I can’t think of a game in recent memory that’s genuinely surprised me quite like Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It’s gone from a game that was the furthest thing from my radar when it was announced, to being a real contender for my personal game of the year. It’s also a game that I may need to apologize for a bit, because after years of dunking on Fire Emblem and its horny AF fandom, I think I may have finally come around to see what makes this series somewhat special.
I should be clear; this is not my first Fire Emblem. I got into it when Nintendo started releasing the GBA titles in the west, and had a blast coming up with strategies that didn’t get my units permanently killed. Yet it only really existed as a portable series for me, I didn’t own a Gamecube or Wii when they were new, so I missed out on the last two home console entries.
Where I got lost was Fire Emblem: Awakening. I don’t recall what exactly happened to make me dislike that game, and later on, the series. Perhaps it was developer Intelligent Systems leaning a bit too hard into the weird anime harem aspects, with the writing taking a massive hit in quality as a result. Perhaps it was the look and feel. I genuinely can’t recall, but Awakening didn’t do it for me the same way it did for many other people.
What happened next was Intelligent Systems putting all their energies into making nothing but Fire Emblem games. Series like Advance Wars died, and others such as WarioWare, Rhythm Heaven and Paper Mario fell by the wayside. It felt like a creative brain drain so those with a lust for anime relationships could have their fill, and despite some solid recommendations to check out Fire Emblem Echoes, I sincerely didn’t want to give the series the time of day.
None of that explains why I decided to take the punt on Three Houses. Aside from realizing it’d probably make for a great Nintendo Switch game to play whilst traveling, and the zeitgeist proved really strong, it was actually our own review that really pushed me over the edge and give the game a red-hot go. I haven’t looked back since.
While I’ve been enjoying the game a great deal, there’s a particularly big question that comes to mind as I keep playing: had I been wrong on this series the whole time? While Three Houses is a bit of an anomaly for the series in terms of general gameplay and mechanics, which I think helps as to why I like it, the question of why I wrote the series off for so long keeps coming up. Despite being so sure I knew why I hated that series; I keep doubting my answers. Enough that I want to dig out my 3DS and give Fire Emblem Awakening another go.
I cannot think of a game series where one particular entry completely made me rethink my entire stance of a series so drastically. There have certainly been series with entries that fluctuate in quality (Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed) but nothing that has shaken my actual belief that Fire Emblem was a bad franchise quite like Three Houses has.
If that’s not a Game of the Year contender, I don’t know what is.
When not spending too long looking at Fire Emblem: Three Houses fancomics and fanart, Jamie can be reached at @jamiemgalea on Twitter and most other social platforms.