Spoiler Warning: Here is your one and only warning that most of this post will talk about Fire Emblem: Three Houses and a whole lot of spoilers for the game. Anything below this paragraph might include spoilers for the various paths, choices, and secret of the game. While it has been out for three years already and that’s probably plenty of time for everyone who is going to play it to have played it, adding a spoiler warning doesn’t cost me anything and I want everyone who might become interested in the game to experience it. So stop reading if you don’t want spoilers because I’m running out of junk to put here so you don’t accidentally see a spoiler in one of the paragraphs below.
I’ve done a full replay (my most complete to-date) of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the sole reason of logging enough hours on it to ensure it stays my most played Switch game because I was getting really close to passing it with my Fire Emblem: Three Houses playtime. I would up doing another replay of BotW for fun after that, before I went back to Three Houses again, so now my fourth full-playthough (by which I mean I’m gonna do plot choices, grind levels, and mainline support conversations like they’re water and I just escape from the desert after a month of barely surviving via eating cactuses spines and all rather than just blast through the game for story content) can take the sixty to one hundred hours the first three took without me worrying about my favorite game falling behind in hours. As of writing this post, I just cracked 400 hours in Three Houses, so I’ve got over 150 hours before Breath of the Wild is in danger again. Plenty of time.
I’m not sure I’ve broken 100 hours on any other entry in the franchise, not even in Path of Radiance, my most replayed Fire Emblem game. After all, Fire Emblem games aren’t exactly known for their complexity or inspiring plots. They’re strategy games that have incorporated more and more social aspects over the years. And when you know exactly how the games work and don’t need to check stats anymore when you replay them, they’re usually pretty quick to play through. Sure, some of the entries on the DS family had the ability to spawn a huge number of side missions and some DLC that could add a bunch of play time, but I haven’t really replayed those games much. It’s just the same game over and over again and I have my limits (Path of Radiance was a special case because it was all I had for a long time). I need some amount of variety to give things a shot, and there really wasn’t much that changed from one play through to the next other than which support bonds developed and what support conversations you got to see. Until Three Houses, of course.
There, the overarching plot of the world stays pretty much the same, but there are a few important changes depending on which house you pick and, in one of the house routes, a choice you make midway through the game. The bend of the plot shifts based on those choices and some characters become available to you that otherwise might never, which means that not only does the protagonists and player character get to develop bonds with them, but they get to develop bonds with all the other side characters as well. It’s a lot to do in a single playthrough, unless you manage to set up a system that allows you to carefully grind support points until you’ve unlocked every possible conversation. Which isn’t a surefire fix for the problem, unfortunately, because you might not develop that system until it is too late to deepen a bond with a character. Thus requiring a repeat of that path so you can do it right.
And that’s just the support conversations. Each path you take through Three Houses gives you a piece of the world’s story. Only after you’ve played every route do you have all the pieces you need to really understand what’s going on. After all, it is only in the Golden Deer route that you find out the Hero’s Relics are made of the bones and hearts of the relatives of the god who shares your character’s body. Sure, you might have figured it out before then, since they look like they’re made of bones and the whole “Crests (which are only in family lines that have been infused with the blood of the god relatives who were made into the weapons, another fact you learn in the same route at the same time) are passed down through the blood and are required to prevent the Heros Relics from murdering you” thing gives off some pretty intense “biological weapon” vibes. But the game only tells you the one time. Just like it really only goes into all of the true history stuff in one line. And the “puppet masters pulling strings behind the scenes” in a different line. Basically, you can separate the paths into “True Facts About the Past with Claude,” “Emotional and Physical Suffering Served With A Side of Bonus Character Depth with Dimtri,” “Nuance is Dead, As Is Everyone Else, But At Least You Get To Rule The World with Rhea” and “True Facts About The Present with Edelgard.” You only really get to understand what’s going on once you’ve played through at least two of them, but probably still should play all four so you can properly decide how you feel about all of these flawed narrators telling you (the player) their stories.
I think you can see why I might be tempted to replay the game so many times. There’s a lot to digest there, and that’s even without going into all of the reasons that the story appeals to me, personally. For one thing, pretty much every character (except Rhea) is interesting and has a degree of nuance and depth to them that I find appealing, especially because I get to explore that character’s depth in relation to the events of the world and the lives of the people around them, all of which are interesting on its own. You can learn so many incredibly interesting things about a single character just by changing who they’re closest to when the game ends (a thing I haven’t messed with too deeply, because there’s just so many possible combinations!) or by the background context that makes up one of their support conversations. I recognize that I’m doing these wonderful characters a disservice by not saying more about them, but I could write an entire post about each house and probably several more posts diving into the details of each character. Maybe someday, but right now, I want to pivot.
I was raised and educated in the Catholic Church. I attended Catholic Mass every week, was active in my parents’ churches, and was a somewhat prominent member of said churches Youth Organizations. I eventually dropped all that in favor of being a more complex, accepting individual than I was designed to be by most of these experiences, which means I only realized how weird some Catholic stuff is later in life. For instance, a lot of religions have reliquaries (though some by different names). In general, a reliquary is a container for a holy relic. In the Catholic church, that means that a reliquary is a container for something like a supposed piece of the cross upon which Jesus died or a couple fibers of the Shroud of Turin. Or some biological material from a saint, usually bone. And these reliquaries, full of bone shards, preserved blood, hair, or whatever else could be split off a holy corpse after the owner was too dead to object and stuffed into a small, ornate, windowed statuette, would be passed around as objects of reverence. I remember a time when my primary church as a child had brief stewardship of some reliquary and allowed members of the church to hold onto it briefly. It was during my home schooling years and it was set up in the small prayer corner of the house as an object of reverence and incorporated into our daily prayers during the only group portions of my home schooling education (“announcements” and morning prayers). It seemed like a totally normal thing, even if I thought it looked kinda gross and smelled weird (it was just the smell of incense, thankfully).
What makes all of that relevant is that Three Houses does a pretty good job of spoofing the Catholic church, what with it’s golden grandeur, revisionist history, and body horror holy relics. I mean, what the fuck, you know? Saints are weird enough in the eyes of most monotheistic religions, given that the saints often feel like they’re set up as mini gods with specific domains and powers rather than as the intercessors they’re proclaimed to be, and they get downright spooky once you realize that a lot of the older ones had their bodies broken up and turned into objects of worship once they’d died. Which is why the idea of using a super-powered holy weapon made of the bones of a god’s child is fascinating in a kind of disgusting but ultimately familiar way. I grew up in that religion and it took me almost two decades to think that maybe it was kinda weird and not just a normal part of most faiths. I enjoyed seeing this kind of ordained bdy horror come up in a way that glides past how absolutely fucked up that is in the same way that the Catholic church does with all its holy reliquaries. The writing of the revelation scene makes it clear that the weapons are deeply disturbing, but the characters in the game never really address it, which feels very real-to-life given that my parents once had a bit of bone and/or blood in a small golden windowed thingy as the centerpiece of a religious shrine in our home and never said anything about it other than that we weren’t to touch it since I guess only a priest using a blessed cloth was allowed to do that. I might be misremembering that bit, though. Could be a different weird Catholic ritual that only allows that. There are a lot of them, after all, and it has been over a decade since I was actively practicing the faith.
With all this going on–and so much more I didn’t really go into because this post is too long already–can you blame me for playing this game as much as I have? It’s fascinating, and that’s even without going into my love of strategy games.