When Fire Emblem Fates came out, it introduced a number of new mechanisms that built on the foundation established by Awakening. When Three Houses was first announced, I expected it to continue that trend, building onto Fates and refining that system of play even further. What we have seen instead is that Three Houses in moving in a new direction, one that has lots of exciting possibilities we don’t yet fully understand. There are lots of features in the trailer which see only brief flashes of attention but which have open up a lot of interesting questions about what this game might bring to the series. I say interesting questions because for every new feature shown off in Three Houses, we are given just enough to whet the appetite.
This will not be a traditional trailer analysis about catching secrets or confirming details that only appear in the background. Instead, I want to find the moments in the trailer which raise interesting questions and then break those questions down, talking about some of the possibilities that are teased by these small moments. In all likelihood I will come away with nothing concrete, but just the conversation itself is exciting to me. I would encourage you to think of your own answers to these questions and to include them in the comments at the end of the article – like a good support conversation, together we may find exciting possibilities that we could not have obtained alone.
Let’s start with this image of the battlefield, which doesn’t necessarily have much to offer but has a couple of things I want to point out. Notice the set of three green triangles next to almost all of the characters? There’s only a single member of the party who doesn’t have one of these things: Dorothea, the woman on the bottom between the leftmost character (Petra) and the player character (Byleth). Why doesn’t she have one of these sets of triangles, and what do they mean? You may notice that next to each character portrait is a picture of their weapons. We have three different tome users on the battlefield here, and each of them has a different symbol for their tome. One tome is black, one tome is white, and one has a symbol of some kind within it. Based on previous entries, we might conclude that these represent dark magic, light magic, and anima magic respectively, but we’ll get into more detail about the weapons at a later time.
We next see a character called Bernadetta move forward and attack an enemy thief with her bow. She initially chooses a normal attack but we see that the player can press ZL or ZR to select an Art from the character’s list. In this case, the player chooses to use Curved Shot. In Fire Emblem Echoes, these Arts cost HP in order to use. However, when Bernadetta attacks we don’t see any of her HP get depleted – look at the battle forecast here. See how the enemy’s HP is shown dropping but her HP stays at 25? That raises the question of what the 3 next to Curved Shot is indicating. Like the number 50 next to her iron bow, does the number beside an Art indicate the number of times it can be used? I would assume that this is per battle if that is the case.
One other thing that I want to point out that’s a bit hard to see are the icons above Bernadetta’s name: one looks like a person on fire while the other two are weapon icons showing a lance and a bow, both at level one. They’ve updated these icons since the last trailer and in the past I had theorized that this might be where weapon advantage is shown, but now it is more clear that this is one of Bernadetta’s skills. What’s more interesting to me is the weapon icons: Bernadetta can wield lances in addition to bows, despite the fact that she didn’t have a lance in her inventory. What class could she be to be wielding them together? I have some ideas about that but we’ll get into them after looking at this next image.
This image of Petra is the first time we get a good look at the experience system. Unlike in previous Fire Emblem titles, we see our character gaining experience in multiple things at one time. At the top is her character level – presumably when she gets 62 more EXP here she’ll grow to level three and her stats will increase. Beneath that is what is called her Professor Level, which seems to refer to her weapon proficiency. We can see that she has a D rank in swords and an E rank in…something else? What is that flag for? We’ll get an opportunity to address that later, so let’s put a pin in that question for the time being. We’ll also get a chance to see why this might be called professor level.
There’s a separate bar beneath that for class mastery, which is a very interesting topic for a couple of different reasons. First off, this tells us that class level and character level are independent of one another. In previous Fire Emblem games, your level was tied to your current class – changing classes caused it to reset to one. Choosing to separate them makes sense because it makes it easier to tell how much experience a particular character truly has – you won’t have a character in a promoted class who appears to only be level one. We hit one our interesting questions here: what happens when you master a class? It’s possible that like in Awakening or Fates, each class is attached to certain skills. So mastering a class would either teach you that skill or perhaps allow you to have access to the skill even when you are no longer playing as that class.
I’m also curious about a couple of other things regarding classes. The experience bar there does not reflect individual class levels – the wording “until class is mastered” suggests that you only have to fill this bar one time. Petra gained one class EXP when she won this fight, so it seems like classes can be mastered somewhat quickly in Three Houses. If that’s the case, are we going to be changing classes a lot more often in this game? My final question where classes are concerned is in relation to the professor levels. Historically, weapon proficiency is tied to your character’s class. However, this experience screen clearly shows them leveling up separately. Does this mean that weapon proficiency operates independently of class choice? Can a thief wield a lance, or a mage shoot a bow? If classes truly teach skills only, then a unit’s class would no longer be a strong indicator of their battle style.
Finally, we see that there is an experience bar for what is called Petra’s Battalion. Considered in context, this seems to refer to the groups of soldiers we see fighting alongside the units during battle scenes. We see that the battalion fighting alongside Petra is called Empire Infantry, implying that there are different types of battalions that can potentially be assigned. Is that restricted by class? By house? By weapon type? This makes it clear that battalions have a specific mechanical purpose and are not set dressing, something that is backed up by moments in this trailer and in the previous trailer where we see the soldiers standing in a tight formation and delivering an attack against the enemy. Perhaps these battalion attacks become more powerful as the battalion gains levels? What are the functions of these battalion units?
Here we see an image of two characters about to battle, along with some narration about the characters training in different weapon types. This set up seems like a safer version of the arenas from past Fire Emblem titles. Notice this fight is round two – that suggests that a round one has already taken place, further suggested by the “Earned” category which indicates that 50G has already been earned. On the table now is 300 additional G as well as an intermediate seal, which is what I’m most interested in here. Seals are historically used for class changes, and the word intermediate is particularly interesting. Most Fire Emblem games have two tiers of class: base and promoted. However, Radiant Dawn and Echoes both have three tiers for a number of the classes in those games. Does the intermediate seal promote characters to a second tier class while a master seal would promote them to a third tier class?
In this shot we see Byleth at his desk preparing for class. There are four menu options here before starting class: tutor, auto-tutor, group task, and set goals. Tutor and auto-tutor each have a number next to an icon with a sheet of paper and a pen. At the top of the screen we can see that there’s a similar icon in a circle with the number 3. This seems to represent the amount of energy or time that Byleth can put into tutoring individual students. Auto-tutor seems to select three kids either at random or based on the recommendations of the game, while selecting tutor gives you the ability to individually choose who you are teaching. The description of the tutor actions is “select someone to train them and improve their skills,” and if the professor levels in Petra’s EXP screen were any indication then this points to the weapon levels of each student. Are there other benefits to tutoring, and does Byleth’s ability to tutor students expand over time? Group Activity and Set Goals are both interesting points of discussion too, but we’ll focus on those using later images.
The next few shots give us more detailed looks at each one of Byleth’s abilities. This screen is in all likelihood the tutor function, and as we guessed it is focused on weapon levels. There’s a lot to unpack here. We notice the magic skill is called reason and it seems to capture both dark and anima magic based on the tomes displayed within the skill image. Dorothea has strength in this skill, which we see on the right increases the amount of EXP she gains in that skill when she is tutored in it. She also has strength in sword skills, and we see on the bottom right that sword and reason are her current growth goals – more on that later. There are two symbols we don’t get any elaboration on: the hand with the pointer finger raised beside the sword, axe, and the flag, and the set of three stars at the end of the row beside the light magic skill. Unfortunately there isn’t much indication of what those symbols might mean here, so we can add them to our list of unanswered questions.
One more thing about this screen – notice the bar at the top right of the screen? This seems to indicate the energy that Dorothea has to be trained, as the bar depletes when Byleth tutors her in magic and the text beneath it indicates that Dorothea can only be trained one more time. Just like Byleth can’t infinitely tutor his students, the students cannot constantly push themselves to study. This seems to require you to keep a balance between your pupils and prevents you from pumping too much weapon EXP into a single character during your lessons. My question is, how often does this energy recover? Will Dorothea be back at full the next day? After the next mission? Does she only recover one energy at a time? This raises the broader question of how often these lessons take place. Is the game structured so that you have one class between each battle map? Or do you have multiple days in a row to work with your students between battles? What is the balance of classroom time and combat time in the game?
I joked in my earlier Three Houses article that I could write an entire analysis based on this image alone – obviously that has not proven to be the case, but there is certainly a lot of interesting information here. We get the names of all the skills, showing us that the light tome skill is called faith and that strange skill with the flag we’ve been seeing over and over again is authority. There’s a new weapon skill here, fighting, as well as skills for heavy armor, riding, and flying. Currently, Lindhart has a goal set which is focused on Reason and Faith, increasing her skill set with all three types of magical tomes. These goals are skills for “solo study” – do characters passively gain weapon experience between battles based on the training goals you set for them? Or is this how you assign weapon proficiency to your characters? We’ve already discussed the possibility that character weapon choices are no longer tied to their class – perhaps instead the weapon that the student is supposed to be practicing with is the one they are able to use in any given battle. Alternatively, this could be a way to gain EXP in weapons you are not currently using but that you intend to use later, allowing you to already be prepared to wield a stronger version of that weapon when you change to a class that wields it.
Notice how there are skills for things that, in previous Fire Emblem titles, have not been weapons? Riding, flying, and heavy armor are all in this list and they have weapon levels just like the classic sword, lance, and axe. I’m quite curious what this could mean. If mounts have weapon levels, can you change mounts in this game based on your proficiency? Are there different sets of armor with unique bonuses? That would add a compelling and previously nonexistent layer to the equipment in Three Houses – having to choose your mount and your armor would open up new possibilities. I think there’s an alternate question we can ask, though – are weapon levels how you gain arts? In Echoes, arts came from gaining experience with particular weapons. Perhaps in this game, rather than attaching them to each individual weapon they are instead attached to the experience you have in that weapon type. That would mean raising your riding skill doesn’t mean you can equip a better horse; instead, you’d gain access to a new art that is directly related to horseback riding. I think this is the more likely of the two possibilities, but both are interesting to consider.
As for fighting and authority, what the heck are these skills? The icon for fighting is a fist, which seems to indicate hand-to-hand combat. This is confirmed later in the trailer when a character is shown fighting with a weapon called gauntlets equipped, clawed gloves which he uses to fight in melee. What I want to know about these weapons is how they fall in the weapon triangle. Are gauntlets a neutral option that has no disadvantages against specific weapons in exchange for a lack of bonuses? Or do they factor in mechanically in another way? Typically, the weapon triangle scales in damage and accuracy, with swords being the most accurate but least damaging while axes are the least accurate and the most damaging, with lances in the middle of the spectrum. Perhaps gauntlets have weaker damage but inflict chip damage like the daggers in Fates, or maybe they have high critical hit rates or do special damage against certain unit types.
Then there’s authority, a skill which has no precedent in previous Fire Emblem titles. Or doesn’t it? I think one possibility for authority is that it could function as the dance ability from previous games. Most Fire Emblem titles have a character who can inspire others to act again through music – perhaps in Three Houses it is not music that makes this possible, but the influence of a charismatic leader. That brings us to another possibility, though – does authority influence your ability to command battalions? We know that battalions have EXP and that they can execute special attacks during battle – it would make sense that authority is the skill which gives you new battalion arts and allows you to equip stronger battalions to your character.
There’s one last thing I want to dig into about this image before we leave it, and that is the absence of something: staves. In past Fire Emblem titles, healing was accomplished through the prayers of faithful priests or clerics wielding staves that granted health or other bonuses. This was the primary method of healing other characters – your other option was to have a character heal themselves with a consumable item that uses their turn. The absence of staves from this skill list raises a lot of questions about where in the world healing will come from, but those questions are answered in this next image:
Linhardt is clearly shown to be healing Byleth here, and take a look at what she’s using: a light tome. This means that healing is tied to the faith skill in our skill list, but this raises a question: is faith used exclusively for healing magic, or are there light tomes which can be used offensively? The answer to this question would have implications for how cleric-type characters function. Normally, priests and clerics can only attack after promoting to a class that gives them access to a new weapon type. However, if faith tomes can be offensive or defensive, then healers would have the ability to either participate in combat or heal their allies right from the beginning, possibly making them easier to use.
There’s one last thing I want to point out here – Linhardt doesn’t have that green triangle symbol by her health bar. This is significant because in the first image we saw of the battlefield at the beginning of this post, Linhardt did have a set of triangles. This means that whatever the triangles represent, it can come and go during the course of battle or perhaps from battle to battle. What in the world do these triangles mean? My guess is that these signify the proximity of a support unit – if a character is close to someone they have a bond with, the triangles indicate the bonus coming from that. This would explain why they are not always visible, even for a character who has previously had them displayed. If this is the case, then that tells us that right now, Linhardt and Byleth don’t have a support relationship – whether or not it is possible for them to have one in the future remains to be seen.
Oh hey Edelgard, it’s been awhile. Here we see the exam process at work, and this is the way in which characters change classes. This screen is going to answer some questions we’ve had previously. Remember that intermediate seal from the arena? That sucker is part of the item requirement for Edelgard’s brigand exam, so it looks like the intermediate seal is used to change classes like we anticipated. I’m guessing that brigand is one of the mid-tier classes we theorized about because of the skill requirement – a C level in axes isn’t the sort of thing you just start with, so Edelgard obviously has some experience in a lower class that taught her the basics of axe fighting. Bandit or pirate has been a base class in past Fire Emblem titles, so perhaps brigand lies between one of those classes and the berserker class common to the series.
This screen also gives us an idea of some of the other classes available in the game. We see lots of series staples like the mercenary, thief, knight, cavalier, archer, mage, and priest options. Notably missing are myrmidon and fighter, as well as pegasus knights or wyvern riders. It’s hard to tell if this list is exhaustive, but the lack of down arrows or half-displayed menu options makes it seem like these are the only ones Edelgard can choose from. Here comes one of our interesting questions: is the list of classes available to Edelgard affected by her personality or group affiliation? Are these the same classes available to any character in the game? Any girl? Any Black Eagle member? Or are they specific to Edelgard, with other characters having their own unique list of class options? Linhardt’s noble class is nowhere to be found here, so either that’s an intermediate class that Edelgard hasn’t unlocked yet or it won’t be one of her options.
The trailer goes on to describe how the students at the monastery can participate in group activities together. The students are shown to be dining in a large hall while having a conversation. We then get the dramatic cut-in displayed above with the words “Gambit Boost,” along with a voiceover about strengthening the bonds between the students. It’s probably safe to assume that support conversations have returned in full force, but this doesn’t quite seem like the same thing, does it?
For one thing, support conversations in the past have only ever taken place between a pair of characters. A support relationship exists only between two individuals, but the shot above shows four different characters gaining this gambit boost. The idea of more than two people participating is also supported by the title of Byleth’s teaching ability “group activity.” This suggests that Byleth can facilitate the way in which students bond and help to guide them towards gaining these boosts. Do these four-way group activities replace support conversations, or merely supplement them? Must group activities be organized for specific sets of characters or can any possible combination participate? We learn a little bit more about gambits in the next shot, the final screen I plan to analyze today.
In this screen, we see Coordinated Gambit popping up in the same place as an Art, and it seems to be a special attack that Edelgard can use with her battalion. Unfortunately since we don’t see a description anywhere, we don’t get a strong idea of what this gambit does. This leaves a lot of unanswered questions about group activities, but we do get a bit more interesting mechanical information in this scenario. The triangles are back, which seems to support my theory that they are connected to supports/bonds in some way – presumably to use Coordinated Gambit, Edelgard would need to be near the friends she participated in the group activity with.
We see that the battalion currently under Edelgard’s command is called the Assault Troop, which seems to confirm the idea that you can equip different battalions to your characters and that they have different effects. Notice that while there is a fist icon next to the enemy’s attack, there is no icon beside Edelgard’s – remember my suggestion earlier that battalion attacks might be tied to the authority skill? Since we see no flag icon here, perhaps that guess isn’t accurate! Another thing I think is interesting here is that Assault Troop is displayed in blue text – what could that mean? We’ve still seen no evidence on-screen that the weapon triangle exists in this game. I assume it has to and I find myself wondering if perhaps this blue text indicates weapon advantage, showing that battalion attacks are effective against opponents with fist weapons? That seems unlikely because the enemy’s weapon isn’t displayed in red, but perhaps it’s possible that the relationship only exists one way? Is the weapon triangle present in this game? Where do new abilities like battalion attacks and fist weapon fall into it?
The latest trailer for Fire Emblem Three Houses gave us all kinds of new information to work with, but that information appears to come with more questions than answers. I’ve asked my questions throughout the article today, so now I’d love to hear the answers you have in mind! Use the comments below to let me know your thoughts on all the little details in the trailer, and if you have your own interesting questions you want to add to the mix, be sure to include those as well. Thanks for reading, and I hope this article has helped you to be as excited for this game as I am!