How the Setup of Fire Emblem: Three Houses Fundamentally Changes its Combat

The most obvious change that Fire Emblem: Three Houses has brought to the series is the more involved way in which you manage your life off of the battlefield. Instead of restocking your items and triggering support conversations from menus, you’re character is controlled in a fully-rendered hub-world. This system gives everything a much stronger sense of place, while the additional activities you have give you a means of making even deeper connections with the cast. I had so much written on this topic that it ended up forming the basis for my review.

That doesn’t mean the combat has been left alone. Under the hood, there are some sizable changes that make it differ from other Fire Emblem games in recent years. Not sure whether the changes came about because of the story, or the story changed to reflect the mechanical differences. Nevertheless, I thought it would be cool to highlight how they feed off each other to create a unique battle experience.

More than just red, yellow, or blue

Not long after the game’s opening mission, you’re forced to teach one of three houses: the Black Eagles, the Golden Deer, or the Blue Lions. Each house not only has a different group of personalities, but also a different distribution of hero classes. The Black Eagles lean towards magic, the Golden Deer specialize in archery, and blue leans towards hand-to-hand weaponry. This means that even though you’ll be playing some of the same levels as all three classes, your approach will be fundamentally different based on your roster construction.

Playing as the Black Eagles, my magic wielders gave me a ton of firepower from distance. However, my lack of tank units made it difficult to hold a choke point. Also, I didn’t get a cavalry unit until very late in the campaign and never got around to developing a flying unit. Covering distance became a real problem for the duration of my playthrough.

You can do some stuff to diversify your roster along the way, but the core identity of your team probably won’t change much. This team “imbalance” is an interesting way of incentivizing multiple plays so that you can tackle the same levels in different ways.

You can be anything if you put your mind to it

What can seem like a deficiency is actually a great opportunity for growth and character development. In previous Fire Emblem games, heroes were mostly adults who were set in their fighting styles. Their progression paths were pre-determined based on their starting classes, though some games did give you a bit of freedom to deviate. Even so, you couldn’t equip weapons to heroes who weren’t the appropriate class to operate them.

Lucky for you, you’re nurturing a group of kids whose young minds can pick up skills quickly. Anyone can learn anything, which will most likely be the way you round out your roster. For added mobility, I eventually promoted Ferdinand to a cavalry unit. Petra and Edelgard grew to become skilled archers. Even my Byleth, who had no magic skills at the start, developed the ability to heal allies by the end of the game.

You can also hire battalions to shore up any deficiencies you still have. They’re a bit pricy at the start, but they’re super cheap to maintain and their Gambits can really round out your squad.

No more rock, paper, scissors

As a consequence to uneven teams, the game no longer has the franchise’s patented weapons triangle. For those unfamiliar with the concept, combat encounters in many of the games are built around a rock-paper-scissors mechanic. Swords beat axes. Axes beat lances. Lances beat swords. Different types of magic also have their own attack triangle. With this system in place, positioning became crucially important.

For this system to work, the game has to know more-or-less which units you’ll be using. Since there are three different classes and a lot of overlap in levels, the system is mostly removed. I actually really liked the weapons triangle, as it made you really think about where to deploy units in order to create the best possible match-ups for your squad. Having played these games for decades now, it feels weird commanding an axe-wielder to smack a myrmidon when that has historically been a mismatch in favour of the sword-wielder.

That doesn’t mean you should charge in recklessly. Certain classes still handle some damage better than others. Flying units will still get dropped like flies by archers and mages will still torch heavy armour knights.

Your bigger concern now becomes one of development. Class changes are now predicated on your hero’s abilities in certain disciplines. Lower level classes may require you to have a C rating in one skill, but a master-level class may require you to be an A in two unique disciplines and at least a C in a third.

As an example, Bernadetta on the Black Eagles is a superstar archer. However, if you eventually want to covert her into a bow knight, she’s going to have to get at least somewhat decent with a lance. When you select her, do you have her hang back and take max damage with her bow? Or do try and create scenarios where she can safely and effectively strike with a lance? Positioning is still important, but your motivations behind how you approach the battle will be different.

Even so, the triangle isn’t completely gone. With enough practice, certain units can gain their old weapon-type advantages back as equippable skills. For example, my Edelgard got Lancebreaker, which gives makes the lance matchup advantageous to her as an axe-wielder again.

Different, but still good

Will admit that I do miss the traditional attack triangle in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Exploiting bad match-ups while preventing yourself from getting exposed was an integral part of the fun. Having said that, I agree with its removal based on what this particular game is going for with regards to the game’s overall story and even deeper emphasis on character development. Being able to develop a character to work in any class is a huge bonus and it makes perfect sense for that to be possible with the way the game is set up.

Do you miss the attack triangle? Or do you prefer the class flexibility? Let’s discuss!

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