Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Gameplay Demo

Screenshot of battle scene in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Source: Nintendo Everything

Set in the fantasy region of Fódlan, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a tactical-RPG developed by Intelligent Systems where the player takes on the role of a professor at a prestigious military academy. As both their teacher and tactician, you must make strategic decisions both in the classroom and on the battlefield to determine the fate of your students and allies in this story of war, bonds, and mysteries. 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has won multiple awards since its release in 2019, including Best Strategy Game in 2019 and Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year in 2020. Here are a few lenses in which Three Houses excels at, and which I believe have contributed to the game’s success.

The Lens of The Elemental Triad

The game’s mechanics, story, aesthetic, and technology complement each other to help make the world of Fódlan feel alive, enhancing the main themes of the game such as grief and the inherent morally gray nature of war. Let’s take a closer look at each element to see how they are able to accomplish this.


The core gameplay loop switches between “Academy Days” and “Battle Days”. In the academy, you can interact with your students in many ways such as tutoring them or having lunch together to deepen your bonds, which makes it all the more painful when you lose a student, or when you’re once again reunited, but on the opposite sides of war. During battles, the use of a rock-paper-scissors style weapon triangle combined with how different elements such as positioning and terrain affect each fight create dynamic and varied gameplay, and the use of permadeath adds a sense of stakes to the player’s decisions.


There are 4 branching paths in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, each telling a different side of the war. The player chooses which house (i.e. class) to align themselves with early, within the first hour of the game. However, throughout the game you will continue interacting with students from other houses, building relationships with them and getting to know what their motivations and aspirations are. The game leverages the player’s attachment to these characters to make their high-impact moments hit even harder (as will be discussed below).


The game’s main aesthetic is medieval fantasy. Surrounding the player are knights and mages, archbishops and demonic beasts. The use of 3D graphics as well as high-quality voice acting for every line of every character further enhances the player’s immersion in the setting of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Its impressive sound design also works well to emphasize the emotional impact of any given scene.


Though there were no notable breakthroughs, the game runs smoothly throughout, and was praised by fans for their extensive voice library even though the developers had to work within the Nintendo Switch’s limited capabilities as a handheld home console.

Now, let’s look at some other lenses.

The Lens of The Character Web

There are 33 total playable characters in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and one thing this game excels at above all else is the depth and characterization of each of these characters. By having two characters interact with each other either in battle or at the academy, players are able to view conversations between those two characters, giving them insight into what everyone thinks of everyone else. There are childhood friends, estranged family members, budding friendships. We, the player, get to know these characters not only through our own eyes, but through the eyes of their fellow peers as well.

The Lens of Moments

There were several key moments that stuck out to me. The shock I felt when the player’s father figure died (twice!), the betrayal that coursed through me when it was revealed one of the students was the main antagonist and started a war, the relief and pride swelling in my heart when I was reunited with my students after a 5-year time skip. The game was designed so that the player could easily fall in love with its characters, and I felt that these moments, as well as so many more I do not have the time to mention, had such a great impact due to the closeness and camaraderie I felt towards these characters.

The Lens of Challenge

The Fire Emblem series is notorious for its unforgiving difficulty settings, and this entry is no different. Players can choose between “Normal”, “Hard”, and “Maddening” difficulty, and veteran players know just how dangerous it is to choose the hardest game mode in a Fire Emblem game. Although it never gets to the point of being unfair, players can choose to breeze through the battles to experience the story, or strategically plan their every move where one oversight can mean losing one of your students forever. For additional padding, the game also allows players to turn off permadeath, and gives the player the (canon) ability to rewind time.

The Lens of Curiosity

The very first cutscene depicts an ancient war, won by a woman who looks eerily similar to the archbishop/headmistress of the academy. Already, players are asking questions about who this woman is and what mysterious past could she be hiding. Even more than that, players are curious about the main playable character as well, what powers lie dormant within their body, and why do they not remember anything about themselves either. Mysteries like these, about characters or about the world, continue to appear and unravel themselves throughout the story, leaving players wanting to know more and more, not willing to put the game down until they find their answers.

Overall, Fire Emblem: Three Houses demonstrates a strong understanding of game design principles and effectively utilizes them to create a compelling and engaging gameplay experience. To anyone who has yet to pick up this masterpiece, I hope I’ve made a compelling case for why you should.

Loop Hero

“grimly enchanting” – PC Gamer

IGF (Seumas McNally Grand Prize Finalist):

Website demo:

Gameplay video:


Loop Hero centers around a brave hero embarking on a journey to rebuild his collapsed world. Stuck in a timeless loop, the hero regains silvers of his memory and advances on a harsh path to defeat the Lich that destroyed his world. This is a story of one’s solitary perseverance in a desolate world. Driven by a unique set of game mechanics revolving around mystical cards, Loop Hero enchants players in an endless RPG, push-your-luck rogue-like game.


The Elemental Tetrad


The game begins after the world’s demise, with a dialogue introduction that tells a tale of an evil lich obliterating reality and everything in it. The hero wakes up in a small campsite along a path and tries to restore the world. En voyage, he meets other survivors that assists him in restoring the world or desperate ones that attack him in despair.


Loop Hero is made of a beautifully intersecting set of game mechanics, of which includes:
Infinite Adventure: Select from unlockable character classes and deck cards before setting out on each expedition along a randomly generated loop path. No expedition is ever the same as the ones before it.
Strategics: Wield cards to place enemies, buildings, and terrain along each unique loop. Finding balance between the cards to increase the chances of survival is tricky and thrilling.
Looting: Strike down creatures, recover stronger loot to equip on the fly and unlock new perks along the way. Gain resources for the camp.
Expanding Camp: Turn resources into campsite upgrades and to reinforce the hero for the next loop.
Boss Fights: Overcome a series of unholy guardians over a grand saga to save the world and break the time loop of the Lich.

Adventure & Looting
Camp Building


In terms of graphics, Loop Hero may not be as visually appealing as anime-style games like Genshin Impact or adventure games like Red Dead Redemption 2. However, it has beautiful pixel art designs, crafted with very minute details that appeals to players that love rogue-like games. Additionally, it boasts an alluring playlist of OSTs, which corresponds to the different levels and sections of the gameplay. An example that immerses players in the gameplay is the menacing music played on encounter with boss monsters.

Battle Graphics


Loop Hero is a 2D game that doesn’t need to implement the complex graphics and rendering in 3D games. It also doesn’t employ a lot of physics like in some 2D games such as Angry Birds. As a single player game, it also doesn’t integrate multiplayer aspects or enable cooperation between players. However, the low memory, graphics and storage requirements allow it to be playable on most devices and reach out to a greater pool of players. The game is available on Windows, MacOS, Linux as well as Nintendo Switch.



The game has a clear goal – to defeat the Lich. The different aspects of the game builds towards this ultimate goal to defeat an overpowering adversary. The endless loop and camp expansion mechanics of the game reinforces each other (the loot gained from adventure upgrades camp while camp improvements help the character to survive longer in the adventure). As the adventurer gets stronger and stronger, the challenges posed by the monsters increases until the emergence of the final boss.


The looting aspect in the adventure creates a sense of excitement within the player, as the player has a good chance of obtaining extremely strong equipment from monster drops. The game is designed in a way such that if the player takes greater risks (by placing cards in a certain fashion to increase difficulty of monsters that appear), the player has a better chance of obtaining higher tier drops. Additionally, the randomness of cards received creates a thrill by making players adapt to the situation.


The game is designed from an apocalyptic point-of-view. The background is gloomy and the colour scheme is dull which creates a sense of foreboding. The art style fits that of a rogue-like game and effort is put in to make the interface look ancient. The mouse cursor is also changed to that of an iron gauntlet which helps to craft an immersive experience for the player. The atmosphere is reinforced with stimulating music and sound effects that give off a feeling of battle.


Action-wise, Loop Hero does an excellent job of enticing players to learn the game mechanics and strategies to defeat monsters in the game. The intuitive interface allows users to dive right into the game with little tutorial while encouraging players to experiment and try out different strategies. However as the game reaches the end stages, players have given reviews that it gets more and more difficult to overcome bosses, forcing players to end up relying on a fixed set of strategies of cards to defeat levels. This limits players’ range of actions to take, which could lead to players losing interest due to lack of creative stimulus.


Loop Hero balances the grind of the game even as an endless RPG genre of game. This makes it different from auto-RPG mobile games which are designed to be so tediously grindy that even when the combat is automated, the game is still a chore. The clever twist of map/card building mechanics and a fun settlement-building portion allowed me to spend an enjoyable time playing the game, rather than just grinding to progress. However, the game does get grindy towards the later parts which may frustrate players.


Overall a well-designed game with a unique take on the usual dungeon-crawler games. Highly recommended to try.


Gameplay video:

The Elemental Tetrad

Introduction & Story

Valheim is a 3D survival game for 1~10 players, based on the Norse mythologies where players need to gather resources, craft tools and weapons, build shelters, and finally find defeat bosses to prove themselves to the god Odin.


The game unfolds in a huge, dynamic and procedurally generated world free for the player to explore, while the flow of the game is sequential. 

The game starts off with players at the world origin with an altar where players can give loots from each of the 6 bosses to be defeated as sacrifice to Odin. The world consists of many biomes such as dark forests, swaps and mountains. In each biome, there are different types of crafting materials and monsters. There is also one boss corresponding to each biome type. 

Players can explore the world, find the bosses and defeat them, but in a sequential manner, as there are also mechanics discouraging players from going to and explore meaningfully a biome that corresponds to a later boss. For example, the Dark Forest has an abundance of copper mines, but players need to defeat the previous boss to craft their first pick-axe to do minings.


In terms of graphics and modelling, the game is not great. In fact, entities in the game has very coarse 3D meshes and the animations are not impressive. However, the game has very impressive rendering and lighting effects.

However, the game has immersive background music that corresponds to the theme of each biome. In the case of players entering a “higher level biome” for the first time, there will also be eerie music sounds alerting you that you are entering a biome beyond your strength.


Valheim is an indie game developed by Iron Gate Studio consisting of only 5 developers. It is developed using Unity game engine. Despite many different elements and game mechanics, the game is surprisingly small (probably as a result of low mesh counts for in-game entities), as the program size is less than 1 Gigabyte, and it has very low system requirements.

Game Interface


#3 Lens of Venue

The game map is randomly generated for each game, so it ensures unique gameplay each time you start with a new game character. However, different biomes have different generation criteria based on distance from world center. This ensures that new players are not challenged with different biomes when they first begin, and players are expected to travel further away from their starting point to explore as the game progresses.

#8 Lens of Problem Solving

To defeat each boss, players need to first explore and find the altar for the boss. At the altar, players must provide a specific item available in the biome as sacrifice to summon and defeat the boss. A carved stone at the altar shows a riddle hinting the correct sacrifice item. This mechanism not only compels players to think and solve the riddle, it also encourages them to explore the biome thoroughly so that they can get access to all the items in the biome.

The Altar to summon the boss

#35 Lens of Expected Value

When players are killed in Valheim, they lose all items in the inventory at the corpse and their combat and survival skill levels drop. They are then spawned and have to go to the corpse to get items recovered. Such punishments discourage players from entering a new biome or summon a boss before getting well-equipped. On the other hand, venturing into a new biome means getting access to new materials for crafting more powerful equipment. As a result, players need to weigh and think carefully whether they should continue upgrading their equipment in the current biome or advance the game progress.

#51 Lens of Imagination

One element that makes Valheim stands out from other survival games is its extreme level of realistic-ness. Buildings in Valheim follow real world physics principles – for example, different materials have load-bearing capacity, and you can see the load on each segment of a building through different color codes when building it. In addition, players also need to take into account things such as ventilation when setting up a fire indoor. Such principles enforce players to build realistic shelters, giving them a more immersive experience, making them feel as if they are warriors surviving in the wild themselves.

A player’s base in game
Cooking on fire in Valheim



Lost Judgment

Lost Judgment is an is an action-adventure video game developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (RGG Studio), published by Sega and released in 2021. It is a spin-off of and is set in the same universe as RGG Studio’s flagship franchise, Yakuza, and is the sequel to Judgment, which came out in 2018. The game is a single-player experience featuring an expressive combat system and is also heavily story-driven, touching on topics such as bullying, justice and the importance of knowing the truth.

Lens 9: Elemental Tetrad


The game has a realistic art style and mostly uses 3D models and assets. It is set in 2 cities the player is able to roam around in. The first is Kamurocho, a shady entertainment district based off of Kabukicho, a real red-light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo. During the game’s night time, Kamurocho has many bright lights and signs which provide a contrast the dark roads and alleyways, doing an excellent job at selling the city’s culture of nightlife.

The second city is Isezaki Ijincho, based on Isezakicho, a shopping district in Yokohama. Ijincho is much bigger and has a variety of environments such as a high school, a park, and a bar district. It has a very vibrant and varied color scheme that suits a lively city.

However, I feel that Lost Judgment’s biggest strength aesthetically lies in its animations. Yagami’s fighting styles consist of moves inspired by various martial arts such as Aikido, Boxing and Kung Fu with stylish and over-the-top movements that are fun to execute and watch. Each fighting style also has its own combat music to make the player feel energized, and every attack feels impactful and weighty, making the combat not just fun to look at but also satisfying to play.


Lost Judgment was developed in RGG Studio’s Dragon Engine, which was originally developed for Yakuza 6 in 2016. The game was originally a Playstation exclusive, but was eventually ported to PC and is now available for purchase on Steam. This has also allowed the game to be modded more easily, as RGG Studio’s engines are highly scalable, and players have been able to import old models and animations from the older games in the series, as well as modding animations from Lost Judgment into RGG Studio’s other titles.


Lost Judgment’s primary gameplay loop comes from its combat system, where the player can switch between 4 distinct fighting styles and perform combos on enemies. The system’s appeal mainly comes from the wide variety of moves the player can use, which allows for very expressive and varied combat experiences. There are also heat actions, which consume heat, a resource the player gains by damaging enemies. Heat actions are special moves that deal big damage and have cinematic shots of their animations. Furthermore, certain moves can apply certain effects to enemies like stun, fear and agony, which can allow the player to perform special heat actions.


Lost Judgment follows the story of Takayuki Yagami, a private detective investigating Akihiko Ehara, a criminal accused of both sexual harassment and murder. The main draw comes from the mystery, as the initial evidence used to accuse Ehara of sexual harassment acts as an alibi for him during the murder as the 2 crimes seemingly take place at the same time, which would allow him to get away with murder on a much lighter sentence. As Yagami works to uncover the truth, the case eventually leads him to the school Ehara’s son once went to, where he discovers a link between Ehara and a series of murders committed against bullies in Kamurocho and Ijincho.

Lens 50: Character

When it comes to character, games by RGG Studios are widely known for having extremely serious and climactic stories while also including silly and over-the-top moments, and Lost Judgment is no exception to this. For instance, the player can perform a heat action on enemies afflicted with fear where Yagami will perform a Kabedon on them, a move associated with a confession of love in Japanese culture, causing the enemy to pass out from fear in response.

Lens 79: Freedom

In Lost Judgment, players are free to roam around the cities of Kamurocho and Ijincho, and are rewarded with interesting substories and activities for doing so. The only instance where the player may not be free to roam the city is during a main mission, where the game has a fixed path and sequence of events it wants the player to follow, so it restricts them to a certain area or level.

Another aspect of the game which gives freedom is its combat system, where the player is free to tackle combat encounters in many ways due to the wide variety of moves and fighting styles. Together with the animations, this makes the game’s combat feel incredibly satisfying and entertaining.

Lens 87: Character Traits

As a private detective and ex-lawyer, Yagami has a strong sense of justice and regards the truth very highly. This can be seen in his actions and dialogue throughout the story. Although he does not go through much of a character arc in this game, his personality can be largely attributed to the events of Judgment, as much of his growth as a character was written in the first game.

The rest of the game’s cast are also quite likeable and fun, and are generally regarded quite highly among fans for their interesting and charming personalities.

Lens 68: Moments

Many of the key moments in Lost Judgment are climactic boss battles against powerful enemies that are also significant to the story. These are elevated by the intense soundtrack, as well as the dynamic intros that RGG Studios is known for. All of these serve the purpose of hyping the player up for the encounter and do a great job at it.

“A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.” – analysis of Until Dawn

Do your actions really matter?

1. Game description:

Until Dawn is an interactive drama survival horror, where every decision affects the plot.
Player follows the story of eight teenagers who have to survive on Blackwood Mountain until they are rescued at dawn. 

1.1 Plot:
During a party at her lodge on Blackwood Mountain, two sisters die due to a prank. A year later, the rest of the guests are invited to the same lodge. As the night progresses, they are terrorised by a masked man. Is this another prank or real threat? Is there anything else waiting for them in the mountain cabin?

1.2 Technology:
Game was developed by Supermassive Games using Decima engine. It is a PS4 exclusive.

1.3 Game trailer, gameplay and game website:
Game trailer:

Official Release Date Trailer


Full game walkthrough

2. Lenses:

Lens #39: The lens of Meaningful Choices
The whole game mechanism is based on butterfly effect1, where a small change in one state can result in a larger difference in another one. Each player choice in game is meaningful and directly affects the story and our possible future choices – relations between characters can become stronger, weaker or, due to our actions, characters can die.

  • There are 22 critical choices in game
  • Certain choices may unlock new sequences of events (leading to unforeseen consequences)

Lens #78: The lens of Story
The story of the game is well designed and complex – with each choice, the events within the game can change dramatically. Storyline is non-linear – with each new game, player might get a different outcomes and discover new information important to the plot. Information given to the player are subjective – each character perceives the events differently.

  • There are 3 main endings (all alive, all dead, some alive) with 256 unique variations (28 based on the number of characters)
  • There are 10 chapters in game with intermissions between chapters to analyse player’s personality based on his game
  • A game script is nearly 10,000 pages2 long.

Lens #41: The lens of Skill vs Chance
The game has almost no luck-based components. The gameplay is decided purely on player’s skills within quick time events, decisions made in the story and player’s will to explore (there are hidden totems, which reveal possible future events). Only player’s decision-making skills, intuition, reflexes and curiosity are the factors that will decide on the characters’ fate.

  • There are 30 totems to be found in Until Dawn – 6 totems out of each category (death, danger, loss, guidance and fortune)
  • Some decisions are timed

Lens #47: The lens of Punishment
Until Dawn uses a strict auto-save system – whenever a decision is made, game is saved to prevent players from reloading the game state before the decision was made. If the character dies, we cannot bring them back to life. The only way to undo our previous choices or mistakes is to restart the game and continue with a new, fresh start.3

Lens #87: The lens of Character Traits
Until Dawn story is mostly about character development and how certain events influence our relations and our personality. Each of 8 characters in game are different personalities with unique their views and beliefs. Every decision in game is influenced by the character we are currently playing. Although, throughout the game, our choices shape the reality and affect our relations and cause character development. Player can also view the personality of each character and his or her relationships with others within in-game menu.4

Articles and references:

  1. Boeing, G. (2016) “Visual Analysis of Nonlinear Dynamical Systems: Chaos, Fractals, Self-Similarity and the Limits of Prediction” (On butterfly effect)
  2. Klepek, Patrick (22 September 2015), “How Until Dawn Ended Up with nearly 10000 page script” Kotaku
  3. Bell, Larryn (30 August 2015) “Until Dawn Walkthrough and Guide” Prima Games
  4. Takahashi, Dean (26 August 2015) “10 tips for surviving the night in Until Dawn”

Streets of Rogue

Streets of Rogue is an action rogue-lite game. You play as a disgruntled citizen making his/her way through randomly generated levels in a city in order to confront a corrupt Mayor. This game emphasises on player choice; you are given complete freedom on how you will approach completing the missions in the game. Will you go in a restricted area guns blazing to get to someone? Or will you poison the air vents to make him come to you? You can also choose from a variety of characters, each with their own perks which drastically change the way you play the game.

Here is a video of how the gameplay looks like.

Elemental Tetrad

– Zoomed out overview, WASD controls.
– Mouse is used to orientate the player, mainly for aiming with projectile items/ weapons.
– Levels are randomly generated. Every third level, there will be an additional challenge on that level (e.g. Killer Robot Is After You!).
– As the game progresses, levels become harder. Players encounter new levels with their unique structures and NPCs (e.g. During the Downtown levels, there will also be many mafia NPCs walking around which will try to extort money from the player.)
– Players have freedom to talk to, attack, hire, or help any of the NPCs that are walking around.
– Depending on the character being played, more options might be open(e.g. threatening, bribing, gifting, etc).
– NPCs will remember their encounter with the player for the rest of the level; hostile NPCs will try to attack you or call the cops, while friendly or aligned NPCs will come to your aid.
– As this game is a rogue-lite, players will always start a game at level one.
– Players can get experience from almost any action performed, with the largest bulk of experience being gained from completing the main missions.
– On level up, players can choose a new perk at the end of the level.
– Up to four players can play together locally or online.
– For local play, players have to share the same screen view (meaning players cannot walk too far away from each other)

– Story of Streets of Rogue is shallow, serving mainly to give the setting for the player. During the tutorial, players are shown to be recruited into the Resistance. However, after the tutorial, as the player makes their way through the city, there is no longer any mention of the Resistance.
– Rather than use a main storyline, the game stands out for its quirkyness and randomness. Example: character selection. Players can choose from a multitude of characters, each having a short backstory and their “Big Quest” to achieve along way to overthrow the mayor (e.g. Doctor wants to spread peace, big quest is not being allowed to kill people). Some characters would make sense such as a Soldier or Policeman, but there are characters that seemingly make no sense introduced like the Vampire and Zombie.
– Some storytelling is done as the player progresses through the levels: starting from the Suburbs, the player will eventually reach the Downtown and Uptown areas where there is greater security and more tension shown where the player is denied access or privileges due to not being an “authorised citizen”.
– There are no story-specific events that unfold, until the player finally wins the game.

– Game looks simple with its pixel artstyle. Since the gameplay is fast paced, this is not a game where you stop to look at the design.
– Minimalist approach is taken to focus on gameplay; NPCs dialogue is simple, when you interact with an object you will see a simple dropdown list of what you can do, similar to using an object there are no unique animations, status effects will be displayed in text on the corner of the screen (e.g. Weak)

– PC game, standard controls. There are options to use controllers which would be more suited since this is similar to arcade games.

Lens of Surprise

Wow, this game is full of surprises.
– Random events happen throughout the levels, with some events base on the demographic of certain areas (e.g. Ongoing war on the level, so there will be soldiers and cannibals constantly spawning and fighting).
– Similarly, randomly encounters with NPCs (e.g. thieves coming up to steal your items, gorillas attacking you on sight because you are a scientist, a cannibal popping out of a manhole to eat you).
– Note that the element of surprise is so overwhelming at times that it is not uncommon for you to suddenly die and lose the game, which might detract from fun – or, provide an element of challenge (e.g. being caught in the crossfire of a random battle between mafia and the police).

Lens of Time

Wow, this game takes a long time to play.
– Normally for rogue-lites, you would expect gameplay to be short, but one game of Streets of Rogue can easily take an hour.
– This is partly due to the large level size, and the complexity of mission that usually have the objective nested inside a large complicated building.
– Additionally, due to the unpredictability of the game, players would want to navigate the level in a cautious manner versus just rushing through.

Lens of Problem Solving

Basically the essence of the game.
– This is one of the key selling points of the game: being able to complete the missions any way you want.
– To the point where you can complete the whole game indirectly; i.e using circumstances, hiring people, inciting conflicts, and the missions will complete themselves for you.
– This high variability can make the game too easy sometimes, though. Example: The final mission, get the Mayor’s hat. Mayor is accompanied by guard detail, I completed the mission within 15 seconds by giving the guards poison to make them enraged, the resulting shootout killed the mayor.

Lens of Endogenous Value

Wow, this has some amazing rewards.
– The missions that the player has to complete before completing the level, will yield random items of highly variable utility, giving players a lot of options to approach future missions (e.g. Resurrection shampoo, cyanide pill, necronomicon, hacking tool, friend phone, etc).
– Although some items have powerful effects, they are not game-breaking as the items are not able to be used constantly through the game, so it is balanced.