Spoilers abound as we discuss this past summer’s group backlog playthrough of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which launched emotional, warrior high school students into our lives in July 2019. We talk our favorite characters, all the crazy plot choices, and whether or not we would in fact play it again… and again… and again.
Q: How are you feeling about Fire Emblem: Three Houses (FE3H) as our “summer backlog” game?
Amanda: I have replayed FE3H a few times now (I first played it in early pandemic) and I’ve gotten something new out of it every time. Every time I’m back in, it feels like I’m seeing old friends, and when you play New Game+, Byleth becomes super OP. But damn, this was a long one to do as the required backlog.
David: Yeah I’d agree Amanda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we made it our group choice. Otherwise I just know I never would have tackled it! But the long campaign (~65 hours for me, when all was said and done), all just to see one of three (four?) total storylines really killed my enthusiasm by the end.
Can’t imagine I’d go back to replay the other routes anytime soon, especially with the newly announced Fire Emblem: Engage hot on the horizon. Still, I had a great time! The characters were wonderful, the gameplay was thrilling (and at times challenging!), and Claude… well, he’s an absolute G.
Amanda: Ooh, yes, keep that thought for the next questions about your fave characters…
Sam: I loved it! I had only a fleeting understanding of what the series was about in the past (I played a bit of the GBA titles), but I think Three Houses does a great job presenting the combat as just one component of the whole experience, with the weekly schoolyard stuff and relationship-building being equally as important.
In terms of wanting to play more, I think I’ll definitely try another playthrough of Three Houses at some point (maybe the Edelgard house?). But already I’m intrigued by Fire Emblem: Engage, and I probably wouldn’t feel that way had I not given FE3H a chance this summer.
As somewhat of a shameless Nintendo fan, one of the biggest blind spots for me has been Fire Emblem, which felt less like a Nintendo-ass-Nintendo game and more like their version of something Square or Capcom would do better. I still sort of feel that way, but if FE3H is any indication, I’ll probably want to dig deeper into the franchise for sure.
Amanda. It’s certainly a grind by the end. I started skipping through the cutscenes (but to be fair, I’d seen them before and I have an accurate, sometimes unfortunately so, cutscene memory).
Sam: I think this game also succeeds because there are so many different mechanics/systems that you can just outright ignore if you want. Like, I enjoyed tea parties and fishing, but I gave up on finding gifts for everyone pretty early on. You don’t need to do all of these things, but they exist if you want them.
Jason: Surprisingly good. I love older Fire Emblems and have been crashing through Path of Radiance recently. This is playthrough two for myself. This time I worked a bit harder to get as many students as possible and was frankly surprised at the good level curve for caring for most of the students. On Hard, at least, not Maddening.
Overall, this still isn’t my favorite Fire Emblem. The class system is fun, but strips a lot of character out of each of them. Having five over-powered Wyvern Riders is a bit much, y’know? Intelligent Systems did an OK job balancing stuff out, but flight is still just too good in a game where you can just shotgun out bird ladies and gents. Maybe on Maddening I’d feel better? But I don’t feel like dealing with that headache. Soon, I’ll probably end up doing another run. I didn’t manage to save Ferdinand in time, so I wanna work with that.
Kei: I think Three Houses is actually one of the worst offenders of the repeat storyline concept in a video game, since I don’t think the paths actually complement each other well. The content is both somehow repetitive AND incomplete at the same time, if that makes sense.
Eric: Fire Emblem: Three Houses was my first Fire Emblem game! It’s a decent game—the combat is a bit underwhelming and tedious at times but the difficulty level I chose might’ve added to that feeling. However, the game has definitely made me interested enough to try out other Fire Emblem games. I am most interested in trying some of the older ones.
Three Houses felt like I was playing through an anime; I loved all of the characters and building my relationships with each one. The one trap I always fall into when playing relationship-building games is the need to please everyone. Whenever I picked a dialogue option that would lower my relationship standing with a character I would often reload my last save to pick the right option. However that is a player flaw, nothing against the game. Overall it was a very enjoyable experience; the story was gripping, and the characters are a lot of fun to interact with!
Sam: This seems like the most approachable game in the franchise, and as a result there would be some kinks (messy endings, lack of interesting dialogue choices), so it’ll be interesting to see if the franchise maintains that structure or aims for a more core audience in the future.
Q: Who were your top three fave characters?
Jason: My top three favorite characters is the entire cast—ask me on a specific day 😄
Sam: I was Golden Deer so… 1. Hilda (doesn’t want to fight yet was my best warrior by far), 2. Raphael (love a good himbo)–
Amanda: He’s SUCH a himbo.
Sam: A big chunky king.
Amanda: I love his relationship with little artsy emo archer who can get really strong. What’s his name?
Amanda: Yes, sweet Ignatz!
Sam: And 3. Marianne (shy, weird, absolutely essential in battle).
David: Tough one! Gotta go: 1. Claude (Had the most interesting backstory—gotta love a mixed man fighting to bring inclusion to the world.), 2. Raphael (Sleeper pick for me. Love that no matter what, the dude put his buddy Ignatz first, even with the family drama.), and 3. Lorenz (Asshole creep the first half, but he matured big time in the second half. Gotta love some character growth.).
Amanda: Claude is definitely my king.
David: Agreed. Claude is a diiiiiistant first. Really didn’t love the Golden Deer members all that much. All felt very secondary and inconsequential to the plot imo.
Kei: My faves are honestly probably Felix, Ingrid, and Sylvain. They go back really far, having been friends as children, and Ingrid having been betrothed to Felix’s older brother as a young girl combined with Sylvain’s family drama just makes the trio really compelling (if I could pick a fourth it would be Dimitri).
Shout-out to Hilda, who’s wonderful. I love slacker women who are secretly killers. “Ugh, you’re making me work” is probably one of the most brutal things you could hear before being decapitated by an ax.
Amanda: Hilda’s so funny, too. And she evolves. Some of the characters just have one characteristic that’s their whole personality and don’t evolve at all.
Ingrid is a badass, and I love seeing her scenes with those Blue Lion guys. I also love Dorothea when she’s maxed out on a magic dancer support role (very helpful), and she has interesting support system scenes with everyone. My ultimate himbo is Balthus in the DLC.
Kei: I actually think Sylvain is one of the characters who is the most interesting in his supports, especially with Dorothea, which unmasks his core character conceits.
Jason: I liked that support too, but it’s buried relatively deep. Just one of the flaws of the Support system, I suppose! I did like his and Lorenz’s later supports… just not together. Their C-B supports are terrible.
David: Honestly if we open it up a bit, I gotta give it up for my man Seteth. Annoying at first, but dude became a ROCK for me late-game.
Eric: This is a tough question because there were a lot of characters I liked a lot. If I were to narrow it down I’d pick Edelgard, Caspar, and Petra. I like Edelgard’s strong, dignified, and unwavering personality. At first she comes off as strict and intimidating but as you and her classmates get to know her she displays more vulnerabilities and can be caring. She has a very traumatic backstory which I’m a sucker for and I think her aspirations are understandable even though her methods for achieving said aspirations aren’t always agreeable.
Caspar is a typical jovial, naïve, and wholesome character and I always love him. Caspar is the second-born son of his noble household. His older brother is the heir to the house, therefore he strives to get stronger and prove his strength through his own skills. I think this is an easy aspiration to get behind and all I want to do is support him. His interactions with the other classmates are always hilarious; he’s like the annoying little brother of the group.
Petra is from the foreign country of Bridgid. She is still learning the prominent language of the game which leads to a lot of funny moments where she says something or interprets what someone else says incorrectly. What I really like about Petra and find very interesting is that the empire was once at war with her country and was even the cause of her father’s death, yet she holds no resentment toward anybody in her class directly related to the empire, like Edelgard or Caspar. Petra’s dad was killed by Caspar’s, but she does not hate him. Caspar even calls Petra out on this fact during one of their conversations and she explains that Caspar had nothing to do with it.
Jason: 1) Petra ended up SHOCKING me. Such a good sword character, with no crest! 2) Raphael. Loved his personality, though he had zero character progression. 3) Honestly, so basic, but Claude.
Sam: Worst haircut in the game?
Jason: Lorenz for sure.
Q: How do you feel about the two-part structure? Were you surprised where it went? Did you like it? What worked (and what didn’t)?
Eric: It was good! I definitely was not expecting a time skip but I enjoyed seeing all the students grow up! I felt like the transition between the two parts was a bit random. When I was raiding Garreg Mach I was expecting a climactic battle against Rhea but then a cutscene happens with Byleth staring down the Immaculate One and I guess gets knocked out? I’m honestly not exactly sure what happened. Then all the sudden it was five years later? Did Edelgard and the others drive the Immaculate One off? How did they do it? It felt a bit sudden and clunky.
Jason: It worked well. I wish the gang leveled up more around you. I wanted my Byleth to be more of an underdog. I will say that the character supports worked even less than usual for me; the time skip really messes things up compared to other Fire Emblem games. It hurts seeing people have their same childish flaws with zero character progression. Yes, I get it Sylvain, you like girls! OK, those are my gripes… well, other than still being called “Professor,” I know the game explains it as just a coat of honor or whatever. I appreciated most of the cast getting a huge maturity upgrade.
i love that the golden deer kids' timeskip outfits are just the RAINBOW RANGERS pic.twitter.com/KvMQNp9dUm
— SungWon Cho (@ProZD) September 8, 2019
Sam: I was genuinely surprised! I think if you told this story in a different medium, it wouldn’t be all that special, but the fact that one house betrays the others and you have to fight against your former classmates really raised the stakes in every battle. A good example of how gameplay mechanics and story can converge into something special!
Amanda: TOTALLY. And then you’re like… oh, damn, now I gotta kill these kids that I couldn’t convince to like me. The plotline/game has a lot more nuance with the time jump. Like I’m not sure I’d buy that we’d all be at war if, say, only a week had passed.
Sam: RIGHT! The fact that you get this slow build up to the twist makes it hit even harder.
Jason: And it was nice seeing their older forms. Ferdinand was the one that got away. Seeing him on the bridge… that hurt, man. I think this worked nearly as well as it did in FE4 and FE5, though much less hard-hitting since… well, most of your boys lived.
Kei: I think something that IntSys never would have done, though it would have been really interesting, would be making certain students simply incompatible with certain routes and choices. As is, everyone is recruitable and thus “saveable.” Certain characters, like Felix and Ingrid for example, feel like characters that would not have switched sides against their home country no matter what—whereas Sylvain has real grievances with crests and society and I think would have flipped.
David: I liked the two-part structure from a story perspective. Agreed with Sam that it raised the stakes for the typical Fire Emblem narrative and made me value the members I had managed to recruit to my side (ayyyy, Felix!).
That said, from a gameplay perspective I really wasn’t a fan. Keeping the monastery around in part two felt like a serious miss, something that the devs felt compelled to do since they’d already created the assets.
Would have much preferred scrapping the monastery, and keeping it linear for the war portion. Would have made more sense story wise (you can’t win a war from a single spot people!!), and would have eliminated the grind of checking in with every single party member.
Amanda: Ooh that is such a good point about the monastery in the second half. I agree. I would’ve been happier even with a sort of mini camp map (which does exist a few times) and it would feel more grounded. In the first half of the game, I feel there’s a balance and rhythm that I enjoy, half fighting and half bopping around the monastery. By the time you get to that second half I was like… OK let’s… wrap this up, isn’t this urgent? How are we really going fishing and gardening for a month?
Kei: Generally speaking, I think having a navigable map has always lessened the “war” feeling of certain Fire Emblem games.
Sam: Honestly, my favorite part of the entire game was when Byleth recovers after the time jump, gets surrounded by bandits or soldiers, and then all of your house’s students show up matured and stronger than ever. I felt… proud of them.
Q: How’d you feel about the game’s combat and difficulty?
David: As a general concept, I think permadeath in these games is pretty silly. For the first half, I think the students should have retreated to the monastery upon a KO (that might actually be the case, I just always reset my game, ha). Second half, all bets are off of course.
Amanda: LOL I agree re: the retreat rather than just straight up being like oh yeah this 15 year old got MURDERED while FIGHTING GIANT EVIL BRIDS at school WITH THEIR CRUSH and like oh well that sucks.
Jason: I mean we are using wooden swords to fight bandits. Holy crap we sent teenagers to fight bandits with wooden swords…
How did people end up using their Byleth? I honestly tried to use him as much as possible if he had to be part of a mission and then sidelined him for training missions. No reason to not use big stats to make missions safer.
David: Oh he was my tank for sure. Byleth and Claude were a two-man wrecking crew.
Q: Plot time! How did you feel about the whole goddess… dragon… immortal being trapped inside of you storyline?
Sam: I gotta be honest: I was only half paying attention to that at a certain point. Kinda like watching a Christopher Nolan movie, it was more enjoyable once I stopped asking questions.
Amanda: That’s real. This last playthrough I went with this energy of, oh I’m gonna try to understand it all and really focus, and the DLC has content to do with Byleth’s mom, so I was really focusing. But even I got tired. So I went to go read the Wiki and… I got even more tired.
Sam: Moreover, I think the really interesting narrative points in this game centered on the political alliances/conflicts rather than any of the supernatural stuff.
Eric: It was fine. It’s definitely a trope I’ve experienced before. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like it; it adds a lot of intrigue for the player, as you want to know more about whatever is trapped inside the main character.
David: Didn’t mind Sothis as a character. Byleth having crazy powers is pretty on par for any melodramatic JRPG. What I DIDN’T love was the option to romance her at the end of the game?! The fuuuuuuu?? That’s wrong on, like, so many levels.
Jason: I liked her as a voice in your head; a little less when you ate her for massive power.
Kei: Fire Emblem always mixes a sort of low-fantasy political war storyline with a higher-fantasy “kill God” type storyline and it usually has mixed results. I don’t think Three Houses was different in this regard.
Q: How did you feel about Edelgard being the “Big Bad” aka The Flame Emperor?
Amanda: I personally GASPED on my first playthrough with Golden Deer. When I replayed it from her house, it was satisfying.
Kei: I think this (the “Big Bad” label) is debatable both morally and from a game presentation perspective. Some storylines make it seem like she really isn’t.
Amanda: For sure.
David: Based. 10/10. Edelgard is a cool character, and her betrayal (in Claude’s route) just made her all the more compelling. If I were to do another route, it’d be to see her story play out in full.
Sam: I have to try again from Edelgard’s perspective, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense that the representative from the literal empire region decided “Hey let’s make this empire bigger.”
Amanda: It’s definitely satisfying; she becomes inspirational. Eric, you played as the Black Eagles house, right?
Eric: I was definitely surprised by her betrayal but looking back you can see the signs pointing to it; I just didn’t think much of it at the time. However, because I picked the Black Eagle house at the beginning you are given the choice to join her side, and I did. I fought with Edelgard and from my Byleth’s perspective, she wasn’t a bad guy! I really enjoyed being given that choice. I do think Edelgard’s path is extreme and full of bloodshed but she does have an understandable goal. I think the best villains are ones that make you question who is morally correct—you, or the villain? Edelgard does just that, and the fact that I was able to agree with her actions and join her side was awesome.
Q: What was one random thing you liked, and one random thing you disliked?
Kei: I would really, really like Fire Emblem to move away from blank self-insert characters. Watching Byleth supports where one character speaks 98% of the words and you are presented with the choice of one of two equally bland dialogue choices is just awful.
Sam: Being at Garreg Mach was always just so pleasant and inviting. I didn’t mind going back there every single week (even in the later chapters). On the other hand, there are so many ways to customize/upgrade characters, but I almost always just auto-leveled everyone. The only thought I ever put into customization was in what weapons people were using.
David: I gotta just say it. The graphics were… not great lol. All the love in the world to the developers and artists (the character models were FUEGO). But to go from FE: Awakening (the only other game I’ve played in the series), which was quite the looker on 3DS, and come to the Switch to this forest fire for the eyes… oof, just a little disappointing. I really hope FE: Engage ups the ante in this department (and ditches the three-part storyline).
Random thing I loved: The battle music. SICK!! Another random thing I disliked: Bring back character pairing you cowards! 😭😭😭 (JK, looks like it’s in FE: Engage.)
Sam: Actually last last thought: the graphics weren’t always great, but I never found them distractingly bad or anything, just cromulent for the most part.
David: I love that you love the word cromulent, Sam.
Sam: It’s a cromulent word.
Eric: Well, I really liked being a professor! I went into this game completely blind and was honestly surprised when I became a professor. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where you are the teacher, so I appreciated having that fresh perspective. Random thing I disliked: Byleth’s sleeves. They look so bad while running around—very stiff and awkward.
Kei: I actually really like Rhea as a character, and a lot of the lore implications of her actions are terrifying but also a little sympathetic. I love her little mask-off moment, where she admits to not being a good saint or peacetime leader, because she was a warrior. I love characters who are overtaken by their obsession.
Mainly, I think Three Houses suffers from each house focusing on a different “enemy,” as opposed to being different perspectives on the same story. Black Eagles/Crimson Flower I think does this inversion the best, where Edelgard can be viewed as sympathetic as she is tearing down a corrupt system and taking down a corrupt leader. Other routes focusing more on Those Who Slither In the Dark, or the Golden Deer’s baffling end-game turn toward Nemesis, just didn’t work for me.
Jason: Nemesis was terrible and unnecessary. Those Who Slither were arguably also not worth looking into. The game just needed a nebulous character, I guess.
Amanda: Random thing I disliked: not surprising but just a real porn-y male-gaze energy around Manuela (and some of the other female characters) in general. Even in the opening animation cutscene video they have students ogling her with this very intense camera boob-level gaze and I was just like… she’s hot but y’all didn’t need to do all that. Like you’re making it weird. Now I can’t let my mom play this game.
David: This. Tea time was horrific.
Jason: The treatment of Manuela in general was mid.
Sam: Confession: My Byleth marries Manuela.
Amanda: Random thing I loved: the little epilogues about who all the characters ended up with and how they’re doing (: There’s actually a very good website that tracks all the pairings (though tons of spoilers of course).
Kei: I love Fire Emblem ending slides, though there’s always some that I always feel do certain characters dirty. There’s always a couple of female characters that just become “wifed” and written out of as if that is their only notable contribution to history in a way that I feel is not befitting of their character.
Amanda: Agreed! This playthrough I was min-maxing to optimize for the femme characters that get to do the most cool shit in their epilogue slides and not just oh they had kids it was OK.
Kei: I love Ingrid; I think her personal situation is one of the most complex of any of cast. Three Houses doesn’t bring a lot of medieval-fantasy era sexism to the forefront often, but Ingrid is one of the few characters who grapples with it the most—namely in how conflicted she is between her desire to become a knight, which directly counteracts her position as a marriage-candidate to be used strictly for political gain as a maiden from a country that is struggling to provide for its people.
Her personal goals are honorable in their own right, but she also perceives herself to have a personal duty to her people, even if that duty would likely lead to her own personal unhappiness (being married off to some sleazebag for political gain). And that’s not even getting into her backstory where she was betrothed to Felix’s older brother, who was killed in the Tragedy of Duscur and her resulting dislike of the people of Duscur (frankly, her racism toward those people). In this vein I think Ingrid is one of the characters that gets done pretty dirty by most of her ending slides.
Amanda: A new playthrough is necessary for that alone—justice for Ingrid.
What Did You Think of Fire Emblem: Three Houses?
Thanks for following along with our discussion!
What route(s) did you play in Three Houses? Got a favorite character? Let us know in the comments below.