For a game I had zero interest in during the years leading up to its release, I now find myself utterly obsessed with the latest entry in the Fire Emblem series on the Nintendo Switch. But the more I play it, the more I have come to realise that there are two opposing aspects to the game struggle to work in tandem with one another.
This is actually only the second Fire Emblem game I’ve ever played. The first being Blazing Blade, which was simply released as “Fire Emblem” in the west on the Gameboy Advance in 2003. So I’m not all tied up in what this game does and doesn’t do in comparison to other recent games in the series.
Just from playing this entry through, I can fully understand why people obsess over these games the way they do. As it has sunk its hooks deeply into me almost right away. Three Houses is a coin with two different faces on either side, and I really think balancing them is something of a contradictory experience for me personally.
The core of my issue comes down to this game’s difficulty. Through the extremely enthusiastic word of mouth that lead me to eventually pick this game up myself, I learned that many were finding the game’s combat too easy, and that they wished they had chosen to play the game on hard from the get go.
This was advice I took when I started the game myself. Cut to 40 hours later and find myself in a position where the game’s combat is completely trivial to me, as me and my overpowered students cut a bloody swath through any army foolish enough to get in our way.
If I wanted to make the experience more challenging, my only other recourse would to be to play the game on “classic” mode rather than casual. In classic, when a unit dies in combat, they are dead for good and you need to forge on without them. Which is a great solution in theory, if not for the other huge part of this game’s appeal.
While the combat in Three Houses is great and all, it’s not the biggest reason I enjoy this game. That comes from the story, character building and relationship aspects of the game. When not in combat, you spend your time roaming around the monastery that acts as the school for all of these future kings, emperors and lords.
As their teacher, the player finds themselves able to build and develop these characters in any way they desire, slowly building on particular stats to turn commoners and nobles into Holy Knights and War Masters. Additionally, the support mechanics come with a huge amount of character interactions and building relationships between the people at the faculty.
The feelings of slowly seeing these character grow ranges from being cute; seeing these dumb kids getting along, to feeling a sense of reward for coming so far with them and seeing them grown and mature. It’s weird how the role of their professor really translates to the player and being proud of seeing them overcome their personal issues as the games go on.
The idea of not being able to see these stories through to the end, it’s an unacceptable outcome to me. I’ve grown so attached to these characters that for them to abruptly die would make my experience much worse as a consequence. Hence you see the contraction of the game’s difficulty meeting the game’s story.
In short; yes, playing the game on classic mode would made combat much more intense and meaningful for me, as the fear of losing someone would keep me on edge at all times. But having learned from experience when playing that GBA Fire Emblem game on my Wii U, I would abuse the hell out of any save scum system in order to prevent myself from losing anyone.
At which point, if I were always using all of my divine pulses and reloading saves to get through missions without anyone dying, what would be the point on playing the game in classic mode at all. I’d just be making my experience worse as I try and avoid every minor error through combat.
As much as I like the combat, the characters and the story are what are making me think about the game at every waking moment that I’m not playing it. Thus I find myself in my current situation. I have all but exhausted the social links available to me and most of my characters have achieved their final class, all that’s left for me is to see the main story out.
And so now, more than at any other point in the game I find myself fatiguing at the ease at which I am ploughing through combat missions. The game front loads itself with so many characters and avenues for development that by the time you get a few missions into part 2, you’ve actually exhausted most of that aspect of the game.
I still have five or six chapters to go and will probably talk about the game again once I’ve finished my first play through, but right now I’m finding it difficult to see a better solution for this game that makes the combat more challenging (while still fair) while still allowing for me to now have to cheese the game to allow my precious anime children from getting their happily ever after ending. I am still enjoying the hell out of it, but the game’s final act feels like a bit of a grind in comparison to the wealth of potential that it had in its beginnings.