Those who've played previous games in this beloved series know what they're in for here: Chess-like tactics with decisions that can have game-changing consequences. Fire Emblem: Three Houses delivers all of this, and plenty more. There's much more dialogue and character development here than in previous Fire Emblem games, with players able to spend an hour or more running around the monastery between battles as they talk to and teach students, fulfill quest requirements, and carry out tasks that include gardening, fishing, cooking, and hosting tea parties. There's also more opportunity to practice combat and grind levels, thanks to a variety of quest battles, prologue missions, and monster routing assignments that come available every week. Expect to sink scores of hours into this one -- more if you choose to replay as each of the two houses you didn't initially pick (each comes with its own set of playable characters) in your first playthrough. What's also notable is the addition of new content which has added new content, such as extra battles, new characters to recruit, new character classes to play, and even new activities in the monastery to participate in with your favorite students or faculty. The latest DLC pack adds a mysterious fourth house, the Ashen Wolves, who are small, but powerful fighters in their own right. Discovering why these characters are below the monastery is an interesting tale, and it's handled as a side quest so you can complete it and recruit these students to your main game, unlocking new quests and story elements along the way.
Some other changes in this bigger and more ambitious entry might not sit as well with certain players. Though the optional "permadeath" feature returns, it doesn't have the same significance as in previous games. Rather than disappearing completely from the story, defeated characters are placed on a permanent disabled list of sorts rather than outright killed. They can often still be seen and interacted with in and around the monastery. Plus, a new time rewinding feature means players can revert to a previous turn to avoid the deaths of particularly beloved heroes. And while the expanded array of activities between battles is interesting at first, it can get repetitive as players feel the need to obsessively seek out everyone to return lost items they've found and see if they've got anything new or interesting to say. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a good addition to the series, and it makes great use of the Switch hardware for improved graphics and on-the-go play, but franchise traditionalists may find themselves wishing for a return to its hardcore roots.