Fire Emblem: Three Houses was released in 2019 exclusively for the Nintendo Switch console and was created by Japanese company Intilligent Systems, which has been working on the Fire Emblem series since the very first game, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. The entire series is a tactical RPG genre that focuses on making calculated decisions during combat. FE:3H is the sixteenth game in the series and the third to which a number of users attribute the concept of a “dating simulator”. Why does a game designed to be a serious military strategy, covering the themes of religion, war, Nazism, racism, get such a description that is so far from war?
The Fire Emblem series pioneered the TRPG (tactical role-playing game) genre, and its combat system draws heavily on the tradition of strategic computer games. The main difference here is that if a unit in a strategy game is most likely a consumable or cannon fodder that is easy to replace, then in FE units are not only a combat unit, but also a character to which the player can become attached. This is what makes FE more than just a tactical game — the presence of RPG elements. For example, the game allows you to play the main character within the framework of a minimal departure from the canonical image, and also makes a serious emphasis on the story and characters. FE is also known for its permanent death mechanic for combat units, however, it has become optional in recent games. Many longtime fans of the series would say that Fire Emblem is not Fire Emblem without permanent death, however, with the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening, it was noticed that many players did not allow their gameplay to be affected by permanent death — they simply reload the save. If any important player character dies, the players do not want to lose him for good. The backtrack from permanent death in a series can also be explained by the fact that the games with their development have become more global and require more hours to complete, which explains the reluctance of players to lose an important unit, but in my opinion the main reason lies elsewhere.
The core gameplay of FE has evolved throughout the series and is now far away from the legacy of strategy games. Many changes were made in order to make the game more accessible to players: in addition to introducing the Casual Mode where there is no permanent death, the entire focus of the series has been transferred to the characters and the story. Now the game is trying with all its might to make the player fall in love with its characters and interest in a versatile story. FE:3H has incredible potential for replayability, and the game’s storyline will differ in key moments across at least 4 different branches. This allows you to get to know as many characters as possible. Also, most of the non-combat mechanics are aimed at communicating with the characters, at building relationships with them and between them. Particularly good for the player’s affection, in my opinion, is the mechanics of mentoring — the main character is a professor at the officers’ academy and personally trains students, who are considered as combat units as well as their coach themselves. Seeing how throughout the game your students develop, improve their skills and learn new things, the player will certainly feel a somewhat connection with them. And this is where the line comes after which players began to call FE a dating simulator.
The romance between the characters was first introduced in Fire Emblem: Awakening. In it, players were allowed not only to find a pair for their character, but also to create couples between other characters. In FE:A, one could even meet the children of the protagonist and his partner. The reaction from players to this innovation has been overwhelmingly positive, with FE:A receiving high critical acclaim and selling well. The developers continued to explore this mechanic in the next game of the series — Fire Emblem: Fates. In FE:3H, romantic relationships have become less obvious, possibly because of the apparent problematic nature of romantic relationships between former teacher and students. Now the player is allowed to develop relationships with several candidates for a long time (for this there are mechanics of tea drinking, gifts, lost items returning, elements of dialog options, etc.), and offer their hand and heart only at the very end of the game, before the final battle. Thereafter, the player’s character will propose to the selected partner. At the same time, the system of relations between other units has become more realistic — now no one obeys a simple decision of the player — it all depends on the level of relations between the characters, which increases in battle if two units are next to each other and support each other. For instance, the enemy was about to attack unit A, and unit B killed this enemy and thus saved unit A. The player can watch the development of relations between units, including the protagonist, through the support system — this is a set of short cutscenes showing moments from the life of the characters. Some of the A-supports (the highest level between regular units) have a certain romantic overtones, though, nothing is said directly and it cannot be obviously said that these characters are in a relationship, since A-supports can be opened with each of the characters. After the end of the game, some characters will pair up and this will be called a paired ending — some of them will get married, others will become a pair of traveling knights, others will be the king and his bodyguard. At the same time, heterosexual relationships are directly romantic, while any homosexual couples will be formulated in such a way as to bypass the slippery topic and not deliver any discomfort to the mainstream audience by representing LGBT people. One way or another, homosexual endings make up a certain message that these characters are somehow in a serious relationship and care a lot about each other. You can also notice that the background images for the heterosexual S-supports with male and female protagonists somewhat differ. The fact is that the latter usually depict the heroine herself with her chosen one, while the former mostly portray only their chosen one, while the main male character remains as impersonal as possible. In my opinion, this is done so that male heterosexual audience can associate themselves with the main character more deeply, which is a known way of Japanese storytelling. In other cases, the main character is not shown at all either due to the possibility of romance with both sexes, or this opportunity was cut out by the developers at some point.
This is not to say that romantic relationships are one of the main mechanics of the game. For the most part, the storyline and combat system takes a much more serious niche in making FE:3H a game that a lot of people love. I think some of the emphasis on its romantic mechanics has more to do with what the players focus on when choosing games. Apparently, romanсу options may be considered of great importance to modern players.
Thus, FE:3H brought together the experiences of FE: A and FE: F, building a more realistic system of romance between the characters. With this, it attracted a larger number of players who are interested not so much in the combat system as in interesting characters and the relationship between him. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a serious game with a thoughtful tale of wartime horrors and man in war.
Its characters have experienced incredibly traumatic events in the past, leading them to certain future choices and FE:3H explains their possibly dubious actions with full responsibility. But in any war there is a place for friendship, support and love, which is perfectly shown by FE:3H. The game skillfully combines a gripping combat system, a deep, versatile storyline and dating sim elements. Such a description does not detract from the achievements of the game and only increases interest in it. This is both a great turn-based tactical game and a dating simulator at minimum wages.