Fire Emblem: Three Houses is Harry Potter's Hogwarts mashed up with the kind of JRPG tactics gameplay one would expect from a franchise that's famous for delivering some of the very best in the genre. It's a wild setting that essentially posits that Fire Emblem would be improved by liberally lifting Persona social sim elements and painting them with a Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff aesthetic - and, in a bizarre, almost unbelievable way, it works.
We're currently mid-way through reviewing Fire Emblem: Three Houses and, without any spoilers, the game has no reservations about leaning heavily into the new elements it has infused the franchise with. Typically, Fire Emblem games already have some social sim elements in them, but they're restricted to building up the relationships between units - usually on the field of battle - and then observing their blossoming relationships. There's very little actual exploration to be done, and if there is, it's usually a brief side-journey that's still intended to gradually develop a budding romance between the player character and their favorite soldier.
That's all still present in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but there's so much more at play now. A calendar dictates the pace of these personal developments while also forcing players to balance their own relationships and the growth of their army. That growth can refer to both stats rising in the usual and immensely satisfying Fire Emblem way that unlocks new classes for characters, and a pure numbers perspective, too - if there's a character in another house that the player absolutely loves, they can work hard, improve their own stats to be in line with their desired recruit's values, and then win them over, convincing them to switch sides.
Yes, Hogwarts didn't really let students jump between houses, but the Sorting Hat did let Harry opt out of Slytherin, so it's kind of a wash when it comes to the comparison to Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The real takeaway, though, is that all these social sim elements have a very distinct Harry Potter and Persona feedback loop that makes them compelling and addictive. Raising Professor experience, for instance, allows the player character - who is a teacher despite being of similar age to their students due to JRPG hero circumstances - to do more with their exploration and studies, benefiting not only them but the team around them. This can be done by gardening, fishing, sharing a meal with friends (very much like how Harry and company eat in Hogwarts before a big narrative beat) and more. They're all satisfying and, despite clearly being present to pad out the experience a bit, are all enjoyable and don't feel as extraneous as they actually are.
Truthfully, there was plenty of reason to be skeptical about Fire Emblem: Three Houses doing its best Harry Potter impression, but any fears about it have melted away within the first thirty hours of gameplay. Those long hours feel short thanks to the well-implemented social simulation system, which still sprinkles in a healthy dose of tactical combat to ensure players don't forget what franchise they're currently exploring. The aesthetic, implementation, and quality of the addition of houses, schooling, and exploration to Fire Emblem: Three Houses is compelling in a way the series has never been before. It's also charming to boot, a welcome and refreshing change from a series that often very quickly embroils itself in world-altering war and brutality. That's still present - losing a character is even more devastating now that they're students of the player's - but it's massaged a little in the opening to really set the stage.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses' opening hours are some of the series' very best. If the second part of the narrative after the time-skip holds up, this could genuinely be one of the best in the entire franchise - and, not for nothing, a terrific entry point into the series, much in the same way that the Persona games are wonderful gateways into the more time-consuming but equally adept Shin Megami Tensei games. For now, though, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is at the very least a worthy subsitute for the great Harry Potter RPG fans have deserved for decades now, and fits right at home on the Nintendo Switch.