It is not a stretch to say that there has never been a truly good Harry Potter video game. Yes, some of the movie tie-in games were better than others, but with the possible exception of the Lego adaptations (and my own personal love for Quidditch World Cup), most of them are forgettable. But after the recent disappointments of the free-to-play adventure Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery and the Pokémon Go-style Wizards Unite, there’s finally a truly great Harry Potter game. It manages to check all the boxes: magical wizard school, epic story, and deep, personal drama.
The only problem is that it’s actually a Fire Emblem game.
I’m talking about Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which is out today on the Nintendo Switch. It’s not a perfect Harry Potter game due to the minor technicality of “not actually being a Harry Potter title,” but it still manages to nearly perfectly encapsulate everything that makes the book and movie series so good in video game form.
Nearly everything in Three Houses channels Harry Potter: there’s the monthly gameplay structure, in which you can explore the monastery / school, fish in the lake, run the greenhouse, share meals with students, and engage in magical studies. And there are the story missions, where your students get to apply those skills fighting evils both ancient and new.
The Harry Potter trappings in Three Houses are almost too blatant, in fact. Magic school (in this case, the Garreg Mach Monastery Officer’s Academy)? Check. Color-coded houses with rivalries? Check. Eccentric professors with unique specialties? Check. Mysterious authority figure running the place with a vested interest in main character who definitely knows more than they’re saying about the threat unfolding? Extremely check. In fact, in the delirium haze of marathoning Three Houses at 3AM (it’s a long game), I started to wonder: why isn’t this a Harry Potter game?
Even Fire Emblem’s particular style of tactical gameplay seems like it would be perfectly suited to the Potter series. While Harry Potter’s brand of spellcasting has typically been seen in games in a more action-oriented style gameplay, Fire Emblem’s turn-based, back-and-forth combat could be perfect for the Wizarding World, which typically sees duels with a more call-and-response style. Imagine selecting offensive and defensive spells to counter enemies, using potions for buffs and boosts, interacting with the environment — it all seems like it would transfer really well to a Harry Potter game, and Fire Emblem already does it all.
In a perfect world, you could even adapt the Hogwarts experience to Three Houses’ systems: pick a house of students to teach, choose specific classes to study in and fellow students to befriend over time. Story missions could pop up every few weeks in small, episodic chunks just like the chapters in the books (which similarly jump around the school year), and some tactical gameplay would leverage the spells, abilities, and magic of Rowling’s world.
You could even work in the seven year Hogwarts structure like Three Houses’ time jump, with students growing over time and unlocking new abilities (and hairstyles) along the way. All you’d need to do is throw in a House Cup mechanic to earn points for your house and a Quidditch mini-game somewhere along the way, and you’d be all set.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses understands what nearly every Harry Potter game hasn’t: people didn’t love the books and movies because of the spell-flinging action. The characters and story mattered more. It’s that journey of watching these people learn and grow and interact and change over time that Three Houses replicates so well with its dual structure, and one that a future Harry Potter game could stand to learn a lot from, no matter what form it takes.
Or to put it another way: for its next game, instead of trying to copy Pokémon Go, the team at Portkey Games should be taking a page from Fire Emblem’s book instead.