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  1. #1

    [NSW] Fire Emblem: Three Houses

    I've tried to write down some early impressions but after a short while I've realized this is a rather different entry in the series and I had to play some more of it to make up my mind.

    Fire Emblem Three Houses is at its core still a turn-based strategy game, but instead of being focused solely on battles, FETH devotes almost half of its playtime to managing your party. The main plot device is that your character (of whom you can only select the sex, appearance is fixed) is forced into a teaching position at Garret Mach Monastery, where the scions of the three nations ruling the continent of Fodlan are to learn about the art of war.
    This setup is my first problem with th game: while Fates took its time in introducing the two factions and let you see how your character interacted with its families, FETH simply asks to choose between the three after a simple cursory introduction. Also your character is basically silent, so I don't really feel a connection between me and him or any of the other NPCs.

    As a teacher you have to guide your students towards their goals, or combat classes in game terms. You can change these goals as you like to get the combat classes you want, although every NPC has a one/two strenght and weaknesses (like someone is good at magic, someone else with axes) and of course most of them start as archetypes for certain combat classes. The game is divided into weeks (think Persona) and at the beginning of the week you set the goals, and then hope everyone is a diligent student to get the various weapon proficiencies up. Sunday is a free day, where you can explore the Monastery, attend to Seminars to enhace your stats, or partake in extra battles. Sundays can also host story-related or random special events: the Monastery is huge, it has a pond where to fish and a green house where you can plant seeds, and special events can boost results of these actions.

    As usual with a lot of entries in the series, FETH rearranges combat class progression: every character start with a basic class, then is promoted to a beginner class (chosen among four), then to an intermediate job (like cavaliers, fliers, thieves, or specialized mages), and finally to an advance class. All characters have a level cap at 50, but it's an amount covering all three levels, so if you overlevel one stage, characters might not have enough levels to maximize more advances choices.
    Characters are not limited by a class tree, they can become any kind of class as long as they pass an exam; the rate of success is determined by a set of prerequisites for weapon proficiencies, and characters can study for proficiencies not directly related to their combat class.

    It's frankly a very complex system that I feel is too complex for its own good, there are a lot of variables to take into account and it's hard to decide whether strenghtening a character's strong points or try to shore up his/her weaknesses, which might not be used anyway...it all depends on the combat classes you want.
    Add in that the Monastery acts as a overworld with quests, gifts to collect, lost items to return, and you have a massive part of the game that overshadows the strategy missions. And this is a choice I'm a particular fan of, both Fates and Awakening had extra activities that did add depth to the game without turning strategy missions into an (almost) afterthought.
    I must admit it's strangely addictive to do this kind of activity, but I still think that as a side activity, it's a bit too much.

    Just like combat classes, the strategy part has seen a bit of a shakeup, although not as massive. First, no weapon triangle. Second, we're back to weapons with a finite number of uses. Third, magic doesn't require tomes, characters learn spells as they improve their magic proficiency, spells can be used a limited number of times per mission, and those recharge at the end of one. Fourth, characters can use battalions. Fifth, characters can learn special attacks. It might sound like a lot, but in fact most of them are from previous Fire Emblem games, with only the battalions being the real new mechanic.
    Battalions must first be purchased at the Monastery and assigned to a character. There are a ton of battalion types, from offensive mages, healers, or normal fighters. Battalions do not take part in normal battles unless you use the Gambit command, which unleashes the battalion and its special attack.
    Strategy parts play more like the two Radiant games (GC and Wii) than the last three GBA entries: they are more methodical, with enemies able to deal more damage, thus encouraging grouping of friendly units to minimize the chances of enemies ganging up on a single character.
    It must also be said that the strategy parts look rather poor, the 3DS games looked more lush and detailed, but probably that was due to the lower resolution and smaller screen. But let's just say that FETH doesn't look particularly good, it does its job but I'm sure a lot more could have been done to make things look better.

    So, while I'm liking FETH now, I can't shake the feeling Intelligent Systems lost some focus and tried a bit too many new things.

  2. #2
    Nice write up, doesn't sound too promising sadly. Maybe I should have just bought the 3DS games instead.

    I'll be looking to start this later in the week anyway and see how I get on.

  3. #3
    I came here for a tactics game and instead I am messing around planting flowers, cooking soup and the like...

    Total information overload at the start of the game as well, I can see that putting a lot of people off TBH
    Last edited by ItsThere; 07-08-2019 at 11:49 AM.

  4. #4
    Some more impressions.
    Things do fall into place as you play: for example it's not necessary to go around the Monastery every single Sunday, you just do that at the beginning of the month or when required to hear what people have to say, buy stuff, do random chores (fishing, gardening), some shopping (especially after you unlock two extra merchants), and try to recruit people from other Houses. All other Sundays can be spent in battles or seminars to increase your character's stats and knowledge you don't normally get via battles. Going around the Monastery will also net you a number of items with various uses (lost items to return for increasing affection, gifts, the occasional consummable item, and so on), but if you don't want to go around this huge place (which, by the way, has "loading doors" reminiscent of Metroid Prime, only that here noone is shooting at you) there's an handy fast-travel functions that also lists all characters, if they have to say something, and quests in the location.

    I've been trying to recruit three characters into the house and even built a B relationship with two of them, my professor level is C, I've got decent numbers in the stats they're interested, but still no dice. Recruiting is important because unlike other recent Fire Emblems you don't get a constant stream of new people, and Houses tend to be focused on a speciality: I went for the Black Eagles and they have awesome ranged units (mages and archers) but lack pretty much everything else, and the unit I'm training as Cavalier isn't particularly hot...or maybe I'm just unlucky with level ups. So I'm trying to recruit mounted units (flying or not) and someone with a good defence...I'm showering them with gifts but they still won't come over. Ungrateful young whippersnappers.

    I've just completed a story chapter introducing Magical Beasts, and with this encounter the whole Gambit/battalion thing takes a new dimension. Magical Beasts are large units taking four or more tiles, and these tiles work as armour: destroy that and the Beast is stunned for a turn. Attack the Beast with a powerful enough attack and it'll aggro the offending unit. And Beasts have two or three lifebars, so good offensive battalions with area of effect attacks are incredibly useful.
    One thing is that the game doesn't really explain everything, like skills acquired while levelling up and class mastery (or maybe I've just skipped through those tutorial screens). In addition to levels, units acquire mastery in their current class, I think 1 point per battle. While doing so they unlock passive and active skills, and mastering a class leads to a pretty hefty bonus (for example the base classes, noble and commoner, get a +4HP boost; others get actions like Shove). Then you can assign/unassign skills you don't think useful for what you're trying to achieve with that character, and it's easy to lose track of the skills someone accumulated...it's not like Fates, there are a tons of skills. I still haven't reached the point where I need to micromanage this kind of stuff, but a quick browse through available units revealed that I'll have to start soon...
    One thing that Tree Houses lacks is an initial focus for your character. He/she starts off as standard infantry with sword and leadership, but if you want something different (let's say a flier or an archer) you need to invest heavily in lessons held by other professors, and some traits (like riding or armour proficiency) only become grindable in battles with more advanced classes.

    As for the strategic missions themselves...well, right now I find them shallower than Fates. Here maps are more akin to the two Radiant games, and in fact almost everything reminds me of those two games. Map layout, rhythm of turns, graphical style, level of challenge...it almost seems Tree Houses runs on an updated version of the same engine used by those two games rather than something entirely new or taken from the more recent 3DS entries. I don't think it's an inherently bad thing, I did enjoy the Radiant games, but after Awakening, Fates, and Echoes, it feels a bit outdated.

    Speaking about being outdated, the graphics do look behind what the Switch can do in the hands of a good developer, especially when it's a first or secondary party developer. Probably Intelligent Systems still have to develop expertise on systems more powerful than the 3DS, but the overall presentation falls short of the 3DS entries. It's not the lack of antialiasing, crude shadows, or lowres textures on some characters, but the colour variety the really brings makes things look poor.
    Prior to Awakening and Fates units only had one outfit, and those were different from each other: using the Radiant duology as a reference, you could tell Mia apart from Nephenee because one was dressed in bright orange, the other in light blue; Soren was a mage dressed in black/dark grey, Sanae was a mage in red. You could tell units apart with a simple glance.
    Fates and Awakening changed that, classes had their own outfit and what made characters different was their head; which was still enough to tell people apart due to accessories, hairstyles, and colour. Units here also larger, filling their tile as mcuh as they could. And even the basic classes had plenty of detail to make them visually interesting.
    In Tree Houses everything is so dull...some characters do have a colour theme, but it's either dark green, dark red, or black. Not many characters have bright or peculiar hairs, and unit models are on the "skinny" side; everyone has a little icon with their face to help distinguishing who you want to select, but it's still less friendly than the 3DS games, especially if you play like me, with the camera zoomed out and nearly vertical. Maybe I've missed the option, but I would have preferred the same 2D map overview as in the portable games.
    Even outside battles characters seem to use three-four colours top: for example Rhea has bright green hair and a blue outfit with light brown trims. Only that the outfit doesn't show any kind of shading, so the light brown on her headpiece merges with other light brown areas on her dress. I wouldn't say it's a mess or visually unpleasant, but oh so very dull. Even without antialiasing or fancy reflection maps adding more colour and shading to characters would have made Tree Houses a million times more interesting to look at.

    So, yeah, I'm whining a lot, but I still think Tree Houses is a decent Fire Emblem. Not the best the series has to offer, and overall right now I think it's on par with Path Of Radiance (GC) mostly due to its somewhat unfocused nature: Intelligent Systems added a lot of things but didn't spend enough time really refining them. It's similar to the kitchen-sink approack of Awakening, but more ambitious and not fully realized.

  5. #5
    I'm not too far, just about to start the first real battle. There's a lot to take in and the game text is really small for some reason? I prefered it when it was battle, cutscene, battle, cutscene tbh but I get this is what sells the franchise these days.

    I went for the Black Eagles in the end as well.

  6. #6
    Just started this on the commute this morning, only got as far as the monastery so not got any particularly insightful comments at this point beyond jeez - folks weren't exaggerating when they said the text was small.

  7. #7
    Yeah it's pretty bad. I've started to play it docked via my PC monitor which mitigates it somewhat since I'm so close to the screen but that really shouldn't be required.

    I agree with Briareos_kerensky that the graphics do feel quite low res, there was one character that had a high res face but the clothing below her neck looked like a ps2 texture.

    I got taken by surprise during my last battle when a mage shot a fireball at me through a building. The building disappeared during the battle scene and I got hit in the face with it. This was a thing in the older games as well iirc but it feels a bit more jarring when it's all animated in 3D.

    With that said, I am enjoying it overall. I'm getting more accustomed to the monastery side of things and dont mind it as much as I thought I would.

  8. #8
    For me this is either incredibly stressful or bordering on the dull.

    The battles are great and engaging when you get to them but I cannot lose a party member. That's an instant restart for me even with the rewind feature because you've often played yourself into a corner, well at least I have!

    Then the relationship building part is just a bit of a trudge.

    I really want to like this more than I do

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ItsThere View Post
    The battles are great and engaging when you get to them but I cannot lose a party member.
    Casual mode is there for a reason...also the rewind feature is not meant for going back several times a couple of steps, but rather one big jump backwards per mission.

    Also, if you don't like to build up relationships, just don't. At least purposefully, along the course of the game it will happen naturally. If you want to farm trust and you're playing in normal mode you can dedicate one Sunday to battling, there's always at least one free battle available.

    [edit] Also,

    the game is split in two parts. Some characters won't go past B or A unless you get to the second part, with some even stuck at C. Don't really sweat it, you can just focus on one character you want to reach S rank with, and see what happens with the rest.

    Last edited by briareos_kerensky; 13-08-2019 at 06:06 PM.

  10. #10
    Theres always the desire to min/max when it comes to the personaesque side of things in games but I end up losing interest if I do that. I'm just letting things develop organically, as long as it doesnt make the game impossible to beat I'm ok with missing some stuff.

    I'm also playing normal/casual which im sure would horrify my younger self.

    Did anyone try taking on the Death Knight during their first encounter with him? He's carrying an item, I bet it was good but any fight is an instant death and only my MC could do any real damage. I chickened out and gave him a wide birth

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