Few feelings that can replicate the ones experienced when playing a game that is outside your wheelhouse for the first time, allowing you to instantly fall in love with it. Such was my experience with Fire Emblem: Three Houses in 2019. Until this year, I had never played, nor even seen, any Fire Emblem footage before. As a title within a genre that I am normally not interested in, Fire Emblem: Three Houses presented an opportunity that I sought to ignore. As the release date approached, my colleagues were enthralled by Three Houses’s potential and made the game a topic of discussion every day. There reached a point where all I heard was Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and, with my Switch sitting in the corner untouched for many months, I thought why not.
A multitude of praise already exists for the title, creating difficulty in expressing why I find the game unique and precious. Not much time had to pass before I fell in love with Three Houses, solidifying its place as one of my favorite games of the year. Within the first hour, Byleth had been introduced to the three houses and their leaders, along with the students accompanying them. For my playthrough, I chose the Black Eagles, due to the admiration I had for Edelgard’s fierce tenacity. What was originally thought to be admirable faults from Edelgard quickly became apparent that she had to be strong for her classmates and friends. Her backstory is one about principle and fighting for what is righteous for everyone she rules. This quality allowed me to pay more attention to others present in her class to see how they fit within her grand vision for Fodlan.
Falling in love with the characters of Fire Emblem: Three Houses is not difficult. Regardless of what house is chosen, players will quickly see how natural and humanized each performance is, perfectly highlighting character faults and strengths in their everyday actions. Each personality feels real and unique to a fault. The game tasks players with being a mentor and teacher to the students, but I would much rather simply hang out with and befriend them. No two students are similar among the houses. Caring for the students’ safety and wellbeing will become the primary focus for most players, carefully guiding them on and off the battlefield, regardless of which difficulty is being played on.
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows in Fodlan, however, and after a time skip, the houses are at war. If players were diligent and tactful, the possibility exists to recruit students from the other houses, avoiding future bloodshed. Unfortunately, since this was my first Fire Emblem, I was not well versed in the recruiting mechanic and only managed to secure three students outside of my house. The unprepared nature of my approach to the war meant that I had to face off against students that I taught, hung out with, and grew to love throughout the first half of the game. Despite being on opposite ends of the battlefield, I avoided harming the students at every opportunity I could.
Throughout my time with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I did not see the students as video game characters, but rather as friends. Categorizing a character’s existence as being one’s friend feels odd to say, but when experienced, nothing else feels justified. For example, Bernadetta’s introvert anxiety had me screaming at the screen for her to welcome others into her life, and when she finally does for a select few, I could not help but grin with satisfaction that I helped her improve and grow.
The way each character’s personal stories play out and develop throughout the game’s chapters is wholeheartedly uplifting and motivating. Watching students who hated each other find common ground and resolve issues and later compassion and companionship is a heartwarming quality that few games can replicate. Most conversations between characters are optional, but fleshing those out and seeing the relationships blossom make the whole experience worthwhile.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses will forever hold a special place in my heart. Despite my reservations before its release, I am grateful for the experience. The time I spent with Three Houses will serve as a reminder to never judge a book by its cover, for doing so could prevent one from experiencing something unlike anything that came before. In 2019, many titles have benefited from this reminder, but I will always be thankful that Fire Emblem: Three Houses proved me wrong and changed how I approach the unknown in video games.