Image credit: Nintendo
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a turn based, tactical strategy game with RPG elements that was released on the Nintendo Switch in 2019. This is not going to be a review of the game. I shall keep it as spoiler free as possible as I share a complaint that has completely eradicated my excitement for the game during my second playthrough.
The game’s protagonist is Byleth, who is quickly appointed a professor in the monastery. At the beginning of the game you get to decide which house you will lead; the Black Eagles, Blue Lions, or Golden Deer. Each house comes with a unique cast of characters you can interact with, teach, and utilize in battle. Through the RPG portions of the game, which have you running around the monastery, you can build support with characters outside of your own house to recruit them as well. The storyline is split between these houses, meaning that you won’t get the full picture unless you play as each house in three separate playthroughs. As well as this, each character has their own personal background that you can discover through conversations with them, and at the end of the game you receive an epilogue to tie a neat ribbon around the narrative.
I adored my first playthrough of the game. I chose the Golden Deer and spent just over 70 hours. I spoke to everyone in the monastery, carefully planned out my lessons, honed the class progression of my students, went fishing, entered tournaments, invited people to tea and dinner, and fulfilled all of the quests within the monastery. No stone was unturned by the time I had finished, and I was enthused to play through it again as another house.
I waited for a while (hence why I’m writing this post now rather than closer to the game’s release) as I wanted some elements of the game to be fresh again. Now, I’m not usually the type of person to play through a game more than once, especially not one that demands so much time. On my second playthrough I wanted to try New Game+, and I wanted to play for mainly the story of the other houses, not so much the day to day activities in the monastery.
You see, most of these can be monotonous. The conversations are middling (this will be important later) and the quests are mostly find this item and take it to this person, meaning it can get repetitive. I thought since there’s not going to be much variability in this section of the game I should focus on the monthly missions to progress through the story as much as possible. That’s not to say I didn’t spend any time in the monastery at all, I did still build support with my students, but I wanted to get the playtime down from 70 hours. I never skipped the prompted conversations that arise (there will be a message saying ‘X wants to speak with you, is now a good time?) and you can choose to play through the conversation or not. There is also an option in the menu to view support conversations, which happen regularly as the game progresses and relationships between the characters within your house build up.
Now, before I continue with my main gripe I do have a minor one from my first playthrough. I played on the ‘Classic’ setting, meaning that if a unit falls in battle they die permanently. I thought I would try this out as I assumed that this mechanic would lead to some good story developments. Many of the characters are well drawn and interesting, so how would it affect my students if one of them died in battle?
Well, the truth is nothing happens. In fact it’s as though they never existed at all. I lost one student (I don’t play on a hard difficulty, and there are ways within the game to undo deaths) and I let this death play out because I assumed there would be a funeral scene, or some melancholy conversations where the other students can pay tribute to their fallen peer. Instead it was as though they were plucked from the world with little ado, erased from every memory aside from my own. This was unsatisfying, but it was only one blot on an otherwise incredible game, and was simple enough to avoid; I played on ‘Casual’ mode in this playthrough (meaning that if a unit falls in battle they merely retreat and are not removed from the game).
So onto this second playthrough then. I chose the Black Eagles (and some of you reading may guess at what’s coming up). I managed to avoid the more monotonous parts of the game and made quite good progress. Around 15-20 hours in a choice arose that was the main reason for me choosing this house. Basically, you get to either side with your house leader or turn your back on them (I’ll leave the particular details of why this choice occurs out in case anyone reading this has still yet to play the game). I was all ready to make the choice (siding with her, if you’re wondering) only to find that it was robbed from me.
I knew that there were some requirements to get to this choice (like having a certain support level) but these were easy enough to achieve without paying too much attention to them. I didn’t want to look up too many details in case the storyline was spoiled for me. But after missing it I had to figure out what I went wrong and apparently in the month leading up to this choice you have to speak to your leader in the monastery.
Fine, you might say that I should be speaking to them every month anyway, but as I mentioned before the conversations within the monastery are mostly brief and don’t add as much insight as the ones that are prompted. It was not hinted that I needed to speak to her, nor was it labelled as a quest or signposted. There was nothing to suggest that it was important to speak to her on this particular month. I don’t know why they would hide this path behind this optional action and not give any sign or any way to return to that point after the fact. They already have the function to prompt conversations during the month, which I always did. Why was this not one of them? At least then if I skipped it I would understand that I had made the choice to ignore something the game was trying to tell me was important. All the conversations the game told me I should pay attention to I did. All the quests that were integral I did. This one conversation that opens up an entire storyline that is the only reason I chose this house for this playthrough is hidden behind an optional action that is never displayed as being important.
That, to me, is a completely baffling decision and I just can’t wrap my head around it.
When I realized this the wind was knocked out of my sails. The only way to get back to this point is to replay the first 15-20 hours, meaning that if I want to get to the end of the playthrough it’s going to be getting close to the 70 hours that I wanted to avoid in the first place. It’s a baffling design decision that has completely drained me of all enthusiasm not only in this playthrough, but also to play through the final house. If there’s a decision in the game to be made then let me make it, or let me choose to ignore it. Don’t hide it from me, especially when getting back to that point is going to take a huge chunk of time. I’m not going to be inclined to make that journey again, and at this point I’m just thinking of giving up on Three Houses entirely.
Burying this choice has buried my feelings for the game. Maybe I’ll give it another couple of years before I play it again and try again, but I’m not sure I’ll ever forget this frustrated feeling.
Have you played Fire Emblem: Three Houses? If so, have you completed all playthroughs? Did you manage to find the Crimson Flower path, or did it elude you as well?