Why Three Houses Actually Sucks

#1

Why Three Houses Actually Sucks:
AKA Hype Trains are a Stinky Load

Before I begin my analysis I’d like to preface by saying you are allowed to enjoy things just as much as I am allowed to call them crappy. In fact I would say I enjoyed my time playing through Three Houses as the atmosphere and writing (and especially music) were all well presented. But this post is about game design; specifically, Fire Emblem design, and if that’s not something you care about, just ignore this post entirely I guess.

WARNING: Minor Spoilers.

The Monastery

This is a near brand new element to the series, and while you can compare to my castle I personally viewed it as different enough to call it new. The problems with the game begin right here. It’s nice to explore and look around the first time, sure, but after a while, you wonder “why can’t this just be a menu?”. Especially stacked onto another new element to the series - long load times - the Monastery can be rather dreadful escpecially if you plan to play the game more than one time over. Whereas in previous Fire Emblem games you can just mash start if you don’t want to read the story and just play Fire Emblem, there are many mandatory runs around the Monastery through the course of the game, some taking more than 5 or so minutes. I don’t think I need to tell you why that isn’t fun, and while it’s certianly not on the level of trying to replay Persona games, I would still call it an unecessary frustration. There are also many incredibly monotonous tasks such as lost items and fishing that, while you can spend a shitload of time to gain a palpable advantage in gameplay, are just not worth going through the effort of doing.

The Class System

Closely linked to your activities in the Monastery is the shiny new class system - be whatever class you like, use whatever weapon you like! …Yeah, right. First and foremost, the class balance is godawful. If you take a couple of minutes to look at class stats, this is pretty inarguable. Wyverns have not only flying mounted high move, but class stats are nearly identical across classes - remind me why Wyvern Lord needs an equal speed growth bonus to War Master? Their original weak point, bows, have been removed as dismount is a free action so there is very little disincentive to just dismount near archers (you lose a few move for one turn - not even enough to have had less mvoe than foot units overall). On the topic, movement is very polarizing. Mages get royally boned the whole game through until you can reach mounted mages at master level. Which is what I want to say, but they actually lose out on stats to such an extreme degree that +3 movement is somehow arguable against. Knights are just entirely useless with 4 move and pitiful speed, per usual. Essentially the only classes worth being are anything mounted or a mage, as class stat bonuses are so incredibly negligible and no class skill comes close to the usefulness of canto and movement bonus. You may argue Stride makes foot units more useful and, while true, is not an actual point of arguement - as mounted units not only still have higher move but make better use of the bonus because of canto. Also, for a system primarily concerned with making whoever whatever class you like, there sure are a lot of arbitrary gender restrictions. Mastery Skills, the intended mechanic to encourage class swapping, are nigh unobtainable without grinding except the base class’ HP + 5. Because you can use “any weapon type” and class bonuses are so small, promotion loses much of it’s sense of progression. You rarely get new weapon ranks (only if you go from nonmagic to magic). Your current weapon ranks don’t go up. You maybe gain +1 or +2 in a few stats. The most important aspect of promotion is getting, surprise, more movement. The class progression is also nonsense, with some classes having no clear upgrade, especially along the lines of Master classes, which is only further incentive to just hardline everyone into mounted classes and call it a day.

The Weapon System

Originally I was going to add this to class system as one topic but I realized I’d like to go into more detail. I’m sure to many, using any weapon you want was a nice selling point, since it sounds amusing. In practice however it’s - and yes I say this a lot - useless. First of all, there’s no weapon triangle. This alone means there is no purpose in having more than one weapon type. The list of exclusive weapon effects is very thin. There is also no innate weapon rank bonus. You need to equip it via a skill. That means if you want reasonable hit rate with a weapon, it costs a skill slot. Granted, as I stated before, skill slots are hard to fill since mastery skills are nigh unobtainable in nogrind - but it is actively designed against you using many weapon types at once. Generally the weapons worth using are axes, because they have high mt and are the Wyverns weapon of choice, and bows, because Bow Knights get one to four attack range. In addition, magic is handled very clumsily. Magic learn lists ensure exclusivety to spells, which means there is no variance whatsoever to your mage’s inventories save equip items. Black and Dark magic (which are already horribly named) have no right or reason to both exist at the same time, being virtually identical. Dark Magic seems to occasionally have minor inconsqeuntial stat debuffs. The real effect of the split seems to be taking a class skill slot on Gremory. Hubert is the only male mage to learn any dark spells and thus the only logical canditate for Dark Mage - not that it matters because they are statistically identical to regular mages (except mages getting +5chr growth). White magic is lumped together of staves and light magic, which would be fine if not for the curiosity that white magic range +1 does not increase healing range.

Map Design and Recycled Content

To sum up the map design is not difficult - I only need draw comparison to FE2, 4 and 13. Maps are generally huge, way larger than there is any right to be. This is most evidenced in the chapter with Miklan, where it is too early to have a notable amount of mounted units, and you must progress with nothing but infantry and stride. If you’re curious as to why I expressed such high sentiment towards high move, that would be it. Terrain is generally boring, with large swathes of forests clumped together towards sides of the map. The only aspect I can praise is that they were intelligent enough to add meaningful side objectives to most maps. This is, however, diminished by the main objective always being defeat boss. The existance of Divine Pulse as a rewind feature also seems to have shifted design focus to bad places, with the existance of many poorly or non-communicated surprises under the pretense that “you can just rewind”, examples including fighting Hubert in Enbarr (surprise falocknights from behind) and Petra and Bernadetta’s paralogue (surprise falcoknights and assassins while you are in a dense forest).
The game also suffers from heavy recycling of content. Not only are the different routes extremely similar (being identical for the first half of the game that you need to play independantly for each route) but many maps are just outright reused and repurposed. Marianne’s paralogue for example is the same map as Petra and Bernadetta’s paralogue. For a game that advertises three routes, you would expect more replayability but you will instead find yourself playing the exact same maps you had the first time.

Conclusion

Overall, I feel like they had no idea what they were supposed to be designing or balancing around, and just threw in features willy-nilly because it seemed cool. Many maps have awkward trigger spawns that you can get turn one using stride and mounts or fliers. Many maps have crappy surprise spawns that force the use of Divine Pulse. The class balance is essentially nonexistant. The weapon system is out of whack, especially in the abscence of weapon triangle to create weapon disadvantages.
Thanks for reading, and I’d like to hear your own thoughts or counterarguments below.

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#2

Three Houses is one of my top 4 or 5 Fire Emblem games I’ve played yet I agree wholeheartedly.
The game is janky and woefully unbalanced.

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#3

I’d like to piggyback this to mention just how dirty Gauntlets are done. Did the idea of a very weak brave weapon seem pretty cool to you? Well, if you read over the class system, you’d find that things get limited in their use very quickly. The two powerful traits in this game are Mounts and Magic. But if you have either, you can’t use gauntlets! Oh, but that isn’t all. Are you female, and not the main character? Then congrats, you can never opt into a class with a bonus in gauntlet use! So that basically restricts gauntlets to Swordmasters, Warriors, and Fortress Knights if you’re a girl. At least guys get War Master but… why use that class when wyverns exist? The single instance when, in theory, gauntlets are decent is if you’re using the Enlightened One class, but oh no, it’s exclusive to your main character, and training them is completely unrewarded when you get your busted sword.

Also, for whatever reason, Dancers of all things can use gauntlets and magic together. Good luck making one of those into a good combat unit though

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#4

Hoo boy. To think they would stray away from the fuckery that is the gacha… No, they made it worse.

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#5

I found it humorous that Dancer is the only 6 move mage option that isn’t Byleth exclusive.

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#6

ok but like you can defeat the CEO of racism so game design 10/10 bad post triggered

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#7

Guess I’ll make some quick rebuttals. I don’t disagree with everything but some of these things are just statements and others don’t gel with the game I’ve played.

Re: Monastery - This just feels like “it’s different to the core gameplay of FE so I don’t like it.” This really seems like a subjective thing and the activities in the Monastery provide a lot of extra character that you wouldn’t have seen before. You see a lot of unique information come up in monastery talks that you wouldn’t see elsewhere, contributing to plot/character writing. It’s fair to dislike it but removing it would mean a gap in the writing that would need to be made up elsewhere.

Re: Class System - I agree there’s a lack of balance but pretty much every Fire Emblem game has had this issue and we’ve had this since reclassing (except FE12, I guess but I don’t like playing it that much). Awakening had Dark Flyers, Fates had Wyverns, SD had Draco’s. This isn’t a new problem, it just didn’t fix new one’s. You still have an opportunity cost in getting someone to Wyvern since you need to spend time on your instruction to get them the flying/axe ranks to go into Wyvern Rider even if it’s honestly easier than it should be. Flyers also have limited battalion options which means you’re going to either run into shortages or be using weaker battalions if you make that much of your army into flyers.

Nearly forgot this but getting into classes for faire’s/canto’s is also big. You state canto as a reason to go into a class but then say there’s no progression? What about going Soldier > Cavalier or Brigand > Wyvern?

Yeah, I don’t have the numbers here but Fiendish/Death Blow are two common reasons to go Mage/Brigand that I’ve seen floating around. I did this on a raw NG, not NG+ too. From my experience, I disagree with this statement, you got any numbers?

Re: Weapon System - I’m… not sure why you’re still clinging to the weapon triangle, in all honesty. If your argument is that it hurts weapon diversity, well, there’s the allocation/forging of weapons to handle. You only get/make so many braves and other rare weapons like relic/magic weapons so handing them out properly, according to the weapons people use is important. The Prowess skills only give +10 Hit at max rank so saying you need them for a reasonable hit rate is confusing as all hell.

I’m going to leave it at that since I feel like a lot of this is an unwillingness to engage with new systems. This game was always going to have issues from the radical changes they were implementing and while they could have done balance better, FE needs to be bold in making these changes. The monastery was not perfect and the quick move could’ve been done better but it was interesting.

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#8
spoilers

the only actually long one is when flayn gets kidnapped and you have to go talk to a million people to gather information. every other mandatory quest involves talking to at most three people. the jeralt one, for example, seems like you have to go run around and talk to a ton of people, but you can actually skip all of them and go straight to the graveyard after talking to whoever gives you the quest.

EDIT: I guess there’s also that one where you need to go find out why people want to assassinate rhea.

then don’t do them? i don’t really see why “extra gameplay features” is a negative here, especially since they’re minor at best

you can basically skip the monastery portions if you really don’t care. i agree that load times and walking times are a factor, but not nearly to the degree that you make them out to be

i’m in agreement that being locked to 4 move the entire game is god awful, but honestly enemy res is pitiful and fiendish blow is broken; the riding magic classes are incredibly powerful and not even that difficult to get to

i only found this to be true if you’re promoting immediately, which i honestly don’t think was the intention. as you say, the only benefit to promoting is +1 movement for many classes, but (this especiallly goes for the beginner and intermediate classes) it isn’t the end of the world to wait a bit longer and get your bonus. for that matter, unless you’re going to be a holy/dark knight, i’d argue there isn’t much reason not to spend the rest of the game in an advanced class, at least on your first run – master classes aren’t really worth it outside of the mage knights and arguably wyvern lord.

death blow and fiendish blow are the two obvious counterexamples

there are also passives, but i’m in agreement that canto is worth way more than that

you need like 60 skill points to get beginner class skills, and you get like +2 per combat. are you telling me that you can’t be bothered to put your units through 30 combats? your enemy phase units should get that easily. intermediate and especially advanced/master classes will have a harder problem with this, but in the majority of cases if you wait a bit longer to promote it’s basically fine. i’d rather have death blow than +1 movement a chapter earlier, for example.

this line of reasoning doesn’t make any sense to me. “most classes have no obvious progression, so everyone should take the obvious wyvern/peg/horse progression”? i’d argue that the class tree is actually very well defined until you hit master classes (look at the skill level requirements)

you’re making a bunch of generally confusing points here. you mention that the best reason to class up is for +1 move, but in a bunch of cases it’s better to get the class skill than get +1 move immediately (off the top of my head: death blow, fiendish blow, reposition, shove). OR, if all you care about is strictly low turning, then your class choice literally doesn’t matter past like chapter 4 because by then you can have lysithea at warp (or linhardt).

one last thing you don’t mention at all is that mage classes and mounted classes generally don’t get to use fists, which are by far the highest DPS weapon type basically forever. mages outside of enlightened one just don’t get them, and mounted classes only get to use them every other turn (you can’t mount->move->dismount in the same turn).

weapon weight

i’d rather deal 8x4 than 12 damage once. this goes back to why mounted units aren’t the be-all-end-all. the vast majority of physical units have high enough strength that fists are the best option against 80% of enemies.

this is true for offensive mages, but this is strictly false for healers. lysithea and linhardt both learn warp, which already puts them head and shoulders above basically the entire rest of the cast (manuela too, I guess). it also incentivises you to use your utility spells with abandon instead of saving them all game (warping a shorter range one or two times per map is way better than getting to warp a long way like, 5 times in the entire game).

neither of these cases are unreactable except in the extreme case. the game is actually the kindest about reinforcements the series has ever been, which is “spawn on enemy phase but don’t move until next enemy phase” (spawning on player phase makes your rout missions last longer, spawning and moving on enemy phase is highkey bullshit).

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#9

I also disagree a bit on the monastery part. Almost everything there is beneficial to you in some way. Fishing gives dining hall material, money, and sell-able fish that can give even more money! The dining hall is an easy way to boost stats temporarily and motivate your students for the next session. Arena gives items and more money. Gardening is probably the most abusable thing in the monastery cause stat boosters every week lol. The monastery is only required in like the first 3 months and like two other times IIRC. I can’t really see how it is

The minimum you can do in the monastery takes a few minutes and doesn’t really subtract from the game at all honestly. I second what Mystic said as well.

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#10

These are all valid critiques, and it speaks to the larger issue with modern Fire Emblem design, as well as general game design trends. I think central to this, is the fundamental shift of the expectation that the player will let their units die versus resetting every time. This manifests itself in smaller cast sizes, greater emphasis on support building, the inclusion of a rewind feature, and most importantly, customization.

Customization is what I like to rag on as an old school FE fan, because generally the more IS leans into customization, the less they lean into map design, and thus the balance falls out of whack as there are more options to consider.

In a game like FE6, it’s much easier for the devs to balance out the maps and the enemies, because barring getting blessed or screwed statwise (which would have pretty minimal variance anyway), the devs can plan pretty well for what the player will have at that point, and give them an appropriate challenge. The options the player has comes from which units they choose to deploy out of a select group. Optimizing your army has a certain upper limit, because you only have so many high move or generally strong units (as well as promo items for each of them)

In a game like FE16, it is harder or devs to balance out maps and the enemies, because you can basically do whatever you want. The limitations imposed by the linearity of older games goes out the window with:

  1. Literal farming for statboosters
  2. Picking any class for a unit (wyvern army)
  3. The ability to grind on auxiliary maps
  4. Easily repairing weapons, making resource management less of an issue.

Instead of replayability coming from using different units, it’s shifted towards using the same units in different ways, which is a subtle, but notable shift in philosophy imo. IS wants you to get attached to characters and have fun using the same character in 12 different ways, versus giving you 12 characters that can each do 1 thing. Personally, I’m not into that and would rather try to figure out “alright, how can I make Hicks actually work in the context of my army” versus “let me fix Lorenz by making him a wyvern lord and feeding him statboosters.”

I’ve rambled on a lot and could prob continue ranting, but I think modern FE would rather say “here’s a fun system for you to mess around with in a sandbox” versus “here are a series of puzzles for you to solve with these limitations”. Not to say the latter is untrue now, but certainly more of a guiding philosophy in older titles than it is now.

I do enjoy Three Houses and would probably rank it in my upper half of FE titles that I’ve played, but that’s mostly for its merits in character writing and music. Map design and difficulty are both pretty weak overall imo.

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#11

why is this inherently bad, if the fights are otherwise completely different? i agree that it’s lazy, but i hardly think that this is bad design.

(not to say that there aren’t completelly recycled fights – the big battle in the trailer is basically the same thing twice, but i’ll forgive that one because it’s thematic)

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#12

I think everyone’s got some legitimate points here. Although I would say my largest gripes with the game’s balance is how much the maps are destroyed by varying combinations of warp/stride/fliers/rescue/dance. Particularly with the fact that most maps are kill boss, it reeks of Shadoe Dragon with its broken Warp. Unless map objectives are changed in future difficulties, the only way to really have any challenge in the game is to use self imposed restrictions on what tools are given to you.

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#13

I think it’s fine gameplay wise for a few maps, as Petra’s and Marianne’s play out completely differently but it is quite jarring narratively when the audience is expected to believe that the same map is both an island in Brigid and a woodlands in Leicester. All the more jarring too when Brigid is described as tropical.

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#14

I don’t mean it should be removed entirely. As I stated, “why can’t this just be a menu?”. The option to just use a menu instead.

I don’t think “it’s always been bad” is a good excuse, and in this sense you’re in a scenario where anyone can be anything. I can’t say “well X is a good unit even though they’re not in X class” because I can just move them over. The battalions is a fair argument but I don’t think that’s a major enough disincentive.

The higher leveled prowress skills were +15, no? And again, the argument isn’t that they are unusable, rather that the incentive to use different types isn’t there. I can agree that it may be useful to train ranks to use legendary weapons but characters with those weapons generally have the ranks anyways.

I do appreciate the attempt at change but there was definitely a lot of thoughtlessness expressed while making the changes.

This is true, though I find the system of sticking in classes since stat boosts don’t matter and you want masteries instead… odd?

I should have been more clear here - I strictly meant passive class skills.

I actually had no idea you could use fists while dismounted. That’s rather interesting.

Also me being unclear - I meant the specific unit’s inventories. For example, in other FEs I could, say, remove restore if I don’t need for a chapter and give the unit a physic staff instead. In this case there is no planning for inventories of magic units, they just have what they have.

Highly disagree, and I was forced to reset on both occasions listed as there was no forewarning and even with a turn in advance to attack the fliers were able to merc my units with no feasible counterplay (believe me, with a swathe of divine pulses I tried).

#15

does it make it bad map design if you’re just bad? i never had trouble with this; a group of like 4-6 units should be able to take them with iron bows

not to mention that you have th eoption of just blitzing hubert on that turn instead

your mileage may vary but i’ve never had to reset a map due to ambush reinforcements or go more than like, a single turn back

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#16

I mean, if leaving my healer in an inconvenient location because they use stride and are stuck on 4 move counts as being bad, then I guess so. I’m generally not playing around the assumption that enemies with twice my move range will suddenly appear behind me.

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#17

doesn’t matter if you end the map on that turn, lol

for that matter i’d argue that leaving your stride user in the back is also bad practice, because that means that you can’t use that stride a second time

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#18

Stride is bad for Fire Emblem.

Gambits are too.

They’re fun, but silly.

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#19

naming a topic with such a polarizing opinion was a mistake

but i’m not wasting my time typing out a long response because most of my points were already hit previously

point of my response is to say maybe don’t lead with “what you guys seem to like sucks because I don’t like it”, because that’s kind of… stupid?

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#20

Gotta have provocative titles tho

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