Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!
For a game about a bitter war that shapes the future of a whole country, the latest Fire Emblem retains a surprising amount of light-heartedness. In fact, if someone were to ask me what kind of game it is, I likely wouldn’t talk about the turn-based strategy combat until the very end, as much as I love similar titles such as Wargroove or The Banner Saga.
Instead it’s the high school simulation, the idea of spending time with your students each month not simply to hone them into the perfect weapons, but to truly get to know them, which fascinates me. Three Houses has a favourite character for everyone. If you’ve ever played a visual novel, or, let’s be honest, engaged with any type of anime-adjacent content, you likely know the tropes. There’s the good-looking guy who flirts with everything that moves. The feisty popular girl who ropes everyone into doing things for her, or the nervous girl too scared to leave her room.
But these blueprints work, they have worked for decades, and so I cheer each protagonist on all the same. Fire Emblem is built to not tell you everything about its characters, or in fact its main plot, in one playthrough. It was frustrating to realise in the moment, but I needn’t have worried – upon completing the first 60-odd hour playthrough, I stayed away for exactly one day before wanting to meet the next class and watch more support conversations.
It didn’t take long for a fandom to emerge, and while fandoms can be… a difficult topic, I’m happy to admit that cosplay and fan-made keychains and Pokémon crossover fanart made me like Three Houses even more, adding to the game’s longevity and my obsession with it.
The strategy portion of Three Houses is pared down enough I think everyone can easily get into it while still giving you options to make it hard as nails. I avoided the classic mode with its permadeath like the plague, unwilling to risk the death of a single character. The war wasn’t what I played for, the satisfaction of winning, so great in any other tense strategy game, really only a distant concern. Instead I meticulously planned each month’s free time to not miss a single tea time with my favourites.
Yet for all the merrymaking, there’s more to each character than a favourite meal. Writing that manages to make you appreciate character growth with nothing but a handful of conversations is to be commended, and Fire Emblem didn’t shy away from difficult family relationships and the weight of expectation on those yet to become adults. Seeing characters such as shy Ignatz absolutely raze a group of enemies single-handedly made me feel like a proud mama bird, only to be reminded of the cruelty of war in the story. That can come off as tonally weird, but at least the game does engage with certain atrocities, when it could easily have left them uncommented.
Honestly, I’m ok with a game having two sides that seem incompatible. Having characters you want to bonk in an otherwise epic story made a great game this decade.