i have a small list of games that are on my “finish this year” list, and top of the list is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. i have been a Fire Emblem fan ever since playing Sacred Stones (which i sought out after playing Roy in Smash Bros and going to buy the only Fire Emblem game i could find), and i have vacillated between superfan (Sacred Stones, Awakening (i bought a 3ds almost exclusively to play Awakening)) to indifferent (Radiant Dawn, Shadows of Valentia) to actively upset at the series (Fates). that last one burned me so bad that it took me almost two years to get around to Three Houses.

well, recently i went ahead and fixed that. kinda. i went through the game once, which, probably isn’t enough to fully discuss some of the aspects of the game, but did give me quite a bit to think and talk about. i’m in the process now of pursuing the other plot paths and will have more thoughts (and eventually final thoughts) once i finish those, but here’s my thoughts so far. spoilers abound ahead

some initial context: i was fairly plot spoiled going into this – i knew only a few specifics but knew a lot of the broad strokes. the timeskip, the general nature of the post-timeskip conflict, and general structure of how things went weren’t super surprising to me when i got to them. i def chose the Black Eagles route, and sided with Edelgard in the ideological split, because i apparently want to go hard mode on my first attempt in every Fire Emblem (i chose Conquest in Fates).

the very first thing i wanna say, more than anything else, is that i have some pretty sizable gripes with the art decisions in this game. i am, to a fault, a defender of the 2D battle sprites, but i get why the game shifted to 3D characters in combat, even if i find them a bit soulless and uninteresting. what bothered me, a lot more as the game went on, was how in each dialogue break they had the 2D character portrait, literally right next to the 3D model. the game couldn’t decide where it wanted my focus. i really liked a lot of the character design but i was constantly being pulled between the semi-effective 3D models placed in the extremely plain environments and the 2D sprites near the dialogue, and woof. it was just a constant back and forth. and here’s the thing: some of the cutscenes were interesting, (but i did feel like Byleth just stared into the middle distance sometimes), but there were a couple moments where i felt the cutscenes were mis-used or ineffective – the two moments that stood out most were the scene where byleth is trapped in the void, and the scene where rhea puts them in the 5 year sleep. the void scene was wild because they only rendered the 3 characters involved, but then in the battle screen all my dudes were like, right there. and then we get a splashy illustration and some dialogue reactions for something that sHOULD BE HAPPENING ON SCREEN WHEN I GET COMA’D. that one really bugged me. so yeah, despite really liking a lot of the character designs, having a p good feeling about the world building and art direction generally, i feel like their art attention budget went to the wrong places and god i wish they’d stuck to 2D sprites and done more cutscenes of important moments.

the monastery takes up a huge portion of this game – Fates had quite a bit more between battles than even games like Awakening did but the monastery sections did a lot to make this game a lot more than a series of combat maps. i’m mixed on it. i have a smaller gripe but still noticeable opinion about the monastery: a lot of it feels like busy work, and they ask you to make a lot of small optimization decisions, especially early on, without the proper understanding of the impacts those decisions will have. i feel like the 1 or 2 actions you get early are filled with so much weight but i wasn’t certain i was making informed decisions until the midpoint of the game, at which my decisions had already propelled me along a course i wasn’t gonna be shifting from in any major way. i failed to make Professor Rank A+ at the end of my first run by under 1000 xp, partially because i didn’t quite grasp how large a component stuff like fishing is, and to a lesser extent i misunderstood how much time i had in the monastery in the back half of the game.

i did enjoy seeing the characters at different stages of the story, in different parts of their lives, but gosh i felt like i was either spinning my wheels or making some blind ass decisions sometimes.

on the plus side: when it gets going you REALLY feel like you’re managing an army. there’s a lot to do in the monastery bits: class promotions (the system for which i largely loved, minus some balancing and pacing gripes), combat abilities (which all seemed balanced and non of which wowed me in my first run), battalions (which, when they worked, were great, but goddamn authority levels so goddamn slow. i had dudes with battalions the whole game, authority focused for large chunks of it, who ended at C level authority, not even enough to use the fun battalions. wtf), the special moves (a great addition, to increase the stakes of item usage for greater reward), in addition to the item management and relationship management that’s endemic to all FE games.

like i said, when i knew what i was doing and i knew the ramifications of my actions, the high level of optimizations felt great, but goddamn did it take me a while to get there.

i… have some plot issues as well, ngl. pacing wise, this game SUFFERS for having multiple paths. 18 chapters to go over a whole monastery phase, plus the fate of a continent wide war, plus some ramifications that they just…… resolve offscreen? bait for a sequel? ???? i feel like they throw a LOT of shade at the beginning to make the player suspicious of a lot of things (rhea, your dad, your origins, etc), but then like, fail to go into explanations, at least in the path i ended up following. i know rhea fucked with Byleth before they were born, but it’s only implied how and to what end, which… doesn’t feel super satisfying? there’s some shit that just kinda hangs there too – you interact with Those That Slither in the Shadows a LOT in the Crimson Flower route, but then never actually confront them outside of paralogues. they destroyed a whole goddamn city, and nothin’. it’s p unsatisfying, ngl.

from what i’ve read, i expect i will be happy with what NG+ does to make the other paths accessible, because i suspected going in that Crimson Flower was likely supposed to be a third or fourth pass choice, not a first choice, and i’ll likely have to play through the others to see if that opinion of the plot’s decisions holds.

as far as the vibes of the game goes, i thought the first half succeeded in feeling like a school, the second half def felt like an army management, but i wasn’t jazzed about the effect the monastery had on the feeling of waging a continent-wide war. a lot of the other games move your focus around as your army literally does troop movements, but here it felt like kick it on the armchair until you get called out to the front lines. kinda weird vibes

as for the developments to the core Fire Emblem formula, there’s a lot here i enjoyed! the elimination of the weapon triangle was a bit of a shame, even if it did force them to lean more heavily into differentiating the weapons based on stats instead of just “use this to kill axe users”, and i like that they brought it back as mastery skills, that’s cool! the skills, gambits, abilities, i mentioned above the effect on army management but it also helped give some new and fun tools on the battlefield.

i thought a lot of the maps were cool, some of the battles were really interesting (though, speaking of pacing issues, wtf was that spike in difficulty in the last level??? fuck high-powered pegasus knights showing up as reinforcements as a “gotcha”, that shit was annoying), and i really liked what the monster fights added to the game – esp in conjunction with battalions and gambits.

the characters in this one were really fun! i recruited everyone i was able to and really enjoyed seeing the interactions, and the support convos remain one of the best parts about these games – it’s great seeing characters interact, esp characters you wouldn’t expect to get along or who have a commonality you aren’t expecting. it’s nice!

that being said: two gripes, one major and one minor. minor issue: some of the characters feel… underdeveloped post-timeskip? like, i get that you can’t make them brand new people, but like, seeing where, ferdinand, for example, changed from school phase to war phase to epilogue, just feels weird. dunno. feel like a bit more of a deliberate reintroduction to the crew in war phase might’ve helped there.

major issue: FUCK specifically the marriage system in this game. i wanna play matchmaker with my cute dolls and taking the control of the S rank relationships sucks ass. i know i could just limit it to A ranks only where i want them to be but that means i only get two convos per pairing and that’s lame. plus all of the A ranks had to be “will they won’t they” since you could have an A rank that wouldn’t result in a marriage, or you could do what i did and have like 6 A ranks per person and let the stupid algorithm decide. there were also some characters that should’ve gotten a third non-romantic conversation or development but with this system couldn’t get it. this was a bad change and i hope they leave that shit in the dark.

on the whole though, at the end of my first playthrough, i’m feeling very positively about the game. i had a good time, i enjoyed playing it, i expect to play more of it, and while it’s not my fave Fire Emblem, i’m extremely excited to see the places they’re experimenting and the changes they’re willing to make to the formula. i’ll leave the game un-scored until at least my next playthrough, but i will at least give it a “Recommended” at this point, and i’ll check back in after another playthrough.