Fans have been using an image seen in an early Fire Emblem: Three Houses trailer to puzzle out information about the characters’ Crests, which are symbols of a powerful bloodline that gives them special powers. In addition to a few that aren’t seen in the game, all the crests you encounter are represented in this mural—except for the main character’s. But fans are collectively realizing that the crest is depicted and has basically been staring them in the face.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, you split your time between fighting battles and teaching students at a monastery. As you teach, there are key moments where you can encourage students down different paths toward new jobs. While the mechanic mostly exists for you to grind stats and try new battle combinations, these small moments realistically capture one of the most rewarding challenges of teaching: recognizing potential and deciding what a student can offer the entire class.
I’ve worked with students in the past by helping in outreach programs and summer camps. Taking in a class of 15 to 20 students can be daunting You need lesson plans and assignments to keep things organized. The trickiest part, though, is understanding students’ gifts and working to help them grow. Is a shy kid in theater class? Get them on stage so they’ll loosen up, but also give them the option of learning practical crafts like design and backstage work. It can be challenging to constantly shift and accommodate students’ needs, but navigating those moments is often deeply gratifying.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses captures this feeling through simple dialogue options that pop up from time to time. As students grow, they come to the player suggesting job paths they can embark on. Some of this is guided by stats, some of it by characters’ personalities. For instance, the exchange student Petra might suggest that she become an assassin due to how much other students say she has a penchant for sneaking. The boisterous Caspar might ask to focus on axes and become a warrior. You can say yes in these moments or guide characters down custom paths of your choosing.
You don’t have to accept any student’s suggestions. Instead, you might look at their skills for areas that they have secret potential in. Felix is great with swords but has high growth in certain magic. Petra might be sneaky, but she also enjoys riding. In my own playthrough, I decided that she would become a Pegasus Knight. It wasn’t what she suggested, but it worked out.
Obviously, it’s more important to listen while teaching than anything else. Hell, it’s important to listen in all things you do. There aren’t many chances in life to tell someone to fly on a pegasus rather than shoot a bow and arrow. But there are moments where you need to adapt and think on your feet for the sake of someone’s future. Teaching has those moments in heaps, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses exemplifies that.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has been a little bit of a slow burn for me. While I’ve been a fan of the series since Awakening, I found myself beset by choice paralysis in Three Houses when I realized that I did not even remotely feel attached to any of the three precocious rich children with whom I was being asked to ally myself. You’d think that once I finally chose a house—Black Eagles, based on Heather’s excellent guide to choosing a house—I’d be ripping and running and tearing up the battlefield. Instead, I opted to do a little reading.
“Opted” might be generous. At this point in my gaming career, my attraction to lore has become more akin to a compulsion. When I explored Garreg Mach Monastery for the first time, I painstakingly talked to every NPC that still had a “new text” bubble next to their minimap icon, a feature I both appreciate and lament because it gives me an easy way to lean into my obsessive see-it-all tendencies. So imagine my surprise and consternation when I realized that, after going through boxes and boxes and boxes of dialog text, there were even more text boxes to scroll through courtesy of the in-game library.
You can’t actually read all the books in the Three Houses library. It makes sense—there are a lot on those shelves. Instead, as in many games, you walk up to a bookshelf and interact with it for a few boxes of text related to a certain topic: the Church of Seiros, or the geography of Fodlan, or royal genealogy, for example. A more reasonable person would think, “Well, these books will clearly still be here for me to read at later points in the game, like after I do my first-ever real mission.” But what if there was some lore here that would add a little extra color to that mission? Or deepen my understanding of the world and characters around me? Maybe I’d stumble on some piece of information that I’d need for a support conversation. The characters I need to connect with in this game are students and teachers, after all, so trading in facts might actually be useful.
Those are all the justifications that I’ve retroactively invented for why I read all of those books. But in the moment, none of that was actually going through my mind. I just felt a deep tugging in the pit of my spirit, something like a disembodied voice whispering, “Natalie, here is a thing you can do, a task you can complete. If you don’t do it right now, you might forget it’s here. Read these textbooks, you fucking coward.” In the same compulsive way that I counted things as a kid, needing the numbers to be divisible in a certain way to feel “right,” I often find myself giving in and seeking “comfort” in the way of knowing that I’ve completed every little thing I can possibly complete in front of me before I move on to something else. It didn’t matter that this meant reading blocks of text for which I grossly lacked narrative context, from the climates of places I probably wouldn’t see for several more hours to family histories detailing long lines of nepotism behind characters about whom I already felt ambivalent.
As I said, I’m not technically reading the entire library of books in this game, but only because I can’t. All I can do is watch my character read the books and then provide me, the player, with a summary of their contents. Because of that, I’ve found myself wondering if I should apply the logic behind the video game library to the other text in the game. If several thousand pages of books can be boiled down into a summary that only lasts for a few text boxes, should I apply that to the rest of the reading I do in the game, like the character dialogues? Was the two-box chat I had with a random knight actually an hours-long conversation about the minutiae of guarding a dormitory? Were the 45 seconds I spent watching a cat’s idle animations actually three hours of my character’s in-game life? Was the “…” I got from Marianne actually a tense, long silence that broke into a 15-minute staring contest?
I may not be able to accurately measure the time that my character is spending in the library, but the time that I’ve spent on this task as a player is certainly adding up. When I actually get to my first real Fire Emblem battle, I’ll let you know if all the reading paid off. I’ll let you know as soon as I finish reading all the tutorials in the pause menu.
Joe Zieja’s path to voicing the English-language version of Fire Emblem: Three Houses lead Claude von Reigan was a circuitous one. Zieja said over the phone that he only realized what a huge role Claude was while he was recording. He told me that the director for the English voice actors, Patrick Seitz, broke the news while he was halfway through a recording session. The internet was crazy about the Golden Deer House’s nice young lad.
“He was like, ‘Do you realize how thirsty the audience is for Claude?’” Zieja said. “He’s like, ‘Why don’t you take a look at these,’ and started showing me all the fanart that people were drawing, and like all the tweets that people had made about Claude. Claude was trending on Twitter like a month before the game came out.”
Claude’s design, and the barest hint of his voice acting that we saw in early trailers, certainly piqued my interest. Once I had my hands on the game, he was my instant pick for marriage. Something about the way Claude took everything in stride, the slightly sarcastic tone of his voice, made me want to know all about him.
“What really stood out to me about Claude in general was, even though he was in a military academy—I went to a military academy, graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado—even though he was in that environment, he was very like chill,” Zieja said. “A lot of things just rolled off his back. So getting to play an easygoing character, especially in something that’s very anime influenced where everything is always super intense, it was really great to be able to lay back and apply some snark.”
Zieja turned to voice acting after his military intelligence job burned him out. His path from the Air Force Academy led him to the actual Air Force, then to a government job, then to the corporate world.
“It had its moments of excitement, and military intelligence sounds sexy,” Zieja said, “but it’s a lot of PowerPoints.”
Voice acting has proven to be much more interesting to Zieja than military intelligence. About eight months after starting, he realized that his client list had grown long enough that he needed to quit his day job to focus on this new career. He has since had roles in shows like Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans and games like Just Cause 4. Zieja said that realizing that he was going to be a lead character in a franchise as huge as Fire Emblem was kind of a slow burn.
“I was familiar with Fire Emblem. I played Awakening,” Zieja said. “It was a slow realization of just how big it was. Honestly, I don’t think I understood even how big it was until I made my announcement video and the internet lost its mind.”
Zieja said that playing Claude reminded him of his own days in a military academy, for the ways that he was unlike the character.
“It was super refreshing to see someone like, yeah, it’s war, having that kind of easy, carefree thing in really dire circumstances,” Zieja said. “I respect that, because as I learned in my military career, you can’t let everything get to you. I’m not going to name any names, but telling people, ‘Kill every last one of them on the field…’” We both laughed at this dramatic moment a different character had during the game. “Well, there is that part,” Zieja continued. “Claude is like, ‘Well, this is life, and you have the play the hand that you’re dealt.’ Claude can work within the rules of the system but stay outside of the system. That’s what makes him so strong.”
Zieja’s path to playing a lead character in such a huge franchise is an unusual one, and he seems grateful for, if slightly baffled by, his success.
“I feel like my life is being conducted,” Zieja said, “like I’m in an orchestra that’s being conducted by someone with a very strange sense of humor.”
Quickly after the release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, fans of the game began creating memes focusing on the character of Seteth. And now Seteth’s voice actor is actually reading and voicing some of these memes on Twitter.
In response to the popularity of these memes Mark Whitten, the voice actor for Seteth, has actually begun recording himself reading the memes as Seteth.
Marked using the hashtag #setehsays, these tweets have been very popular within the Fire Emblem community. On the Fire Emblem subreddit, players are excited to have someone officially part of the game share in some of their meme-fueled fun.
“Omg. This is the greatest. I’ve never been in a fandom where the voice actors were actually part of the community and it is awesome,” wrote one fan on Reddit.
“My sister doesn’t even like fire emblem and she’s laughing her ass off,” wrote another fan on the same post.
As of now, Whitten has only recorded two #setethsays and posted them on Twitter. Fans are already asking for him to do more, sharing new and old Seteth memes in the hope he will read one of these next.
It’s been a while, but Viewpoints is back. For this episode, I chatted with Kotaku’s Gita Jackson about our love for Fire Emblem: Three Houses and why we think the tactical role-playing series is so popular in the West.
While plenty of people have been happily diving into Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it’s not that long ago that the series was in serious trouble. In an interview with a Spanish magazine, Fire Emblem Awakening’s developers Hitoshi Yamagami said Nintendo threatened to cancel the series if Awakening sold under 250,000 copies. Thankfully, Awakening turned out to be a hit, selling over 2.1 million copies globally and saving the series from extinction. Surprisingly, 43% of those sales came from North America.
How exactly did Fire Emblem enter its new renaissance? We also talk about our first experiences with hearing about Fire Emblem via Smash Bros. Melee and how hopeless we felt before the Japanese games came to the States. Watch the video above to hear Gita and me hypothesize and share our own experiences with the Fire Emblem series.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses offers the agonizing decision over which group of students you want to teach and lead in battle. It’s a tricky choice that greatly affects the story you experience and the characters at your command. But it’s also a bit of a personality test, and I’m fascinated to know what house people chose. What I didn’t see myself doing was sitting on the subway snooping like a goon to find out a stranger’s house, but that’s exactly what happened today.
It was a strange experience, hopping on the train to work and spotting someone playing their Switch. It happens from time to time, but the claustrophobic nature of the New York subway means it’s pretty hard to pull out a game console if you’re on a major train line. The young man was hunched over, curled as intently as I’d seen a gamer, and I couldn’t help peeking at what he was playing. It was Three Houses. Neat, he’s playing the most popular Nintendo Switch game. That makes sense. Time to listen to some more [Alexandros] and bob my head. Instead, I found myself peering closer to see what house he picked.
For whatever reason, the question enthralled me. Who did this stranger decide to support? I figured it might tell me about them, like seeing the result of someone’s silly “Which Hogwarts House Are You?” quiz on their Facebook page. To my dismay, it was a little difficult to figure out. Apparently a diehard player far into the game, this stranger had recruited a gaggle of students from many houses. I saw the familiar blue hair of Black Eagle House brawler Caspar, but I also spied Golden Deer slacker Hilda. As they scrolled through characters and ordered them around, I also spied Blue Lion swordsman Felix on the battlefield. I had become the worst type of screen looker, the snoopiest of Press Sneak Fucks, trying to decipher this player’s roster.
Then it started to come into focus. Leonie, Lysithea, Lorenz. This stranger had chosen Golden Deer as their starting house. It made sense; out of the many houses, Golden Deer is the most laid back and affable. Their focus on commoners and their charming house leader, Claude, makes them an inviting choice for a first playthrough. Great, I solved the mystery. I was done thinking about it.
Or so I thought. As an enthusiastic Black Eagle devotee, I felt a flash of pride for my fictional house, a strange and sudden huffiness that insisted this stranger had made the wrong choice. Of course, there is no wrong choice to be made in selecting a house. You can consult guides for details but the idea is to go with your guts, and his gut has chosen something relaxed and friendly. My snooping and subsequent reaction were silly and intrusive. But there was a kernel of something there, the slightest hint of what makes for diehard fandoms. I had somehow formed a sort of allegiance to Black Eagle. It wasn’t entirely rational, but the gut reaction felt fitting. Really? Golden Deer? Well, I suppose they’re OK.
It was a strange experience. I’m not much of a fandom person. I go with the flow and don’t really build myself into a fervor about which characters to ship or memes to share. I didn’t think I’d care too much about my house but I guess I do. Black Eagles, baby! Woop! Woop!
I knew I had a problem when I saw a timer appear and my first reaction was to immediately hammer my Nintendo Switch’s power button until it fell into a merciful slumber.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has a feature called an “advice box” in which characters write you letters asking for aid. You’ve got to pick a response within a 30-second window, and if you tell them what they want to hear, they’ll like you more. I put my Switch into sleep mode because I couldn’t risk being wrong. Having stalled the timer that was likely designed to prevent this exact kind of thing, I sought out my closest medieval tactics and anime dating adviser: Google.
Like many connoisseurs of turn-based strategy and blue hair, I am in love with Fire Emblem: Three Houses. On Sunday, I played it for 12 (mostly) uninterrupted hours. This week, I’ve been playing it in Lyfts, at bars, anywhere I can find a spare second. I like the battles, but I adore the characters. Sure, many of them are tropey anime archetypes, but they’re endearing from the get-go, and they reveal surprising layers of depth and trauma as the game goes on. This is why, when I found out from our own Gita Jackson’s tips post that I can recruit characters from every house (and that if I don’t, they might end up battling against me), I decided I must. I categorically refuse to harm a hair on any of my precious children’s meticulously coiffed heads. Also, I want them all to love me so much that their little cartoon hearts explode. Is that so much to ask?
I have, as a result of these intertwining desires, become a paranoid min-maxer. Fire Emblem: Three Houses contains a multitude of ways for you, a mercenary-turned-professor, to bond with various characters from all three of its titular houses. When it comes to students from your own house, you’re all set on the recruiting front, since they’re part of your army by default. But you can still rank up your support level with them by engaging in an overwhelming number of activities: eating together, cooking together, choir practice, tea parties, finding lost items, giving gifts, answering questions in class, picking the correct dialogue options during random conversations, sending flowers on birthdays… I’ll stop there, but the list goes on.
Upping your support level helps out in battle, but also results in cutscenes and story beats that are by far the most compelling part of the game’s narrative. As for students from houses whose colors you aren’t flying, you can win them over to your cause by excelling in specific skills, but you can also drop those skill requirements by preemptively increasing your support level with those characters.
Seeing as I want to recruit everybody as quickly as possible, this means precisely one thing: I can never mess up. If a student asks a question in class, I put down my Switch and Google the answer. Same goes for quick dialogues while I’m wandering the school, affinity for specific gifts, any lost item I find, taste in food, and yes, the advice box.
In games with similar time-limited relationship-building mechanics like Persona 5, I’ve tried to avoid this kind of approach, preferring instead to go on instinct and hope things work out alright in the end. But in Fire Emblem’s case, I’m burdened with the knowledge that I control characters’ fates.
I’m also a nearly pathological people pleaser. I just want everybody to be happy and chill, and when I drop the ball in Fire Emblem, characters are decidedly neither happy nor chill. Instead, they’re like “Oh, I’m surprised you’d say that” in a way that seems nonchalant enough but feels like you just tanked a first date by telling your crush that you believe all birds were replaced by government robots in the ‘60s. And throwing up on their shoes.
When I’m in the flow of playing the game this way, I don’t really think much about it. But when I take a step back and consider what I’m doing, I feel like a shameless sociopath, utterly devoid of firmly-held viewpoints or morals. I am, in practical terms, just making my character say whatever she needs to for everybody to like her. It’s not even really about role-playing anymore; it’s just about cold, mechanical optimization in pursuit of a larger goal—albeit one that’s still character-driven, at heart (as opposed to simply trying to get the best stats, or what have you). At one point, I was walking through the game’s chapel area, and one character asked about my feelings on religion and the game’s fictional Church of Seiros. My feelings were not super positive, but this character was religious, so I was like “Heck yeah, buddy. Church to the max.” Then, in the same room, speaking to another, differently inclined character, I was like “Church is for scrubs. Wanna do some coke out back?” (I might be paraphrasing a little.)
In real life, if you behave this way regularly enough, people become suspicious of you and your motives, or at least deem you too much of a coward to actually say what you think—a lesson I learned the hard way during my own younger, even more pathologically people-pleasing days.
So far, Fire Emblem: Three Houses has yet to give me this sort of pushback. Instead, it’s in my best interest to systematically charm everybody, beaming a pearly white grin to conceal the forked tongue behind it. In this way, Fire Emblem—like so many other narrative-driven RPGs before it—is at odds with itself, telling you to make choices and live with them but systemically encouraging optimization in the name of gaining access to everything and being everything to everyone. I’m enjoying getting to know these characters better, but I kinda wish I never got so wrapped up in doing it all correctly that I transformed into a Google sociopath. Yes, I want to protect every last one of my anime children, but is it really worth it if I lose myself in the process?
Total RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is full of political intrigue, massive wars, and multiple perspectives on the same conflict. As the narrative unfolds, I can’t help being reminded of one of the best JRPG series:the fantastic and long-absent Suikoden.
Suikoden is a series owned by Konami. The first game was released in 1995 on the Sony Playstation. Suikoden II followed in 1998 and is often considered one of the best JRPGs of all time. The series focuses on various wars and has a heavy focus on world building and politics. Each war also involves semi-sentient magical crests called True Runes, which hold great power and grant their users immortality. Suikoden showed a lot of care for its world and characters, giving powerful motivations to villains and allowing the player to amass a large army with tons of unique individuals. Playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses reminds me of Suikoden. There’s conflict, masked villains whose motivations we’re given time to understand, and a huge cast of characters. I love it, but it makes me yearn for my favorite JRPG series.
For me, Suikoden III was the best and the one that Three Houses reminds me of the most. It focuses on a burgeoning war between grassland tribes and a mercantile nation, the conflict being manipulated by a vast empire looking to strike in the confusion. Its big gimmick was the “Trinity Sight” system, which allowed you to choose the perspectives of three different protagonists: the son of a tribal chieftain, the female knight commanding the merchant nation’s forces, and a furtive mercenary employed by the empire. You saw events from multiple perspectives before the characters’ paths converged. It allowed the game to round out the conflict and even address topics like gender expectations, the cost of immortality, and childhood loss. It’s not as focused as Suikoden II’s narrative of warring friends, but I adore it.
The last mainline Suikoden game was Suikoden V, which released for the Playstation 2 in 2006. There have been spinoffs for the Nintendo DS and PSP, but there haven’t been any real Suikoden games since 2012’s Japan-only release Gensō Suikoden: The Woven Web of a Century. The series has been missing for a long time, which is a shame. Suikoden games feature tons of gameplay modes like turn-based combat, one-on-one duels, and massive strategy battles. Combined with the intricate storylines, it made for a grand, sweeping experience.
Fire Emblem is its own special breed of exciting, but Three House touches at many of the things that make Suikoden great. Unfortunately, like many Konami brands, it sits in limbo. We’re in a complex political time in the real world, one that makes escapism tempting. A new Suikoden game has potential to be a powerful experience that sticks the landing hard and really explores tough issues. We’re long overdue for another. As unlikely as it is, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has some of the most rewarding tactics action and Hogwarts-simulating that you can get. There aren’t many flaws in the game, but there is something that badly needs to be fixed: For a game focused on navigating menus, that text size sure is tiny.
Text size in modern games has been a point of contention ever since 2006’s zombie-smasher Dead Rising had the smallest subtitles in the history of the world. Since then, text size has continued to be an issue in major games. Sure, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games of all time, but the text is so small. OK, God of War might be visually lush and make you actually give a damn about Kratos, but the text is tiny, and even a patch didn’t really fix it. Fire Emblem: Three Houses joins the ranks of “Extremely Good Games With Tiny Text,” thanks in part to pop-up menu screens with incredibly small writing in the box. Collect an item, have a successful tea time, fulfill a battle condition? Enjoy your tiny box of tiny text.
If I’m being honest, the text size doesn’t completely bother me when the game is docked. On a big screen, everything’s fine. The issues come in handheld mode, where screen real estate is even more precious and small things are already made smaller. Tactics on the go? Fabulous. Tiny notifications that the enemy dropped a Dark Seal? Not so much.
Hopefully a patch can address this matter. People with all different kinds of needs are playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses. A patch to allow variable text size could make things easier for plenty of people and make taking your Switch on a commute a bit more justifiable.