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Rob Zacny

Three Moves Ahead 477: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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Three Moves Ahead 477:

Three Moves Ahead 477


Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Rowan, Fraser, and Rob are joined by Kotaku's Gita Jackson to discuss their tenure as teachers at Garreg Mach Monastery. The gang talk about the really thougthful politics and characterizations that define Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Aside from that, is it a good tactics game? And finally, the gang gets into some serious spoilers about the game's shocking reveal midway through.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses, XCOM, Persona

 

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It was fun to listen to. Surprised how you guys talk about common anime tropes as if it's something specific to Japanese games you've experienced. Those one-note characters turning out to have huge backstories is what happens in every anime ever. You mentioned Valkyria Chronicles 4 again, specifically an episode where one of your soldiers behaves like a drunken brat and doesn't get shot. I haven't played this game so I may be missing a lot of context, but what I've liked about VC1 was its approach to its character flaws. It's still a heroic war story but it goes beyond usual "this is not as black and white as it seems" tropes like "our politicians are greedy" or "or allies are into that realpolitik thing". Some of the main characters are vocal racists, as well as soldiers you can hire. Not to the point of evil enemy empire racist so they don't approve ethnic cleansing, but it's still there and directly affects gameplay: you either ignore those characters or stop using your story minority characters. You and your main character have to deal with it, it's an army you got. It's not the focus of the story but it makes them much more believable. It's certainly a much more honest approach than, say, your typical American WW2 movie (or any historical movie, really) which is either specifically about segregation in arms or completely ignores probably views of most of its heroes.

 

Anyway, Fire Emblem. I've played 2 games on Game Boy Advance and I'm a little puzzled by your praises. Cause most of what you're talking about was there already. Perhaps the story was simpler. They both had your typical stories about throne usurpation by evil vizier or foreign empire. IIRC both had ancient evil influencing the villain who was a decent person once, and in both games, a lot of good people fought on the enemy side because of allegiance and past glory and alike. The first game was linear with some minor variations depending on what you do in tactical missions. You could hire a lot of characters if you visit the right places during tactical battles, or move the right person close to a named enemy so you can talk and sway them to your side. The second one had a grand story branch early in a game. You still played the same side but you chose to go with one of the siblings, a prince or a princess. You get different characters and a different story. This game also had optional grinding and character bonds. Some characters can become friends if they fight together and you get a unique dialogue and bonuses for them.

 

Those were good games and I'm a little surprised you get very few games like that on PC. Chess with a lot of characters. We have Jagged Alliance and some of it clones like Silent Storm, but apart from that?.. Plenty of XCOMs or Darkest Dungeon or Battle Brothers, but all of those feature random characters, hard to relate to those. Most tactical games with a big character roster are short roguelikes like Invisible Inc or Into the Breach or Renowned Explorers. There are also tactical RPGs, of course, but those usually reward you with sticking to a limited number of characters and don't have a lot of them. Even when a similar game comes from consoles it's Disgaea which mostly relies on generated characters and has, ahem, questionable gameplay. Strange!

 

Sorry for the wall of text. This episode was evocative.

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On 8/30/2019 at 12:57 AM, ilitarist said:

Those were good games and I'm a little surprised you get very few games like that on PC.

 

Because when you take out the context of the source, it all falls apart.  Flat characters seem interesting and complex when written in the over-exaggerated style of Japanese writing.  A political story on par with a by the numbers early YA novel appears to have depth or real quality to it when you're convinced and invested to spend hours of grinding relationships or going through plodding tactical battles because you have to convince yourself it was worth it.  Take out the expectation of "anime" writing and decades of building a standard for incredibly long, and largely inflated, gaming experiences as the norm/acceptable, which is what happens with a lot of non-Japanese games, and everything you want to see loses the luster that makes it seem like you want it.  There are a ton of games like what you want, although still not so much on PC but probably a lot more than you know about, you just don't see them because they don't get translated and released outside of Japan/East Asia.  Fire Emblem is no exception, it's just a notch in quality above the norm so it seems special.

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Delurking here as a long-time listener and an FE fan who hasn't played this game yet. I don't have a Switch, will definitely play if/when I get one.


FE's mechanics do tend to be on the simpler side as tactics games go, though from what I've heard 3H adds some new stuff there. I would say FE (at least at its best) does a lot with its basics though - chess isn't a very complex game either, or most RTSes. Permadeath and the fact that every character is preset are pretty important to the game's tactical dynamic, as it requires you to pay close attention to your character formations and enemy ranges, and each unit being an individual character makes any loss feel meaningful. And things like the rock-paper-scissors weapon triangle, limited-use weapons, double attacks with high speed, magic attacks checking resistance instead of def, archer damage bonuses against fliers - all these are simple systems, but they can layer together and combine to create interesting tactical situations greater than the sum of its parts. And one thing I appreciate about the series is that the stat numbers stay fairly small, so +1 str or speed still feels meaningful.

 

At its best, FE's map design can do a lot of interesting things. For example, a trick they use on indoor map design, especially in harder difficulties, is to have enemy thieves show up early to get the treasure chests on a map that might otherwise look like something you want to turtle. So instead of going slowly and defensively, the game pushes you to a more aggressive and risky style and outrace the thieves (and your own thieves aren't very good combat units) if you want to be a completionist and get all the items. Or you may have an enemy character who can be recruited, but only if you talk to them with the right character which may be tricky to set up. Of course I don't know how successful Three Houses is with all this in practice.

 

One thing I do know about Three Houses is that the hardest difficulty mode is coming as free DLC. Hopefully they're taking the time to carefully tune it and not just statstack the enemies.

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An interesting idea I saw elsewhere to improve the combat was to just reduce the amount of units that can double their attacks (and maybe reduce the x4 on Brawlers because making my Byleth a brawler was intense). At least that way if you wanted to take out an enemy in one turn, it would either have to be done using two units or one unit with a combat art. As long as you don't switch to steel weapons when they become available, it seems like the vast majority of the game is spent doubling enemies and easily killing them in one turn, it would also make crits a little more meaningful when they happen because it would actually save a turn, rather than just save watching the second attack.  It probably wouldn't work across the board, parts of Hard might become *too* hard without doubling, but it's a fun idea to imagine how combat would play out with less x2 attacks anyway.

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Brilliant podcast!  You guys (and gal) completely sold me on trying out this game.  Wait, the game is only on the Switch.  You guys are terrible!  :P

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