Players often explain what Fire Emblem: Three Houses is about by comparing it to Harry Potter.
The game takes place in a huge boarding school that players can explore between their combat missions, and the game’s story, like those of J.K. Rowling’s books, is organized around the school calendar. It seems likely that the Potter books were very much on the minds of the game’s creators, and the numerous parallels blow past “inspiration” or “homage” and land somewhere between “imitation” and “borderline larceny.” That’s not a bad thing; Three Houses is a very good game, especially compared to previous Harry Potter titles.
The game’s characters are students at the Garreg Mach Monastery, and they’re divided among the titular groups — the Blue Lions, the Golden Deer and the Black Eagles — which aren’t too far off from the Hogwarts houses in the Potter books. The player, who is made a professor, must choose which house to lead during a very early scene in the game, without much information about the houses or the students within them.
The initial impression is that Dimitri of the Blue Lions is a traditional fantasy knight, defined by honor, with his loyal band of friends behind him. The Golden Deer, led by the wisecracking Claude, are a band of misfits bonded by friendship. But the Black Eagles, led by the intense Edelgard, princess of the Adrestian Empire, are a little bit harder to pin down at the beginning.
Long story short, you should pick the Black Eagles.
It’s not what you think
I picked the Black Eagles because they seemed a little more ambiguous, though I knew that the archetypes embodied by Claude and Dimitri would likely grow more complicated as the game progressed. I wasn’t alone in this choice; stats from the game show that Edelgard is the most popular unit in the game. Right behind her are the other three female Black Eagles characters, followed by the four male Black Eagles.
People love the Black Eagles, and they’re right to do so.
If you spend any time in Fire Emblem community hubs (like its popular subreddit), you’ll probably be able to make a pretty good guess as to why this is the case for many people: Many fans like this anime game for its anime girls, and the Black Eagles are the only house headed by an anime girl. This is also a game that plays heavily to that audience, with its relationship systems and its fan-servicey tea party minigame that rewards you with the opportunity to leer at the characters up close if you serve them their favorite tea and engage in conversations that interest them. But this isn’t the only reason. There’s a twist here.
If the Blue Lions are analogous to Hogwarts’ Gryffindors or Ravenclaws, and the Golden Deer are its Hufflepuffs, then the Black Eagles are the Slytherins. They’re the edgy house, the emo house, and maybe the bad guys. They’re going to offer a more complicated version of the game’s storyline, though you can replay a somewhat expedited version of the campaign after you finish using the New Game+ features.
Of course, the central premise of Three Houses is that the player can end up on any side of the game’s central conflict, depending on certain choices, and all of those sides have to give you a reason to fight for them as well as a reason to fight against them. None of these crews are going to be evil just for evil’s sake. But they can certainly be fanatical in the pursuit of their causes, without regard for the cost. They can be vengeful.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers about characters’ backstories, but will avoid spoilers about the plot events of the game.]
No friends, no honor, no ideology
You find out very early on that your characters aren’t going to fit neatly into fantasy trope boxes if you select the Black Eagles. Edelgard confides in Byleth, the player character, that she intends to topple her own empire’s regime, and that her goal is worth any amount of bloodshed. Hubert, her towering, jealous henchman, threatens to murder Byleth. And when Ferdinand, the arrogant son of the imperial prime minister, approaches Dorothea, a striving commoner who manipulated her way into the academy by seducing a church official, because he perceives tension between them, she tells him that he’s not imagining things; she really does hate his lousy guts.
As you learn the histories of the characters in this house, it becomes clear that most of them share no ideology, no goal, and no particular bond. They’re tied together by nothing more than the fact that they were born in or conquered by the Adrestian Empire, a regime that seems to be primed for collapse. There’s a lot of conflict here; its commoners are angry and resentful, its nobles are scheming against each other, and its future ruler wants to dismantle the institution she is supposed to lead. It’s a recipe for drama and suspense.
Here’s Edelgard’s deal: Crests in Three Houses are blessings that endow their bearers with special powers and aptitudes. They’re passed down through family lineages, but not all children of Crest-bearing houses are born with Crests. The Emperor of Adrestia had 10 children, but none of them inherited a powerful Crest. So Edelgard and her siblings were subjected to brutal experiments in hopes of endowing one of the heirs to the throne with an appropriate Crest for a ruler.
Edelgard was the only survivor, and she came through her ordeal with the Crest of Flames and some serious psychological issues. She’s angry at Crests, angry at the imperial nobility, highly unstable, and about to have a great deal of political and military power to employ in her quest for revenge against those who wronged her. She’s intense, driven, and willing to pay any price or inflict any cost on others to achieve her goal.
The developers at Intelligent Systems have evidently been reading some George R.R. Martin along with their J.K. Rowling, as there’s an unmistakable Daenerys Targaryen vibe to Edelgard. This makes things even more interesting, as not all the other Black Eagle members are likely to be united by Edelgard’s vision for the future. But if you want to hook up with Daenerys Targaryen, well, the last several seasons of Game of Thrones were kind of a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t do that, although Edelgard’s tendencies in this area do die down a bit if you take her route. But still, it’s quite the journey.
Let’s run down some of the other members of the Black Eagles, because they’re all complicated, interesting characters, many of whom are being pulled in multiple directions at once. They’re going through the best kinds of drama.
Linhardt, for example, is a bored Adrestian noble who loves napping and doesn’t care much about his studies or what anyone else thinks of him. He’ll inherit his father’s wealth and title, so whatever he does until then is of little consequence. There may be another reason why he’s tired all the time, however. But he’ll also be the first against the wall when Edelgard’s revolution comes.
Caspar, as the second son of a noble family, won’t inherit his family’s fortune, and has to make his own way in the world with his wits and his ax. And although his father and brother are cruel and ruthless, he is loyal to them, and stands to gain nothing from seeing them deposed.
Petra, meanwhile, is Edelgard’s hostage. She is the princess of the island nation of Brigid, and she was taken by the empire as a guarantee for a peace treaty between their countries after the Empire defeated Brigid in a war. The relationship between Edelgard and Petra is ... diplomatic. And kind of tense.
Dorothea, meanwhile, has her own agenda, which is to advance her position through her enrollment at the Academy and a strategic marriage. She got into the school by seducing a church official, and she fears her classmates are contemptuous toward her. She isn’t wrong. But although Dorothea has doubts about herself, she’s absolutely merciless in her assessment of others’ shortcomings. She worries that she’s not good enough, but her endless chain of suitors suggests that nobody is ever good enough for her.
Bernadetta, meanwhile, is too overwhelmed by her own trauma to engage with the political maneuvering that threatens to engulf all these characters. She rarely leaves her room and is deeply paranoid, convinced everyone wants to kill her. Her eccentricity seems funny until she reveals why she’s so terrified of everyone. Her father abused her horribly, hoping to train her to be a suitable wife for an important noble. Her mother had a servant stuff Bernadetta into a sack and brought to a monastery to try to save her from death at the hands of her father.
The only character who is unambiguously loyal to Edelgard is Hubert, who is a goon. The cultural point of comparison for Hubert, if you like the Harry Potter analogy, is Severus Snape, but that’s a little bit flattering to this creep. He looks more like he’s cosplaying as one of the goth kids from South Park.
Hubert is fanatically devoted to Edelgard, and claims that they have been “walking the same path” since they were small children. Dorothea thinks Hubert is an incel in unrequited love with Edelgard, and mocks him with the idea of Edelgard marrying someone else, or of Edelgard asking Hubert to strategically marry someone to further her agenda. Hubert angrily denies that he yearns for Edelgard’s lovin’, but Dorothea’s accusation has the ring of truth. Hubert is antagonistic and jealous toward anyone Edelgard gets close to.
In aggregate, the Black Eagles are a group with conflicting interests and loyalties, many of them aggrieved or traumatized and all of them capable of doing a lot of damage. Why the hell would you want to pick any other house?