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.
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.
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.