I first encountered Fire Emblem thanks to Marth in Super Smash Bros melee. I thought he was cool and wanted to know what game he was from. At the time, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was just about to come out, so I added that game to my next holiday list and before too long was leading the Greil Mercenaries against the forces of Daein. I loved the game and made sure to keep my eyes open for any new entries in the series. As I played more Fire Emblem titles, the strategy game moved up my list from “cool new thing I found” to “one of my favorite series.” I’m still a huge fan, so last year when Fire Emblem Switch was announced for a 2018 release, my hype levels went through the roof.
You can imagine my disappointment when the Spring 2019 release date appeared in the Three Houses trailer. It was a rough moment for me, but I agree a lot with the philsophy of Shigeru Miyamoto – a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is bad forever. If they need more time, I’m cool with it, and no Fire Emblem this year means I have more time to spend on the other Switch titles I’m excited about. In the meantime, though, I do want to learn as much as I can about Three Houses by digging through the trailer for clues about the game.
If you missed the trailer for the new Fire Emblem during the Nintendo Direct at E3 last week, you can check it out here on Nintendo’s YouTube channel. I recommend watching it to help give you context for the various things I’ll be saying in the article, as I’m gonna do my best to break it down piece by piece.
We start off with a monologue by a woman over a map of the game world. The cursive script is a bit tough for me to read overlaid on top of the map the way it is, but the three kingdoms visible on the map seem to be called Adraetea, Fergus, and Beicester (if you’re able to read these better than me, let me know what names you see in the comments!). I’d say it’s safe to assume that these are the three houses referenced by the game’s title. A mountain range seems to separate Fergus pretty decisively from the other two kingdoms. As we look at the map, the woman explains to us that something called the divine Tseros received a revelation from the goddess – whether “Tseros” refers to a person or a class of people or even a creature, we don’t get much insight.
This revelation is described as “a gift to guide the lost,” and the woman continues her explanation by saying that the goddess now watches over Fodlin (again, I may be misspelling all of these things) – perhaps the name of the continent on which the three houses exist? The goddess is described as the mother of all life and the arbiter of every soul as creepy chanting builds in the background – definitely no negative foreshadowing about the nature of the goddess happening here, no sirree! As this story is told, we get some flashes to a war scene featuring a blonde woman wearing white standing in the midst of the battle. She seems to be the target of some pretty scary dudes, but her look is intense and focused – we’re gonna see more of her throughout the trailer.
After we get the title of the game, we start to see some gameplay in action. A group of characters ringed in blue stand a squares away from a few figures ringed in red. For those who have played Radiant Dawn, the art style here will look quite familiar – this titles resembles both Radiance games much more than it does titles like Awakening or even Echoes. Interestingly, the characters on the blue team (indicating the good guys) seem to primarily be garbed in black while the red team (generally the villains) are garbed in white. Since white is typically used in Fire Emblem to denote characters with religious power like monks and bishops, this could suggest that we might be fighting a corrupt religious authority in this game.
There are lots of familiar features here. The cursor hovering over the forest tells us that standing there gives a +10 avoid bonus, and veteran players will be used to this added protection in the woods. What we aren’t able to see is if a defense boost is also granted like it is in many of the other Fire Emblem titles – it could simply not be displayed, but it might be that the defensive advantage of trees has been lessened somewhat. At any rate, the cursor moves towards the party and we start to get a look at how moving works.
We get a few interesting details here. First off, this young woman’s name is Edelgard – we’ll see her plenty more throughout the trailer, so get to know her. We can see her movement range and attack range here as per usual, and not visible in this snip is the fact that her weapon is a steel axe; not too often that we get a female axe wielder, so that’s a cool touch. There are two other interesting things of note, here: one thing we do see and another thing we don’t see.
Notice those red lines arching from the enemy units to Edelgard the one other character in her party? Do those lines mean that the enemy is planning to target those units? If they do, this gives an interesting element of strategy here – Edelgard might choose her target based on which ally the foes plan to pursue. Does she attack someone who wants to take her out, or does she protect an ally by attacking the enemy on the far right? After her turn is executed, will the enemy attacks patterns change? This is a subtle but interesting addition to the game.
What we don’t see here is anything indicating that Edelgard might be able to interact with her allies on the field. In both Awakening and Fates, a core component of the gameplay is the ability to pair up with allies for a boost in strength/defense and to increase your support rank with one another. Since we don’t see anything special that might indicate the ability for Edelgard to pair with someone, I have to ask: are we seeing a Fire Emblem title with no pairing mechanics this time around? Right now we don’t have any proof either way – neither Awakening nor Fates had any kind of special indicator in the movement range for pairing opportunities. Which is to say, it’s too soon to tell whether or not pairing is an option.
Once Edelgard chooses a target and moves in for her attack, we see the combat menu for the first time. There are plenty of familiar options here, but some are not so familiar. Attack, Equip, Items, and Wait make sense and are series staples. Formation could reference something similar to Orders from the Radiance series, being an option for giving your other party members directions without having to directly choose the path for each and every one. We’ll discuss that one more later, though. What’s really interesting here are the options for Magic and Combat Arts.
If your experience is primarily with Awakening and Fates, the magic option in particular probably seems quite out of place. Magic is just another form of attacking – when you select attack, you just use a magic tome instead of a weapon and you’re using magic. Why have a separate option for it? If you’ve played Echoes, then you know that magic was a separate option from attacking because using spells didn’t work like using a weapon. Magic spells costs health points to cast, but had potent destructive power or healing ability. Is it possible that magic in this game works like Echoes, where characters with magical ability have a different selection of spells based on class and level? Does casting spells cost HP in this game as well? We’ll have to keep an eye open for that later.
Combat Arts also suggests a connection to Echoes. In Echoes, many weapons had unlockable skills that a character could use after using that weapon in battle enough times. Many of these skills, like spells, cost HP to use, but have beneficial effects such as special damage, guaranteed accuracy, high critical hit rate, or making a ranged attack with a melee weapon. If this feature has made a return then it is possible that Combat Arts here refers to a weapon technique that Edelgard has learned from her Steel Axe. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see either Magic or Combat Arts in use at the moment, as Edelgard chooses to make a regular attack.
Once Edelgard chooses to attack, we see the option to select her weapon and also a breakdown of various combat stats. A few interesting points here. Edelgard’s class is aristocrat, which highly suggests that she is our Lord character for this game (think Chrom, Corrin, Marth, Ike, etc). She could very well be the game’s main character and possibly the player character, but right now we have no indication of whether player character customization is back in action. Notice that the crest here matches one of the crests on the map, marking her as an aristocrat of Adraetea. She wields swords and axes as her weapons, and something interesting about that – they all have durability. Weapon durability was a thing of the past in Fates, exchanged for each weapon having distinct advantages and disadvantages when wielded in battle. Again, we’re seeing more similarities to Echoes than to Fates here, which has some interesting implications for other aspects of the game.
I also want to take a minute to talk about that battle data window. Lots of Fire Emblem staples here like Attack, Hit, Critical, Range – all that stuff is present here and looks pretty normal. “AS” probably stands for “attack speed” and indicates Edelgard’s speed stat with the weapon she is currently wielding. But isn’t it odd for a level 3 lord to have a zero in speed? I think it more likely that we are seeing another returning weapon feature – weight. Steel axes are notoriously heavy in older Fire Emblem titles, so Edelgard likely isn’t strong enough to wield this axe with any level of speed. Durability and weight both returning as weapon stats in Three Houses? All signs right now point to a much more traditional Fire Emblem experience compared to Awakening or Fates.
I’m curious what “End” and “Rsl” signify here. They probably stand for “”endurance” and “resilience” respectively, but these aren’t normal Fire Emblem stats. They sound an awful lot like Defense and Resistance and could represent those two stats as edited by something else. Environmental factors? Armor? Unique character skills? It’s hard to say with so little information to work with. It’s also worth noting that Dodge, the stat that represents the ability to avoid a critical hit, is not visible in the battle window here. The absence of Dodge combined with the zero in the avoid stat points to something totally wild – is Luck not a stat in this game? Luck always influences critical dodge and in most of the games is added to the avoid formula for some extra points. It could just be that the avoid formula is different and that critical dodge is renamed or not displayed – I find it really hard to believe that the luck stat would be pulled from the game entirely. Still, it’s interesting to speculate about.
Now we get a look at the combat forecast and get an idea of Edelgard’s odds. They aren’t great, that’s for sure. Her opponent has a high chance to hit and will get to attack twice, probably dealing a total of 10 damage to Edelgard while she’ll inflict 11 in return if she gets lucky. The red arrow pointing at the red dot in the upper left corner seems to be the indicator of the weapon triangle disadvantage in this situation. Interestingly, Edelgard’s opponent has a name, so she’s not just some random soldier. Mercedes is a character of some significance, or possibly the boss character for this particular battle, as those characters are often named but don’t have subsequent appearances.
As this scene plays out, we hear a woman’s voice (different from the woman at the beginning of the trailer) asking to give her orders in order to prove your worth as an instructor. We’ll hear references to this idea of a teacher multiple times throughout the trailer, but in this particular moment it could possibly be referring to this battle being a training exercise. Maybe the named character Mercedes will be a member of your party and for now you’re fighting her for practice? It’s hard to say, but Edelgard manages to put the hurt on her once the battle gets going.
The transition into the battle scene is pretty smooth, and once it happens we see a lot of details added. Now because I’m snipping screenshots from the YouTube trailer, we’re not exactly gonna see this at high quality, but the grass and trees in the environment look pretty good here. But hey, who are all these dudes with Edelgard? Where the heck did they come from? These soldiers aren’t visible from the battlefield screen but they stand around every notable character on the map once you zoom in for battle. We don’t literally have just six or seven people fighting in a big empty field – there are squads of soldiers in combat against one other at the command of their leaders. As the characters fight, we see these background soldiers taking some swings at one another as well (though not nearly with as much activity and flourish as the commanders). Edelgard does manage to land her blow, but Mercedes lands her first hit as well. Before we see the second hit, though, the trailer moves to a new battle.
This battle shows off a young man named Dimitri, blond and regal with a black tunic and flowing blue cloak. Dimitri wields a lance against the enemy soldier’s sword, so he has weapon advantage and it shows. He has 100% Hit while his enemy has around 50%, and their damage potential against him is quite low. We see here that the target is just called “Kindgom Soldier,” which tells us that generic enemies won’t have names despite being “commanders” of squads (and also manages to conceal from us what kingdom this guy represents – smart). It’s possible, though, that Dimitri is from a different kingdom than Edelgard, as he wears the blue consistent with house Fergus while we already know that she is an aristocrat of Adraetea. However, we don’t get to see a crest for Dimitri at this point so it’s tough to tell anything concrete. A final note about this – it doesn’t look like Dimitri is in the group of allies with Edelgard in the other battle scene, but again it’s hard to tell for sure.
We then jump immediately to another battle scene, this one showcasing an archer named Claude. Once again we have little to work with – another kingdom soldier, more dudes in the background. We do get to see that when Claude fires off an arrow, his whole archer squad behind him also fires arrows towards the enemy, so there are quite a few raining down. It makes me wonder whether the overall status of the enemy squad is related to the condition of the captain – will most of the background soldiers die if the leader takes a lot of damage? It’s hard to say since we don’t get to see the ending of any of these battle scenes. Two notable things about Claude – he wears a yellow scarf (possibly marking him as a warrior for the third house, Beicester) but he also could be one of the characters in Edelgard’s group during that first scene, as she does have an archer with her. However, that archer doesn’t really look like Claude while Edelgard’s field model definitely looks like her battle model too, giving some indirect support to the possibility that Claude might represent another kingdom. It would make thematic sense to switch battle scenes between Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude if each of them represented one of the three houses at war.
The trailer then switches back to a cut scene, panning over a huge army of footsoldiers while a squad of pegasus knights fly above them. So, uh, pegasus knights are confirmed to return (not that anyone expected them to go away). During this scene, we can hear the young woman’s voice again – at this point I think we can safely assume that this is Edelgard speaking. She describes the world as being irrational and then states that some people believe that the crests left behind by the goddess are necessary in order to maintain order and power, but she believes this is not the case. She states that “the crests are to blame,” perhaps for the war or for the irrationality she spoke of a moment ago? As she talks, we get to see a new possible angle of the combat map that shows your strategic options in a very different way than what Fire Emblem veterans might be used to.
Fire Emblem maps are normally viewed from the top down. This angle instead gives us a view behind the ally units. We can see here the profile images of our party members as well as an interesting minimap in the bottom right. The map breaks things down not by location or terrain but movement range and weapon type. We can see Edelgard has an axe while her ally to the left carries a sword and the one to her right carries a bow (again this doesn’t look like Claude, but again, that might not mean anything at all). It also allows us to clearly see the enemy weapon types so Edelgard can plan her approach.
Interestingly, when the cursor moves to Edelgard’s ally and then selects an enemy, there’s no battle menu popping up like the one we observed before. The option to attack, cast a spell, or use a combat art doesn’t present itself. We just got straight to a combat forecast window. Is it a feature of this particular battlefield view that things are more streamlined, putting you in a more offensive mode where you’ll automatically attack an enemy that you indicate?
The character who is carrying out the attack this time is a fellow name Byleth. He’s fighting a named opponent, this one named Hilda. Hilda is an archer and Byleth carries a sword – in Fates, this would have given Byleth a weapon triangle advantage, as bows and axes are in the same category of the triangle. Here, though, it’s hard to say whether Byleth actually has an advantage. At the top left where we saw the red arrow and the dot for Edelgard earlier, we now simply see a flame icon. Does that indicate advantage or neutrality, or is this box for something else entirely? My theory right now is neutrality – we’ve seen no evidence so far of hidden weapons (part of the Fates updated weapon triangle) and one of the earlier screens suggests that magic works like Echoes rather than using tomes as a weapon class. If those weapons are out of the triangle, then there’s no point in lumping bows in with axes – they’re probably just outside of the triangle at this point.
There’s one other possibility I want to address here, a possibility that I think is raised by one other detail shown here. See how Byleth is in danger of taking damage from Hilda? That means she can counterattack him – not something that a bow can do in very many Fire Emblem titles. In most games, bows only work on ranged enemies. Guess which game that’s different in? Echoes. In Echoes, bows have an incredible range that generally runs from adjacent squares to four or five squares out. Now Echoes is missing something that is normally a staple of the Fire Emblem games: the weapon triangle. If Three Houses is taking this strongly after Echoes – combat arts, magic as a character ability rather than an expendable weapon, bows that fire at close range – it’s possible that we simply don’t have a weapon triangle. It’s hard to tell from Edelgard’s fight that I analyzed earlier because her accuracy only drops by four when she is fighting Mercedes – that number could be attributed to a weapon triangle bonus but more likely it comes from the target’s avoid stat. If the trailer shows any future battle screens, we’ll want to keep our eyes open for any clear indicator of weapon triangle bonuses. However, I do think it’s worth noting that the way the minimap displays weapon types on the screen would be kind of irrelevant if the weapon triangle didn’t exist, so that’s one point in favor of it returning for this title.
One last little note about this screen with Byleth – above his weapon select icon, there’s another box that currently says “none” where he can cycle through some options using ZL and ZR. I don’t know what that could be, but Edelgard doesn’t have it during her battle earlier in the trailer. So either this feature – whatever it is – is unique to Byleth, or the first fight happens at an early point in the game before this feature is unlocked (possibly putting some credence behind my “training exercise” theory but we still have no concrete proof in that direction).
After we watch Byleth get in a hit on Hilda, the trailer continues to follow him but in a very different scene. Rather than a battle, we see Byleth standing before a massive castle. We then see a number of scenes showing Byleth moving around the castle, exploring different locations in what clearly looks like gameplay rather than cut scenes. Now this is interesting for multiple reasons. First of all, up to this point we’ve been focusing on Edelgard, but seeing this guy moving around in an overworld-type area – totally distinct from the typical Fire Emblem combat map – suggests that Byleth is actually the player character. This also implies that he is the teacher that Edelgard keeps referring to; perhaps we’ll see more proof of that later.
The way that Byleth moves around this castle (or perhaps a cathedral, given the religious themes we’ve been seeing up to this point?) is reminiscent of the My Castle portion of Fire Emblem Fates. In Fates, time between battles was spent at a home base where you could purchase goods, interact with characters, and customize your own little castle to your heart’s content. You could move around the area freely and this definitely seems like a scaled-up version of that. We even get to see what it looks like to have a conversation with someone in this out-of-combat setting.
I think at this point the fact that Edelgard is the voice speaking during the trailer and the fact that Byleth is her teacher are both pretty clear. Here, we see him initiate a conversation with her in which she states that it must be time for her training. A moment later, the option to choose either sword training or axe training becomes available. She states that she “must hone my skills for the mock battle,” which I believe is referencing the very first battle that we see in the trailer where she is battling with Mercedes. After Byleth chooses to focus on axe training, Edelgard says that she has one question before they begin training. At that point, the trailer continues on and we see nothing more of the conversation. Whether this is something that can only be done with Edelgard as Byleth’s pupil, or if Byleth has the ability to train any character while at this castle/cathedral/base, it’s hard to say at this point.
We then see the blonde woman from the war scene earlier in the trailer, this time in a much less dangerous scenario. She is holding the pictured object with great reverence and brings it to her face, almost snuggling with it. It’s difficult to tell what exactly this is supposed to be, but it looks pretty beat up – possibly broken. It might be a significant religious icon, as this woman’s aesthetic and her portrayal in the trailer definitely scream “priestess.”
We then revisit our friend Dimitri, who has a squad of soldiers with him. What happens next is quite interesting. The soldiers are originally just milling about all around him, but they make an organized movement into this arrowhead formation, at which point a glowing arrow forms around Dimitri. This is clearly a mechanical action with some game significance – could this be what the Formation box during Edelgard’s battle is referring to? What if the formation of your squad gives you different bonuses as you go into battle against the enemy? That would be an interesting twist, as each individual character could effectively alter their stats a bit before any given battle in order to play more offensively or defensively as needed. Dimitri’s soldiers then charge forward and take out some people, at which point we then get a very short look at some mages casting fire spells towards an enemy squad. There are no stats shown during these scenes like there were in the previous battle scenes, so there’s now way to tell how the magic was selected or if it caused the caster to lose health.
Next we get a nice look at this fellow, someone who is clearly villain material. Spiky armor, fiery sword that’s also a whip, yellow eyes, red electricity crackling as he cuts down waves of soldiers – he’s definitely a bad guy. As he attacks, we hear Edelgard ask “do you dare to walk this path with me?” I certainly am having second thoughts about it as long as this dude plans on being there!
Edelgard continues to speak as more scenes go by. We see what appears to be an automaton of sorts in the style of a terracotta warrior being fired upon by Claude and his archers – again, we get no stats here so it’s difficult to identify what’s really happening. These scenes almost seem like cutscenes, yet they are also portrayed as battle scenes as well. Could the attacks by Dimitri and Claude working together with their squads actually be combat arts? If these are special moves, it could explain why they seem more cinematic than a natural part of battle, and why stats aren’t displayed – maybe the damage and final outcome of the move isn’t shown until after the whole special move cinematic ends.
We also get to see a quick scene of Byleth getting a critical hit against an opponent. We can’t necessarily tell that this is the case since there once again is no damage display of any kind (perhaps the intent of all of this is to show that you can turn off the stat displays?) but Awakening, Fates, and Echoes all have these critical cut-ins. So it’s probably safe to bet that we’re seeing a crit take place here. Nothing else really special about this particular moment, but it is the last it of gameplay we get to see.
The trailer ends on this artwork of a young maiden lying on a stone throne. Where this is or what it signifies is pretty much impossible to gather at this point. Whether she is sleeping or hurt is also up for debate. As the trailer comes to a close, Edelgard states to you (her teacher) that she will return “here” someday, and asks you not to forget here. Whether here really is the location pictured here is hard to say, and seems unlikely. If we didn’t have clues elsewhere in the trailer suggesting heavily that Byleth is the teacher Edelgard is speaking of, I might be inclined to think that this sighing maiden is actually the teacher and that here is quite literally the room pictured here. However, I don’t think it’s that straightforward. All signs point to Byleth as the teacher and player character, so I’m gonna stick with that until something more concrete comes out.
So what am I concluding based on all of this? Fire Emblem Three Houses seems to be taking a lot of mechanical cues from Echoes. While I do think the weapon triangle is still present, it looks like the magic system and combat art system from Echoes may be returning here as well as the versatility of archers on the battlefield. Weapons have durability and weight again and right now there are no signs pointing to a pair-up system, instead being replaced with squads of soldiers that the characters can order into specific formations. There’s a new way to view the battlefield and we can now see which characters the enemy plans to target, adding another layer to your strategy when taking your turn.
While the gameplay seems to resemble Echoes more, thematically I think we’re looking at a game closer to the Awakening and Fates pair. We have a lord main character whose teacher is the player character, and I assume that this player character will be customizable. There’s also the ability to run around a home base type of location to interact with other characters, and it’s possible that is customizable is well (though we have no proof of either character or base customization at this time – both are just guesses right now). The story is focused on a conflict between three houses, which brings to mind the Hoshido versus Nohr conflict in Fates. The fact that we saw some characters who would appear to be playable from each main house – Edelgard for Adraetea, Dimitri for Fergus, and Claude for Beicester – suggests that we might either switch between all three sides of the war or that we slowly recruit the other kingdoms to our cause against a bigger threat; perhaps the man with the whip sword.
Ultimately, at this point there’s still a lot of speculation to be done. The trailer gave us some detail but with probably nine months to a year before this game actually hits the Nintendo Switch, there’s plenty of time for anything that seems concrete now to be refuted later. What were your thoughts on the trailer, adventurers? Are you excited for this game? Did you catch anything in the trailer that you think I missed? Do you agree with my interpretations? I’m a sucker for anything Fire Emblem, so if you have thoughts you want to share in the comments I would definitely love to hear them!
Final note: I wrote this article on Saturday before seeing any other press or reactions to the Fire Emblem trailer. I’ve left my original thoughts unedited, but other sources have done detailed analyses that compliment or refute some of the conclusions I reached here. For further reading, I definitely recommend this article on Serenes Forest which also analyzes the E3 trailer, and this article on Kantopia which dives into the Japanese title of the game.