Whenever you're playing a Fire Emblem game, it always comes with one guarantee: you will fall in love with one of the many characters in the supporting line-up. What you can't always predict, though, is how or why you will. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (opens in new tab) is arguably the epitome Fire Emblem experience in this respect. You have to pick one of the three houses of students to align yourself with early on, and this decision puts you in close quarters with a select group from the get-go.
The role of being a teacher also adds a different dimension to the relationship you form; it makes you feel more responsible for those you fight alongside than ever before. They're your pupils. Your team. Your friends. You face every step of your journey with them at your side in some capacity. Sure, the stakes have always been high in Fire Emblem, but as a mentor and guide, your role in their lives is made to feel a bit more personal.
Given my history with the series, I was already fully prepared to have my heart stolen by any number of the characters in Three Houses. I, like many others, was making heart eyes at Claude before I even knew too much about him. But one thing I could never have anticipated was just how attached I would become to a certain blue-haired member of the Golden Deer house, and it was all thanks to one of the more superficial new features in the game.
Warning: Some light story spoilers lie ahead.
The gift of giving
Now I'll be honest here, the idea of returning lost items to their original owner and gift giving in the world of Fire Emblem didn’t really appeal to me at first. In many respects, giving presents to make people like you in games is one of the more hollow ways of improving relationships. The concept has been a mainstay feature in simulation games like Harvest Moon where you give flowers or produce you’ve grown to the locals in the hopes of making friends, or kicking off your love life. It's a pretty lighthearted way to form a bond. The same goes for Stardew Valley; I've lost count of the amount of time I've spent hovering outside Sebastian's room with a plate of Sashimi, or the hours I’ve watched pass me by as I float around all of Penny's usual haunts to give her a melon.
Regardless of how necessary giving gifts really is in Three Houses, it brought with it the addition of a Notes tab for each character on your roster. One of the purposes of this page is to list the interests, likes and dislikes of all the characters so you can work out what gifts or lost items to give them. Some are run of the mill, like loving food or disliking insects, and others are a little more humorous, like disliking ghosts. Then there are the ones peppered throughout these lists that catch you completely off guard because of how darkly real they are. Sad, even.
During the early hours of my first playthrough, when I was flicking through the notes of my beloved Golden Deer students (trying to work out who would like a hunk of blue cheese I’d questionably found in the marketplace), I saw Marianne’s page. I already had a soft spot for her because of her gentle, nervous demeanour. Under her dislikes the first thing you can see is ‘herself.’ I found my eyes sticking onto the word as though I could see myself reflected in every letter. Nothing quite prepared me for just how much that one simple word would draw me to her. Now, all I wanted to do was understand what caused Marianne's self-loathing, and how, in my role as a teacher, I could help.
Marianne's low self-esteem is often reflected in the way she acts around other people. Timid and quick to think she's at fault or to blame for any kind of blunder, especially during interactions with other members of the house, the young Alliance noble lacks any sort of confidence in herself or her own abilities. As I tried to form a bond with her, I also focused on getting her to bond with every member of the house. I felt like I was on a mission to surround Marianne with people who would offer her their acceptance and understanding.
After developing bonds on the battlefield, students support rating will rise in rank. Each time it increases, you’ll be able to watch a support conversation that sheds more light on the characters backstories and how their relationships develop. Each and every conversation with Marianne brought me closer to her. Like pieces of a puzzle forming to give me the whole picture, I felt a renewed sense of purpose diving into the game each day, and it wasn’t lost on me that I was so desperate to help this fictional character because I saw of part of myself in her.
Want to read the official GamesRadar verdict on one of the best Switch games of the year? Then you will want to check out our Fire Emblem: Three Houses review (opens in new tab).
As you progress through the story, you'll find out that many of the characters have pretty tragic backstories. Every student has their own burden to bare and overcome. But I just couldn’t stop fixating on Marianne. Through her growing bonds with the Golden Deer students and Byleth, she slowly starts to be more open and accepting of herself, which makes every relationship you try to form with her so fulfilling. More than anyone in the Golden Deer house, seeing Marianne grow as a person and steadily overcome her troubles felt so meaningful, and it’s made all the more impactful because of your role as a teacher – you really feel like your partly responsible for this growth.
Thanks to the time-skip, you get to see how your students have changed and developed. I got such a kick out of seeing all of my house member's new looks, but I could barely contain myself when I set my sights on Marianne. Her eyes looked noticeably brighter, and the hair that once crowded her face – as though she were hiding behind it – was now neatly pushed away. The physical change was so uplifting to see, and I couldn’t wait to find out if Marianne's new appearance was also indicative of inward growth.
On the road to self- acceptance
The answer to the cause of Marianne's low self-esteem was in her dislikes all along. Her crest. In the world of Three Houses, crests are the cause of a lot of contention for a variety of different reasons. Crests are emblematic of a person's lineage and also grant the bearer special powers. The Minor Crest of the Beast belonging to Marianne’s family 'promises contempt to those who bear it.' As such, Marianne believes she’s cursed, and therefore the cause of any calamity that occurs around her. Unworthy of the love and acceptance of others because of the crest she's inherited, Marianne sees herself as nothing but a burden.
When you grow up with a lot of insecurities about yourself, it can be hard to believe anybody could possibly see the good in you. It takes time to change your mindset and open yourself up to the idea that we often don’t see ourselves as others see us. The truth is, Marianne can't see past the crest herself, so she refuses to believe anyone else could either.
As I was chasing the reason behind Marianne's self-loathing, I lost sight of why it was truly so important to me. Growing up, someone much older and wiser than me once said that liking and fully accepting yourself can take a lifetime, and it's one of the hardest things to do. I feel like I'm on a continuous journey to achieve this, and somehow I clung onto Marianne's story as a way of taking another step towards that goal. Over the course of in-game months and years, Marianne's progression was really encouraging to see, and I felt like I'd actively had to part to play in it.
Little by little, Marianne starts to make strides towards accepting the friendship and support of others, as well as gain a newfound respect for the life she leads and for herself as a person. Marianne's story is a lot darker and sadder than my own, but helping her move forward and start believing in herself came along just when I needed it the most. I never expected any of this to happen when I fell into the world of Three Houses, but it was the best kind of surprise. For me, Marianne's story will act as a constant reminder that everyone is worthy of love and acceptance, and that includes me too.