Here it is. Part 1 of 3 in my upcoming series of Fire Emblem Three Houses reviews. We begin with the Blue Lions. But first, some overall reflections on this massive undertaking of a game.
This is the game that Intelligent Systems probably wanted Fates to be. It has three main branching timelines, decided by picking a side near the start of the game. As with that one, the whole story cannot be understood without playing all three routes. There’s a lot of similarities.
Except, this time, it’s good.
Also, all three routes are contained in a single cartridge rather than requiring two separate downloads. At the time, people were scandalized that each route of Fates cost money, sold as separate games. Meanwhile, I am flabbergasted that they are selling a game as massive and sprawling as Three Houses for a mere $60.
If Fates was a misunderstanding of the appeal of Awakening, Three Houses is a return to form. That’s simply to note that I think almost every change Three Houses makes to the Fire Emblem formula is a positive one. I thought Fire Emblem 7 could never be replaced in my nostalgia-ridden heart, but Goddess does Three Houses make a case.
I’ll be playing through and reviewing each of the three routes (we’ll be ignoring the church route for Edelgard, since I’ve heard it’s very similar to Golden Deer and I don’t think I can do this a fourth time) over the course of the next few months. I honestly don’t think I’ll run out of things to say about it. If I miss a point (and I know that I am already holding off on stuff I want to talk about), it’ll likely be in one of the subsequent posts.
So strap in. It’s time for Dimitri’s No Good Very Bad Decade.
1. Dimitri: What Makes the Blue Lions
“I’m afraid my story has not been a pleasant one… I do hope that doesn’t color your view of me, but I understand if that can’t be helped.”
Every house has its own appeal, I’ll give you that. The Black Eagles have…Edelgard and the Golden Deer have…Claude. Yeah, that’s about it.
Just kidding! They really do all have their own appeal and feel, outside of just the house leaders.
I had pretty much settled on Blue Lions before picking up the game, mostly because I expected them to be the least popular first pick (I mean…Edelgard. And Claude!)
Apparently they’re actually the most popular in Japan, but I was at least right about the West.
However, upon learning more about each house through the nice introductions the game sets up, I gravitated towards them even more. They simply have the most complicated interpersonal relationships, right from the get-go. Ashe is the only one in the house that didn’t previously know someone else. In comparison, the Black Eagles felt rather distant and formal with each other while the Golden Deer was just a mess of people from everywhere. Thematically appropriate, from what I know, but I can’t resist a good web of connections.
It’s strange- the game almost feels like it wants you to pick Blue Lions to start with. Your first quests at the monastery are given to you by Sylvain and Dedue (and Flayn since nobody loves fish as much as Flayn) regardless of your choice. And early missions see you tackling Kingdom issues: Ashe’s adopted father and Sylvain’s disowned older brother cause problems that you have to stop. Finally, having played a good amount of Golden Deer by now, some reveals are…well, let’s say not quite as impactful as they are in Blue Lions. Like the Flame Emperor reveal is just…incredibly underwhelming compared to how it was in Blue Lions and not just because I already knew who was under there.
The missions, at least, make sense lore-wise. Everybody comments in conversation that the Kingdom is a mess thanks to the Tragedy of Duscur so of course that’s where the most turmoil happens. But I can’t help but think it would feel strange to go into these events without Ashe or Sylvain in your party. Also kind of weird to send kids from other countries to deal with Kingdom issues, even if they are really Church issues.
All this to say, I’m glad I chose the Blue Lions as my first pick. It feels like a good one to go with. And I love them. And I love Dimitri. Half of my Golden Deer run is just me running in circles around Dimitri, wishing I could be there for him. The other half is futilely trying to make Dedue my friend.
2. Ingrid: First Impressions are Deceiving
“Glenn…I’ll see you soon. Death isn’t sad, not…really.”
The character writing is so much stronger in Three Houses. And not just in comparison to Fates. As much as I love Awakening, a lot of the units can be summed up in a word. They’re still charming and lovable, but I wouldn’t call very many of them complex. From the past two games, I can count the characters I deeply connected to on my hands: Lucina, Owain, Inigo, Brady, Takumi, maybe Elise…I could probably stretch it a little more, but that’s all I’ve got off the top of my head. I still need to get around to playing Echoes, so I’m not counting that at the moment.
Shall I list the characters I connected to in Three Houses? I can’t, because it’s honestly just all of them.
They all start pretty stereotypical, and it’s not like the surface level of their personalities ever leave them. It’s just that they’re also more than that. Let’s use Ingrid as an example, since she’s probably the least liked member of the Blue Lions from what I’ve seen online.
She’s your typical Cordelia at first glance- very serious, dedicated, devoted to becoming a knight. But what matters is the motivation behind it. She’s carrying on the dream of her fiance who died in the Tragedy of Duscur. And, despite her desire to be a knight, family obligations mean that she’s obligated to marry and pass on her Crest instead. It’s a dream that she’s recognized will never become reality. But still, she dreams it.
And yes, losing her fiance in the Tragedy of Duscur colored her view towards the people of the region. She was thirteen when Glenn died, and you just don’t process things well at that age. She was too young to be in love with him, but she makes it clear that he was the most important person to her, someone she admired and respected beyond measure. It would have been difficult to go through, and it would have been hard to not be somewhat spiteful. She knows that her prejudice is unfair, and she even acknowledges that in her conversations with Dedue. But those same conversations give her a chance to grow out of it, to do better.
Of course, I have never experienced racism personally, and I think anybody can like or dislike any character they want for whatever reason they want. But the fact that Ingrid has real, serious flaws stemming from real, serious events in her own history is something I really appreciate in the game’s writing. Not everybody comes out of bad circumstances a better person. When the world is monstrous, sometimes it makes you a bit of a monster.
I could do this deep dive with every character, and not just the ones in the Blue Lions. It’s helped by the fact that the world itself is so fleshed out. But that’ll be for another post.
3. Ashe: Making Friends
“And they always value things like friendship, loyalty, and justice. That’s the kind of knight I want to be.”
Thanks to the power of a gift-giving and a lost item guide, I managed to recruit every single recruitable character in the game. It’s honestly not that hard, particularly on normal when you don’t have to worry about your own units as much. Originally, I was just gunning for a few, but the more I saw supports and the more I collected, the more I figured I might as well snag them all.
It was a little funny, later on. I would run around the monastery, listening to people worry about facing old classmates, and wondering who they could possibly be talking about when everyone was here.
I’m glad I did it though. Because, I honestly don’t hate any of them. If I had to pick a least-favorite, I would say that I wasn’t overly fond of Lorenz. But even he has grown on me through my Golden Deer run (that’s for later). As I said back in the Ingrid section, the character writing is just so much stronger. And the cross-house supports can just be so delightful. I loved seeing them all.
Still though, check back on my Black Eagles run. My current plan is to recruit only Mercedes, Lysithea and perhaps whatever faculty I can- I was going to go with none of the students, but there’s something I’m curious about with Mercie, and I’ve figured out the connection between Edelgard and Lysithea already. Will that blog post be entirely me sobbing about having to kill my babies? Yes, yes it will be.
4. Sylvain: The Curse of Crests
“Shut up! I’m so tired of hearing that. You’ve always blamed me for something that isn’t my fault.”
The idea of Crests is not only interesting fodder for social strife with no direct real world analogue, but it’s also a cheeky bit of meta-commentary at the previous two Fire Emblem installments (not counting Echoes again sorry). A whole society built around breeding children with stunning abilities? Huh, don’t know what that reminds me of…
Awakening had a compelling story reason for its children mechanic, and it was new. Likely, when people first played it, they paired together units that they liked together or worked well together, and the children just came out. With Fates, however, it hardly mattered when nobody had any chemistry and every other pairing would result in incest anyway. I know that, by the time I reached the Revelations route especially, I was just thinking about how to make the most powerful children possible. It had truly become only a dry mechanic rather than any sort of storytelling device. There was no point to it.
You can hear more of my thoughts on the contrast between Awakening and Fates and their respective treatment of the children over on our YouTube channel.
You have to wonder if that’s how IntSys came up with the idea of Crests. I mean, marriages to pass on great power aren’t exactly fresh and new territory for imaginary worlds (looks at Todoroki). But it feels like such a direct response to what came before that you have to wonder if it is.
Either way, Crests are fascinating. It adds so much to the social structure of the world. There’s not just commoners and nobles. There’s commoners, Crestless nobles, and Crest-bearing nobles. They mess up the kids who have them (Lysithea, Sylvain, Marianne, Ingrid). They mess up the kids who don’t have them too. It provides room for sympathy in characters for who might otherwise just be “poor little rich kid.”
I mean, don’t get me wrong, they still are. But you know. For reasons.
5. Felix: What the Battlefield is Like
“I learned to thrust a sword before I learned to write my name. Of course, my upbringing wasn’t unique. That’s how it is for all children in my country.“
GUYS THERE’S NO WEAPON TRIANGLE WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO???
No, I kind of understand why they took it out. And it still sort of exists! There are abilities that give sword-wielders benefits against axe-wielders, etc. So it’s not entirely gone. Don’t despair.
But there’s so much other stuff going on here. Linked attacks, battalions and gambits, combat arts, monsters…the list goes on. If I had to think about putting the right weapon up against the other weapon, I think my brain would explode.
That being said, with the exception of the final map, it does get a bit…easy later on. Sylvain could just tear through everything with Felix and Dimitri at his side, especially with the staff from Lorenz’s paralogue giving him +2 range with his magic. Caspar also became overly powerful, once I fitted him with an avoid ring, and Ashe would critical everything with just a look. I’ve started my next playthrough on Hard since the New Game + benefits would likely make every map a joke.
Still, it was a satisfying kind of easy. I still felt smart as I blew through maps. Not to mention that, if I hadn’t had Divine Pulse, I would have had to reset a map plenty of times. So perhaps it’s just taken the somewhat artificial difficulty away- I don’t have to start over because a rando gets a lucky critical. Speaking of which…
6. Dedue: Saving Them from Death
“Still whole and sound, I hope…”
While I’m sure that some purists would disagree, I’ve really liked the steps taken in each installment to make the games more accessible (in terms of difficulty; we’ll talk about the tiny text in another post). In Awakening, it was simply adding a casual mode where fallen units would return after battle. Of course, I still did my first run of both Awakening and the three routes of Fates on Classic. But it was fun, in a weird sort of way, to try to do a Lunatic Casual run of the Conquest route later. There were a lot of maps where I got completely wiped out, it was kind of incredible.
The new gameplay feature of the Divine Pulse adds to that even more. There’s been plenty of times in previous Fire Emblem games where I moved someone somewhere dumb by accident or whiffed on a 95% hit chance and had to reset the entire map to save my characters. But the Divine Pulse gives you a limited number of redos when something goes entirely wrong. It’s a really nice feature, and I appreciate that it has functions in and out of gameplay.
On that note, the combat forecast in which red lines let you know who the enemy AI is planning to attack is also really helpful. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re putting your flying unit in range of an archer halfway across the map, and the forecast is just like a helpful friend, tapping your shoulder and saying, “hey dude, archer over there.”
Overall, it helps the difficulty feel more earned. You don’t lose because of a cheap shot. You lose because your tactics are bad and you should feel bad.
7. Mercedes: Living Lives Outside of You
“Somewhere, hiding underneath that helmet, there’s a very sweet young boy.”
Something that I felt both Awakening and Fates lacked and something that I really loved in FE7 and FE8 were side characters who had their own internal lives and histories and agendas outside the main conflict. FE7, most memorably, had the whole thing with Nino and Jafar and the rest of the Black Fang going on. But there was also Rebecca and Dart, Priscilla and Raven and Lucius, Matthew and Leila…etc. And FE8 had Colm and Neimi, Ross and Garcia, Joshua, Myrrh…etc. You didn’t have to discover all their stories, but they still happened and they had importance. The side characters in Awakening and especially Fates had no importance outside of their initial introductions.
So, it was really nice to see all these characters having personal stories that exist whether or not you discover them. Even though I recruited all the characters, I’ve seen examples online of conversations that old friends have when they fight each other on opposite sides. Felix and Sylvain will reference their promise to die together, for example, whether or not you reached their A+ support. It makes the world feel lived in. These characters exist within this space. The player only becomes privy to their stories if they go looking for it.
I will say, again, that a lot of these were contained within the Blue Lions for whatever reason. Annette and Gilbert, for instance. And, my favorite example, Mercedes and the Death Knight.
I got her paralogue (you have to have Caspar in your party, give me Mercedes/Caspar supports IntSys, they would be too powerful) and listened to her talk about her brother in many different supports. And so, I felt her grief and pain as she held the dying Emile on her lap. Did that story matter to the overall plot? Nope. But it served to make Mercedes feel important and real in ways Awakening and Fates could never muster for many of their characters. The war doesn’t just affect our main players. It affects everyone.
8. Annette: Falling in Love
“I think I love you more than just about anything in the world!”
Every game, IntSys makes the tiniest little baby step forward when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. I don’t really know if they deserve praise for that, but it’s better than nothing I guess.
In this case though, Three Houses might have benefited from a few more queer themes. Everyone bearing a Crest has anxiety about having to pass it on through their bloodline even when they don’t want to, and I see that as a stepping stone to queer storytelling that IntSys kind of missed. Not to mention, this is a school story, and awkward crushes and weird relationships always come with that territory. Some of these kids are gay, it’s just the truth.
In terms of the avatar, there’s five female options when playing the female character (two of which are a little icky no matter the gender. WHY IS SOTHIS’S NOT PLATONIC INTSYS WHY DO YOU DO THIS) and one male option when playing the male character. That’s better than Fates’ one and one, but obviously unbalanced on one side. Also, all the options are bi. Which isn’t a bad thing, I wish that didn’t need clarification. Bi people deserve representation as much as anyone, but it would be nice to see a few characters who could only be supported by an avatar of the same gender. Or, for that matter, perhaps characters that couldn’t be romanced at all. And I don’t just mean Gilbert and Alois. I mean Sothis. Give me the platonic Sothis S-support I deserve, IntSys.
Connecting to that, there’s something to be said for characters just not liking you. I don’t think that’s something IntSys was going for, but I do like the idea of students finding each other rather than just falling for Teach. I know the avatar is supposed to be the center of the world in these games, but the people you love don’t always fall for you in real life. It’d be interesting to see the game tackle that by limiting the people your character could S-support.
All that to say, some of the endings I got had big *historian voice* “they were very good friends” energy. Caspar and Linhardt (Lin’s the one male bi option btw), Felix and Sylvain (even more explicitly romantic in Japanese, apparently, always gotta have one of those), Petra and Dorothea (probably the most clear, even history couldn’t suppress Dorothea’s big bi energy), Annette and Mercedes (see the image above)… All of them had intensely heartwarming supports and endings that supported a romantic interpretation. And I’m really glad to see same-gender (and non-romantic! Lysithea and Hanneman’s was really nice too!) endings again, since the children mechanic had the unfortunate side effect of really forcing that het marriage agenda.
Still, it’d be nice to see IntSys start taking bigger strides for their next installment. Everyone, join me in giving them your best death glare.
9. Flayn: Mysteries that Remain
“I, too, am unlike others.”
Flayn’s gonna be a title for every one of these blogs, lol. Actually, I wonder if she sticks with you in the Black Eagles timeline? Probably not, right? Hm. Much to think about.
Who is Flayn anyway? What does she like to talk about at tea time? The world may never know.
Actually, I think I’ve figured out her real identity or, at least, I could venture a guess. Her supports with Linhardt are pretty telling. But it’s surprising how little it matters to the Blue Lion route. All the lore mysteries and Church secrets are very much put to the side. There’s a mysterious group of enemies on the field in the final battle, but you never know who they are. It’s just that the Blue Lions route is very character driven- which I don’t mind! Stuff only matters when it matters to the players. That’s the type of story I prefer anyhow. But I’ll be interested to know what exactly Edelgard is doing with Kronya and Solon. And also, whatever Claude is doing. I have no idea what Claude’s up to. I mean, I sort of do know now, but he’s very non-essential in the Blue Lions timeline.
But I suppose that’s how they goad you into playing the other routes. Similar to Fates, you’ve got to know every side of the story before you can get all the answers you seek. I’m just glad that the new game plus option makes everything go so much faster the second time around. This game is so long.
10. Simone: Taking the Next Step
I named by avatar Simone, but you know who I’m talking about.
I see a lot of people coming out of the Blue Lions route with a large amount of anti-Edelgard bias (and vice versa). I don’t have that problem. In the end, Dimitri wanted Edelgard to cut her path to the future as much as he wanted to stop her. It’s interesting that all three lords have similar goals by the end: they want to make the world a better place. Earnestly. They all just have different ways of going about it. As with most stories, it’s a case of bad communication- if Edelgard had spoken to Dimitri and Claude about her plans, if Claude had been more out in the open about his dreams, if Dimitri hadn’t shoved all his feelings into a pot to boil, perhaps the entire conflict could have been avoided. But none of them can trust like that.
Even without any real anti-Edelgard feelings, I’ve jumped in to the Golden Deer next. I was kinda planning to go Black Eagle, but Madelyn chose Golden Deer for her first run, and I wanted to be able to talk to her about it a little. Plus, I have absolutely no clue what Claude was up to this whole time, so it’ll be fun to learn more about him.
So look forward to 10 Thoughts for 10 Golden Deer in the next month or so, featuring Boyleth aka Number 2. Yes, that is what I named him.
If you want to follow along on my Fire Emblem journey, you can find a whole thread of thoughts and reactions on my Twitter.