Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a tactical role-playing game in which players control a player character whose gender and name are chosen at the beginning of the game. During the opening hours, the player character is asked to teach at the Garreg Mach Monastery, which acts as a hub for game activities. Choosing a particular school house to teach impacts the narrative from that point on. The player’s time is divided between story-based battles that advance the main narrative, and periods in Garreg Mach where they interact with students and staff members there. While the opening half of the game focuses on this school system, the story skips ahead five years and focuses more on battle, with the player being locked to the house they chose during the opening half.
As with other Fire Emblem games, Three Houses uses a turn-based battle system; players take control of a set number of unique units. They move across a grid, transitioning from a top-down perspective to a third-person view when a battle is triggered. A new feature to the series allows player to hire Battalions, additional troops that can support a chosen unit. Battalions have passive abilities which grant character buffs to the lead unit, and can perform special moves called Gambits, which can range from healing multiple units to stunning powerful enemies. Players can also zoom in on the battlefield to assess individual battalions. As with other entries, there is a “Classic” mode where characters who fall in battle are subjected to permanent death, and a “Casual” mode where fallen characters are resurrected after each battle. After a certain point in the story, players can undo a set amount of turn actions per battle using the Divine Pulse ability.