One of my favorite video games in recent years is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Developed by Intelligent Systems Koei Tecmo and published by Nintendo, the game strongly appeals to me for it assemble cast of interesting characters, the fun bigger-than-life story of fantasy style war, the complex storytelling, and the depth in which they explore each of these characters interacting with the world around them. It is, more or less, exactly what I look for when I pick up a game to engage in. Three Houses, in my opinion, is the best game of the Fire Emblem series as well. It is the game that is able to blend the story aspect with amazing RPG elements and has a fun and engaging combat system that can be quite challenging even playing on normal levels. It certainly isn’t a perfect game but, in my opinion, it is one of the best of the franchise and one of the best RPG/battle simulators.
That being said, one of my favorite pastimes is to log onto Pintrest and collect memes of some of my favorite video games. It is always fun to view, laugh, and engage in the fandom of the games without actually having to interact with anyone. Each time I go in I enjoy seeing other fans making the same connections I do with characters as well as laugh at some genuinely funny moments with characters interacting with each other. However, each time I log on and deep dive onto the boards to go through the various images, I am often fascinated by a ranking system in which fans put characters into a lettered category from best to worst. Usually, the rankings starts at S rank and then go down A, B, C, D, and then in lieu of F, or in addition to F, is some hyperbolic inflammatory statement like “piece of shit” or “the worst motherfucker” or something like that. I often find these particularly fascinating for Fire Emblem because, while some fluctuation occurs between personal preference, for the most part you a pretty standard cast that is at the top of the list and a collective of those that are on the bottom. That makes me curious… Why is that? Why is it that the character Sylvain Gautier is almost universally loved while Lorenz Hellman Gloucester is almost universally hated? Why is Shamir Nevrand liked instead of Gilbert Pronislav? These lists can tap into something very interesting about the writing and story telling of Three Houses which is what I would like to explore a little further. The reason being is because Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a unique sort of story that has elements of some of the best writing I have seen in a video game as well as some writing that just woefully falls short of the game that it finds itself in. Luckily this balances out into what is by all account a great story with some poorly fleshed out elements but it is worth exploring for the sake of understanding what is good story telling, what is bad storytelling, and how it can affect a viewer/player’s views of the character based on that premise.
As such, this article is meant to be a deep dive into the art of storytelling. The focus is to showcase how a burgeoning writer can insure their characters are engaging to the consumers of the media that you are attempting to write whether it be book, movie, video game, or Dungeons & Dragons. I intend to split this article into four further sections. The first two will look at aspects of story telling in Fire Emblem: Three Houses at the character level by exploring the characters of the game and their stories. The next will be more macro that explores the overall impact of the world on these characters and what entities like The Church of Seiros and Those that Slither in the Dark represent. Then I will have two sections discussing the games strengths and flaws from both a marco and micro perception. This will showcase how storytelling can enhance a character or woefully ruin a character’s perception in the eyes of the consumer. As a disclaimer, it is suggested that those who engage with this article have a general understanding of the game and understand that spoilers will be part of the dissection.
Society vs. Self: Noble vs. Commoner vs. Knight
The central theme of Three Houses focuses on the subject of society. Subjects like a person’s place in society, how society affects us and shapes us into the people that we are is at the heart of all the individual characters of this game. The game has 40 playable characters and a number of NPCs and all of them have a story about the ways in which Fodlan society has either forced them into actions they might not want to do or how society has negatively impacted their life outside of their control to which they are doing the best that they can to manage.
While there may be some overlap between character actions and motivations, each of the three categories the game offers directly correlates with how society has affected them. The three categories in question are: nobles, commoners, and the Knights of Seiros. While there is a DLC that includes the Ashen Wolves that are symbolic of the “outcast,” I will exclude them for the sake of focusing on the main game.
Nobles in the land of Fodlan represent individuals whose character desires are being subverted by society that is forcing them to engage in an activity that is either against their nature or directly against their will. All nobles in the Three Houses game generally desire to be good people. They want to take care of others, be heroic, be knights, to engage in healthy relationships and so forth. However, societal standards of nobility in Fodlan force them into other actions, some of which are personally destructive while others are systemically harmful to other people. Some noticeable examples of this include Ingrid. Ingrid is one of the Blue Lions who has dreams and desires of being a knight. Her support conversations with the character Ashe and Catherine showcase her desire to be like the knights that she read about in her books growing up. However, due to the fact that her family is in dire financial trouble and she is a crest bearing noble, it is expected and pressured by Ingrid for most of the game that she returns home, give up on her dreams of being a knight, and accept a political marriage for the sake of her family.
Commoners in the land of Fodlan showcase people who are affected by society. Unlike nobles, they typically do not feel a societal pressure to conform to some ideal or engage in some activity. However, in every case they are negatively affected by society and have to adapt and engage with a society that they themselves cannot control. All of the commoners in Three Houses tend to, for the most part, function as constant characters. Their journeys and character development are existing within this society and coming to terms with the ways that society has wronged them with little to no means of changing it themselves since they are commoners. For examples, the character of Ignatz truly desires to be a painter and an artist. It is also pointedly mentioned that he has an exceptional talent for artistry. However, due to the fact that he is a second son of a merchant, his family has put upon him that he cannot run the family business, the role reserved for his older sibling, so he has to become a knight. The reasoning behind this is strictly financial. In order to support himself and the family, Ignatz needs a profession that will earn. As such, this somewhat soft boy with an affinity for art has to pick up a sword and bow and fight. The character of Petra is one of the more subtly tragic characters in the game and one worthy of her own article. Petra, while being an upbeat type of character, is a princess of a land called Brigid, an island archipelago south of Fodlan that is a coded Pacific Island Oceania nation. Petra, by all accounts is the pinnacle of nobility in Brigid. The game even mentions that by technical standards she is on par with the three main characters Claude, Edelgard, and Dimitri. However, due to the fact that it is controlled by a colonizing Adrestian Empire, Petra is treated as a commoner in a land where she would otherwise be treated like nobility if it weren’t for the direct pressures of colonization. It is woefully subtly tragic when you start the game and see the princess of Brigid is labeled “commoner” at the start of the game while she should, by all accounts, be treated equal to the three main characters.
The Knights of Seiros are Knights and professors in the Officer’s Academy/working for Garreg Mach. For the most part, these are the characters who have given into societal standards and have become what society has desired them becoming. As such, almost all of them have some level of damage attached to them or tragedy that has long since resolved for the worse. All of the Knights of Seiros are very much to some extent functionally broken individuals. Society has already put pressure on them and they have conformed in kind either to the role that they were meant to serve or accepting the fate that society has placed in front of them. Manuela is a good example of what another character Dorothea could become and very much is in a rough state in her life. Manuela was the songstress with the Mittelfrank Opera Company in the Adrestian Empire before Dorothea. However, after she left the company and grew older, she finds herself in a state of depression that leaves her as a slovenly hypersexual alcoholic who works as a professor and medic for Garreg Mach. She is now constantly on the lookout for love but can never seem to find one because of her own failings. In this case, Manuela fits the role of a commoner who was used and tossed aside by the society that Fodlan exists in.
Shamir and Cyril are two of the most tragic examples of this as well. A big undercurrent of Three Houses is the subject of racism and the concept of “the other” that all directly correlates to the characters of Shamir, Cyril, Petra, Dedue, and Claude. We will touch more on this subject in the next section when we talk about Claude, but suffice to say Fodlan is a very racists place. This comes out in overt ways through dialogue with nameless characters that consistently profess that they do not trust any of these characters and find them shady and evil. It is also often the case when something wrong has happened, there is at least one nameless NPC who will attempt to implicate Dedue, Cyril, or Shamir simply because they are foreign and coded threatening. But this also functions as a passive form of racism as well that functions similarly to racial discrimination that happens in our world. One of the most tragic cases of this involves both Cyril and Shamir. Cyril is a native Alymran child found by Lady Rhea, the head of the Church of Seiros, and works as a servant in the halls of Garreg Mach. While Rhea comes across as a great white savior who took this poor boy from the “horrific” land of Almyra, Cyril continues to be treated like shit by everyone at Garreg Mach, actively willfully works himself to death which is not challenged by anyone as he devoutly cleans the halls for Lady Rhea. Rhea constantly sees Cyril less as a child and more as an object who she will willfully let die in one battle and otherwise neglect at all other times. Cyril, however, is fine with this. 100% fine with all of it. He has accepted himself in this society as a part of the citizenry and accepts the abuse that he receives. He has accepted that he was “saved” by Rhea from Almyra and as appreciation he cleans himself to the point of passing out asleep on the job just to gain passive approval from Rhea who willfully lets him keep doing what he is doing. Shamir is another case of someone who society has forced to act and behave in a certain way in order to gain any level of respect or common decency. Shamir is a mercenary and a former soldier for the country of Dagda. Shamir, being a foreigner, is constantly seen as the “other” and someone who is “dangerous” and “a threat.” She works for the Church of Seiros because she owes a debt to Rhea, but just about every chapter has Shamir face some level of racial challenges to her character saying she is cold, she is evil, she is suspicious, and she is unfeeling. However, it is shown, through some subtle moments, that that is not the case. Shamir, while saying different, absolutely loves to take part in a dance competition as a judge. Her supports see her showcase a kinder gentler side underneath a very rough and cold exterior. The character of Shamir is someone who was probably more like Petra when she first arrived in Fodlan. However, years of pressure and perceptions of being cold and evil and suspicious have conditioned her to be more akin to what Fodlandians think she should be.
But after going through all of that, the question that needs to be asked is why is this important? Well, the reason being is because understanding this theme is key to understanding why we like or dislike character after the game is said and done. We might not like a character at the start of the game. However, once it is understood the pressure that society has placed on them and unpack the character, a more complex and enjoyed character comes out that ties back into the themes that the story wants to put forth. Without the context of the theme of the story, we are trapped in the general two-dimensional understanding of character as nothing more than gut emotion and personal experience. An analysis of Shamir would just come down to whether or not you like her or find her cold and off putting instead of investing the world in which she is situated in to better understand her as a person.
The Church of Seiros & Those that Slither in the Dark: Society Manifestation Active & Passive
While in the previous section we discussed the individual characters and the way in which society affects them, I would like to expand outward and look at the macro. If the crux of the story is the disconnect between societal standards, the individual, and reshaping society then how does one fight society especially in a game that is foundationally created on tactical strategy during battles in a war? Well, the answer more or less is to give society a face. In order to do this, the game gives us characters and entities that are directly correlated with the ills of society itself. In the case of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, we get two. One of which is the direct pressure of an institution on society to conform to its ideals in the Church of Seiros and its leader, Lady Rhea. The second is a more covert pressure on society, the less seen or understood. The systematized ills of society. In this case, it takes the form of an evil shadowy organization known as Those That Slither in the Dark. This group, using the societal perceptions of race and noble power, use these passive elements to obtain their ends. The push and pull between these two is pointedly shown in the opening scene of the game in which the forces of Seiros, eventually represented by the Church of Seiros, and the forces of Nemesis, the progenitor leader of Those That Slither in the Dark, square off against each other. Seiros ends up winning against Nemesis and, as a result, Seiros lives in the light leading the people of Fodlan while those that support Nemesis exist in the shadows affecting society behind the scenes.
First, to examine the Church of Seiros. The Church of Seiros is the central organization in all of Fodlan. While the three “countries” that form Fodlan include the Kingdom of Faerghus, the Leicester Alliance, and the Adrestian Empire have their own territory, all three swear some degree of fealty to Lady Rhea and the Church of Seiros. The Church has also cut its own nice little swathe out of the center of the land and functions out of the fortress known as Garreg Mach. Rhea and the Church of Seiros are, by far, some pretty nefarious entities that are also sometimes painted as the good guys because you are working for them. The central character, Lady Rhea, who is later revealed to be Seiros herself, won a battle against Nemesis the King of Liberation 1000 years ago and has since then controlled and dogmatized all of Fodlan. Some of the churches actions are overt while others are subtle but let me just raddle off a few that pop off in the game. It is shown that the Church looks very negatively on dissent from any of its ranks choosing to publicly execute anyone who steps out of line. The Church is very much built upon the lineage of “crests” and seeing the Church as a central figure in all three states as well as supporting and propagating the idea that a noble with a crest is a sign of good favor which effects almost every character in the game. In nearly 1000 years, keep in mind the difference between the year 1000 and the year 2000 in our world, there has been next to no technological or scientific advancement. The soldiers that served Seiros in the fight against Nemsis 1000 years ago are wearing the same armor and any and all signs to progress in society are pretty well crushed by the church. The Officers Academy only has 3.5 professors if you include Jeritza training them in the beginning of the game. One of which is a mercenary, the other a medic, and the other the “Father of Crestology” in Hanneman that is highly censored and monitored by the church on what he can and cannot study about crests as he consistently tells you that there are certain aspects of his research he has to keep hidden from Rhea and the church. There are signs of the Church’s involvement in burning and hiding books that they do not find to be within their core values. They have consistently cosigned on violence against other states like Dagda, Brigid, and Almyra as well. Also, the character of Byleth’s backstory has you being “manipulated” as a yet born baby by Rhea in an experiment to bring her mother back to life, the mother being the Progenitor God of that world in the form of Sothis. An action in which your father Jeralt, rightfully fled in order to keep you safe. I can keep listing them, but I think this gives a pretty good descriptor of the Church of Seiros and their list of sins.
The Church of Seiros in the story functions as the visual societal problems plaguing the people of Fodlan. Unlike the contrasting “Those that Slither in the Dark” they are literally in the center of Fodlan and actively propagate all of the societal problems that plague that characters in the game. It isn’t difficult to see that the Church of Serios has some serious problems that plague them and massive structural change is needed to break the cycle that Rhea and the Church continue to put the people of Fodlan through.
Those that Slither in the Dark function as the manifestation of the passive ills that fall on Fodlan. These have something to do with the Church but for the most part they are meant to be a physical manifestation of Noble greed, racism, systemic abuse of both nobles and commoners, seeing those without status as objects to be used in order to keep the system moving and so forth. The game keeps Those that Slither in the Dark pointedly vague and generally out of reach of even the player’s understanding. Most of societal problems relate to them in a more epiphany like means of showcasing in the story. This includes the Tragedy of Duscar which was a genocide of the Duscar people after the King of Faerghus, Lambert and his entire family sans the principal protagonist Dimitri, are assassinated. After the assassination, the people of Duscur were the victims of intense genocide that practically wiped them off of the map with only small collectives of the people remaining in the world. This tragedy that would be a scaring point for most characters in the Blue Lions House, was propagated by Those that Slither in the Dark and their member Cornelia who used racial distrust of Duscar people to obfuscate their own motives. They are also connected with with the intense blood experimentations that attempts to imbue individuals with two crests. Using nobility desire for power and influence, they are easily able to convince scores of individuals to turn their children over to them to attempt to imbue them with two crests. These experiments are said to be excruciating and deadly but nobles are happy to turn over their children for more power. Two of the victims of these experimentations include Lysithea and Edelgard, both of which are scared by the experience and Lysithea’s life horrifically shortened as a result.
The Church of Seiros and Those that Slither in the Dark are consistent antagonists with each other throughout the course of the game and both of which have tendencies that are evil as well as tendencies that are good. While Those That Slither in the Dark are generally perceived as evil engaging in more horrific experiments and using societal ills like racism and the nobility’s desire for power, Nemesis is also known as the “King of Liberation” because of the desire to liberate the land from the control of the Church. However, this push and pull between Seiros and Those that Slither does nothing good for the people of Fodlan. Whether it be the systematic repression created by the Church of Seiros or the passive use of systems and institutions to use people to propagate racism and hate, both are equally awful for the collective whole and represent the conflict between all of the characters and the world around them.
This relationship between the Church and Those that Slither are also directly correlated with the paths of Claude and the Verdant Winds route, Edelgard and the Crimson Flower route, and passively linked to Dimitri and the Azure Moon route.
So again, at the end of this, why talk about this and why explain why the Church of Seiros and Those That Slither in the Dark are diametrically opposed yet simultaneously systematically cancerous to the land of Fodlan? The reason being again ties back to what we are talking about which is how the Story telling can make certain actions and characters engaging for consumers and how they fall short. In the case of the characters, it was an examination of the micro while this is an examination of the macro. At the micro level we see our characters being affected by society and at the macro we see society manifested in the form of two organizations. Both at the micro and macro levels we have a unique situation in which the game succeeds greatly and fails spectacularly. In this case it is showcasing both the Church and Those that Slither as well as showcasing their function within the story or lack there of and each of these are directly attached to what is seemingly a consensus among fans about what they like and what they do not like.
Where the Storytelling Succeeds & Fails Micro
So, with all that said, let’s get to the point of all of this. How is all of this context related to the aforementioned memes showcasing the loved and hated characters in the game? Well let’s take some consensus here. We can strip away some of the nastier aspects of some of these fan takes that are just rooted in sexism and racism against characters like Edelgard, Leonie, and so forth and come to some consistent generalities. First off from the micro sense there is a certain set number of characters that frequent the tops of people’s favorites and those that frequent the bottom. Let’s take one from each of the aforementioned categories of Noble, Commoner, and Knight. For nobles, we will take and compare Sylvain and Lorenz with Sylvain being the positive example and Lorenz being the negative example. For commoners we will take Dorothea as the positive example and Leonie as the negative example. Finally for the Knights we will take Shamir as the positive and Gilbert as the negative.
Let’s first take the subject of the noble and compare both Sylvain and Lorenz. For context Sylvain is a charming individual who is known as a womanizer. Surface level descriptors of Sylvain is that of a fickle womanizer who uses women for sexual gratification. He is said to be both flirtatious and capricious with romance. In truth his character has a very antagonistic and distrustful relationship with women. Due to his status, he perceives (rightly or otherwise) that women perceive him as a “stud horse” and instead of loving him for him these women want a fast ticket to affluency and children born with crests. Instead he wants for people to see him and engage in a meaningful relationship based on love and not because he has a crest.
Lorenz is an affluent noble who, while sometimes condescending, sees nobility as an obligation to give to the commoners of the land in exchange for fealty. He truly believes in his cause and while missing the reasons why people dislike the nobility, still wants to be a caregiver who treats his subjects with respect and dignity.
For the most part fans of the game have seemingly found Sylvain to be deep, complex, interesting, and engaging. They tend to find him charming and his less than charming antics to be forgivable due to the circumstances of his character. By the contrast, Lorenz generally finds himself at the bottom of lists as one of the least favorite characters. They generally characterize him as whiny, condescending, insufferable, and generally naïve. Both reads very much get at the heart of the characters without really showcasing their positive or negative sides. For the sake of Sylvain, you will find a minority of people that call him out for being a manipulative individual who uses honey words to sleep with women who he knows full well he will leave after it is all said and done while giving the impression that he might be interested in more than just some cheap fling. This is showcased in a number of his supports with Byleth, Ingrid, Ashe, Felix, Dimitri, and so forth. On the contrast, few people also sing Lorenz’s praises such as moments like Leonie’s support when he pointedly tends to her wounds. They talk less about the fact that Lorenz truly believes that nobility is less some inherent power structure and more of an obligation to society that is given to him at birth that he believes and engages in with zero irony or resentment to the common folk of Fodlan. When the character of Byleth is feeling ill he is pointedly and immediately concerned for their health and wants to find ways to get them assistance. Even with these being stated few people condemn Sylvain’s flaws or build up Lorenz’s positive characteristics.
A reason for this is because of the success and failings of the story telling approaches to these characters. A character that is written well might create certain emotions at the beginning of the narrative. But at the end of the narrative those emotions have shifted and changed. For instance, a character like Sylvain is probably one that should not be liked at first. He is a fickle womanizer who uses honeyed words to coerce women into sleeping with him and then discarding them once he has had his fun. However, once you understand Sylvain’s motivation and see his growth throughout the game, the character should be much more understandable. You may or may not love him as a person, but you can understand him. Sylvain is a character that I think a lot of people would expect to hate because he is emblematic of a womanizing chauvinist in the real world. However, after his story is told and the game is over, there are a great deal of people who slot him HIGH in terms of their most favorite characters. His motivations for wanting a real relationship that isn’t based on him being a “stud horse” with a crest meant for breeding is pointedly stated throughout the story. People see the kinder end of Sylvain through his actions in which he is constantly and earnestly attempting to help his friends. Most of Sylvain’s endings have him grow as a character. At the end of most adventures, he tends to find someone and arrange a happy and loving marriage. Sylvain learns the reasoning behind his womanizing ways, makes amends, and becomes a more well-rounded person that is visible and digestible to the media consumer.
Lorenz, unfortunately, by contrast is less beloved because the character’s motivations and aspirations are unclear and the character himself rarely if ever challenges his own beliefs when he should certainly do so. It doesn’t help that the first support with Byleth involves allegations of sexual harassment that is later framed as pressure from society to find a suitable spouse, but I digress. In most situations for Sylvain’s supports and, in the game, Sylvain is constantly shown wanting to change as a person and trying to find a means to do so. There is a good character there and much of his actions are understandable in retrospect. Lorenz, however, does not have this. There are rarely if ever a situation in which Lorenz questions his allegiance to the nobility and how the nobility, as a whole, is a systematic institution that oppresses a large swathe of people by simple virtue of birth. Lorenz views the nobility as this upper class of individuals born into an obligation to the lower class. In his mind, nobility is a general good for the world and he wants to symbolize all of that good in his actions. However, the story does a poor job of challenging Lorenz on these beliefs. The nobility is not this upper class of civil servants here to protect the lower class. Most of them are happy to abuse the underclass and see them as nothing more than inferior beings. Lorenz, when pushed on this, vilifies those that abuse power but does not see the big picture. Lorenz’s more positive actions are noteworthy, his intentions honorable, and even some of his endings seeing problems with the system. However, due to the fact that the game fails to adequately push Lorenz HARD on him seeing the full picture of abuse nobility causes, he comes across as the well-meaning white friend who just doesn’t understand why black individuals are distrustful of police officers. Even when he is challenged, he never looks inward enough to what he believes and why he believes it. He is pompous and naïve with no signs that that will change until it potentially does… Sometimes.
A similar situation in the commoner section can be found between Dorothea and Leonie. Dorothea is a commoner from the Empire who is also a songstress for The Mittelfrank Opera Company. She comes across as a flirtatious seducer but later is revealed to be looking for a noble to marry for the sake of staying out of poverty once her looks fade with age. As the game moves on a character concerned about the horrors of war also emerges within Dorothea that comes across as both pensive and pious. Leonie is a commoner who comes from a small town. After meeting Byleth’s father Jeralt and becoming his “apprentice” Leonie borrows money from the town to fund her trip to the Officer’s Academy for the purpose of being a knight just like her hero. While her intentions are noble, she has to go into massive debt to the nobility to go to an academy that nobles just get to attend.
Now, I actually really like Leonie as a character and find her engaging and fun. However, a lot of the character online gets faced with some undeserved sexism that boils the character down to wanting to have sex with Byleth’s dad and just being a competitive bitch to Byleth. Which… in my opinion is a shallow misread of the character. But at the same time, I can at least admit that the character could have been further developed to maybe mitigate some of the dislike that Leonie gets. So by comparison Dorothea is one of the best characters in the game. While at first coming across as a shallow, sultry, and seductive character, Dorothea’s arc in the beginning of the game is attempting to court a noble to marry as a means of maintaining a livable lifestyle and not end up in a similar situation as Manuela. As the game progresses you can see the pressures that society puts on a commoner like Dorothea who is generally a kind and good-natured person who detests the horrors of war and has a pious undertone to her. Leonie, by contrast is meant to showcase the financial burdens put on a commoner of this world as well as the aspirations to rise above one’s standing. Leonie met Jeralt when she was a kid and saw Jeralt as a hero to which one would aspire to be. Once she gets older she goes into massive debt, pays nobles to sponsor her for entrance into the Officer’s Academy, and collectively gained funds from her entire village just to get a shot to be like Jeralt. However, the story tends to focus too hard on Leonie’s obsession with Jeralt instead of on these systemic issues that are more prevalent in other commoner’s stories. The fact that Leonie’s competition with Byleth does show a hero attachment to Jeralt but it does tend to skew so far to the point where you have to say “Leonie… This is my dad we are talking about. You have nothing to compete against.” The choice to focus more on Leonie’s relationship to Jeralt instead of on the reasons why she is at Garreg Mach does cheapen the character which is a shame on the whole because a lot of people miss the more in-depth representation of monetary greed for simple memes about a teenager wanting to have sex with an old man… Which is also a painfully shallow read on a character who sees someone as a hero and not an outlet for trite romantic attachments.
As such, the difference between the two comes down to the arcs of the characters and their motivations. Dorothea’s is clearly defined, her reasonings clear, and later the deeper character of a pious and caring woman comes out when she no longer feels pressured to court a noble for political gain during a war. Leonie, on contrast, gets saddled with needless accusations of hyper-competition and advancement is her noted trait instead of the flawed logic of a person who wants to be a knight who isn’t a noble has to pay nobles in order to get the privilege.
In regards to the Knights, the two comparisons are on Shamir and Gilbert. Shamir is a native of Dagda and an archer for the Knights of Seiros. While being an “outsider” Shamir fights for the Knights because she owes Rhea a debt. Meanwhile Gilbert, formerly Gustav, is a knight from Faerghus who left his king and family in disgrace after he failed in his duty to protect the king during the Tragedy of Duscar.
Shamir is often seen as a positive fun character. A little quiet, but generally a badass while Gilbert is often found at the bottom of almost every list I have come across for being a deadbeat dad who left his family. In the case of Shamir, it is easy to see the ways in which the system has beaten down Shamir and forced an otherwise fun loving individual to be the stone cold killer that people expect Dagdans to be. Small situations in which she enjoys being a judge for the dance competition or receiving cute gifts showcase a deeper side to Shamir that has been systematically repressed. Gilbert on the other hand is a character whose storytelling missed the mark. Gilbert is the father of the character Annette and former knight under King Lambert. After the Tragedy of Duscar, Gilbert left his family and life in the Kingdom of Faerghus behind seeing himself as a shameful individual for failing his duties. A lot of the story is Gilbert trying to make amends with his family and forgive himself after the tragedy. The problem with this character is that there is a failed connection between himself and the pressures of society that is discussed as a theme of the game. Gilbert is estranged from his family because of a sense of duty. However, in other situations in which a character is forced into a situation because of circumstances outside of their control, there is nothing that is “forcing” Gilbert to abandon his family and life in Faerghus. As such, Gilbert comes across less as a man who felt the societal pressure of shame to remove himself from society as much as he was a man who just wanted to abandon his family and used the death of the King as an excuse to bolt as well as maintain a façade of pious repentance to garnering sympathy with those around him. This is, to some extent, called out by Dedue in his and Gilbert’s support in which Dedue, rightfully angry calls out Gilbert for just stroking his own ego instead of feeling legitimate regret or sorrow over his failure to protect King Lambert. However, this is few and far between for a character who by all accounts comes across as a terrible dead-beat father. By contrast to compare to the character Endeavor from the anime My Hero Academia, a character like Gilbert can be done well. Endeavor is a far worse character by just about every metric but told a lot better because his actions and motivations are clear. After becoming number 1 hero, he realizes he was woefully physically abusive to his family and wants to make amends. Gilbert, on the other hand, is never challenged on the core to why he is a neglectful father. Most of Gilbert’s support with Annette can be summarized as Annette just begging the man to do something, anything at all! This is followed by Gilbert wining ad nauseum about how life sucks for him. Even one of the supports has Annette just say in frustration (paraphrased) “Just go home. I am fine but mom needs you.” And he doesn’t give in.
In each of these three cases you see examples of good story telling and bad story telling based around the theme that the story is trying to tell and this directly correlates to how well they are liked or disliked by fans. Sylvain, Dorothea, and Shamir are three generally beloved characters because their motivations and actions are well defined, their positive qualities are on display, and their conclusions are satisfying. Their characters are connected to the theme and their stories fully fleshed out. They are perfect representations of each of the three major systemic archetypes the game showcases in their story and how it might affect a noble, a commoner, as well as a knight beat someone down after the society has indoctrinated them. By contrast Lorenz, Leonie, and Gilbert suffer from a lack of direction for their characters. There is a good character in there and in some cases it does shine through. I, for one, love Leonie and Leonie’s story. However, I can begrudgingly admit that the better aspects of her character are typically underdeveloped in lieu of over showcasing her hero attachment to Byleth’s father and the competition associated with that. Lorenz I can see a noble individual who deeply wants to be a good civil servant to the commoners but the system that he loves does not get challenged by him enough when there are obvious flaws… And worse yet this character is better portrayed by other characters in the game like Ferdinand von Aegir! Gilbert, I can also see a great story about a dead-beat dad trying to make amends with his family and realizing his flawed logic of leaving as an excuse for his own selfish desires. But there needed to be some other motivation behind his actions or a challenge to the specifics of those actions to make a well-rounded character. As a result, Leonie, Lorenz, and Gilbert are almost always destined for the scrap heap of terrible characters in the eyes of fans.
Where the Storytelling Succeeds and Fails Macro
Whenever I hear people talk about the subject of the various plot lines of Three Houses I tend to hear a split between Azure Moon and Crimson Flower as the two best told stories and Verdant Wind and Silver Snow tend to fall into the categories of “eh… It is okay.” I think that a major reason behind that is, once again, the storytelling giving an accurate understanding of the stakes of the story, who exactly is the villain, and how the protagonist group and antagonist groups connect with each other. As such the more poignant comparison here comes between the routes Crimson Flower and Verdant Winds. Now in terms of each of these stories including Azure Moon and Silver Snow, each one showcases some antagonism against the Church and Those That Slither in the Dark. Silver Snow and Azure Moon are a little less connected to these antagonists. Reason being in Silver Snow you play as the Church leader taking over the position once held by Rhea and the story is much more character driven based on you. Similarly, in Azure Moon the story is well told but its affects to the central theme of society ills is a little less defined and it is much more of a traditional character dive into the history and motivations of Dimitri. As such these two are a bit more character driven. So, for now, it will be set aside too. That leaves us with the two plots that directly challenges the light and the dark of the problems with society’s, Crimson Flower and Edelgard challenging the Church of Seiros and Verdant Wind and Claude challenging the passive woes of society represented by Those That Slither in the Dark.
In terms of Edelgard and Crimson Flower, this story line is one of the best told stories in Three House and one of the reasons why Three House is one of, if not, the best game in the Fire Emblem series. Edelgard is a fascinating and complex character who spent a horrific childhood as the subject of several terrible experiments that imbued her with two crests. After this, she grew a strong sense of justice made manifest by these injustices and seeks to change the world for the better. It isn’t hard to see how she quickly views and sees the horrors that the nobility has caused society through a desire for power through crest by torturing children. With two crests comes higher status and the Church of Seiros continues to actively propagate all of these injustices for their own end. At the same time it is easy to see how the character can slip into darkness and without the protagonist help she becomes a cold and commanding leader hell bent on conquest instead of championing her values and goals she originally set out to achieve. Behind even that though is also a character who is dorky and sweet complete with spending all night coming up with a name for the Black Eagle Strike Force clearly fantasizing about saving the world with her friends, drawing paintings of the professor, and other little moments that showcase the gentler side to Edelgard beyond the impassioned, hardened, and powerful leader she becomes. Crimson Flower directly challenges the woes and ills of the world done by the Church of Seiros and, in the end, it is said that she then attempts to deal with Those that Slither in the Dark for the rest of her time as Emperor. While it can be understandable that this would feel like a cop out ending that cuts the story short without having a complete ending. To me, it also reads as an understanding of the central theme of the story and that, while Edelgard did dismantle the Church of Seiros, she still had a long way to go to remove the concept of nobility and racism from Fodlan even after the conclusion of the war that unified it. It is a very well told and powerful version of the story that ties heavily into the theme of society’s impact on the individual, challenging systems of oppression, and fleshing out an amazing character in the form of Edelgard von Hresvelg.
Verdant Wind and Claude’s challenging of Those That Slither in the Dark on the other hand… Well it is one of the weakest parts of the entire game. Let it be known I do not think the character of Claude von Riegen is weak. Claude is a very fascinating character, probably one of the best in the game in terms of history and pathos. Claude is in a spot of extreme privilege for someone within the world of Fodlan that is deeply racist against anyone not from the Leicester Alliance, Faerghus, or Adrestia. While characters like Dedue, Petra, Cyril, and Shamir are looked on as lesser, Claude is the subject of hushed whispers about his lineage instead of outright stated bigotry. Being the son of a Fodlandian noble woman and the Almyran King before traveling to Fodlan, Claude seeks out rather quickly to fix the world and help those that were not as lucky as he was while still fully acknowledging the problems, he himself faces as he politically navigates this world. Even in this context, Claude still faces the challenges of racism that sees him as duplicitous and untrustworthy. Most of the story is centered around Claude beating nobility at its own game while still running the risk of strategizing himself into a corner which happens if you do not select his route. He is a great character there is no arguing it. The problem with Verdant Wind does not stem from Claude, it stems from Those That Slither in the Dark, the worst aspect of the game.
First off, it is understandable. Claude is fighting against the passive influences of society. The pressures of nobility and the racism of the land is the central focus of what Claude seeks to change. But unlike the Church of Seiros which is a tangible organization constantly meddling in the affairs of commoner and nobility alike, it is hard to play a tactical RPG style game and punch the concept of racism. So, you do need to give it a surrogate to fight. However, this is where a lot of things fall apart. For starters, you need to walk a very fine line when you are pushing systemic societal problems onto an organization. One of the major generators of conspiracy narratives is the desired need for humans to simplify complex systems and institutions into one entity to call the enemy which this game propagates with its story. Beyond that, you also have to walk the tight-rope of still generating a passive yet interesting villain that lurks in the shadows but is compelling to keep people coming for more. For Those That Slither in the Dark they are mysterious and they do seemingly control things from behind the scenes. But the problem is that they are too mysterious to the point of confusion. We don’t know a lot about Those That Slither in the Dark even to this day and moments in which the game attempts to explain who they are and what they do tend to still be vague, ill defined, and the actions not really building to clear motivations. Don’t get me wrong, they are there. But even the aspect the game provides is insufficient to generate that high level of engagement needed. As a result you have a situation in which Claude is attempting to fight the less centralized problems of society by fighting characters we barely know, an overarching villain in Nemesis that is not well defined, a primary antagonist in Thales that isn’t very interesting, and motivations that can easily be replaced with other aspects of the story. You don’t need to do a lot of alterations to remove Those That Slither in the Dark out of the game and losing next to nothing in the process. Instead of an enemy in “Thales” it could simply be Lord Arundel who has a contingent of nobles who just want more power through the desire of crests or resurrect Nemesis as a means of gaining power. They could also use Duscar, Almyran, and Dagdan people as test subjects because they see them as inferior. Major swathes of Those that Slither in the Dark are just too poorly developed and as a result Verdant Wind tends to be looked upon as the lesser of the paths not made any better by the game pushing the rivalry between Edelgard and Dimitri that seems to make the Golden Deer and Claude the objective third wheel.
The story here is great, do not get me wrong. But the point is that it could have been better with some changes. Due to the poor development of the antagonist and poor story telling it tends to get the least love in terms of paths one can take in Three Houses, Verdant Wind tends to fall flat and be the least engaging in terms of the paths for the game to take.
So what is the overall point to take away from this? The surface level answer could be, “storytelling matters to a story?” Which I think would be a very shallow misread of what is attempting to be completed. Instead, I think it would be more accurate to say this is an attempt to showcase to others the way characters are told and developed also shapes our perceptions of them. Not just as characters in a game but also in a connection with them as people we are meant to relate to. Understanding a character and how they relate to the themes is critical to any writer who wants to write. This connection can be a powerful tool to use for any burgeoning writer not only for games, but films, books, and so forth. A character with clearly defined motives, a clear connection to the themes of the story, and a parsimonious path from the start of the story to the development at the end is one that an audience will engage with, relate to, and generally find to be an enjoyable addition to the media they consume. By contrast one that fails in this regard will more than likely be chastised for the flaws of the character instead of the growth that they gain (or lack thereof) or just feel like meandering messes of a good concept. This can also be extended to stories that have larger antagonists. If your organization is not clearly defined and stated to the audience, even if their engagement is their mystery, it will not resonate as well with fans as something that can accomplish this. Overall, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an amazing game with some great story telling. But thankfully when you have a piece of media with a story of this size, you will be able to dissect it for both the good and bad that it has to offer.