In 2020, Nintendo is launching Cindered Shadows, the fourth Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC pack. This DLC introduces a side story, new characters, and classes. It’s a great chance to revisit this award-winning tactical-RPG, especially if you’re a machine and cleared each scenario already. Sixth months later, I haven’t done that myself, but still want to. However, I’ve had to spoil myself on all the outcomes.
Why? Well, I had to confirm I made the right choice. Three Houses endeavors to justify each choice, but I believe only one route is “correct,” looking at the overall picture. While it’s impossible be a good person in this miserable Fire Emblem world, it’s clear supporting Edelgard is the most morally sound choice. Here’s why.
Editor’s Note: There are Fire Emblem: Three Houses spoilers below.
First, we have to establish a few hard facts about Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ world. Regardless of your chosen house’s perspective, these factors don’t change. One: the Church of Seiros is a huge problem, and it arguably is The Problem. Every societal ill befalling Fodlan traces back to Rhea and her bloody mission to revive Sothis. At best. Rhea is succumbing to her emotional trauma; at worst, Rhea is a violent deity who lost sight of her mission’s purpose in favor of maintaining power.
Two: The nobility class is not only oppressing people under it, it’s eating itself alive. Fodlan’s political system revolves around Crests, fueled by arranged marriages, warfare, and of course racism and bigotry.
Three: The Empire is secretly run by demons and are in cahoots with a secret cabal of evil wizards or something. Fodlan is doomed by its status quo, and Byleth is the catalyst of major systemic change.
Choosing a path means Byleth taking a side, ultimately leading each house to the best version of each leader’s goal. Unless of course you screw up and side with Rhea, taking the Silver Snow route and upholding the Church’s rule. Claude wants nothing to do with the Church and instead confronts Fodlan’s isolation and bigotry as his top priority. Dimitri’s path is a more neoliberal approach, taking over the system to champion gradual progress.
Edelgard pursues a complete, violent upheaval of everything, literally destroying the Church and reforming the Empire into something new. Edelgard’s mission is to eradicate Crests and the class system and wrest control away from the backroom dealings of gods and monsters. It’s telling that only Edelgard’s path is forked, highlighting a delicate balance making the difference between Edelgard as a villain or a hero.
Choosing each path casts each ideology in its most productive light. Claude successfully open’s Fodlan’s borders. Dimitri takes his place as king and appoints Byleth (who is also Sothis sort of) as archbishop. Edelgard hits the bad guys with her axe and turns Fodlan into a Fire Emblem-y meritocracy (presuming a meritocracy is achievable in a fictional JRPG world). Then she leaves with Byleth to go on cool adventures for the rest of their lives.
A big part of those perspectives is Byleth not only acting to benefit each argument, but also helping each leader confront and overcome their trauma. Dimitri learns to discard his mad thirst for vengeance and Edelgard learns to rein back her inclination to be an authoritarian, violent murderlady. Claude is a bit different and represents the other extreme. His story is less about trauma and more about being too idealistic.
Each outcome is presented as a net positive, but there’s obvious factor standing as my argument’s beating heart. The big question is, “what happens to Rhea?” Rhea is an intersection of those themes of trauma and political upheaval, due to her own personal struggle having dire consequences on the world around her. Rhea and the Church are directly responsible for All the Bad Stuff. Yet, in most routes, the Church is able to avoid responsibility for its wrongdoing.
Both Dimitri and Claude allow the Church to continue in different ways. Claude’s route assumes if the Church is one voice of many, everything will work out. Dimitri counts on small, immediate changes to ripple into gradual reform. Edelgard believes not just in reform, but revolution. The Church and its forces conspiring against literal humanity must be defeated, and the systems of oppression in Fodlan must be rewritten from scratch.
Edelgard is no innocent in Three Houses‘ violent world. She schemes, assassinates, and betrays. Her tunnel vision makes her a tyrant without Byleth there to help her work at being a better person. But her approach is the only one that directly, effectively addresses the threat in this story. Her mission is the only one that holds Rhea and her secret society accountable for their actions.
Edelgard is the only house leader who challenges the class system, instead of trying to fix or add nuance to the status quo. Claude, while ideologically sound, misses the forest for the trees by allowing the Church into his melting pot. Dimitri believes uniting Fodlan is the answer, changing the management but keeping everything else. Edelgard knows the system is beyond repair, toxic, and dangerous. That’s why she was right to burn it down.