Monday, June 28, 2021

Fire Emblem: Three Houses story analysis - Crimson Flower (Black Eagles Part 2, Empire route)

 The following is a series on Fire Emblem: Three Houses that analyzes the story elements, characters and theming. For reference, here are the links to each one:

Intro/Basic review, White Clouds (Common Part 1), Cindered Shadows (Ashen Wolves DLC Route - Part 1.5), Crimson Flower (Black Eagles/Eagle House Part 2, Adrestia route), Silver Snow (Black Eagles/Eagle House Part 2, Church route), Azure Moon (Blue Lions/Lion House Part 2), Verdant Wind (Golden Deer/Deer House Part 2) Non-house leader characters (Eagle, Deer, Lion, Church) Music analysis (very surface level)

Part 2: Crimson Flower - Reclaiming faith; finding love

The story of Crimson Flower is distinct from every other story path in the game. 

At six chapters, it's significantly shorter than the 9-10 of the others. (Even Cindered Shadows was longer at seven chapters.) It only shares two fights with its counterpart, Silver Snow. It's the only route that requires you to go out of your way to open, and even then, you have to actively choose to enter it.

And it's the story that gives you the 'good ending' to the game.

I know for many that's a contentious point; hear me out on this one.

There's a reason the pathway to get to CF is harder to reach. There's a reason the storyline is entirely different from literally every other pathway in the game. There's a reason Edelgard gets a prominent feature role in every storyline, even Verdant Wind where you have very little contact with her. There's a reason the Japanese script only gives Edelgard a unique way of greeting Byleth (she uses 'sensei' in the 'master connotation, vs. the 'teacher' connotation everyone else uses).

There's a reason the credits theme is different for CF compared to every other storyline. There's a reason the menu theme is named for Byleth and Edelgard's shared Crest. There's a reason the main theme of the whole game is titled "Girl of Hresvelg." ("Edge of Dawn" is a nice title but it does mask some of the game's intentions.)

The core story of this game is the relationship between Byleth and Edelgard (and, to a lesser extent, Sothis); more specifically, it focuses on how the relationship's failure dooms Edelgard, but its success saves both Edelgard AND Byleth.

To explain this point, we must return to Chapter 11 of White Clouds, where talking to Edelgard leads to one of the most important set pieces in the whole game.

Coronation: The most important scene in the game

Upon choosing to go with Edelgard to Enbarr, Byleth becomes the witness to her ascension to the throne of Adrestia. This is a role normally meant for Rhea, but Edelgard obviously isn't willing to bring her in. Thus, she gives the role to the person in the world she holds in the highest regard.

There is A LOT to unpack from the sequence of events here. First off, the reason why it was so important to do the ceremony so quickly. Despite the fact that Edelgard is the princess, this sequence is, for all intents and purposes, a coup.

Backstory from Hubert, Edelgard, and Hanneman reveal that the Insurrection of the Seven stripped Emperor Ionius IX of his authority as emperor. Why this was done is only mentioned in the Japanese script of Hanneman's support chain with Hubert: Ionius had wanted to abolish the consort (extra-marital lovers to birth more heirs) system in Adrestia, which would have weakened the hold the Crest-based nobility would hold in the long term, since it would be harder than ever to create heirs.

With his plan opposed by the other major families of the Empire, his attempt to overrule them led to the insurrection. For years, the Empire has been ruled in the shadows by the Prime Minister, Duke Aegir (Ferdinand's dad).

Edelgard becoming emperor without his knowledge was the result of a long-term plan to put the role of Emperor back on top. Caspar mentions as early as Chapter 8 that his father was oddly present during the Battle of Eagle and Lion. And then, in talking with Linhardt in Chapter 12, he mentions Edelgard had gotten Count Bergliez (Caspar's father) and Count Hevring (Linhardt's father) to back Edelgard as chief decision-maker.

Hubert mentions in Chapter 12 that he replaced his father as Marquis Vestra (likely by killing him, given how much he resented his father for betraying Emperor Ionius), so Aegir's majority in the Six Noble Houses was broken. All that was left was to complete the imperial succession ritual before Aegir could break it up.

And thus the shadow government of Adrestia was removed in favor of its public leader again. Edelgard then deposes Duke Aegir and places him (and Count Varley, Bernadetta's father) under house arrest. I think we need to take a moment to express how important this moment is for Edelgard's character and how the game tries to give Byleth a real reason to trust Edelgard's judgment.

Edelgard: Rising above

Edelgard's supports reveal a very harsh truth: Edelgard is the victim of horrific physical and mental abuse, and Duke Aegir is directly responsible.

Again, Duke Aegir, was running the country for the last few years. That means the war with Dagda and Brigid, the ultimate decision to bring Petra to the Empire as a hostage, and allowing TWSD to use their blood experiments on the emperor's children were all approved by Ferdinand's father.

And contrary to the horrific misunderstanding of the situation Lysithea and Ferdinand reached in the game's most horrifying paralogue, Duke Aegir is not a patsy in this. The experiments on Edelgard and her siblings were done expressly to "create a peerless emperor" according to Edelgard's C+ support. Aegir intended to make Edelgard's ascension to emperor contingent on him retaining power and being able to use Edelgard's strength like a military battering ram.

It's also clear that he had made a deal with TWSD long ago. Based on the Ferdinand/Lysithea non-CF paralogue, at the time of his Insurrection, Aegir was in charge of Hrym territory and the TWSD mages were conducting secret experiments on Lysithea's family in the neighboring territory. With Aegir taking control around this point, he would have been the leader who first learned TWSD had infiltrated the Empire. This means Duke Aegir saw what was happening to Lysithea's family and thought, "This would be a great thing to do to the Emperor's children!"

Let me be blunt: Aside from TWSD themselves, Duke Aegir is the most evil character in the entire game, and if Edelgard wanted to execute him for starting an insurrection, ruining Petra's childhood, callously  murdering her 10 siblings and carving her open like a Thanksgiving turkey, I could not blame her for one minute.

And yet she doesn't. She had the authority and the power to execute him on the spot, and yet let him live. Why?

I suspect two reasons were at play. The first was to prove, both to Byleth and herself, that all her pain had not completely taken away her humanity. If a death was preventable in her plan, she could, and would, avoid it, no matter how much she may want to do it.

The second reason is out of loyalty to her friends. If you watch Edelgard's supports, even Ferdinand's, she never once brings up the actions of their parents. Hubert brings his family's actions up to Edelgard, but she never expresses disgust at the Six Noble Family leaders to any of their offspring, even after the war starts. I can only see this as an attempt to protect the feelings of her house-mates, Ferdinand especially, given how highly he values his status.

She keeps Duke Aegir alive, at least in part, because she didn't want to take a parent away from Ferdinand.

This is why I consider this scene to be so necessary before the events of the Holy Tomb. They reveal that Edelgard, at least at this point in the story, has still got her head and heart in a good place. She's a revolutionary, to be sure, but she's idealistic enough that proper guidance and perspective could lead to a positive outcome.

As I say in the Silver Snow dissection, the final decision in the Holy Tomb is an act of faith one way or another. This scene is Edelgard's best argument to put faith in her.

The Masks Come Off

When Byleth sits on the throne in the Holy Tomb, Edelgard interrupts the ceremony and reveals herself to be the Flame Emperor. As she said after the Flame Emperor's final appearance in front of Byleth, she has now appeared without her mask, and Byleth can now decide whether to support her or not.

I didn't notice a feature of the Holy Tomb battle originally, until I saw someone else's playthrough, but Edelgard will not kill anyone in the battle, not even Flayn. When going back through the Japanese script, her orders to the soldiers are different too. In English, she orders the soldiers to kill anyone in her way, but in Japanese she says, "You may kill them."

Obviously, since the soldiers are led by Metodey, the assassin, they're all more than willing to fight to the death, thus Metodey is the main threat in this level. Edelgard, however, tries to fight non-lethally, and the more death-minded Hubert is kept off the battlefield entirely.

Eventually, though, Edelgard is beaten and we are left with the ultimate decision. The Silver Snow blog goes into the logic for why to pick one or the other, so I won't repeat here. And the section above offers a major reason to believe in Edelgard, so I'm going to go straight into when you make your decision.

I think it's worth noting that this is the only of the four routes where Byleth openly smiles following her decision. She smiles at Edelgard as she fumbles through a thank you and the smile seems to even increase when Hubert pops back in to express his gratitude.

While Byleth may be happy with the decision, it breaks Rhea's composure entirely. The fragile psyche of hers that has been hinging on the literal revival of the dead shatters upon Sothis's refusal to return and Byleth's rejection of her authority.

She calls Byleth "just another failure," implying she sees the 13 attempted vessels (Sitri included) as failures and then threatens to tear out the heart of Sothis, Kano-style, before transforming into The White One (called The Immaculate One in English, but not here because it's too long to write repeatedly).

The White One in other routes only appears in a protective role. Rhea dawns the form to protect the monastery or stop the Javelins of Light. This time, however, she summons the form entirely for vengeance. The beast that was seen as divine intervention in other routes resembles nothing but unencumbered wrath to those who bear witness in the Holy Tomb, and unsurprisingly, every Eagle except Flayn is horrified and follows Byleth out the door.

Such an action confirms fears and concerns that have been bubbling up since the early chapters and reflects Rhea's motives in the early chapters to stifle dissent through fear. Rhea likes when people speak candidly to her, unless it's in direct conflict with her authority. And that mask falls off in this scene.

Edelgard finally drops her guard

After the entire Eagle house (Flayn excluded) joins the war effort, Edelgard expresses to Hubert that she cannot believe they are following her into war; moreover, that even knowing she's giving the order to revolt against the Church, Byleth is choosing to turn her back on the Church to help her.

I said in the White Clouds analysis that Edelgard gives off the air that she has internalized her suffering, repressing memories from around the time and blaming herself. She asks Byleth to follow her but increasingly cannot believe that she would ever actually choose to side with her.

In her mind, even though she finds the Church's system to be unfair and full of lies, she still on some level believes in their teachings - most notably that the Goddess protects all that is good and beautiful. The fact that her prayers to save her and her siblings went unanswered is proof to her that she is ugly, evil and undeserving of love. And the more Edelgard falls for Byleth, the more convinced she becomes that they will never be together - because someone so good could never truly feel for someone so repulsive.

And this is not just conjecture. The lyrics to the game's title song (again, titled "Girl of Hresvelg") emphasize this point. Among the lines I would cite are: "My blackened heart/Scorched by flames, a force I can't run from"; I long to stay/Where the light dwells/To guard against the cold/That I know so well"; and "My dearest wish/Is that you’ll know/These tender thoughts/That only seem to grow."

She even offers Byleth another chance to walk away and asks if she's really okay with fighting in a war against the Knights of Seiros. And she starts to get emotional once you confirm that you are, in fact, going to stay with her.

(I'm just going to refer to Byleth as female for the rest of this blog because I see female Byleth as the canonical version. This is because female Byleth is the only one who can S-rank with all the house leaders and finish their stories.)

How joining Edelgard changes the time skip

Byleth doesn't fall as the result of an accident in this version; instead, she is sent careening down into the river when Rhea transforms into The White One and attacks her. For all intents and purposes, Byleth is killed in service of Edelgard.

As you can imagine, Edelgard is affected far more deeply by Byleth's absence in Crimson Flower, especially since it happened in the first battle after she committed to helping her.

First off, the battle in Chapter 12 is the first and final time TWSD mages are seen as allies in a main battle. It's also the last time Jeritza dons his Death Knight mask during the story. Jeritza no longer wearing the mask may be simply due to the fact that everyone knows who he is, but the end of TWSD as an active participant in battle is a major change from non-CF routes.

TWSD had conducted all their experiments on Lysithea and Edelgard because they sought to create a human weapon capable of taking control of all Fodlan, who they could then control or destroy. And in other routes, Edelgard incorporated them into the main army for the sake of numbers, with the hope that they could turn their weapons on TWSD once they won.

In Crimson Flower, Byleth's support, recruitment of her classmates, and fall lead Edelgard to put more limits on how actively TWSD influences the war. Not only do they not set foot on a battlefield (unless you opt to purchase one of their battalions), but the only role you hear of them seems to be in an occupation role. TWSD seems to just raid conquered areas for Heroes' Relics and anything related to Crests.

Not that there's many of those options available, either. The other main effect of Edelgard's relationship with Byleth is that she is more protective of those around her and thus less willing to take risky, more dishonorable moves against the Kingdom and Alliance.

Non-CF routes all have the same fate for the Kingdom - Edelgard commissions Cornelia (an agent of TWSD) to organize a coup and remove Dimitri from power. Cornelia tries and fails to execute Dimitri, and his one-eyed self goes on a mission of inexhaustible vengeance.

The complete dominion over the western part of the Kingdom lets the Empire pressure Gloucester territory from two sides, and so while the Alliance is largely out of the fight, it had to concede the Great Bridge of Myrrdin and has run afoul of the Empire on occasion.

Neither of these results come to pass in Crimson Flower. While Cornelia still maintains the position of power in Arianrhod she held prior to the war, she is instructed not to incite a coup, and so Kingdom soldiers like Rodrigue communicate with her and work with her as a protector of the fortress city. Meanwhile, Dimitri ascends the throne through natural order and grants Rhea and the Knights of Seiros sanctuary.

This puts the onus of the Kingdom-Empire conflict wholly on the Kingdom, at least in the eyes of the public. Non-CF Edelgard had Rhea captured and yet still tried to weaken the Kingdom by stopping Dimitri from ascending the throne. CF Edelgard does not engage the Kingdom until after Dimitri grants Rhea sanctuary. From an outsider perspective, the Kingdom has stepped in the middle of the Empire's conflict with the Church.

Speaking of outsiders, with the western Kingdom largely following Dimitri's lead as king, there is no need for the Alliance to make any concessions regarding the Great Bridge. Claude is able to keep House Gloucester completely out of the conflict and the Alliance is basically untouched at the time of Byleth's return.

Battle has been kept to border squabbles for five years, with Garreg Mach being the only notable conquered territory. There have been relatively few casualties with TWSD neutralized as an aggressor, and all four sovereign armies in Fodlan are operating at full- to nearly full-strength.

A Found-family Becomes Whole Again

The reunion sequence of CF holds entirely different emotions for the characters involved than the non-CF routes, and it starts with the reunion with the house leaders.

Dimitri's reunion in Azure Moon is meant to show how far he'd fallen in the five years without Dimitri. There is no warmth, no joy in the fact that Byleth lived. He's entirely focused on his pain and the ghosts that haunt him.

Claude and Silver Snow Edelgard maintain their external facades and never lose sight of their larger goals. Claude does show more warmth toward you and brings a meal, but the fact he had a meal prepped and immediately knew where to find bandits to fight tells me he was already making calculations for the next part of his grand scheme and wasn't in-the-moment.

CF Edelgard runs an entire emotional gauntlet upon seeing Byleth. She goes from shock, to blushing, to anger, to word-vomiting five years of heartbreak and frustration, until finally settling on relief and hugging Byleth while a tear slips out the side of her eye. In four storylines, Edelgard is the only one to drop guard enough to hug Byleth, and it's the only time in the four stories that I feel unbridled joy from any of the house leaders.

After Edelgard explains the current situation, she organizes the entire set of Eagles for a reunion, and all of them express their joy that Byleth has returned and are eager to show how much they've grown in five years. Caspar even takes time to rib Edelgard about how emotional she was about losing Byleth, and while she blushes and sweats, she chooses to simply allow the comment to exist, indicating they're all familiar enough with each other to make jokes.

I don't think I mentioned this yet, but while VW and SS use the Crest of Flames as a symbol, and AM uses the Kingdom's coat of arms, Crimson Flower creates an elite unit of your house's soldiers, called the "Black Eagle Strike Force," or Schwarze Alderwehr in Japan.

This is why there is no big reunion fight with thieves. Byleth bonded the Eagle house members together through their school days and her disappearance. And thus, the BESF is a unified family who have supported each other through five years. 

I'll talk more about it in the character blog, but so many of the characters in Eagle house had a heavy degree of suffering in their backstory. The BESF seems to be a real support system, and for Edelgard, it's a necessary influence on her that provides perspective and keeps her focused on her ideals, not the desperation to win.

Okay, so BESF is a dorky-as-all-hell name and will be cited later in this blog when I talk about how Edelgard is a gigantic, hyper-romantic dork. But I do want to offer a bit of real-world history on this one. 

The part where I stop to give you a history lesson you've likely never thought about until now

The Order of the Black Eagle was a real-world order of chivalry that operated in the Kingdom of Prussia. The Kingdom of Prussia was the main power that unified the German Empire in the 1800s until its dissolution at the end of World War I. The German Empire, known as the Second Reich (not to be confused with the Nazi-led Third Reich), was the result of the northern confederation and southern states unified under one imperial monarch.

There are obvious real-world parallels that inspired this game. The Northern-Southern unification following wars with Austria seem to line up with Adrestia in the south unifying with Faerghus in the north. The BESF flag resembles both the Order of the Black Eagle and the old Holy Roman Empire's coat of arms. The first Emperor of Germany was Wilhelm I, which is the name of the first emperor of Adrestia in-game. A notable Order member in Germany was a knight named Ferdinand.

Topping off the comparisons to this period in history, the events that led to the creation of the German Empire was the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, a loose connection of nation-states that followed the Holy Roman Emperor. This took place during the Napoleonic Wars and ended the rule of the Roman Catholic emperor. So in a sense, the Napoleonic Wars and the creation of the German Empire were used to help inspire this "unification of Fodlan" game.

I say this because I see many try to tie the events of this game to Nazi Germany, but the timeline doesn't match up at all. The events this game is based on start in the early 1800s, run through about 1870, and every trace of real-world connection is gone by the end of the first World War and the creation of the German Republic.

History nerd-time over; back to Fodlan stuff

So with the band back together, the BESF makes its move to break the stalemate by taking the Great Bridge. Count Gloucester is sympathetic to the Empire, so the Alliance forces guarding the bridge are soldiers serving House Daphnel and its leader, Judith.

We get a glimpse into the plan Claude has concocted, as the instructions given are for Judith and the Alliance forces to retreat if it's clear they can't win. We also get the first clashes between the Strike Force and students that weren't recruited. In this case, it's Ignatz as one of Judith's guards and Leonie as a calvary member.

I do want to note that this is the only route where literally every other faction is an enemy, but since most routes have Dimitri losing his mind and attacking everyone for no reason, I can't say it's the only route where you fight all factions.

This is, however, a route where the motivations of the people you recruit are really meaningful. All the other factions are fighting the Empire in their native route, so what is the motivation they give to fight with them?

One of the most fascinating questions for me in this game is, "Who makes your Crimson Flower team?" I'll be answering that at the end of the blog, but interactions like Leonie's rage that Byleth would turn against the Knights who Jeralt led are a look into each character that you can only get through CF.

Edelgard vs. Claude - the battle to decide Fodlan's grand reformer

This chapter has a weird mistranslation that is the exact opposite of what is happening. The English script says that Claude is making it hard for people to leave Deirdru, hinting that he's planning to use the people like human shields to stop the Empire from moving in.

The Japanese script says the exact opposite. Claude intends for the city to be completely abandoned for the battle except for his forces. This fits more into the idea that Claude wants the winner of this fight to have the full strength of both countries at their disposal.

Many seem to believe (because Claude's dialogue in the English script masks his true intentions) that Claude was simply protecting the Alliance and the city, but it's clear from his actions and his dialogue post-battle that this isn't true. If Claude simply wanted the fighting to conclude, he'd have worked to get the Alliance behind one of the two factions. If he wanted neutrality, he'd have fought harder to protect the Great Bridge.

Claude posts up very little resistance to the Empire's march to Deirdru. And he's pinned near the sea so the Almayran navy can ambush them once they enter the city. Even in the Deirdru fight, Claude tells his people to surrender if they get overwhelmed and that the Alliance will join the Empire should the plan fail. 

Claude is trying to turn the tables and become the conqueror himself, and he's setting his people up for secure positions in the Empire should his gambit fail. He says as much after the fight.

Or at least he does if you choose to spare him. Speaking of...

The route of mercy

One of the game mechanics I don't really see get talked about is the critique/console mechanic. When teaching your students, your instruction will lead to a good, great, perfect or bad level of improvement. Perfection automatically gives you one bonus lesson; good and great are just a difference of exp points; but a bad result triggers the console/critique option. This allows you to either offer a criticism of how they performed the task, or offer consolation so they aren't discouraged. Guessing incorrectly has no negative (besides I guess making you feel bad), but guessing correctly gives the student a second chance.

Most of the three houses' students (about 5/8) lean for critique, and the ones who choose consolation are fairly intuitive. Linhardt and Hilda are lazy, so critique would drive them away. Dorothea, Ignatz and Marianne are softer, less self-confident souls, so it makes sense they'd prefer an emotional boost to a pragmatic one. The Lions break on gender lines - males get critiqued, females get consoled.

Edelgard surprised me at first glance as being someone who prefers consolation. None of the other house leaders lean for consolation, and she does her best to appear driven and focused at all times.

But then I went back through Edelgard's backstory and compared it to her interests. She enjoys receiving stuffed bear toys and board games; she loves the arts and music; she loves animals, cats especially. In her supports, she's seen around animals and plants in her free moments. Edelgard is a stereotypical girly-girl at heart with a bend toward romanticism.

And yet she is constantly engaging in matters related to war and bloodshed. Edelgard isn't just projecting the confident attitude for others; she does it for herself. Every one of her actions as emperor is in stark contrast to the person she wants to be and she shows a clear disgust for everything she has become.

So in that vein, it would make sense for a person this damaged to have low confidence. And it also makes sense that she would want to seek merciful options at every turn.

This brings me to the point of this section: Crimson Flower is the route where the army you control shows by far the most mercy.

In the other routes, you may only spare students who were in your class and left (Ashe in VW, Lorenz in AM, both in SS). It's less a life-save and more of a re-recruitment.

Crimson Flower has the only unconditional post-timeskip recruitment with Lysithea, which makes complete sense given her backstory and how it connects to Edelgard.

Seeing as the two of them were both subjected to the same experiments and lost all their siblings in the process, the job of recruiting her in light of the war should be easy, and it's why Lysithea is considered by many fans to be the Ninth Black Eagle. I consider a run through CF without her to be incomplete, like a key part of the story was cut.

It goes beyond Lysithea, however. Byleth and Edelgard have the option to spare Claude at the end of their fight (as you probably gathered when I analyzed his statements made to Edelgard on the way out. 

Though, as an aside, I get the sense that Claude is much happier losing Fodlan to Edelgard compared to Dimitri. I mention how he's less jocular with Dimitri in AM, but a real notable interaction difference is if Byleth asks Claude to lend them his strength. He shuts it down immediately in AM, but in CF, it actually gets a laugh out of him. Claude seems to genuinely want Edelgard to succeed, and I believe it's because they both recognize the need for reform in Fodlan. He's glad someone is making the move, even if he can't be the one to do it.

Also kind of notable is that it is theoretically possible to beat the Deer battles without fighting a single Deer besides Claude. The first objective is only to defeat the boss (i.e. kill Judith in Ch. 13, and beat Claude in Ch. 14). I was able to defeat Judith in only two turns, so since reinforcements never came, I never had to engage anyone else of note. 

And with the right combination, you can avoid Hilda and win the battle with her still alive. Given that Edelgard's paralogue involves helping Goneril territory in the aftermath while Holst is ill, I'd argue it's the option the game is trying to lead to you take.

After chapter 14, there's still a way to save Seteth and Flayn. If Byleth falls the first one, they will retreat from the battle, and then the other will retreat after being beaten by anyone. Based on the battlefield, Byleth will naturally make it to Flayn first, so it especially makes sense since neither Flayn nor Byleth hold hostility for each other. Only Alois and Shamir have to be killed in the chapter 15 fight.

People from the Kingdom do not get the same treatment, as their culture mandates they fight to the death, but even then, the last battle never requires you to fight anyone but the final boss - meaning the potential two Lion students (Annette and Ashe), Catherine and Gilbert can survive the final battle without even facing a member of the BESF. My first playthrough ended with Catherine trying and failing to reach my units, so she definitely lived.

Bearing all this in mind, even with no recruits, the only mandatory kills of playable characters in the entire Crimson Flower route are Shamir, Alois, Dimitri, his vassal Dedue, and his childhood friends (Sylvain, Ingrid and Felix). Mercedes and Leonie are mandatory if they make it onto the battlefield, and it would take a perfect storm to keep Mercedes off the battlefield, but you can win before they arrive.

That's a total of seven. In comparison, Azure Moon and Verdant Wind have nine each (Edelgard, Hubert, Jeritza, Bernadetta, Petra, Ferdinand, Lysithea, Ignatz and Raphael, Dimitri, Felix, Mercedes). Silver Snow only confirms four deaths (Edelgard, Hubert, Jeritza and Dimitri), but the Blood of Eagle and Lion battle happens off-screen, so I maintain that (at minimum) all the Lions and Deer who die in that battle in other routes fall here as well. This means the route actually has nine deaths - 10 if you believe Claude fell in battle and 11 if Leonie runs in as reinforcement.

Some will probably argue that this route has an advantage when it comes to minimizing killings because it's only six chapters, but that's also kind of the point.

A more complete peace at half the cost!

This storyline sits at six chapters in comparison to the 10 in the other stories (Silver Snow is 9 with a 10th battle off-screen). This is due to there being no battle with the monastery raiders, no fight in Aileil, no in-person fight in Shambhala and the final battle in Fhirdihad being one battle vs. Enbarr's two.

From a story perspective, though, this makes perfect sense. The BESF has stayed together and used the monastery as a base for five years so thieves would have trouble getting a foothold there. There doesn't need to be a fight in Aileil because the Empire cannot receive reinforcements (paralogue in Brigid notwithstanding). And Dimitri is killed in CF's version of the three-way battle, so there's no need to enter the palace of Fhirdihad.

What those changes do, however, is shorten the war down to a mere five months once Byleth returns (four if you consider the first battle and exploration day to be too short as a month). And yet all of the major issues with Fodlan are dealt with by the end of the Crimson Flower storyline.

Disorganized continent with three nations? Fodlan is unified in the end. Issues with the Church stepping in on sovereign nations? The church loses its military power in the end and becomes a standard religion. Issues with foreign relations? Brigid is released as an equal nation, and as Edelgard's paralogue indicates, relations with countries like Almayra will be pursued with cultural sensitivity. 

Crests being held up as a status symbol? Wiped out by Edelgard almost instantly. Nobility system? The reforms begin, run throughout Edelgard's reign and is replaced by a nationalized education system. Hereditary rule? Edelgard begins appointing non-bloodline officials as early as Ladislava and Randolph and cedes power of her own volition to a person outside her family line.

Last of all, TWSD are dealt with in the shadows instead of a proper single battle. On my first playthrough, I was bummed that I didn't get to take out the group that killed Jeralt and cost Byleth access to Sothis in a real level. 

But looking at it in hindsight, the declaration of war against them was cast when Cornelia was killed, and it would make sense for Edelgard to want the battle done without the main military so that lives were protected. The javelins hitting Arianrhod mean that Hubert will be able to trace them to Shambhala. And Rhea's death means no revival of Nemesis.

All in all, Fodlan reaps all the benefits in exchange for a shorter war that was decidedly less full of subterfuge and TWSD aggression. But speaking of the Cornelia fight in Arianrhod...

Lady of Deceit: Declaring War on the Death Cult... and Translation Fails

Edelgard's abuse may have started with the selfish motivations of the Six Noble Houses, but let's not mince words here - TWSD are always the ultimate evil in this scenario.

Hubert explains before the first battle of CF that their inclusion in the Empire's forces are a source of great shame and irritation for Edelgard. There is clear contempt from both Edelgard and Hubert toward them, and Hubert's paralogue strongly hints that he'll be directly handling the fight with TWSD as soon as the war concludes.

It's understandable that Hubert would be the one leading. Edelgard clearly displays discomfort at their presence. In the Japanese audio, Thales is the only person to whom she uses language that gives a subordinate tone, rather than an authoritative one.

Despite that discomfort, though, she does decide to pull a fast one on them and blindside their one major foothold in the Kingdom - Cornelia's fortress city of Arianrhod.

By convincing everyone that she was targeting Fhirdihad before branching the BESF toward the city dubbed "The Silver Maiden," she leaves Cornelia's defenses depleted, forcing her to break out the Titanus beasts.

Cornelia figures Edelgard's aim pretty quickly, but the way she speaks, it's clear that I made a mistake playing CF as my first playthrough. I already figured I needed to do other playthroughs considering I had no knowledge of Judith or Rodrigue, and I didn't understand why Fleche became a regular dialogue set piece. But Cornelia's words in particular reek of self-congratulatory madness if you don't understand the context.

She realizes that the only reason they'd attack Arianrhod when a TWSD agent was in charge would be if they were targeting the TWSD agent. Arundel/Thales clearly realizes this as well, which is why he questions the decision and then obliterates Arianrhod with the Javelins of LIght.

And the game makes sure the dialogue decision Byleth makes after the battle reflects this too. When he asks if eliminating Cornelia was the aim, Edelgard's support rises if you say that it was.

So how did the game straight-up botch the translation to make Cornelia's death quote say the opposite? How do you go from a Japanese line that translates, "I see… So this is… the storyline you’ve written for me…", to saying that this betrayal was "all in accordance with this carefully crafted script of ours"?

It makes it sound like Edelgard attacking Cornelia is the plan TWSD wanted. That makes zero sense and almost makes it sound like she was actually loyal to the Kingdom. I played Azure Moon. I know that is not the case.

Well while the translation decision is questionable, it does set me up to talk about Edelgard's most questionable action in the game. They decide to control the information about Arianrhod being destroyed, blaming the Church instead of TWSD.

So what sense is there in even lying about this? From a military perspective, I see what Edelgard is getting at. If you reveal a new enemy right before you launch your hopefully final assault on your current enemies, that could screw with the nerves of the troops. 

This is especially true if you have no intention of using the actual military to fight the new threat. Remember, Hubert, Jeritza and Byleth seem to be the main core in the shadow fight that is coming against TWSD. Hubert says in his paralogue that the war with TWSD will be "knives cutting in the darkness."

In that sense, it's sensible to lay all setbacks and problems at the feet of the current enemy until the battles next month are over. Even so, I can't condone keeping it quiet from the rest of the BESF. It's not a major issue if she reveals the truth to them immediately following the battles, but every moment after Fhirdihad that it's not made clear to them is a problem.

Of all Edelgard's actions, it's the one I hold the least amount of comfort with, as it reads so similar to the false history Fodlan currently has. Like I said, it's not an issue if she properly assigns the blame right after the next month's battles, especially if TWSD get wiped out and all traces of their brutality are wiped out in the shadow war, but it's a playing-with-fire moment for sure.

Tailtean Plains: The Battlefield of Change

Each route gets some kind of exclusive battle, but while Azure Moon and Silver Snow use exclusive enemies on a familiar map, Verdant Wind and Crimson Flower get maps that only they get to use.

Verdant Wind got the Nemesis boss fight and the map in the empty field. Crimson Flower gets the Tailtean Plains (aka the battlefield they show in the opening cutscene of the game).

With no Blood of the Eagle and Lion in CF, this is the three-way battle replacement, though in this case it's more like a handicap match. The rain gives the battlefield the same dark echoes from the original cutscene, and there is a real frustration to getting close to beating the Kingdom, only for the Knights of Seiros to run in as you get close.

Speaking of Seiros, Rhea has gone full killer revenge mode in this story, as she reclaims her name from the battle 1000 years before. Watching the opening cutscene, you'd think Seiros would be a major player in your journey, but it's only in this fight that she actually steps on the battlefield, and even then, it's as one of the opposing commanders.

Adding to the irony, 1000 years before, Seiros had the Adrestian soldiers on her side against the forces of the Ten Elites. Now, she joins with the descendants of the Elites and their Kingdom to fight the Adrestian Empire.

Heck, she even gets the benefit of demonic beasts, as Dedue brings crest stones to help the soldiers become unholy monsters, including himself.

A major theme in CF is that devotion can be toxic. This really reveals itself in the Kingdom fights. Not only did Rodrigue, Felix and Ingrid die defending Arianrhod on behalf of a TWSD commander who cared nothing for them, but now Sylvain does at Tailtean and Dedue destroys himself, all for the honor of a vengeance-fueled king.

I didn't mention it earlier, but one of the most painful lines in this route is Ingrid's death quote, where she says she "has become like him," meaning Glenn. Her glorification of his duty as a knight has given her the Bruce Wayne in Dark Knight Rises mindset where she wants a glorious death defending her kingdom. 

This is the mental state the Kingdom's values breeds - people so obsessed with being chivalrous and knightly that they will blindly follow orders to their death. And whether the leader is out of their mind (Dimitri) or is using you with no regard for your life (Cornelia) never factors into the calculus.

And Dimitri, for his part, never seems to learn the lesson of letting go, even in his final moments. Yes, he's operating on faulty information, but there never seems to be a point where he even considers he might be wrong in his assumptions. This was a problem in the other routes as well, but even here when he has the throne and got everything he expected to receive, he still cannot get out of his own way.

As for Edelgard, this battle affects her deeply. While she has repressed the memories of her time in the Kingdom to the point that she doesn't understand her connection to Dimitri, she did recognize the tragedy that was his life and nearly cries over it. She claims "the Edelgard who shed tears died many years ago," but it's clear that as she's gone through this story and made more connections that her hope is returning, and she's getting more in-touch with her emotions.

Just in time for the final battle.

To the End of a Dream/The Result of Our Love 

(NOTE: These are the respective last chapter titles for the English and Japanese versions, respectively.)

I chose to mention the two titles of this chapter because they say a lot about what this chapter is.

For those who don't remember, this chapter doesn't get a month of preparation. You go from the Tailtean Plains straight to Fhirdihad to face Rhea's forces and end the war. There is a final, tense conversation between Arundel and Edelgard, where she keeps his forces off the battlefield and it becomes clear that this temporary alliance is reaching its endpoint. They talk about a brief period where TWSD will be necessary, but the fact that they keep saying that it's "for a brief period" tells me the two are already planning each other's deaths.

Edelgard then gives Byleth her best explanation as to how Sothis ended up with Byleth. It's extremely incomplete, considering you need Rhea's SS and VW conversations to get the full picture, but it was a decent set of hypotheses given the information at-hand.

Much like her A-support and other start-of-month conversations, however, Edelgard continues to express how much she needs/values Byleth. The final months of this story really hammer home how much it meant to Edelgard that Byleth stayed with her. She had acted close to Byleth throughout White Clouds and attempted to show genuine care, despite the fact that she expected Byleth to leave her and (eventually) destroy her.

As has been mentioned before, Edelgard was making this grand attempt to change the world for the better, but her own mind led her to believe the act was evil and justifying of her death. One FE fan named CaptainFlash made an argument that because the Adrestian Empire had such close ties to Seiros that Edelgard was likely very devout at a point in her life. At the very least, she practiced the faith often.

This means she knew the lines from the Church that were present in the monastery library: "The Goddess is all things, Her eyes see all, Her ears hear all, Her hands receive all.... The Goddess cares for and protects all that is beautiful in this world…”

Edelgard's suffering, her family's demise, all done without intervention from the Goddess, has led her to internalize that she was not saved because she was deemed undeserving - not beautiful or good enough to save.

Her attempt to reform the world is out of a sense of selflessness. She wants to protect others who were victimized by the system created by the Church of Seiros... but she has every expectation she will die for what she's doing and be damned for it.

Consider how she interacts with everyone in her supports. She's always concerned about Hubert and Dorothea's mental states, tries to take care of Lysithea, initially views Caspar as a victim of circumstance, tries to find Linhardt something to be passionate about, and advises Petra and Bernadetta. Even Ferdinand, with whom she has a contentious relationship, is talked with cordially and given honest consideration, despite her history with his father - a history she never brings up to him, by the way. Outside of supports, she takes a no-name like Ladislava and a distant relative of a noble like Randolph and put both in prominent positions because they deserve it.

Every support exudes a care for everyone besides herself - except the ones with Byleth. It's the only support where she feels comfortable behaving like herself, caring for herself, talking about what she wants. Byleth is her inspiration to take care of herself and place value in her friendships. It's why she's not as aggressive in this route - she actually has friends now, and doesn't want to lose them in battle. It's why we see her hopeless romantic side as she tries to paint Byleth.

She expected to lose all of this in the Holy Tomb back in Chapter 11, but they are all still with her. The person who most exemplifies Sothis - talked directly to her, bears her power, Crest and hair - is on her side.

In Azure Moon, Edelgard hits her lowest point and becomes the Hegemon Husk. In Crimson Flower, Byleth's nickname is "The Wings of the Hegemon," a reflection of how Byleth pulled Edelgard out of the darkness so she could rise above her pain.

The English title "To the End of a Dream" is a thematic tie to Byleth's journey. Where Silver Snow's was titled "Following a Dream," implying that Byleth was still following orders in hopes she'd find meaning one day, the CF chapter title implies that Byleth found her purpose, and this chapter will bring her to its ultimate fruition.

The Japanese title "The Result of Our Love," gives away the point of this route. The world that will be created through the final battle is the result of Byleth and Edelgard's love for each other. Byleth has found purpose, and Edelgard has found value in her own life. And together, they will bring the world to a better tomorrow.

Faith finally gets repaid

Edelgard tries one more time to get Rhea to surrender and retire the Church's power over Fodlan (an option she never gives in other routes), and Seiros/Rhea chooses to burn the city of Fhirdihad alive...

The battlefield itself is intimidating and large, but as I mentioned before, The White One is the only target that has to die, so if you really want to keep the others alive, it'll take some effort, but it is possible.

Once Edelgard and Byleth destroy The White One, Byleth collapses and appears to die. Edelgard loses what little composure she held and begins to cry openly over Byleth's body.

And yet, in this moment, there is a miracle. Sothis's Crest stone of flames breaks, and the residual energy goes into Byleth's real heart to start it for the first time in her life. As Edelgard's emotions flip to tears of joy, the green hair/eyes of Byleth return to their natural blue, and she is 100 percent human for the first time in her life.

Edelgard's plan to give humanity its freedom back is reflected here in Byleth, as Byleth gains her humanity in this victory as well. And yet, I find myself thinking of a Garth Brooks song of all things in this scene: "Unanswered Prayers."

"Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers" is the line in particular. It's a song about how a man prayed for a relationship with a woman to work out, only for it to fail, giving way to the true love of his life.

One of the most prominent themes of this game is that you can't always save everyone. Choosing not to start a war continues the human rights atrocities that will leave more children with death or ruined lives. Once the war starts, at least seven people you know will die, no matter which route you choose. It is the role of the leader to create the most positive outcome possible with as little sacrifice as possible.

We consider how these sacrifices had to play in when dealing with human characters because we can see the full scale of the result, but we rarely think about how this type of thought process would play out with a divine being who has to consider an entire world at-large across not only the current time frame, but all time - past, present and future.

Sothis - the full divine being, not just the version present in Byleth's mind - has very little influence over the world, and it's only through her heart being with Byleth that she can actually exercise a degree of effect upon Fodlan.

In that sense, Sothis's divine will is reflected in Byleth. She tells Byleth to cut a path that is her own, and then she leaves her full power to Byleth so that she may enact her will, whatever that may be. In effect, it is an endorsement of Byleth as a person that Sothis believes her will will be done, if Byleth simply follows her heart.

With that in mind, it's telling that Sothis only removes her divine power in Crimson Flower. One could take it as Sothis rejecting the goal Byleth sought out, but she remains a romantic option in this route despite everything, so it's not the interpretation I see. Instead, I see it as a sign that Sothis believes her work is done, and it's time to simply let Byleth be human.

It can be interpreted from such a read-through that Crimson Flower is the original plan. Byleth, who has to carry out this plan, is freed from the insane cycle that Rhea had created for reviving Sothis and gets with the only house leader who values her ability to choose and have autonomy above all else. Edelgard, who lost her entire family and ability to trust, gets a found family in the BESF, learns to trust and be open in her emotions again, receives a way to change the world in a manner that befits Edelgard's ideals, and finds a person to value her for who she is, not her position.

Viewed in this way, Sothis took Edelgard and Byleth, two present victims of Fodlan's past, and gave them Fodlan's future.

Final Thoughts - "Dearest Friends"

The translation where Edelgard calls Byleth her "dearest friend" after Byleth proposes is among the dumbest line interpretations I've seen. Also, I'd like to note that all the other house leaders propose to Byleth, but in this route and this route only, Byleth proposes to the house leader. Again, statement of Byleth's autonomy.

When I played Three Houses the first time, I played Crimson Flower first, and I remember being a bit underwhelmed that TWSD didn't get a proper defeat in-game since they were the ones whose plans led to Jeralt's death. Through the other routes, I realized all the other ways in which they ruined the land of Fodlan.

And yet, as the other routes took out members of TWSD, if not TWSD altogether, I didn't feel a sense of satisfaction in the battle. It was always an underwhelming afterthought in comparison to the fight in Enbarr. And playing those other routes helped me realize the TWSD fight is underwhelming because the game isn't about them.

Thematically, the members directly responsible for Jeralt's death fall in Chapter 10, and there's no direct emotional hatred for Cornelia or Thales, at least from Byleth's perspective. They're evil, but they are Dimitri's demons, Hapi's demons, Edelgard's demons. TWSD's commanders serve as setup for the fight with Edelgard and nothing more.

Hapi's journey with Cornelia pays off whenever she gets to fight at Arianrhod. And Edelgard sets her fight in motion when she takes out Cornelia in a blindside attack. We know how the fight with Thales will end eventually, but Edelgard in this story is not so consumed by hatred of them that it overwhelms the main story.

Credit the /edelgard Reddit thread - Posted by u/blackjack8866
Verdant Wind is the lore story, and so it's fitting the route ends with Fodlan's greatest villain, but it also takes out many of the personal connections to the story and make it into a standard save-the-day story by the end. Silver Snow is busy setting up its tragic final battle so TWSD never matter all that much.

Playing the four routes made me realize that the personal connections and the humanity in war is what matters in this game. And no route exemplifies finding a person's humanity, finding light in the darkness, and finding companionship to get you through the toughest times quite like Crimson Flower.

As a final note, I will give my ideal Crimson Flower team (a 13-person combo for normal play and a 15-person combo for new game plus).

For the record, the two combinations given in "Emperor and the Goddess" are great ideas. (Also, seriously give this fic a read. It's such a good story and gave me a lot of angles that I hadn't considered with these storyines.) The two combinations given for recruits are: Ingrid, Sylvain, Lysithea, Marianne and Shamir (main timeline), and Felix, Leonie, Annette, Mercedes and Alois (parallel timeline).

Mine is a combination of the two:

Crimson Flower team
Byleth x Edelgard
Lysithea x Linhardt
Hubert x Ferdinand
Caspar x Annette
Jeritza x Mercedes (family reunion)
Petra x Dorothea
Bernadetta x Alois (Bernie gets an uncle!)
Leonie or Shamir as the wandering loner

If not NG+, Alois and Leonie/Shamir are dropped. Bernadetta goes with Hubert, Ferdinand goes with Mercedes, Jeritza takes the loner position.

I recruit Lysithea because she MUST be in Eagle house for CF in my view. I pick Mercedes for the Jeritza/Ferdinand supports and Annette to get her away from trying to please her dad. Alois is a freebie after Jeralt's death and has good supports. Leonie is my preference due to her desire to protect Byleth, but her death is avoidable; Shamir's is not and her support with Hubert is fun.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Fire Emblem: Three Houses story analysis - Silver Snow (Black Eagles Part 2, Church route)

 The following is a series on Fire Emblem: Three Houses that analyzes the story elements, characters and theming. For reference, here are the links to each one:

Intro/Basic review, White Clouds (Common Part 1), Cindered Shadows (Ashen Wolves DLC Route - Part 1.5), Crimson Flower (Black Eagles/Eagle House Part 2, Adrestia route), Silver Snow (Black Eagles/Eagle House Part 2, Church route), Azure Moon (Blue Lions/Lion House Part 2), Verdant Wind (Golden Deer/Deer House Part 2) Non-house leader characters (Eagle, Deer, Lion, Church) Music analysis (very surface level)

Part 2: Silver Snow - “It starts with ONE THING I DON’T KNOW WHY…”

Silver Snow very much feels like the ‘tragedy’ route of the entire game. Where the Lions and Deer have a route that’s tailor-made to fit the personality of the house leader, the Eagles are given a split route, and I have a hard time believing this route was built for any reason other than to tug at the heartstrings and make you feel sorrow.

The crew that made this game said in interviews that they made the Eagle route first, and Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo said the routes they were proudest of were Silver Snow and Crimson Flower, respectively. And it’s fitting that those two routes, the only split stories in the game, should be so intertwined to represent the classic ideas of fate versus self-determination; heart versus duty; and the classical ideals of tragedy (from order comes chaos) versus comedy (from chaos comes order).

Duty as a Teacher - "Watch the time go right out the window, tryin' to hold on, I didn't even know I wasted it all just to watch you go."

When playing the Eagle route, Silver Snow is the default route. By ‘default,’ I mean that it’s the route you naturally get if you put zero effort into anything beyond the necessary battles.

Thing is, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is not just a tactical RPG with battles only. It’s also a management and development system - id est, a teacher simulator.

Part 1 covers Byleth's role as a teacher, and defaulting to the Silver Snow route represents a failure in that role.

This game does keep the overall barrier to the choice between SS and CF really low, so I do believe the game programmed it so that a person who isn’t given the choice between the two routes had to have actively shirked their responsibility as a teacher at major junctures of the game.

Think about it: The only requirements to earn the choice at the end of Chapter 11 are: 1) Earning a C+ support level with Edelgard (first 2 support conversations) and 2) talking to Edelgard during exploration mode in Chapter 11.

C+ support should be easy to make happen through normal gameplay. You’d practically have to keep Edelgard or Byleth away from the action in every battle to not get to C+ in the minimum ten battles. This means, fittingly, the only requirement you could actually lapse on is talking to your students.

I feel that my perspective on this requirement is skewed a bit by the fact that I am a teacher now and have been for six years. When I started this blog, it likely wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but now, it actually does stick with me. You would have to actively avoid talking to one of your students for an entire month near the end of the year to lose the decision. I understand for some that exploring the monastery or taking a vested interest in instructing and developing your students can get monotonous (Believe me! I understand), but part of the job as a teacher is making connections with the students as future humans of society. Any teacher who tells you that teaching is just a job and that the students are just their charges (like Jeritza actually does say in-game) are generally not very good at their job.

After month 10, Byleth becomes fused with Sothis and undergoes a massive change. The idea that you wouldn’t at least gauge the reactions of all the students is so foreign to me that I had to actively choose to not do it to make the choice disappear. Which brings me to my next point:

Byleth's decision - "With the hands of uncertainty... let mercy come and wash away... WHAT I'VE DONE!"

So let’s assume the actual decision does come up and Byleth chooses to execute Edelgard after the battle in the Holy Tomb. What would be the motivation for making this choice?

On one hand, it makes a great deal of sense in terms of Byleth’s recent activities. The previous three battles have been with TWSD leadership, and Byleth’s father, Jeralt, was lost in the process along with the consciousness of Sothis. Mages and beasts from TWSD were in this battle, so it makes sense that Byleth might feel used by a student who had every opportunity to tell her about this.

Likewise, Byleth’s connections are not just with Edelgard. There have been moments where Byleth bonds with Hubert (who has been threatening to kill you) and more positive bonds with the other Eagles. Also, members of the Church of Seiros like Cyril, Alois and Shamir have all been generally positive and reflected the individuals of the Church well. On top of that, Rhea has granted Byleth a great deal of trust and autonomy, to the extent that I could see Byleth adopting a sense of duty to Rhea in this moment.

On the other hand, by reaching this choice, Byleth has had the C and C+ conversations with Edelgard, and has seen Edelgard’s coronation as emperor. I’m going to save the thoughts on such motivations for Crimson Flower, where Edelgard is still in the unit to have character progression. For now, though, it’s enough to say that Byleth is aware of why Edelgard wants to fight this war and what the end goal of the fight is.

Byleth also knows that Edelgard fought against TWSD the last few months, even going so far as to directly challenge Solon after he uses the Forbidden Spell of Zahras. Admittedly, this could have been a ploy, but it would have to be pretty elaborate for an 18-year-old almost-emperor.

Moreover, the first part of the story builds up a lot of mistrust in the Church. Through the missions the Eagles take, through Jeralt’s own words, through Jeralt’s diary, and even through Sothis’s final conversations with Byleth. There is just as much reason to think the Church is not executing Edelgard in good faith, especially given how quick the decision was.

The bottom line of all this is that Byleth is ultimately forced to take a leap of faith in this decision. The Church of Seiros and Rhea have their own authority, the compliments of the faithful, and Byleth’s sense of duty. Edelgard has the words she said and her actions to offer as proof.

And in Silver Snow, that's not enough to protect her student. In Silver Snow, Byleth chooses the sense of duty and puts faith that the Church really is acting right.


The game hammers in almost immediately that your choice may have been the wrong one. The first cutscene after Edelgard leaves shows Seteth and Rhea discussing what has happened to Byleth, and Rhea makes it clear that she does not see you as Byleth; she sees you as Sothis.

Rhea explains that Byleth's body is a vessel for Sothis. When she had Byleth sit on the throne, the hope was that Sothis's consciousness would take over, and Sothis would walk the world again.

The idea that Byleth was part of an elaborate two-decade ritual in human sacrifice is actually quite disappointing if you felt like the Church of Seiros might still be a force for good on the continent. To this point, many of the problems experienced in White Clouds could have been attributed to TWSD just as much, and so there was a semblance of justification that the Church was exercising their best judgment in trying to suppress a possible war.

This moment, however, is a turning point in that. This is an unquestionable violation of human ethics that is motivated for entirely self-centered reasons. You don't experiment on babies. You don't trade an innocent's life for the chance of reviving the dead. This is ancient Egyptian/Greek/Roman/[ insert your favorite ancient culture here] sacrifice nonsense and reeks of the Dark Ages.

These realizations only get worse as you play through other stories and learn about the Church's suppression-heavy history; but for the Eagle route, right now the information you get here serves as your red flag.

It's a horrible realization that the only reasons Byleth doesn't die in Part 1 was A) because she cut her own path (advice only Sothis and Edelgard ever gave) and pursued Kronya into a trap, and B) because Sothis LIKED Byleth and gave up her agency so Byleth could be in charge of their fused power.

And the fact that Flayn comes in the scene does not help matters. I'll be getting into Seteth and Flayn in a moment, but this scene is a major issue.

All of this information is true in the Lion and Deer routes as well (the scene plays out identically), but this scene hits differently when you've been in the Eagle house and been hearing so much about how Crest-based society has damaged the lives of students.

The Deer had a few people complaining, but their focuses were more on family issues (Marianne's stepdad, Raph and Ignatz's family needs, Hilda's brother, Lorenz's legacy). Claude, Lysithea and Leonie were really the only three who expressed outright frustration with the Church, Crests and nobility system, respectively.

The Lions would express concerns from time to time, but frequently those doubts were pushed down by a need to fulfill a duty to their Kingdom or their Church.

But with the Eagles? Not only have Edelgard and Hubert witnessed great horrors, but Dorothea has been put through an awful existence because of nobility's treatment of the commoner class. High expectations and low patience have given Bernadetta a complex; Petra is a vassal because of mistrust in foreigners. Even Caspar and Linhardt have experienced undue pressure to succeed because of their positions within their family (even if it's unobtrusive to Caspar's life and Linhardt rejects the notion outright).

The only one in the group who seems to be actively okay with the current system is Ferdinand, but even then it has not been healthy for him. He defines himself only by noble status and his eventual role in trying to best Edelgard. Whether he joins the Eagles and loses to her in an outright duel, or whether he joins with the Church and loses his status, Ferdinand post-timeskip is a man trying to find purpose in a world that is rejecting his ideology.

It's fitting that the Eagles would all have strong opinions on Crests, nobility and the Church because they are the ones who, like Byleth, will have to make a choice over who to support. And it makes the scene here so heartbreaking. These students (aside from Ferdie) are siding with the idea of maintaining the system that has consistently screwed them over, all because of their faith in Byleth. Byleth, in turn, is taking a leap of faith on the Church.

And in this scene, we find out Byleth was leaping right into danger all along.

"Put to rest what you thought of me while I clean this slate"

One bit of gameplay I didn't realize was there (I played Silver Snow in casual mode) is that any of the core Eagles who are beaten in Ch. 12 will end up recruited to the Empire instead of killed.

I bring this up because the whole transition from White Clouds to Silver Snow betray the image of Edelgard in the main villain role for this route. She commits to too many acts of mercy to work as an ultimate evil, which is why I see her fall two chapters before the end as more sensible in this route.

When the five years have completed, the reunion with Edelgard still happens despite being on opposite sides. I have thoughts on this.

There is something deeply sad about the idea that Edelgard still kept her word and met up for the reunion, in spite of the war. If any of the Eagles were defeated, she'll note that there are members of the house who have joined her.

But you do not get to make the choice. Much like the Flame Emperor scene, it's clear Edelgard has already accepted the rejection. Why she'd return anyway is likely either to satiate the childish desire to see the people she loved one more time, or out of a sense of guilt and need to punish herself with rejection.

The Edelgard in this scene is more broken than any of the other non-CF Edelgards. Lion Edelgard has succumbed to the darkness entirely, forcing her goals to succeed because she knows nothing else. Deer Edelgard is in denial, trying her best to hide whatever feelings she had for Byleth, which is why the feelings never reveal themselves until her death scene. Silver Snow Edelgard is someone who had love and lost it. She believes her path itself is what makes her unlovable, and puts on a front to try to suppress her heartbreak.

"The Role of Edelgard and Hubert will now be played by..."

After Edelgard leaves, Seteth and Flayn step in to fill the positions of house leader and second-in-command.

Seteth and Flayn show up at the monastery because, as Flayn explains, she left something at the Holy Mausoleum that she had to get back. I'd note this is the day of the reunion and she wasn't in the Holy Mausoleum mission five years prior, so I believe she was making this up as an excuse to go see everyone.

Something about Flayn that has always concerned me is how much she knows exactly. She's clearly sheltered and naive about a lot of the world, but she also has the ability to navigate through numerous conversations and end up with exactly what she wants. The only time, so far as I can tell, that someone actually puts her in a position where she doesn't know how to respond is Linhardt.

It's fascinating to see someone who has lived such a long life but has gained so little life experience. From a book-learning perspective, she can speak with almost professorial precision, but then her main goal in life right now is to have friends and learn how to do basic everyday functions in the world. (Remember, the "I even haggle" boast?)

Because of this dichotomy, it's hard for me to get a handle on who this character is. I definitely see her as a kind-hearted idealist who just wants the fighting to stop, but she also has a serious blind spot when it comes to dishonesty.

Her entire support with Claude was like a "Spy vs. Spy" comic where each one tries to catch the other. She's so uncomfortable around Linhardt because he has the game's best poker face and she can't actually tell what he knows. So she sticks to the lies and hopes she doesn't back herself into a corner.

Most uncomfortable, though, is her tenuous relationship with honesty when talking to Byleth. In Ch. 12, when Seteth and Rhea is talking about Byleth being a vessel, she overhears at least some of it. It's unclear how much she fully grasps, but she goes along with their plan to support Byleth without ever telling Byleth.

As a matter of fact, she has the chance to come forward about what was discussed in the A-support and claims she doesn't know what's going on. This may be true, but it also could be a situation where she was asked point-blank about this situation and willingly withholds information.

And despite wanting romance, she continues to withhold information to her possible partners. In post-game epilogues, Flayn continues lying to Claude to the very end. Ignatz seems to never figure it out despite her giving away more about her life to him than anyone else. And again, Byleth and Flayn's S-support conversation shows her correct herself to make herself sound younger. ("No one's ever... well, of course they haven't...")

While my feelings on Flayn are complex and tough to decipher, Seteth has no such issue. Seteth is an extension of the 'taking devotion WAY too far' dynamic that is reflected in Rhea as well. Seteth does everything in his power to protect Flayn and genuinely cares for her. I understand his desire to help keep his daughter safe in every way imaginable.

That said, he has kept Flayn removed from people for ages, to the point that it seems to have stunted her growth as a person. She's more than old enough to be able to have agency over her life, and yet she's held back, including in her unpaired ending.

He's extended this protection to justify all of the church's crimes, including being directly responsible for the suppression of history and information that could limit the absolute authority of the Church of Seiros. Seteth admits in his C-support with Byleth that he basically has maintained all of the day-to-day affairs of the Church for a minimum of two decades. While Rhea has more than done her part in messing up Fodlan, Seteth has had his own direct hand in it for 20 years at minimum - and that's assuming he doesn't fill the role periodically then disappear through the ages.

I found his writing of children's fables endearing, at least until I realized that they are all written under the false history that the Church passes off as real. What should be a fun fanfiction will likely be treated as legitimate history, and in that sense it's kind of horrifying.

This view comes to a head when viewing Ingrid's support through it. In that chain, she tells him about the societal pressures she faces to marry, and while he does say that she should not have to do that and offers support, he doesn't offer anything concrete. Most notably, he doesn't go and search the library of documents he's suppressed, where he could grab the letter that explains how House Galatea was created because a male noble couldn't force a House Riegan noble to marry him. That might have been some useful information when Ingrid considers how much loyalty she should hold to her duties as a daughter.

But no, the only real help he can give aside from the same maxims everyone else gives is to marry her. Admittedly, neither is unhappy with this setup, but I feel like the 'complete trust' he feels toward her would be one-sided if she knew how much of her history was hidden from her as a direct result of Seteth's suppression of information.

As for his role in this story, he's the one who directs Byleth like an attack dog. Very little focus is put toward what Byleth wants and he'll even chastise Byleth for wanting to exercise any type of mercy toward the Adrestian Empire.

To be clear: This is Seteth's plan for how the war will go. Byleth is in the role of mercenary, following orders to please the person who asked for assistance.

Silver Snow vs. Verdant Wind - "I'VE BECOME SO NUMB"

The events of Silver Snow play out almost identically to Verdant Wind with a few exceptions. Silver Snow is one chapter shorter, but it's not because the actual number of battles decreased; the second fight at Gronder Field happens off-screen here because the Church of Seiros has no practical reason to be there for the fight. Because of this, Claude and Dimitri are removed from play without ever actually entering the story.

Claude's only meaningful role in Silver Snow.
Claude is only seen through quotes in one of his letters to the Knights of Seiros, and Dimitri is only seen through a hallucination that Byleth has following his death. And while it's never made clear whether Claude dies or simply flees, Dedue's return to battle in the Enbarr fight proves Dimitri's death played out identically to the one in VW.

(Note: A little peak behind the curtain here - I am writing the Silver Snow blog after the Verdant Wind blog, so that may inform the format for this section.)

The aspect of Silver Snow that I find most notable compared to Verdant Wind is that there is so much less humor and levity in SS. The big, over-the-top personalities of the Deer combined well with their utter removal from the main conflict to create a ragtag unit of effective, funny people.

Talking to Dimitri's ghost.

In SS, the humor from the Eagles is muted, likely because they couldn't simply return home like the Deer did, and it led to them taking the conflict more personally. The church figures don't really give much in the way of boisterous moments.

Probably the most notable distinction can be seen in the Fort Merceus battle. The way the soldiers sneak in by posing as allies is the same, but it's explained matter-of-factly by Seteth as being "Byleth's idea" with no scene in place where the plan occurs. In VW, Claude hints at it at the start of the chapter, and there are jokes about him dressing as Edelgard peppered throughout.

Here are some quick hits on this story from Chapter 14 until they reach Enbarr:

Ch. 14: Flayn, in her naivete about Fodlan's overall functions, asks why Edelgard would even start a war. Depending on whether you got through the scenes with Edelgard's motivations or not, you can attempt to explain, but Seteth frames it as a way to upset the social order, as to him it's something worth protecting. And thus, Flayn walks away with a minimal, incomplete understanding of the issue at hand.

It does make me question, though, whether Flayn would have been willing to help Edelgard had she been more forthcoming on her issues with Fodlan. I doubt Flayn would be willing to actively fight the Church of Seiros, but I could see her acting as an advocate of Edelgard's cause and she might even seek neutrality in the conflict in an attempt to bring them to the negotiating table.

(Yes, I am aware that it's an unlikely scenario that Edelgard would entrust a literal descendant of the Goddess and relative of Seteth with information that might indicate a war is looming, but it's being explored a bit in an excellent fanfiction on AO3, titled "The Emperor and the Goddess." It's a side timeline, and the explanation hasn't been written yet, but there's some good stuff present.)

Ch. 15: The fight in Aileil is notable because you can recruit Ashe back into your house. If you'd already had him in your house, he leaves after the time skip, so this is a chance to reassemble your unit.

Also, oddly, Ferdinand is the only person in any route to note that there are theories that the Goddess was blamed for the Valley of Torment's condition. This implies that the Empire's understanding of Fodlan's true history runs deeper than even the office of the Emperor. This would also help explain the high degree of mistrust in the church that pervades through the Empire. At least a few have to have been able to put together that the Church sided with protecting their own lies when the Kingdom challenged them.

Ch. 16: The fight on the Great Bridge is your chance to recruit Lorenz back into your house, for similar reasons to Ashe. It's worth noting that SS is the only route with multiple conditional recruit-back chances. VW only has Ashe and AM only has Lorenz.

Ch. 17: This is the Fort Merceus fight (the Blood of Eagle and Lion fight happens off-screen at the start of the month), and as I had said, the humor of this scene and the epic nature of the Almayrans coming in to help is lost here. The battle feels soulless when compared to the VW version. The dubstep explosion is still pretty cool-looking, though.

Enbarr: "Erase myself and let go of what I've done"

The two battles in Enbarr reek more of tragedy than they do a triumphant victory. Unlike other routes where Edelgard and Hubert are just side characters you can't interact with, here, they are still your students. They are characters you built up personally and used in battle.

While the Death Knight is far from a tragic character based on your interactions, the idea that you can't win the city fight without wiping out Hubert is a sad moment. Unless you fight in the Petra paralogue, this is the first interaction Byleth has with Hubert in the entire second phase. The same can be said for any character that is lost in the Ch. 12 battle and gets recruited to join Edelgard.

Byleth asks if there is a way to walk the same path as Edelgard before the fight in the palace, but Seteth shuts it down immediately. At this point, the other nations are out of the picture, so it may have been possible for the Church to negotiate a partnership if they disbanded the Knights of Seiros and ceased their interference in the affairs of sovereign nations, but such a suggestion won't be coming from Seteth.

The entire final fight in the palace is one of great sadness. Where with Verdant Wind it's more fascinating that Edelgard still had connections with Byleth, in this scenario, it's very obvious why Edelgard cares for Byleth. The idea that she gets to die at the hands of Byleth may be one of the only consolations her mind has received in a long time.

Byleth's character experiences a major loss too. This is the person whose life being saved awakened Sothis. Edelgard is the person who, aside from Jeralt and Sothis, spent the most time with Byleth during that year. So much of Byleth's identity as a character is destroyed through this. Ironically, Sothis was lost because Byleth disregarded directions and acted recklessly; Edelgard was lost because Byleth didn't push back on directions and followed orders.

The hope in all of these choices is that protecting Rhea is the right decision - that upholding the Church and following these directions will lead to a better Fodlan than the one Edelgard sought to create. It is a lingering hope that taking the route that wipes out ALL THREE of the students you met that night in Remire will somehow lead to a good outcome.

"I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, IT DOESN'T EVEN MATTER"

The fight in Shambhala is identical to the one in Verdant Wind. Fight in the weird underground chamber with the blaring house music. Beat Solon. Watch Rhea stop the Javelins of Light. The only difference is that Nemesis fails to revive.

I have a couple theories as to why he fails to return this time. They ultimately revolve around the idea that the overall strength of spirit in Shambhala was greater in Verdant Wind. This could be because Claude and the Deer have more Crests from the Ten Elites. It could be because Edelgard's lack of house members in her army forced her to use more TWSD members, which meant a weaker TWSD membership in Shambhala at the time of battle.

Regardless of what the reason is, Rhea is once again very weak and the push is made to give the status of Archbishop to Byleth.

For the first time all route, the wants of Byleth are actually considered, and the last month of exploration is dedicated to Byleth talking to everyone about the possible decision.

Unfortunately, much like the rest of the route, the choice is taken away. Rhea loses control of her power and becomes a berserk version of The White One (in English, the Immaculate One). All the Knights who underwent a ritual involving her blood also became white beasts.

And so the final fight of the game, after sacrificing everything to save Rhea, is to fight and kill her, along with all her most loyal knights.

Only adding to the emotions is the fact that right before she lost her mind, Rhea admitted that Byleth was the 13th attempt at creating a vessel, and that Rhea actually was STILL HOPING that Sothis would replace her someday.

And in the end, when Byleth actually takes down Rhea, her final words to Byleth are "Mother, you're here," which could be the result of a hallucination, but probably is one final sign that Rhea never saw Byleth as anything but a Sothis stand-in.

If there was any question that Byleth's decision to join with the Church of Seiros was meant to be spat back at the player as the wrong choice, this final chapter is it. Every aspect of this fight just piles on more and more consequences to the choice back in Chapter 11.

This chapter was meant to hurt - from killing the person you were meant to save, to realizing how little you were thought of, to losing the option to simply leave and go in peace - and it's the kind of conclusion that leaves an observer feeling hollow inside. As all great tragedies should.

"I start again, and whatever pain may come ..."

The final S-support was one that I felt really mattered thematically, and it's the reason I believe that female Byleth is more canonical than the male version. S-supporting the house leader is something that only female Byleth is capable of doing, so choosing the male version gives you a less complete understanding of Seteth, Dimitri and Claude as characters

In this case, Seteth drops some major truth bombs on the life that has been made for you. The first appears to be that Seteth intends for you to rule in a manner similar to Rhea, in that moments of repose and instances where you take care of your mental health will be at a premium. Given that in this route you do not show any particular acumen for being a political/religious leader, I can already see this course of action eventually backfiring on everyone involved.

Seteth does seem to have his heart in a good place, but he's also pushy to the point that his will ultimately will be the one that is followed. This was already evident in the route itself where he seems to be the one issuing all the directives. They hint that Byleth is offering ideas, but they are almost never seen - the Fort Merceus plan being the most notable example.

The other, more uncomfortable truth comes out in his vows. He says, "For whatever centuries may yet be ours, I will always remain by your side."

Centuries? I know he's definitely living for centuries more, but Byleth was born human. Does the power given to Byleth grant Sothis's immortality/extended life as well. That's a piece of information that probably should have been given more than a throwaway mention in a random character's marriage vows.

I know Sothis only made the move as a last resort, but that is one heck of a detail that probably deserved a spot in the discussion. Maybe since Byleth was receiving the power of a goddess, everyone just kind of assumed it affected the lifespan? Or maybe this is all just wishful thinking on Seteth's part? Either way, it took me by surprise.

It definitely makes your role as Archbishop/divine-monarch have a more permanent feel to it.

Briefly, I do want to make note of Flayn's S-support in case male Byleth was chosen. She expresses confusion about your gender (male goddess?) and then awkwardly fumbles through the conversation until she realizes you are proposing. She refuses to tell you who she actually is, double-checks that you aren't actually Sothis (and therefore, her great-grandmother) and then has an admittedly sweet exchange. This sequence is a wild ride but it's honestly not very impactful to the overall story.

"I had to fall to lose it all, but in the end IT DOESN'T EVEN MATTER!"

You may have noticed by this point that all but one of my subheads have been Linkin Park lyrics, and that is because the songs "In the End," "Numb" and "What I've Done" came up frequently when trying to gather my thoughts on the futility feeling that exudes from every part of Silver Snow's tragic story.

If Silver Snow had a one-word tagline to describe itself, it would be "fatalism."

The events of Silver Snow feel like Byleth is being guided from one point to the next. Whatever sense of agency existed in part 1, when Sothis was imploring you to cut your own path and think more critically/broadly, vanishes here as Seteth directs you from battle to battle.

The ultimate tie to this theme is Byleth's nickname in the 'Where are they now?' segment.

Deer route focused on Claude, his goals, and Byleth's role in said goals, thus the nickname for Byleth reflected their role in the story - "The Ruler of Dawn." Lion route focused on Dimitri and his morality becoming the rule of the land, thus Byleth's role in reinforcing his rule led to the nickname "The Guardian of Order."

Byleth's nickname in Silver Snow is the "Wandering Flame," a powerful force of destruction that goes wherever it is directed to go. Be it by the wind or via a path humans made for it, the flame itself holds no agency over itself. And yet it looks wild and uncontrollable to an outsider.

In Silver Snow, Byleth's life purpose is whatever Fodlan needs Byleth to be in a given moment. Frequently, protagonists with little to no voice acting/dialogue in Nintendo games are treated as vectors for the players, filling whatever character role the player wants them to fill.

Silver Snow is the route that takes the 'character' out of Byleth.