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The beginner’s guide to impenetrable strategy in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the first full-fledged Fire Emblem game to release on Nintendo Switch, and in the series’ triumphant return to home consoles, it has changed significantly. This is not the same strategy-role-playing game we’ve seen in the past. There’s a greater emphasis on your choices and your relationships with the students at the Garegg Mach monastery. It still contains many classic Fire Emblem elements, including turn-based battles and a variety of classes, but even veteran players will have some new things to learn.

Choosing a house in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem: Three Houses - The Battle Within - Nintendo Switch

As the game’s name suggests, Fire Emblem: Three Houses revolves around three separate houses of students at the Garegg Mach monastery — The Golden Deer, Black Eagles, and Blue Lions are each captained by a different noble from separate regions on the continent of Fódlan. Each house specializes in certain areas which is something to keep in mind when choosing which house you want to lead. You can recruit students in other houses, but this takes a bit of work.

Blue Lions: The Blue Lions, led by Prince Dimitri, is a good choice for those who are unfamiliar with the Fire Emblem series as well as those who like to get up-close-and-personal with their combat. The house focuses on knight classes, excelling at sword and lance combat, making it perfect for those who want to maintain a strong cavalry.

Black Eagles: The Black Eagles are led by Princess Edelgard, and is a good choice for those who wish to deal damage with magic users. Because many early enemies you face will use melee attacks, this can a difficult class to start with, but as you level up your students and make class progress, you will also be able to eliminate heavily armored targets with ease.

Golden Deer: The Gold Deer are led by Claude, and excel in ranged bow combat. Claude himself is a skilled archer and you will be able to utilize several other bow-wielding characters early on, alongside a few magic-wielders. You can also quickly level up the defensive capabilities of certain students, making them take the brunt of attacks as you fire arrows from behind.

How the class system works in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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Like all previous Fire Emblem games, Three Houses breaks characters into separate classes. Where the game differs, however, is in the amount of choice it gives you over who is put in what class. When you begin Three Houses, almost all of the characters you meet will be placed in starter classes such as “noble” or “commoner,” meaning they can be promoted into whichever class you think suits them best – provided they have met prerequisites and pass the certification exam.

To take the first certification exam, a character needs to reach level 5 and have a grade of D for a weapon that falls into one of the four beginner class. You can then use a Beginner Seal and test them for placement. You’ll be given a handful of Beginner Seals early on in the game but you can also purchase them at the item shop.

Keep in mind that the beginner classes are intentionally broad, and you’ll continue developing several of each student’s skills throughout the game. Each student can also become certified in more than one class and can swap between them.

The four starting classes

  • Myrmidon: Melee-focused attacker with high speed and damage.
  • Soldier: Wields a lance, excels in defense and melee combat.
  • Fighter: Versatile fighter who can use bows, gauntlets, and axes.
  • Monk: Magic-user who can focus on dealing damage, healing, or both.

Choosing your later classes

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These expand significantly at level 10 with the Intermediate classes, which can be earned by using an Intermediate Seal and taking the certification exam. It’s here that you’ll truly start narrowing the path for each character. Will your Fighter become a highly-protected Armored Knight and sacrifice speed, or deal tremendous damage as a Brigand? Will your Monk focus on healing and become a Priest or attack as a Mage?

The choice is yours, but it isn’t as simple as picking a class and automatically passing the exam. You must increase each characters’ grades for specific skills to make them suited for a particular class. A Cavalier, for instance, will require you to have a C in lance combat and D in riding. A potential Archer should have a grade C bow skill.

Raising grades

There are a variety of ways you can get skills up to par. Completing missions and using the required weapon for the desired class in battle are the most obvious. The riding, flying, and heavy armor abilities are skills that aren’t as easy to raise the grade for. For these abilities, you will want to make use of the lectures you hold for the students each week.

When Sunday rolls around, opt for manual instruction instead of auto-instruct. This option lets you choose which skills to focus on. You can also adjust the focus of each student under Goals, and under Group Tasks, can assign two students to work together on projects that raise heavy armor, riding, and flying.

Ensure that you are playing to your student’s strengths. Students will occasionally come to you and request to focus on a certain set of skills because they are interested in a specific class. You’ll find if you let them do this, their motivation will stay much higher.

You also want to keep your roster balanced. Keep a few heavily-armored characters with high defensive stats, some damage-dealers, and some magic-wielding characters with high resistance on your team. Composing a balanced party will prepare you for whatever the game throws at you, and prevent you from having to put an unequipped character in danger.

How to improve motivation in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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One extremely important variable in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is motivation. This factor applies to everyone in your roster and determines how much they can be taught during a lecture. Motivation ranges from zero to 100, and is represented by a face next to the student’s name. A green face indicates full motivation, while a blue face indicates no motivation at all. Each time you teach a student a skill, it uses up 25 motivation. If you want to get the most out of your lectures, here are a few things you can do to improve student motivation.

Rest: You don’t want to choose this option too often at the end of each calendar week because you can miss out on opportunities to improve relationships and hone your student’s abilities (as well as your own), but occasionally choosing Rest will increase the Motivation of everyone on your roster. It won’t be maxed out, but it will be enough for instruction during your lecture the following day.

Praise, console, or criticize: During a lecture, if a student does particularly poorly, you can either console or criticize them. Choose the option that best fits the character’s personality and you can regain some lost motivation. If they get a “perfect” rating in the lecture, you can also praise them for a motivation boost.

Dine: Choosing to dine with two characters on your roster will use up an activity point, but it will also improve your relationship with them and increase their motivation.

Gift: Giving students gifts they like raises their motivation, but a thoughtful gift that appeals to their taste, will raise it more. If the receiver isn’t particularly enthused about their gift, it won’t raise their motivation at all. Gifts are another way to improve the relationship between you and another character.

Lost Items: Finding lost items and returning them boosts the motivation and of the item’s owner, and increases the relationship between both of you.

Good Advice: Students will come to you with questions about their work, and if you provide solid advice, it will raise their motivation.

Combat tips and tricks for Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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When you aren’t socializing with your students or giving lectures in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, you’ll be battling in turn-based missions. Your own party is always given the first turn of each mission, and you must direct your units where to go, as well as whether they should attack enemies, heal allies, trade items, or complete another objective.


Your units’ available moving distance is determined primarily by their class. Cavalry units and flying units can move farther each turn than other classes, with heavily-armored classes having the least mobility. For most melee characters, you will need to be adjacent to an enemy in order to attack. If you purchase a throwable weapon such as a javelin, mace, or hand-axe to wield alongside your lance, gauntlet, or axe, then you’re afforded another space between you and the enemy. Bow-wielding characters must also be one space away, unless you’re using a mini-bow which allows for close-range attacks. As for Magic-users, they can typically attack from either range. As you progress in the game, you may come across special weapons that offer a bit more range, as well.

Dealing damage and protecting your party

The amount of damage you do in combat is determined by several factors, including a unit’s strength, magical ability, and the weapon or spell they are using. Before you confirm an attack on an enemy, the UI will show you how much damage you will do, the percentage chance you have of landing your attack, as well as how much damage you will likely take. A critical hit chance is also listed. If you land a critical hit, your attack will do three times its normal damage.

You must always position your units based on the type of enemies you are facing. Heavily-armored knights and fighters might be great against melee units, but if they go up against a magic user, they will be torched. In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, hit the ZR button on your controller and you will be shown the exact range of all enemies on a given map. Put your most capable defender at the very edge of it with everyone else just out of range, and you can draw enemies in to then be picked off by the rest of the group.

As characters progress with weapons and skills, they will also gain additional “combat arts.” These powerful abilities come at the cost of your weapon’s durability, but can deal massive damage. Some of them simply add more damage onto your attack, while others excel against those on horseback or in heavy armor.


Fire Emblem: Three Houses - Launch Trailer Pt. 2 - Into the Battle - Nintendo Switch

One major new feature in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the battalion system, which you’ll unlock very early in the story. Alongside your named units you’ll take into battle, you can also assign groups of soldiers called battalions to assist individual characters in combat. These can be found at the marketplace, and cost some of your in-game currency to hire, but they offer massive benefits. Once they have been used for a few missions in a row, you will need to “replenish” them at the marketplace for maximum effectiveness, but the currency cost for this is very low.

To use a battalion during a battle, select the “Gambit” option instead of a normal attack. This will cause the battalion to attack in your place, and alongside massive damage, a hit will result in the enemy taking on a status effect – such as being unable to move during the next turn. In some cases, these effects also apply to any enemies in the direction of the Gambit, so that if there are two more enemies behind the main target, they will also be hit.

Certain Gambits can also be used to boost allies, and if you are located next to an ally when you use your Gambit, it can trigger a “Gambit Boost” that does even more damage. As you continue using battalions, their levels will increase, further boosting their effectiveness.

Rewinding time

Alongside including a “casual” mode as an alternative for the permanent-death-enabled classic mode, Fire Emblem: Three Houses also includes a rewinding mechanic that allows you to call a do-over after making a mistake. Called “Divine Pulse,” this ability will be given to you near the very beginning of the game, and can be activated by pressing the ZL button during your turn.

Once you have activated Divine Pulse, you’ll be shown a list of all your recent actions. Just look for the action that led to your mistake and select the one just prior to it in order to rewind time. You can’t do this an unlimited number of times, of course. When you first begin, you will be only able to use Divine Pulse a few times per mission, so make sure you aren’t repeating the same mistakes.

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Gabe Gurwin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Gabe Gurwin has been playing games since 1997, beginning with the N64 and the Super Nintendo. He began his journalism career…
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