One Year Retrospective: Was Fire Emblem Three Houses + DLC worth it?

From Wikipedia

Gaming has been one of the hobbies keeping my anxious mind occupied while under the numerous threats of 2020. With video games, I can temporarily escape the coronavirus, wildfires, murder hornets, and… the election. Much of the summer was spent playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses on the Nintendo Switch. Originally brought into the fandom with Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS, I was excited to experience all the strategy plays and goofy character interactions I came to love. But considering how Three Houses came out a year ago, and with it’s DLC content released months ago, I felt it appropriate to reflect on the franchise’s newest entry and if it was worth the $60 plus $25 for the downloadable content. Want a new way to invest your quarantine time? Read more below!

Spoilers ahead! If you want to avoid plot details, avoid sections two and three.

First: What is Fire Emblem: Three Houses?

As a series, Fire Emblem is a strategy RPG typically set in a medieval fantasy world with dragons, magic, and feudal warfare. While being made in Japan, it doesn’t strictly fall within the genre of JRPG (Japenese Role-Playing Game). The player moves a number of units across a grid system to defeat an enemy force or complete some alternate task.

Ever since the release of Fire Emblem Awakening, the games have also heavily leaned on a support system in which character units that work together on the battlefield get additional cutscenes with one another. Sometimes this can lead to… interesting relationships. The more supports you build, the more powerful your team becomes.

In Three Houses, you play an emotionally-stunted young mercenary named Byleth who is mysteriously drafted into becoming a professor at Garreg Mach Monastery. The central component to the gameplay is to teach your students each month until a mission arises that only you are capable of solving. The more they learn, the stronger they get.

This leads to a cycle of fighting, eating with your students, singing at the cathedral, going to the sauna, recruiting students, letting those students bond with each other, leveling up, and then back to fighting.

It is actually quite satisfying to work the teaching gig in this game because you see the progress as the months pass, and see the relationships form between the plethora of dynamic characters.

Second: But what’s the story?

The story is split into three routes… hence the name. Well, actually, there are four but we’ll touch on that. Three nations live on the continent of Fodlan, with Garreg Mach as it’s central stabilizing piece. They all have in common one thing: an obsession with magical crests.

Crests are ancestral forces in the blood that appear every so often in children of royal lineage, and recipients gain powerful effects related to strength or magical ability, for example. Many Noble families have gone to desperate lengths to produce children with crests, going so far as to reach into eugenics territory.

The Church of Seiros, which makes it’s home in Garreg Mach, is largely responsible for the crest system. They’re also your employers.

Oh, and there’s also a five year time skip mid-way through.

Crimson Flower

The Adrestian Empire (The Black Eagle House) is an ancient culture well past it’s prime. It’s emperor is rendered ineffectual as lords within the territories vie for power through corruption and intrigue. At the monastery, the empire’s class is led by it’s heir apparent, Edelgard. She was the victim of horrendous experiments to implant a crest artificially, and has developed scars in more ways than one. Naturally, Edelgard wants to dispose of the crest system and monarchy, and replace it with what can be described as a meritocracy.

She’s a very layered, complex character who lets few see her own inner vulnerability. When you play the Black Eagles Route, you help her achieve her vision by going to war with the Church of Seiros and uniting Fodlan under one banner through, uh, conquest. As in bloodshed. And whichever students aren’t in your class usually end up killed.

Yeah, one thing about Three Houses is that no matter which route you pick, there will always be morally gray choices. The good news is that Byleth by default has a positive effect on the House Leaders as the story progresses. On multiple playthroughs, you can notice the dark paths your previous friends go down. With regards to Edelgard, she becomes a cold tyrant who has lost her clarity of vision or justice.

I enjoyed this route’s revolutionary tone. It could have easily delved into becoming the “evil” path as the Empire is forced to not only work side by side with a group of dark conspirators, but you must also kill many of your former allies from the Church of Seiros.

What Three Houses does brilliantly is make the case for the church’s removal. For hundreds of years, they promoted a system of classism and oppression while tampering down attempts to advance in technology. As the story progresses, you find out that church leader Archbishop Rhea manipulated you into existence by implanted her dead mother’s Crest stone into your heart as newborn.

It is later revealed the Rhea is in fact the supernatural being Seiros from the church’s own mythology. Her mother, Sothis, is a space dragon treated as Fodlan’s god. Essentially, the church forced you into becoming a demigod to bring back Sothis and wipe away your own individuality. So that’s as good a reason as any to uproot the system.

Azure Moon

The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus (The Blue Lion House) is your traditional medieval fantasy country with an emphasis on chivalry and bloodlines. The kingdom is also in a weak state as its ruler was murdered in a vicious attack known as the Tragedy of Duscur. It’s future king, Dimitri, survived the event with severe post-traumatic stress.

Like Edelgard for the Black Eagles, he is your house leader for the Blue Lions. On the surface, Dimitri is a classic princely noble, exhibiting great deals of modesty and compassion. As the story progresses, his inner demons begin to take over and Byleth must steer him back to the light by the end of the Blue Lions route.

Unlike the other paths, this one seems to focus much more on personal stories. The Monastary missions, uniformly similar across the game, tend to involve subplots from the students native to Faerghus. Ashe’s adoptive father Lonato is implicated in a treasonous plan. Sylvain’s brother Miklan causes havoc somewhere and must be stopped.

When the Adrestian Empire attacks in this playthrough, the rest of the game centers on Dimitri’s mental breakdown rather than on the Church’s misdeeds or an evil cabal manipulating in the shadows. The prince survives a coup and lives out as a vigilante for five years. Even when Byleth brings him back to the Kingdom, Dimitri disregards his people and threatens his friends. As you learn more about his psychology, you manage to find a way to walk him down from the metaphorical edge.

It ends with the destruction of Edelgard’s tyrannical conquest and with an intact Church of Seiros. Dimitri slowly abandons his guilt and learns to forgive himself. On other routes, Dimitri becomes an unhinged maniac hellbent on killing Edelgard and anyone in his way.

For those that want less emphasis on politics and more on the emotional drama, Blue Lions is right for you.

Verdant Wind

The Leicester Alliance (The Golden Deer House) is nothing like a kingdom or empire. Instead, it is a collection of noble houses and merchants who have banded together under a republic. To be clear, being a republic doesn’t make it democratic. While not in as dire a position as the other nations at the start of the game, the Alliance is known for the petty squabbling between its myriad lords.

The house leader this time is Claude von Reigen, a roguish schemer and the future archduke. While Dimitri treats Byleth as his therapist and Edelgard seems to be in love, Claude views you as his equal. Putting no value into royal bloodlines, religion, or crests, he feels almost out of place between the warring factions of Fodlan.

This is entirely by design, as Claude refers to himself as an outsider. See, he is actually from the nearby continent of Almyra, and keeps those those ties a secret for 99% of the game. Claude’s desire is to do away with the isolationist policies of Fodlan and open up to cultures from around the world to foster peace. This stems from his own experiences with bigotry and racism.

As the plot moves forward with Edelgard attacking the Church of Seiros, Claude tries to remain neutral in the conflict, temporarily allaying the concerns of the Alliance’s divided nobles. Five years later, Byleth convinces him that none of his vision for the future will happen unless the war ends. He must take a side.

The Alliance teams up with the Church to take down the Empire, though the church is greatly weakened by this point. Rather than focusing on Alliance politics, the plot revolves around Claude’s discovering of “Those Who Slither In The Dark”, the remnants of the lost technologically-advanced Agarthan civilization which was conquered by the Church of Seiros long ago.

TWSITD, as they’re called colloquially, orchestrated a great many events in the attempt to get take revenge on the church. They were behind both Edelgard and Dimitri’s trauma, the political turmoil of the kingdom and empire, and were responsible for the death of Byleth’s father. Unfortunately, Edelgard and Dimitri must die on this route by the end.

Speaking of the end: wow! Claude and the church find TWSITD’s base of operations within an underground magitech bunker, complete with a dubstep soundtrack. And the last battle of the route contains one of the best songs in Three Houses.

While no route is perfectly “good”, this one leads to the least amount of death and lets you take out the real villains of the story. To be fair, The Black Eagles route does end with TWSITD dispatched… offscreen. That’s right. Offscreen.

The downside is that the church never truly answers for creating the system that set these events in place.

Less emphasis is placed on Claude during this route, but that’s because he is much more of a passive observer to the chaos. Over the course of the story, Byleth forces him to stop playing the neutrality game and actually build a better world.

Silver Snow

I mentioned a fourth route. That one is Silver Snow, a Church of Seiros path that branches off from the Black Eagles route. Regardless, the Adrestian Empire controlled by a newly appointed Emperor Edelgard storms the Church without warning. Archbishop Rhea orders Byleth to kill your student. The Black Eagle Route continues if you side with Edelgard. But if you side with Rhea and attempt to kill her, the emperor manages to escape. You are now left with the Church and most of your students.

The decision is not as clear cut as one would expect. At this point in the game, you find out that TWSITD, the people who killed your father, kidnapped a little dragon girl named Flayn, and seemed to be behind the many nefarious acts in Fodlan have made allies with Edelgard and the Empire. Why wouldn’t you side against her? But of course, Rhea and her organization have an authoritarian stranglehold on the continent permitting the social Darwinism used to obtain crests. It’s a tough choice that comes down to who you trust more.

On the Silver Snow route, it almost entirely follows the story beats to Golden Deer… only this time Claude is replaced by the slightly less interesting Seteth. And Rhea still tries to kill you in the end anyways. I would say this is the worst route amongst the other three paths.

Third: What is the DLC?

The bulk of the DLC released is Cindered Shadows, a side story expansion that briefly unites the house leaders and a few more units with the Ashen Wolves. These are an underground “class” of misfits and outlaws allowed to survive in Gareg Mach’s lower depths by the Church of Seiros… though a better way to put it would be “left and forgotten”. The plot of the side story is a bit of a mess, so I won’t really bother going into it. What matters is that the main game is given an extra layer of the monastery called the Abyss, where you can purchase more items, renown, and supports. Additionally, you get the four Ashen Wolves students and access to unique classes.

Outside of Cindered Shadows, the other characters offered by DLC are Jeritza and Anna. Then you get a couple new outfits for Byleth… and… that’s about it. Give or take a few extra items.

And that’s from the $25 Expansion Pass bought separately from the game. There’s no other way to obtain this DLC.

Fourth: Was any of it worth it?

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a standard $60 game. With it’s addictive gameplay, engaging story, and instant replay value, it is absolutely worth it’s price.

With regards to the Downloadable Content, I would say no. The side story is not canon with the main game, so nothing you do will carry over to the next save file. The unique classes are in actuality older archetypes that had not yet become playable for Three Houses. The Trickster, War Cleric, Dark Flier, and Valkyrie were always present in some form in Awakening and Fates. Not to mention Jeritza is locked behind the Black Eagles route and Anna is an objectively subpar unit.

I would wait to play through Three Houses once before considering the DLC. I got it because I love the series and appreciate having more content present, not because it was a good deal.

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