Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Fire Emblem 16's Azure Moon Route is Irrelevant

Fire Emblem 16 is a gigantic RPG. Well, sort of: any individual playthrough of the game is actually a fairly normal, even perhaps very slightly short RPG’s length. But, the game has 4 different paths to follow, with each having a very separate character focus and a relatively unique second half, and the game is set up in a way that none of these routes tell the player all the details of the game’s story, lore, and major characters--rather, it’s meant to be a collaborative effort between the paths, wherein you’ll only have a complete understanding of any substantial part of FE16 after playing through the game on multiple routes. This means that the title is massively long to play through, if fully understanding it is your aim. The damn game took me a full month and a half to finish, and I daresay I devote more time to video games in my daily life than most!

There is, however, a way to cut the colossal prospect of a full and complete experience with Fire Emblem: 3 Houses down somewhat, to reduce the sentence of its hold upon you by a whole 25%. I unfortunately only discovered this clever trick after it was too late to be of benefit to me, but perhaps in sharing it, I can save the rest of you a little time and effort better spent on other games, and air my own grievances while I’m at it. To wit:

Choosing the Blue Lions house is pretty much pointless so don’t bother.

Yes, yes, OMG HOW COULD I, SHOTS FIRED, GTFO, DIMITRI IS BAE, and so on and so forth. Sorry, but it’s the truth: no matter how much you love Dedue, how much you love Dimitri, and how much you love how much Dedue loves Dimitri, playing the Azure Moon route of Fire Emblem 16 just doesn’t really accomplish much of anything, in contrast to the other 3 options.

See, Fire Emblem: 3 Houses has been set up in such a way that you’re only supposed to really get all its lore and plot-relevant characters fully through multiple playthroughs. You’re not going to fully understand the way Fodlan works, the lore of its history, and position it has with its neighbors, without playing through the Golden Deer route. You’re not going to have a full perspective on the bad side of Rhea and Church of Seiros, and what few good qualities are possessed of the game’s first major villain, Edelgard, without playing through the Black Eagle path. And you’re not going to have a clear understanding of protagonist Byleth’s history and nature, as well as the lore of the Sacred Relics, Rhea, and Sothis, without going down the Church’s storyline. Similarly, you won’t have a full grasp on the true villains of the game, the Agarthans (or Those Who Slither in the Dark), without having played the Black Eagles and either the Golden Deer or Church scenarios. You can get a fine game out of playing FE16 only once, but you’re only going to get your full, complete knowledge of it through multiple playthroughs, and it’s clearly set up with that in mind.

Except, the thing is...the Blue Lions route doesn’t fit into all that. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of stuff you learn along a Blue Lions playthrough, but...well, it all fits into 1 of 2 categories. Either the stuff you learn A, is lore that is also present in most or all of the other paths anyway (and sometimes in better detail), or B, is lore that is only relevant within the purview of the stuff exclusive to the Blue Lions route. In other words, while all the other game’s storylines enhance your understanding of major elements relevant to FE16 as a whole, everything exclusive to the Blue Lions path also only affects your understanding of the Blue Lions path’s characters and events. The playthrough’s only relevant in and of itself! Meaning that if you completely eschew experiencing it, you’ll still be able to understand every major, relevant aspect of FE16 in entirety so long as you engage in the other 3 routes.

Think about each of the unique parts of the Blue Lions route that aren’t available otherwise, and it becomes apparent. For starters, Dimitri. Dimitri may be the big deal in his own plot path, but the guy is otherwise pretty superfluous to the game as a whole. He doesn’t have a significant hand in the events of FE16 if you aren’t actively by his side every step of the way--in the game’s first half, he’ll just comment on recent and relevant events as they happen, and then in the second half, he’s either caught up in his own business that only intersects with the main story once (in which he dies), or he acts as an accomplice to Rhea in a role that doesn’t really amount to much more than any given Fire Emblem military general-type NPC. By contrast, Edelgard’s importance to the plot is huge as she’s its most vital and active antagonist, Rhea’s intrinsically linked to like 80% of the game’s lore and is the doorway to the player’s access to said lore...and even Claude, though his role be minor outside his own route, does hold some connection to the setting and politics of Fodlan, and maintains a level of mystery in regards to himself and his intentions for the Alliance, that draws the player in. Dimitri? The most he contributes to the Black Eagles, Church, and Golden Deer paths is to shout a few edgy things and make the player wonder how he went from looking like Draco Malfoy, to looking like Mad-Eye-Moody...and also still Draco Malfoy.*

Get to know Edelgard, you learn about the game’s most prominent villain and the (stupid, short-sighted) way she thinks. Get to know Claude, you get to learn about the social workings of Fodlan and its neighbors from coming to know the guy’s lineage and ambitions. Get to know Rhea, you get to understand Byleth’s origins, some of the truths of the Church, and some information about Seteth and Flayn, 2 more important characters. Get to know Dimitri, and all you learn about is Dimitri, relevant to his own path and no other.

Next unique part of the Blue Lions route: Dimitri and Edelgard’s past together. When throwing your lot in with the Kingdom, you get to learn about how Dimitri and Edelgard are related through some political marriage, the typical complicated gobbledegook of nations using porking as a basis for alliances, and how they spent a little time together as kids, in which they sparred, Dimitri had his first tingly feeling in his pee-pee for his sister-in-law (this is Fire Emblem, after all), and he gave her a dagger as a memento when she had to leave.

And yeah, this sure seems, at first glance, like it’d be important overall to the story of Fire Emblem 16, as Edelgard is a key figure to the game no matter what path you’re playing, but, uh...it’s just not. It becomes clear after a time that this experience was something really major for Dimitri, a foundational part of his relationship with Edelgard and the icky feelings at her betrayal that make him act like a Hot Topic employee with roid rage...but on the other side, this peek at a moment in Edelgard’s history really doesn’t tell us anything significant about her beyond the fact that she and Dimitri hung out for a little while when they were kids. Her motivations and personality don’t seem to have been in any way affected by this particular piece of her past--your understanding of Edelgard as a character and as the villain of the game is the same after witnessing her past with Dimitri as it was prior.

Hell, it doesn’t even seem like this stuff even really affects her connection to him very much, from her perspective! You can probably debate the point, but, beyond the sentimental weight of Edelgard’s still carrying the dagger around years later, she seems to regard Dimitri’s feelings about her and their history together as a curiosity more than anything especially significant. I can’t recall seeing or hearing much from her even on the Blue Lions route that suggests it’s something substantial to her, even when Dimitri has become her greatest enemy. Which is a damn shame, because Edelgard is pretty sparse (to put it politely) in the personality department, so it could have brought about a very welcome emotional response and dilemma. The character depth, the plot and interpersonal significance, they only exist on Dimitri’s side, and so, they hold no importance to Fire Emblem 16 as a whole, only to the Blue Lions route.

Another unique aspect of the Blue Lions route: you get to learn about the Tragedy of Duscur. Alluded to here and there in the game’s first half when speaking of the Kingdom and of Dedue, the Tragedy of Duscur was a disaster which destroyed Dimitri’s family, and drove the Kingdom to wreak excessive vengeance upon the neighboring country’s population. It’s the single most devastating, significant event in the lives of Dimitri, Dedue, and Gilbert.

And no one else.

Again, the relevance of the Duscur incident, and the secrets that the player can learn of it, are restricted solely to the Blue Lions route. We’ve already established that Dimitri only has relevance within his own route, and Dedue and Gilbert are characters restricted entirely to this same route, so the fact that they’re the only ones significantly affected by the Duscur incident isolates it--it’s of peripheral importance to the rest of the Blue Lions characters at most. While most of the Blue Lions house’s characters have a connection to the Duscur incident in 1 way or another, the significance of those connections can be fully understood through their Support conversations or occasional chatter, all of which is fully available on any route. Your understanding of them won’t expand in any meaningful way with the Blue Lions route’s revelations about the Duscur incident. The same is even true for Catherine, whose connection to it is considerable--again, in all ways that it affects your understanding of her character, the Tragedy of Duscur is understood more than adequately through the vague details you can get of it outside the Blue Lions route.

Hell, it’s much the same for the plot, even. While a great many secrets that you learn about Duscur have huge significance for the Kingdom and its royal family, that stuff still really only affects your perceptions of the Kingdom in ways that matter solely to the Blue Lions route’s plot. The Kingdom’s influence on the overall story of Fire Emblem 16’s other paths, which is already pretty minimal compared to the other powers of Fodlan--another reason why the Blue Lions route’s superfluous--is not something you’ll perceive any differently for this greater knowledge of the nation’s history. Likewise, Those Who Slither in the Dark’s influence over the Duscur event is understood as much as it needs to be without getting into the Blue Lions route’s revelations--they’re evil and manipulative, and they’ve manipulated lots of evil stuff into happening, including the Tragedy of Duscur. That’s it, that’s everything that actually matters to know, and it’s something you find out in other routes anyway.

Next, there’s Dedue. As the adjutant character of the Blue Lions route, Dedue’s only available to recruit and thus best to understand on this plot path. But while he’s certainly a better-written, not to mention far more appealing character than Hubert of the Black Eagles route, the vast majority of Dedue’s character is tied inextricably to Dimitri, whose significance, as mentioned above, extends no further than this route...so basically, everything that better insight into Dedue’s character can give us is still locked solely within the Blue Lions path, offering nothing to the whole of FE16. Hugo, by comparison, may also have the entirety of his character development devoted to route-specific entities (Edelgard and the Empire), but he does at least serve as a noticeable and recurring villain in the other routes, as well, so there’s some cause for a player of a non-Black Eagles route to want to find out more about what makes Hugo tick.** Dedue just doesn’t have that.

The final character signature to the Blue Lions route is Gilbert, and here you actually do have a guy with a significant connection to something outside of this specific path...or so you’d think. Gilbert is Annette’s estranged father, and Annette is a character you can recruit in any path, you see, so there should be some potential to, at the very least, better understand her through him. Except that it doesn’t happen. Honestly, the only thing about Annette and her relationship with Gilbert that you can glean from their Support conversations and Paralogue scenario are that she has issues with the fact that he ran out on her and her mom, and she wishes they could be a family again. And that is exactly what you already could figure out in any other route! Annette and Gilbert’s Support conversations, C through A, are all heavily focused on Gilbert’s over-pronounced and frankly absurd sense of honor, and a reaffirmation that Daddy’s not gonna be home for Christmas but it’s not because of you baby it’s because he has severely self-indulgent emotional indigestion. Nothing of importance is gained in terms of Annette’s character from Gilbert’s availability for chats.

And for that matter, the same is true of his conversations with other characters, too. It always seems to come back to the fact that the Tragedy of Duscur gave Gilbert’s pride as a knight an ouchy boo-boo, the only bandaid for which is an exile based around pompous self-loathing. Nothing of substance in Gilbert’s Supports is ever gained in terms of the other characters; it all only develops him, and always with the same damn subject, making him even more 1-dimensional than a brief glance from other paths’ might suggest--character development actually lessens Gilbert’s depth.

So basically, in terms of your knowledge of the relevant lore and characters of Fire Emblem 16, the Blue Lions playthrough can safely be skipped, because it all only relates back to itself, while each of the other paths reveal much about the game’s characters, setting, and history that enhances your understanding of the other paths’ perspectives and events. And really, there isn’t even a whole lot to see on this path for its own sake, as like 75% of all its lore and character development seems to always come back to 1 particular event. Seriously, if you do not have a Crescent-Sickle-solid, 16-foot out-of-control raging boner for the Tragedy of Duscur incident, there is no goddamn point to learning anything about this damn playthrough.

And on a more subjective note, I’d also like to say that there really isn’t a whole lot of satisfaction to be had with the Blue Lions path, at least not once you have a grasp on the game’s situation as a whole. Its conclusion feels like a rushed Sorta Bad Ending, because when all is said and done, the Azure Moon finale has Edelgard defeated, but the evil manipulators behind her, Those Who Slither in the Dark, are left undefeated and entirely unknown by the game’s heroes. Sure, the Black Eagles path also doesn’t technically end in their defeat, but at least the Black Eagles playthrough ends with the (admittedly half-assed and unfulfilling) promise that the fight’s being taken to them next. When you throw your lot in with the Blue Lions, Edelgard takes her knowledge of Those Who Slither in the Dark to her grave, so in spite of some surface-level setbacks with their personnel, the baddies are free to continue to do their thing. If anything, this ending helps those jerks, because as an evil group whose main methods are about manipulation and clandestine dealings, they can only benefit from now being completely unknown by all major players in Fodlan’s politics and nobility. Not to mention that there’s now a single, centralized political power structure of the country, a far easier system to work to their whims than the previous 3-way power balance! “Winning” Fire Emblem 16 for the Blue Lions means handing the country over to the bad guys on a silver platter!

And there sure ain’t much satisfaction to be had out of the route-specific characters, as far as I’m concerned. Gilbert’s a mopey jackass for whom wounded professional pride far outweighs the happiness of his wife and daughter. Rodrigue and Cornelia*** are plot-device NPCs and little more. Dedue is...well, actually, I do like Dedue, and I guess I can give this route props for the fact that it’s the only one where Dedue can have a happily ever after getting his gay on with Dimitri...but even then, Dedue is just a decent character, no better than that, certainly not worth enough to outweigh the wankery of even Gilbert alone.

And Dimitri as the central figure of the story is terrible. I’m sorry, I know he’s the most popular character overall in this game, and I know he’s, like, so bishy, but I said it and I stick by it: Dimitri sucks as a character. He may have an actual personality, unlike Edelgard, but that personality is EDGELORD SUPREME and it gets old fast. Not only that, but his descent into Kylo Ren imitation is poorly executed and immediate. The game is happy to tell you that there’s darkness underneath his initial noble veneer, but it’s the same as the game constantly trying to tell you how much Byleth is changing as an emotional being: you just can’t fucking see it. One minute he’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, the next minute he’s Red-Wine-Drunk Squall Leonhart, and there’s no damn authenticity to it. And the change’s spontaneity isn’t helped by how laughably facile its process is (“Oh hey Edelgard is evil WELP I GUESS IT’S TIME TO BREAK OUT THE OL’ KEFKA LAUGH”) and nonsensical (why is Edelgard being his enemy such a mind-melting concept for him? Even if he was clearly way more emotionally invested in their childhood friendship than she was, nothing about Dimitri’s interactions with her in the present time have given any indication that she holds such a vital place in his world view and perception of others that her betrayal would cause a mental breakdown!).

And why the hell does he just automatically assume that Edelgard was behind the Duscur incident when he finds out she’s been the bad guy of recent events? What put that idea into his head? I honestly don’t recall any explanation for why he jumped to that conclusion, aside from finding out that she’s evil. Edelgard doesn’t even do that stupid anime/JRPG thing where someone inexplicably doesn’t correct a misunderstanding because it’s narratively convenient to let it continue; she outright tells him, multiple times, that she had nothing to do with that Duscur shit, and he just ignores it, even though she’s pretty up-front about all the other crap she’s been up to once she’s exposed so why would she lie about that 1 thing alone?

The end of Dimitri’s character arc is pretty weak, too. It’s not as bad as his descent into Edgelord Madness, but Dimitri’s finally realizing that the world would seem a lot less dark if he were to try looking at it with his head not shoved up within the warm confines of his own ass is still a very quick process instigated by an event that doesn’t seem like it should have quite so powerful an effect. Sure, there’s every reason why he should be deeply affected by Rodrigue’s death, and the cycle of violence that led to it, but Dimitri’s given every appearance in his tiresome teen goth phase that Rodrigue, like everyone else, is not especially important to him, compared to his thirst for vengeance and the ghosts of the past and all that other bunk he’s always on about, so its ability to actually get through to him seems awfully unexpected, based more on narrative necessity than authenticity.

Only important unto itself, and defined by lacking elements...basically, the Blue Lions route is like my pet gecko’s tail. It’s there, it’s connected to the rest of her body, and it seems, at first glance, like it’s as substantial a part of her as the rest of her. In fact, to a dumb predator easily fooled by appearances, it looks delicious, or so zoologists say. But this appearance belies the truth: the fact is that the tail can be effortlessly and cleanly disconnected at a moment’s decision, and the rest of her body will continue functioning exactly as well without it. Additionally, for all the delectable meal it appears to be, that tail is actually mostly just fat and bone, with little in the way of substance to satisfy any who would consume it. If you’re playing Fire Emblem Three Houses as you read this rant, just save yourself some time and give a hard pass on the Blue Lions story.














* And the Blue Lions route isn’t even any use for answering that! He lost the damn eye offscreen!


** But spoiler alert, said player will be disappointed. It turns out that Hubie is pretty much a douchenozzle just because he is a douchenozzle.


*** Should’ve mentioned this earlier when talking about the lore issue, but I didn’t, and don’t feel like restructuring everything, so I’ll just briefly mention here: Rodrigue doesn’t really open up any greater insight into Felix’s psyche than what Felix’s Supports with other characters will reveal, and while Cornelia spills her guts on some secrets regarding (what else?) the Duscur thing, she doesn’t provide any better understanding of Those Who Slither in the Dark. So the mostly-route-specific NPCs are, as with everything else, relevant in ways solely contained within this story path.

7 comments:

  1. I don't think I have anything against the Blue Lions route, specifically. If anything, my issue with Three House's various routes is that they're all too similar, which doesn't make subsequent playthroughs on other paths as rewarding as they should be. I think that whichever path you play last will inevitably feel as though it adds nothing.

    Personally, I played the Church of Seiros first, and I followed it up with Claude's path. The two hardly felt any different to me, aside from Rhea telling me more about Byleth in one route, and Claude talking about Fodlan having neighbours in another. After my first playthrough, only the Black Eagles path felt different... but still a bit disappointing, as Edelgard's story ends prematurely with her doing nothing about the dark slithering dudes. I give Fire Emblem Fate's Birthright and Conquest some credit for at least being significantly different from one another (they then lose that credit for making me pay extra for the other route, and lose more credit and enter debt for Revelation being stupid).

    As for Dmitri's story, I actually enjoyed how he, alone among the three lords, seemed to have some arc, even if his arc was more a matter of acting a lunatic and ceasing to be a lunatic. Still, Dmitri's insistence that Edelgard is responsible for Duscur is absurd; the only way I can wrap my head around it is by imagining that Dmitri would rather blame Edelgard than the much more likely culprit, his stepmother (not that the game does much to explore this idea of how people shift blame).

    On to Duscur: this plot point also affects Ingrid, who you can add to your short list. I wouldn't dismiss Duscur as irrelevant just because the other people don't really care about the place. In a way, that adds to the tragedy of Duscur, since the only way that Duscur lives on is if Dmitri and crew win the war. Otherwise, that country gets wiped away from history. Some deeper point could be made about many forgotten countries in history suffering a similar fate, due to the victors of war determining what's passed on, although I doubt Nintendo's writers were thinking about this type of message when they made up Duscur.

    Anyway, to make a long comment longer, I wish that Three Houses had much greater variations between the routes. For instance, I don't think that Edelgard should start the war every single time (it'd be funny if your house leader of whatever path was to blame each time), and I'd have preferred it if each of the three leaders had their own nemesis (like, Dmitri's would be Edelgard, Edelgard's would be Claude, and Claude's would be Dmitri or something), so that each leader demonstrated major flaws. I'm curious to see what Nintendo does with the next game in the franchise, whether they'll refine Three Houses or do something completely different.

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    1. Yes, they're far too similar in general, particularly the Church and Golden Deer route. But there IS still some stuff to glean about FE16 as a whole from each of them that affects your understanding of them all as a whole, save the Blue Lions, so that's why I zero in on this one.

      I'll certainly give you the fact that Dimitri actually does technically develop as a character, while Edelgard is a stony-faced dolt from start to finish, and Claude basically puts his whole character arc on hold for Byleth for the game's entire span (because he's a damn bro). In fact, though I personally like Claude far more, and at least agree with Edelgard's core intentions even if she's stupidly single-minded and can't prioritize for shit, I guess maybe I have to admit that Dimitri's technically a better character for actually growing in some way? Ugh, I feel dirty just thinking it. But that growth is so poorly done that it still comes off like he's the worst of the 3.

      Yes, the Duscur incident does have surface relevance to Ingrid--it has surface relevance to ALL the Blue Lions characters. My point there, though, was that the understanding that the Blue Lions route gives you of the Duscur Incident doesn't increase your understanding of Ingrid and the rest any further than your understanding of them could already reach from non-route-specific content.

      Interesting and elegant thought on Duscur's being lost to history, though. But yeah, there's maybe a 4$ chance that Nintendo's writers were as thoughtful while they were doing what is literally their livelihood as you just have been in a random internet comment.

      Honestly, the House Leader being the Flame Emperor each time would really work. The game already plays coy early on by not letting the Flame Emperor and your leader appear on screen at the same time, and Claude could be trying to tear down the walls between Fodlan and the rest of the world in a more literal, short-sighted sense than the intelligent way he normally does, while Dimitri could be out to destroy the Church because Those Who Slither in the Dark have manipulated him with half-truths about the Church's control into thinking they're responsible for Duscur--it's not like he isn't known for jumping to conclusions on assigning blame for that issue, after all, and they've been doing something similar with Edelgard's belief that the Crest nobility system is completely the Church's fault.

      ...This would work. It would work really, really well. And you could tell a story with it about the importance of positive, balanced methods in seeking to do what is right for the world. You could have it be, like, each house has 2 paths (as Black Eagles does), where you either follow your initial house leader who is the villain of the piece, or go the Church route, and rather have that route be a confusing split between Seteth and Rhea, it's instead a case of shifting your story's leader to the rival character you mentioned as they rally with the Church to save Fodlan from misplaced ideals and the Agarthans.

      Wow, FE16 could have been WAY better. Holy crap. I feel like I want to make a rant about this lost opportunity. Or I want you to, so I can read it as an awesome guest rant. Like...damn. That is a hell of an idea, sir!

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    2. Ha, while I might try a guest rant some time, I don't think I'm really mad at Fire Emblem: Three Houses's story. Or, at least, I'm more annoyed by the strategy levels not changing, as I mainly play the Fire Emblem games for the strategy combat and watching the support conversations and not the main plot itself (I generally think the primary narratives in the series are not that good).

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  2. I had to pipe in here because a lot of my thoughts echo your own. Even the main question of Azure Moon (how much did Edelgard's mom / Dimitri's stepmom know and what happened to her?) is never answered, and doesn't look like it is going to be answered in DLC either

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    1. Heyyyyyy, same Motoss as from Icy's? If so, great to see you, sir! Really cool to have you weigh in.

      Yeah, you're quite right - for all the personal weight that Azure Moon gives to Edelgard Senior's connection to the conspiracy-tragedy, the details of her exact role and fate are bafflingly left unknown. Which is just plain crazy, really.

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    2. I am the same - someone linked your blog and I wanted to stop by - and lo and behold here is a Three Houses rant.

      There is a small amount about the Edelgard / Dimitri interaction and why the events of their childhood were the way that they are in the new DLC Cindered Shadows, but not enough. Patricia herself even (maybe???) appears, although nothing comes of it so it is just another crumb down the drain in a game full of missed opportunities.

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    3. Cool beans! Thanks for stopping by, sir, always good to see an old pal. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on any other rants, too, should you ever have the time and inclination. I'm far from done ranting about FE16, at the very least.

      Ah, yes, the Dusty Sewer-Rat house, or whatever the new DLC is. Suppose I really must look into finding a video compiling its story elements sometime soon, find out what stunning acrobatics of logic lead to a Dickensian non-House hanging out in the church basement that somehow never once had a single interaction with a 5+ year war centered around the building they're skulking beneath. I'm sure it'll be great.

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