Fire Emblem began the 2010s as the dark horse of the tactics-RPG world—a franchise that was on the edge of destruction due to lackluster sales and popularity. Fire Emblem ended the 2010s in the healthiest position the franchise has ever been, standing confidently in the upper echelons of Nintendo's first-party games.
Its success has been fueled in large part by Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which had the best launch in series history when it arrived this time last year. Hardly anyone went in expecting Fire Emblem: Three Houses to be such a hit, least of all me. I was a total newcomer to the series when I was assigned Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and I had hardly any idea what to expect. On the face of it, it looked like a tactics game with a blend of Persona. I love Persona, but I absolutely wasn't convinced by Three Houses because of its tactical elements.
Basically, I'm the sort of person that gets their entire XCOM squad killed in the tutorial mission, so the idea of befriending anime students and then sending them to their demise didn't exactly appeal to me. Nevertheless, I got handed this 200-hour-long game with multiple pathways and branching narratives, and I subsequently let myself get utterly lost in Three Houses for a solid month. I went in as a skeptic, and I emerged singing its praises.
I still remember the opening weekend of Fire Emblem: Three Houses's launch. I hung around the franchise's subreddit all weekend, desperate to engage with anyone about the game after spending a month playing it in isolation. One by one, people began flooding in with declarations of love for the titular house that they'd chosen and its leader: Dimitri and the Blue Lions, Claude and the Golden Deer, and Edelgard and the Black Eagles.
What began as a trickle of people turned into a waterfall, and before long the subreddit was swamped in people uncovering their favorite characters. I seem to remember Raphael of the Golden Deer being one popular choice, as well as Bernadetta of the Black Eagles and Dedue of the Blue Lions. Each stood out for lovely reasons: Raphael is built like a house but gently cares for everyone around him, Bernadetta is a social recluse relying on you to help her see the outside world, and Dedue lives to serve his master Dimitri with near-doting affection.
The love for particular characters gave the artists in Fire Emblem's community an opportunity to hone their talents. There was a near-instant outpouring of amazing artwork, and it wasn't just limited to the leading characters like Byleth and Edelgard (although there was a lot of Byleth and Edelgard art). Artwork featuring popular characters like Lysithea, Bernadetta, Felix, and Anna sprang up everywhereThere was even artwork featuring the stoic Gatekeeper, a minor side character who somehow became a fan-favorite.
Even in a 200-hour game with branching pathways and hordes of lovable characters, though, the community is bound to taper off somewhat, especially in the wake of such a monumental launch. But around eight months after Three Houses launched, the Cindered Shadows DLC arrived, the first and only major story expansion for the game. The introduction of the fourth Ashen Wolves house reignited the community's adoration for the game, as they focused their artistic attention once again on newcomers like Yuri. I don't think I've ever seen a single piece of add-on content reignite a community's love for a game like the Cindered Shadows did for Three Houses, and it was thanks in part to the accessibility of the DLC: it was presented as a brand new path for the game from the main menu, without any prerequisites needed to access the content.
A year removed from Fire Emblem: Three Houses's launch, what I said about the game's launch window can still be said of it now. Three Houses at large has been a vessel for stunning artwork and cosplay, from hundreds if not thousands of people worldwide. Sure, there might not necessarily be the same volume of creative projects coming from the Fire Emblem community in any given week, but the fantastic artwork and cosplay that's being produced at the current time is from the hardcore community, who are still revisiting the game a year removed from launch.
I was going to have to broach this subject at some point: part of the reason the Fire Emblem: Three Houses community has endured over the year is because they're all very horny. Romance isn't actually a major feature in the game itself—it's relegated to a tiny subsection of the ending sequence, where you partner up with a character of your choosing—but that hasn't stopped the community from putting love front and center.
Case in point: female Byleth and Edelgard. I mentioned that there was a lot of Byleth and Edelgard art, and that's because they are one of the more romantic pairings among the community. Female Byleth and Edelgard's Fan Club has taken the form of cosplay, non-erotic and very erotic artwork, and even entire fan-written mangas fleshing out the story of their romance after the events of Three Houses.
It's all part of what makes Fire Emblem: Three Houses's community special: they're all ridiculously talented at shitposting. Whether it's Byleth and Edelgard's relationship, Flayn's tyrannical demands for fish, or Dimitri being a loveable psychopath, you can bet the Fire Emblem community will take it, meme it up, and hand it back to you in a package that is equal parts memorable and amusing.
Learning to Love Fire Emblem
I owe my love of Three Houses in part to the community. I was so intimidated going into a series that had been running for more years than I'd been alive, but once I got to grips with the tactics-based combat, I learned to love the game for its characters, which is what the community helped me see.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses's launch was, and remains, one of my best memories of being in this industry. It proved that an established community can be open and welcoming to newcomers, especially when you've all got something new to bond over: characters. There wasn't any history or backstory required for any of the loveable cast, so anyone was able to revel in the presence of their favorite characters online without being inevitably chastised for missing out on something. Veterans and newcomers alike were on a level playing field with their adoration for characters.
I learned that the tactics of Fire Emblem was a necessity in seeing its characters bloom: all your hard work in the classroom paid off in spades on the battlefield. The battles are meant to be hard work or else they wouldn't function as pivotal moments in Three Houses at all. I stopped seeing the battles as a burden and instead as a challenge to overcome. I won't say I exactly love the battles and the tactics-based gameplay itself, but I find it a hell of a lot more enjoyable now than I did at launch.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a pivotal moment where a decades-old franchise shone when it mattered the most. Fire Emblem successfully made the jump from niche to a far larger audience on the Nintendo Switch with Three Houses, but it deserves to be remembered as more than just a milestone release for the franchise. Three Houses should be remembered most for its adoring and welcoming fan base, equal parts horny and wholesome. Three Houses presented a palette of colorful and fascinating characters for people to bond over, and the community seized the opportunity with both hands.