In my nightly video game time, I’ve been doing another run-through of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’ll admit I’m not particularly interested in the game any more and I approach playing it the same way I approach playing Sudoku: I don’t expect to really get anything out of it other than a stretch to the non-artistic parts of my mind. I enjoy strategy and puzzle games for this specific reason, but a lot of the time I play them, it’s because I think I need some mental exercise or a monetary occupation rather than because I actually enjoy it.
That being said, my general attentiveness and memory means that I can find and appreciate the ways the different play-throughs of the game have gone. Part of it is the subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts to the story from that game that are wrapped around which of the titular three houses you decide to lead. And a decision you make partway through one of the houses, but that’s kind of a spoiler I think. Some of the decisions you make throughout the game can have other ramifications, but they’re generally small things and don’t have much lasting relevance beyond the attitudes and availability of certain units and weapons.
The other thing you get as you play through the games in the different story lines is glimpses into the lives of the characters and the support conversations that depict the relationships between them. Because some of them are only available based on the routes you pick, you have to go down every branch and try to save every character if you want them all (once you unlock them, you can view them from the game menu, so it does keep track of which ones you’ve unlocked). Throw in some extra stuff like the epilogues for the characters changing based on who they’re close to (or if they’re not close to anyone) and you start to see how I can have spent almost 300 hours on this game. The games I’ve played more than this one on my Switch are Animal Crossing and Breath of the Wild (which is in first place and will always stay in first place, thankyouverymuch).
Since this is an old franchise, the developers have gotten skilled at making the most with what they have, and they do a lot with the same content multiple times in this game. While most of the battles are the same, by which I mean they use the same maps and fit into roughly the same places in the story, the approach to the battle is different. Where you enter the map, the goals, the pretenses involved in the starts of the battles, sometimes even the stakes… All of this changes based on which route you’re taking through the story. The variety isn’t huge, of course, it really is just starting points and the pretenses of why you’re fighting this battle, but I can appreciate the amount of work it takes to produce this amount of content. The fact that I can get different paragraphs of text based on which characters have fought near each other the most is boggling, since someone had to write all of that and someone had to test it.
As someone who works in software, I appreciate the work and the final product. Some of the animations might not be the best, but I don’t play this game for good animations. I play it for the story, for the strategy, and the sordid drama. The last one only applies to this specific game in the Fire Emblem franchise. The first two are why I love the franchise, but this game does a great job of playing up the drama by making you and all the other important (aka, non-generic and named) characters friends early on. When you fight and kill one later, it actually kinda hurts.
Gotta love a strong helping of strategy game with a side serving of heartfelt drama to make you spend 300 hours of your life playing a game (though I’ll admit that a non-insigificant amount of that time is the game just running while I’m doing other stuff like sleeping in a terrible position on the couch or staying on all day because I forgot to put the console to sleep when I left for work). Still, I feel no guilt when I think that I might have spent 300 hours of my life on this game by the time I’m done with it.