Excuse the well-worn cliché, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses really is a game of two halves. On the one hand, it’s almost a dating sim – indeed, it might be one of the most lavish examples yet, fully voiced in either Japanese or English depending on your tastes, rich with romance options and side-stories to explore as you sprint around the halls of the Garegg Mach Monastery keeping tabs on the students under your tuition (yes, there’s also the slightly icky premise of being a teacher romancing your students, but Three Houses makes a point early on of how young a professor you are, and how mature your students, on the cusp of graduation, are – so it’s all totally fine).
On the other, though, it’s a tightly engineered, staggeringly deep turn-based tactical game, serving up a smart evolution of the formula that Intelligent Systems has been developing for nearly 30 years now. Maybe that’s a formula you’re not familiar with, and if that’s the case then imagine it something like this: it’s Advance Wars, that other Intelligent Systems’ turn-based series, but here your MD tank is a living, breathing thing that you can talk to and level up. Oh, and also you’re trying to make your tanks rut so that at some point they might make small baby tanks that will inherit attributes from both parents.
And really, who doesn’t want to play that? There were plenty that didn’t. Famously, 2012’s Fire Emblem Awakening was originally imagined as the last of a series that was seen internally as on its last legs, though that 3DS title was met with huge success, even if it wasn’t an unequivocal hit with the fans as it introduced some more colourful excesses and leaned in on the anime influence, to the disappointment of those raised on the more grounded originals. Those excesses were only amplified in the follow-up, 2015’s Fates, and while they’re reined in for Three Houses – thanks in part to the character art of series debutant and otome veteran Chinatsu Kurahana – traditionalists should be warned that, rather than providing a departure from the path that Awakening set the series on, this is a logical extension of it.
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