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How ‘Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ Creates Balanced Classrooms

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Play more than one campaign from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and you may start to notice resemblances between the Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and Golden Deer that go beyond those recycled school missions from the first half of the game. While the characters for the most part have very distinct personalities and backgrounds, they also conform to archetypes of sorts, bearing traits in common with counterparts from rival classrooms. Whether they’re the nobility-loving stiff, the meek little mouse, or the ‘fighting solves everything’ obsessed trainer, the personalities of these people are like ingredients, and the multiples have been distributed according to a rough (and effective) formula in order to create three similarly functioning houses full of rich flavor.

Their presence also lets Three Houses properly explore its themes of class, war, and growth no matter which ragtag group players wind up choosing.

Three houses leaders

The Ambitious Leaders

Though that formula does have variations, it starts off each time with a strong base. Though Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude at first seem to share few likes and dislikes (other than their professor, of course), they are bound by an overarching ambition that greatly influences the course of events. While the first half of Three Houses is mostly on rails (outside various paralogues), the missions in the second half stem from these ambitions — and/or failures to achieve them. Most of the other characters react to events as if simply along for the ride, but the three house leaders all are strong forces with their own agendas, bent on actively shaping the world they live in — for better or worse.

Whether approving of these three imposing their will upon others (to varying degrees) or not, Three Houses does an admirable job in reserving judgment for the player alone to make.

The Nobility

The classrooms of Garreg Mach are a mix of nobles and commoners, and no matter which house players choose, this intermingling will become a topic of conversation. The two stuffed shirts that most verily stand out are the awesome Ferdinand and the less-awesome Lorenz, but in many ways the pious Mercedes can be included, though her approach is from a different point of view. Those first two guys espouse a philosophy of innate superiority and inferiority, with the former obliged to care for the latter in return for deference. By taking this stand (which is strangely not as off-putting as it sounds, as they they really do seem to want to help people), Three Houses can challenge their ideas via the various commoners they share a class with, such as Dorothea or Leonie. Meanwhile, Mercedes provides contrast as a noble who wishes she wasn’t. Though perhaps written a little too perfect, Mercedes serves as an example of someone who plays the part with utmost generosity and impeccable manners, but longs to be free of the nobility trap.

These discussions are among Three Houses‘ best, and give a peek into how the land of Fódlan has been operating up until now. Many of these characters also have familial pressures that weigh heavily on them — obligations that give no time for personal dreams. Will the wisdom these characters accrue during their debates change how they perceive the world, and possibly alter their plans for the future?

The Introverts

Is there a more entertaining character in Three Houses than Bernadetta? To each their own, but the never-ending string of whimpers, shrieks, squeals, and freak-outs injects so much goofy humor into an otherwise dramatic plot that it seems impossible not to want to see how every single one of her support conversations plays out. However, the timid archer is not the only one who ducks the company of others whenever she gets the chance. Marianne thinks she’ll curse everyone she meets, and Dedue believes that even standing near a Fódlanite could wreck their social standing by virtue of his nationality, and so both choose to avoid all human contact as best they can.

These character types provide two important things: first, they allows each house to develop some truly cruel back stories with which to slowly unveil and surprise classmates whose pesky problems look much tinier in comparison (thus giving them and the player a wider perspective on the world). Second, they give those same classmates an opportunity to draw these shrinking violets out and into the world, to tout the virtues of not only interacting with those around you, but also to see the wonders of nature. Whether it’s a conversation about flowers or witnessing a gorgeous sunset, Bernie, Dedue, and Marianne have some of the most satisfying arcs in the game.

The Fighters

Hey, sometimes the only way to solve a problem is to beat it up, right? The enthusiastic Caspar, gregarious Raphael, and laser-focused Felix all initially fall on the side that might makes right. Their individual reasons and approaches might vary — one hopes to make a name for himself as a knight, one just wants to be in food money for himself and his sister, and one hates the idea of knights, period — but they all endlessly focus on training their bodies to become peerless warriors.

Naturally, this philosophy is exploited to explore the reverse, and this trio is steadily introduced to a string of arguments in favor of both headier and more emotional approaches to things. Caspar is taught to see the consequences of diving into situations headfirst without understanding them, Raphael learns that tactics can also be important in battle, and Felix is forced to admit that he can enjoy both cake and human company. These guys might initially come off as stubborn to some, but they have some of these warmest and fuzziest support conclusions.

The Users

This category is a little tougher to define, and my first thought was to call it “The Lazies,” but characters like Hilda, Sylvain, and Linhardt do have moments where they apply themselves, whether by charming classmates or analyzing them. Regardless, they all tend to look upon their fellow human beings as specimens to be manipulated or experimented on for personal gain. There are varying degrees of coldness involved — Linhardt is the only one that really comes off as scientific — but each User rarely at first considers the feelings and overall being that they interact with. Hilda finds a weakness to flatter, Sylvain puts on a romantic facade, and Linhardt…well, he doesn’t even hide his robotic nature.

Okay, maybe some of them have some deep-down reasons for this behavior, but it’s still not acceptable. The good news with these potential psychopaths is that over the course of Three Houses they will learn to see how their behavior affects others, and possibly acquire some empathy along the way for these hu-mans. Well, maybe not Linhardt as much as the others, but Spock still managed to be an emotionless good guy, so there’s hope.

***

There are doubtless many other similarities between the ingredients of each Fire Emblem: Three Houses class, but the above examples represent some of the ones I appreciated the most. The writers have crafted truly unique and engaging characters across the board, and it’s interesting to see how they formed balanced classrooms that can explore similar themes while still feeling distinct. There’s no doubt this factor contributes greatly to making Fire Emblem: Three Houses an incredibly addicting and memorable experience.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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