is looking stupendously good for a Switch title. The anime artwork in particular looks second-to-none, and the cutscenes are bound to be a highlight. A release date of July 26th has been tentatively set, and there’s bound to more reveals in the next three months. Least of all for the currently vague plot. For now, you can watch the trailer below, and marvel at the reveals it does provide.
Media utilized in article is property of: Intelligent Systems / Nintendo