You’re not going to be able to play Fire Emblem: Three Houses without going through some kind of emotional pain.
In many ways, emotional pain is what Fire Emblem games are all about. Traditionally, they’re tough tactics games with permadeath, meaning that once your favorite characters are gone, they’re gone forever. Thought the newer games have a casual mode where characters don’t permanently die, it can still be pretty upsetting to see one of your favorites be taken out of the battle.
Three Houses, coming to Switch on July 26, takes it to another level. Yesterday I played a demo of the game alongside a Nintendo rep who walked me through the new concepts. There’s a lot that’s new, including new ways to get close to your favorite characters.
In Three Houses, you play as a teacher at a school that’s been split up Hogwarts-style. You’ll select which of the titular trio of houses to join mostly based on what characters you like, and in between battles, you’ll assign chores for them, explore the school grounds to talk to characters (maybe recruiting some other students to your house), and even sit down and have lunch with your students. On certain days of the month you’ll plan lectures, which raise your students’ stats and open up character classes for them. If you really want a particular character to learn how to use a lance, these lectures are the chance to give them those skills.
If you’re a fan of otome games like Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side, which has you scheduling a high school student’s days in order to get closer to whatever boy she wants to date, this format probably seems familiar. As a huge fan of otome games, I’m excited to meticulously schedule the lives of my students. But there is a twist. After a five-year time skip, the students you don’t recruit will be on opposing armies, and you will battle and kill them.
I don’t know how to emotionally grapple with this now, even only after playing the game for half an hour. It adds a whole new level of stakes to the portions of the game that take place outside of battle. In order to recruit characters to your house, you have to raise your own stats as well. Some students might be persuaded to join you if you have a high Magic stat, while others might be more impressed by a high defense. When you explore the school grounds and talk to other characters, you also only have four “activity points” to use. Each action, even talking to a character to accept a quest from them or try to recruit them, uses an activity point. You’ll have to bring your tactical mind to the schoolyard as well as the battlefield in order to protect the students you’ve grown to like.
The game does throw the player a tiny concession in the form of the Divine Pulse. In both casual mode, which doesn’t have permadeath, and classic mode, which does, you can use the Divine Pulse to go back through time to redo turns in a battle. If you made a bad call, or, as often happens to me, your healer dies, then that’s a good time to use the pulse to do it over. You can only use the Divine Pulse a couple of times, though, so you’d better make it count.
I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for the heartbreak that this game is about to put me through next month. I’m not sure which house I’ll choose and what students I’ll get close to, but I do know one thing: I will definitely cry.