4 Years Ago, a Swoonworthy Epic Revived a Classic Game Genre

More ships than the Spanish Armada.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Tactical RPGs have long been a niche genre, complex experiences that primarily appeal to those with time and patience to spare. Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series has been a key part of changing that idea over the years, with all of its efforts over the years culminating in the 2019 smash-hit Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game that completely redefined and reinvigorated the genre.

Three Houses weaves an intricate tale that plays out over three routes, complete with highly memorable characters and Persona-esque dating elements. The experiment introduced millions of new fans to both Fire Emblem and tactical RPGs more broadly.

Three Houses takes place in the land of Fodlan, and much like the rest of the series featured a narrative that largely revolves around the conflict between rival nations. You play as Byleth, the child of a famous mercenary, hired to be a professor at the famous military academy of Garreg Mach Monastery.

Three Houses tells a dramatic story split across two time periods, playing with the emotional attachments you build to characters.


There have been plenty of RPG series that simulate school life, most famously Persona, but the experience of being a teacher is something not often explored. That’s the unique spark that Three Houses uses to launch its entire experience, tasking you with teaching the bright young minds of Fodlan, and cultivating their skills.

It’s the perfect setup for a tactical RPG, giving you narrative context for leveling up units and expanding their skillsets. What makes Three Houses shine are its well-written and downright lovable students.

When you reach Garreg Mach, you’ll have to choose between three different houses; Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and Golden Deer. Each one has a dramatically different story and personality. The Black Eagles are a well-to-do class made up of nobles and mages, the Blue Lions are a melee-focused class of honorable knights, and the Golden Deer are an amalgamation of genuine weirdos, which easily makes them the best house.

Three Houses’ school and free time system is an ingenious addition to Fire Emblem, making the world and story feel dynamic and rich.


The gameplay of Three Houses has two halves, battles and free time. Between battlefield showdowns, you’ll be free to explore Garreg Mach and interact with students and faculty, engaging in activities like cooking meals, fishing, singing in the choir, and even relaxing in the spa. As you interact with your units, you’ll rank up your support level, leading to combat bonuses and new conversations at each rank.

Three Houses’ school system quickly builds attachment to the students and faculty. Almost everyone is immediately likable, from the sly and devious Claude to the meek and constantly terrified Bernadetta. Characters all fall into fairly typical archetypes to start with, but there are some genuinely great arcs and development that play out. Romance is a big part of the game as well, as nearly every playable unit can be romanced, and eventually married. The Three Houses cast turned out to be so popular that it spawned a vibrant fan art community, which remains active even now.

Past all the characters and story elements, Three Houses makes the series’ tactical gameplay more expansive and approachable than ever before. A new battalion system makes battles feel epic in scale with dozens of soldiers fighting in each encounter.

The battalion system makes each battle feel grand in scale, even if you’re ultimately controlling only a few units.


Scalable difficulty helps fine-tune things for players of all skill levels, and Three Houses makes sure to provide plenty of options for building robust strategies. All that free time and development during school also ties directly into combat, giving you a wealth of classes to choose from and lectures that can help you raise specific skills for students.

Three Houses took a huge chance by drastically changing the formula of the Fire Emblem franchise, integrating social simulation elements in a fascinating way. The tried and true tactical gameplay is still alive and well, but Three Houses feels so much more narratively rich than anything that came before. It’s likely even the development team didn’t foresee the massive popularity of the game, as fan response ended up making it the best-selling tactical RPG of all time, and led to the spinoff Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes.

Even after four years, Three Houses remains one of the very best games on Nintendo Switch and has undoubtedly changed Fire Emblem forever.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is available now for Nintendo Switch.

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