Three Years On, Here’s How Fire Emblem: Three Houses Changed The Series Forever

Fire Emblem: Three Houses came out three years ago. Yes, it really has been that long, but as the pandemic has warped our sense of time forever, who really knows anymore? Either way, the JRPG from Intelligent Systems is a masterpiece, and has established a cultural position that continued to be built on long after the credits rolled.

It’s the sort of game that inspires discussion, whether it’s debating with friends about your favourite house or talking about individual characters and how their personal stories manage to resonate in ways that few in the genre match. Even when put with the likes of Persona and Xenoblade Chronicles, Fire Emblem is beautifully unique.

Growing up I always saw Fire Emblem as a niche franchise, something that only hardcore fans of the genre would pick up as used copies began being sold for obscene amounts of money online. I’m serious, look up the GameCube entries and come back to me once your wallet has finished crying. You emulate those titles, or you don’t play them, they’re that hard to get a hold of these days thanks to a lack of remasters and remakes.

It wasn’t until Fire Emblem: Awakening on the Nintendo 3DS that the series exploded into the mainstream. It found the perfect balance of dramatic storytelling, tense strategic gameplay, and lovable characters we were expected to form meaningful bonds with. It was also when the series threw aside any pretence and was no longer afraid to express its hornier side. All of these anime boys and girls are cute, and that’s totally okay. I still find the ancient dragon who looks like a small child but is secretly old a bit sus though. Nonce vibes.

Being able to build concrete relationships with characters and see that develop with distinct storylines and conversations that would have a huge influence over the coming narrative was the main appeal, even beyond the tense turn-based battles and morbid focus on permadeath. Awakening, Conquest, and Birthright all carved that path forward on the 3DS, and Three Houses introduced it to an even bigger audience on home consoles years later.

It’s a fantastic JRPG that arguably benefits from its more streamlined approach, taking the series and splitting it into two vast yet distinguished parts – war and smooching. That’s not really an oversimplification either to be honest. Garreg Mach Monastery is a place for Byleth to talk with her students, develop relationships through conversation, and prepare for the next story mission by doing all manner of random odd jobs. You can question the dubious nature of a student crushing on their students, but they're a similar age so it’s mostly fine.

Your usual smattering of anime archetypes are alive and well, alongside characters you will definitely want to protect and nurture alongside tall blonde knights with strong ‘step on me mommy’ energy. Three Houses has something for everyone regardless of whether you pick the Black Eagles, Golden Deer, or Blue Lions. It’s three playthroughs in one, with each house having a narrative and characters that differentiate themselves enough from the wider picture that there are so many reasons for repeat visits. It’s incredible, and that’s without even mentioning the timeskip that sees our favourite personalities grow older and change allegiances as playful skirmishes morph into fatal bouts of very real warfare.

I’ve shed tears at this game, forced to make difficult decisions as I drew my sword against those I once saw as allies. I stood by Edelgard even as she sat on the throne and teased genocide, believing it to be the right decision even if it means turning her back on those she once loved. I am a very good girlfriend so of course I went along with it. She slay and I obey. But the real victory of Three Houses arguably isn’t the game itself, but the fandom that has formed around it and continues to ascend new heights.

Even today, I can scroll down my timeline or pop into a discord server to see fans talking about their favourite pairings, or revisiting conversations with specific characters that left an impact on them. Wherever you look, there’s heated discussion, adorable fanart, and nuanced fanfiction better written than the game itself. Few titles in recent memory have commanded that level of cultural relevance at launch, let alone three years later.

Granted the recent release of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes has ignited interest once again, but I don’t think that passion ever went away. It was just naturally restrained due to the lack of new content accompanied by the wait for a new entry in the series. It’s coming, but goodness me I hope the character design has changed since the leaks, because I don’t want to walk around chatting to cute gamers looking like the American Flag. I ain’t no patriot.

But please can you first remaster all the 3DS entries and bring them to Switch. I’m serious, my family needs them to survive.

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