Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Cindered Shadows)

Fire Emblem, a name that greatly predates my own birth. It is an RPG turn-based strategy game that dates back all the way to 1990 with the first release of its franchise, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. For the purpose of this project, we are going to fast forward to its latest addition in 2019, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Traditionally, the game has never been immersive, and the main chapter fights are always at an aerial view with icons differentiating your units and the enemy’s units, informing you how far each unit can move and shows you the current landscape to help you plan your path to victory. Three Houses broke that tradition, instead the developers dipped their toes into making the game more “open-world” and giving the players a chance to feel like they’re in the game.

One of their newest additions is the ability to explore outside of fighting main battles and paralogue battles, on Sundays you have the chance to explore Garreg Mach Monastery (in the main game) or exploring the underground between chapter battles as shown above (in the Cindered Shadows DLC). When I first started playing this, I think I was completely overwhelmed, my initial thought was “I’m gonna get lost here and spend half the game figuring out where I am” but thankfully that wasn’t the case. Not too long after I realized that there’s a map in the upper right corner of the screen that helps you navigate. People that you can interact with are marked with as circles usually with a chat icon, the unit you play as (Byleth) is marked as a circle with a bright glow and it moves as you do to help you keep your bearings.

Here is probably my absolute favorite part about this game, other than the storyline: battling. In previous games, you view would just be restricted to an aerial-like view with your icons and enemies’ icons much like the square map in the bottom right corner of the above image, and players can still use that view if they wish. Unlike before, players have the option to “zoom in” on the battlefield and get a full immersion experience. Initially, I was apprehensive about using this feature because sometimes you have multiple enemy units in a cluster together and if you send the unit you’re moving to the wrong enemy, you may very well be sending them to their deaths. In Fire Emblem (the traditional mode I like to play for returning players), EVERY decision counts and if a unit dies in battle then their dead in the game, there are no revives for them. It certainly didn’t help when they decided to scrap the weapon triangle in this game, I was sweating bullets during the first fights (I was easily spending almost an hour on each fight). More often than not, the death of a single unit could change the tide of the battle for the worse. The addition of the map in the bottom right corner is an ingenious remedy because it helps you navigate as you would in the previous games (the blue boundary boxes also serve to tell you how far your unit can go) while still being able to just enjoy the scenery around you.

Another incentive that they added for the immersive view only is that red prediction line as shown above. What that does is tell you which of your units that enemy will most likely attack during the “Enemy Phase”. Thanks to this feature, a good 60% of my strategy for fights has been to use one of my units as bait to lure certain enemies away so that my other team can slip through. As you probably noticed, that isn’t something that is indicated on the regular map you can only see it when you’re “on” the battlefield. Overall, I think that the digital space that Intelligent Systems has created in Three Houses is nothing short of amazing and I surely hope that it’s carried over to the next installation.

Discussion — One Response

  • Ashley Willis 03/19/2021 on 6:47 PM

    I find this to be an interesting way of looking at the project. I find that the maps of games to be very interesting because they have to be made in a way that helps the player navigate in the game. If a designer doesn’t get the map right in the game then this would then confuse the player when they are trying to get where they want to go in the game. This navigation is really important when the video game is open-world because you would probably get lost in the game without the map. I like that you pointed out that the navigation system is important to the gameplay. I feel that this has given me a new appreciation of map designs in video games.

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