Social Issues in Gaming: Fire Emblem: Three Houses and How Same-Sex Relationships are Represented
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Written by: Seth Budrik
Edited by: Shania Kuo, Huimin Zhou, and JJ Otto
The Fire Emblem franchise is a video game series of tactical turn-based RPGs that have been around since 1990. They were later introduced to the West in late 2000. A feature in these games is that there are occasional romantic relationships, including those that involve the player character of that particular game. This sometimes includes romance with same-sex couples, although it is rare and not always executed properly. Most of these same-sex relationships that occurred throughout the franchise were not always obvious at first either, especially before Fire Emblem: Fates. This was because most same-sex relationships at the time were only ever implied to have occurred, and they were never confirmed. In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Intelligent Systems made a better effort towards same-sex relationship representation, with characters that are not only confirmed to be gay(or at least bi-sexual), but with relationships that are executed properly. However, while Intelligent Systems seem to be moving in the right direction, the progress made here is not without its shortcomings.
What makes the Fire Emblem franchise unique is that the player not only controls the main character of the game but controls an army composed of a slew of odd and interesting characters as well. In most of the games, if two allied units are placed next to or near each other often enough, they can unlock support conversations with each other. Outside of having tactical purposes like stat boosts when they are next to each other, they also provide a bit of dialogue with each other. These support conversations go from C to B to A (In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, A-rank is the highest rank between two characters that do not include the player-charter). Sometimes even S, which usually means the characters marry. This is especially true when it comes to the player character, who in the latest Fire Emblem games can romance almost anyone of the opposite gender the player has chosen. However, despite the player-character being able to reach S rank with almost anyone they choose of the opposite gender, same-sex choices remain limited. It wasn’t until Fire Emblem: Fates that players could choose a character of the same sex as a romantic option. In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, there has been more progress made in showing same-sex relationships, but even here it is far from perfect.
In Three Houses, you are a teacher at a prestigious officers academy that is held at Garreg Mach Monastery, which is in the center of Fodlan. There are three different houses, each with several unique students led by a young lord with ambitions. Each of these houses has its own route in the game that is vastly different from one another. Most of the students in each house are recruitable regardless of what house you chose at the beginning of the game and which house they start in. The only exception to this is the head of each house, who is exclusive to their own route. After a time skip occurs, you can freely romance these characters. While this mainly means those of the opposite sex of the player character, there are same-sex options. Only a few though.
If you are playing as the Black Eagle House, there are three same-sex options; one male, two female
If you are playing as the female avatar, the same-sex support conversations you can S-rank with, while slim, are there. There are five in total, three of them being your students. Dorothea and Edelgard of the Black Eagles house and Mercedes of the Blue Lions house. However, Edelgard, as the head of the Black Eagle house, can only be romanced during her route. Dorothea and Mercedes thankfully are not route exclusives and can be romanced regardless of what route/house you choose. This comes in handy if you are playing as the Golden Deer, as there are no female same-sex options inherent to this house.
Aside from the student characters, there is also the archbishop Lady Rhea, who is exclusive to the Silver Snow route, and Sothis, who is a being that lives within you and is only romanceable if certain conditions are met. This means that only two of the five same-sex female options are easily accessible, with the other three locked behind certain routes or conditions.
While the same-sex options for the female avatar are limited, the same-sex options for the male avatar have far more limitations. You have Linhardt of the Black Eagles house, and Yuri of the Ashen Wolves if you get the DLC. That’s it*. Only two same-sex male options, with one being DLC. Well, you can also S-rank with Gilbert and Alois, but those are purely platonic relationships. So, for this discussion, these support conversations are irrelevant. *After the article was posted, I later realized that Jeritza is also a same-sex romantic option. My apologies for this oversight.
Outside of the same-sex options the player has, one or two characters are implied to have same-sex relationships with each other once they reach the A-rank support conversation. This is the highest support conversation between two characters in the game, excluding the player-character. This includes characters who are not same-sex options for the player-character. One example is Petra of the Black Eagles who has an A support with Dorothea with implications that the two are in a romantic relationship by the game’s conclusion, although Petra does not have that same option at S-rank with the female player.
While it is nice to have same-sex relationships that do not directly include the player character, it is questionable as to why these characters were not same-sex options in the first place, especially when there are so few options as is.
In TollFreeCall’s analytical video essay LGBT Representation In Fire Emblem Three Houses, they have two main arguments: one on the topic of queer baiting, and the second on how same-sex relationships in the Fire Emblem franchise should be handled in the future. I am including their analysis not only because of the quality but also because as they are an LGBTQ+ person, they can provide a different perspective on this topic.
In the video, TollFreeCall states the game is guilty of queer baiting, especially in regards to Edelgard’s relationship with the female player character. They argue that during Edelgard’s confession, she never uses romantic language and it can be played off as simply platonic due to Edelgard’s language being somewhat vague. While Edelgard’s language heavily implies the two are in a romantic relationship by the game’s conclusion, nothing she says outright confirms it either. TollFreeCall states that “at best it implies a romantic relationship, where [Edelgard’s feelings] should have been confirmed (1:41-1:47).”
Something that TollFreeCall points out is that Edelgard’s confession is the same regardless of gender. As such, it may appear to some (myself included) that this might not be queer baiting. However, TollFreeCalls believes that Intelligent Systems may not have wanted to have one of their main characters being openly LGBTQ+ and they made her confession seem like it could be interpreted as a platonic gesture to not anger those who do not like same-sex relationships. Evidence of this can be found in this translation of the Japanese dub done by a fan: Edelgard is VERY clear in her confession to the player character. Edelgard’s confession coming across the way it did here in the West was a localization choice and one that not only misrepresents how Edelgard was originally portrayed but one that actively takes a step backward on what little progress Intelligent Systems was making.
It is also worth mentioning that Gilbert and Alois may fall into the category of queer baiting. If you simply see the S-rank when scrolling through the support options in the game, you might be fooled into thinking Gilbert and Alios are same-sex options. In reality, they are platonic relationships. While I do like the idea of S-rank supports not always being romantic, I don’t think it was a good idea to implement it when there was only one romantic same-sex male option in the base game in the first place.
As for how the Fire Emblem franchise should move forward in the future, TollFreeCall has come up with two different solutions. The first is to have the player character be able to romance every character regardless of gender. An argument for this is that it would allow the player to have unlimited freedom of who they want to marry with whatever gender they would like to play as. It would also come without worrying about which characters should or should not be same-sex options for the player. The other option would be to have it more based on real-life and have each character have their unique sexual orientation. This might be a good option because it would feel like proper LGBTQ+ representation and less like a game mechanic just put there to appease the LGBTQ+ community. The first option is likely the better choice as it would probably be more popular among players due to having more player freedom. The second option also has the issue of it being easier to mess up since players may wonder why certain characters are or are not same-sex options. That said, both options are still better than what the franchise is currently doing. Which is almost nothing.
In terms of same-sex couples and representation in Fire Emblem games, this is Intelligent Systems’ best so far. However, keeping in mind how bad Fire Emblem: Fates was, that really doesn’t mean anything. As TollFreeCall said at the end of their video, “it’s only a step forward on one foot.” As it stands now, while LGTBQ+ representation in the Fire Emblem franchise is better than what it used to be, it still needs to take big steps forward before we can say it is actively GOOD LGTBQ+ representation. However, I have full confidence they will get there someday. I just hope it is sooner rather than later.
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