While Fire Emblem has always been a beloved for its unique brand of strategic turn-based combat, it’s also had a certain knack for creating characters people care about. From The Binding Blade’s Lyn to Awakening’s Donnel, Intelligent Systems has a history of establishing compelling archetypes and developing them into party members you feel proud to have grown with.
This makes it all the more impressive that Fire Emblem: Three Houses isn’t just the most character-driven entry in the series thus far, but also the game that nails character and world development the most. From mainstays like support conversations to the fresh additions made possible by the players’ new role as a live-in professor, Three Houses gives players a range of avenues for learning more about their favorite personalities.
The Weight of Supporting Three Houses
A good deal of responsibility rests on the shoulders of support conversations. Not only do they serve as a vehicle for units to improve their effectiveness in combat, but they’re also unique ways to see team members interacting with each other. Orchestrating the relationship between completely different personalities can be just as gratifying as seeing those troops work together to trounce a tough foe in battle.
Unlike recent (non-remake) entries Awakening and Fates, where units could actually develop romances, announce plans for marriage, and even have children, the school setting of Three Houses means that things typically don’t get anywhere close to that level of intimacy. That said, while pairing off characters and seeing their romantic feelings bloom was genuinely entertaining, the approach Three Houses takes with support conversations might just be the best in the series.
The most instantly recognizable upgrade is, of course, the production value. This is the first time support conversations are fully animated, voiced, and (at least for Japanese audio) lip-synched. While the HD character portraits next to the text are certainly well-designed, observing the real-time facial expressions of students as they’re speaking often feels equally as…well, expressive.
The voice acting (which is done for every word of dialogue throughout the entirety of the game) is some of the best I’ve heard in an RPG, especially considering the sheer breadth of the roster here. Each performance feels surprisingly natural and does wonders for giving the cast sticky personalities that entrench themselves in your memory. The voice of Golden Deer head Claude, Joe Zieja, is a notable highlight for managing to bring Claude’s supremely mischievous personality to life.
The more subtle improvements to support conversations are a direct result of the downplayed romances in the game. The lack of needing to end every thread in a confession means that support conversations have more room to truly explore the dynamics between characters. The more people your students interact with, the more layers you’ll peel back to uncovering their true thoughts and feelings. With a cast as wide and varied as Three Houses’, it’s a great incentive for trying to see everyone’s support pairings (all of which are conveniently viewable from the “Extras” menu on the start screen as a nice little bonus).
What a Lovely Day for a Stroll
What really elevates the world and characters of Fire Emblem: Three Houses above previous entries is the game’s hub, the Garreg Mach Monastery. Not only is it vast, but it’s also teeming with students, animals, merchants, and sweet little bits of backstory and worldbuilding.
For instance: There’s a mission early on in the game that involves Sylvain’s family. Though I chose the Golden Deer house for my first playthrough, I’d managed to recruit him fairly early on. As soon as this story beat hit and I chose to explore the monastery, I was “stopped” (no one can actually stop you, but I was beckoned by the speech bubble above her head) by Ingrid, a childhood friend of Sylvain’s who was still part of the Blue Lions. She rather protectively warned me to leave him alone and give him time to process the whole situation. Ignoring her wishes and following up with Sylvain shortly after, he expressed his frustrations before brushing them off in his typical happy-go-lucky fashion.
Little character moments like these are littered throughout your time in Garreg Mach. See someone you want to recruit but can’t yet? Talk to them whenever possible and they’ll start to come out of their shell little by little. Interested in the history of Fodlan or want to know what’s going on outside the monastery walls? You can chat up various guards, priests, and servants around the grounds for plenty of insights. Though they’re generic in design, each of these minor characters has their own personalities and voices, and it feels as though you build a friendly rapport with them over time through little interactions here and there.
Time for the Teacher to Become the Student
As a professor, you’re tasked with helping your students grow emotionally and in terms of battle prowess. This could easily have been tedious and unfulfilling, but it’s immediately clear that the cast of Three Houses all have their own ambitions for growth and personal reasons for pursuing them.
Take the tomboyish and hardworking Leone; a personal favorite of mine. Three Houses allows you to push students towards whichever roles you want them to have–so long as you put in the work to get them there. With this in mind, I decided early on that Leone would be a Pegasus Knight by honing her Lance and Flying skills. She already had an affinity for using lances, so picking up Flying seemed simple enough.
However, a few weeks after realigning her academic goals, she stopped me after class and firmly told me that she wanted to focus on Lance and Riding instead. The reason for this? She’d been idolizing my father, Jeralt, ever since she met him as a young girl. She wanted to follow in his footsteps and become part of the cavalry to make him proud. I had the option to deny her request, but I distinctly remembered chatting with my father in a one-off conversation (like the one with Ingrid) where he mentioned mentoring her as a child and asked me to look after her for him. Seeing all the pieces fall into place put a smile on my face, and I was ultimately obliged to allow her to switch focus.
These types of connections and callbacks don’t happen with everyone, but when they do, they’re executed so well that it feels like a fully realized world and unique specifically to my playthrough. Be it in the classroom, sharing a meal in the dining hall, a chance encounter on the monastery grounds, or carrying outside quests and returning lost items, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is bursting with chances for you to discover the depth of its characters.