(Header image sticker can be bought here)
So I’m sitting there, minding my own business, starting Fire Emblem: Three Houses about three months later than everyone else because I had to promise someone else I wouldn’t start until finishing a long-procrastinated-on novel manuscript. Game’s pretty good so far, way too few battles for my liking, but I’m still really enjoying the characters and the potential of all the systems. The story’s kinda dumb and I’m mad that I’m a blank slate self-insert character, but hey, it’s still Fire Emblem.
Then I see her.
Besides being cute waifu material, this character immediately caught my eye, earned my permanent attention, because of her main character quirk—she’s a foreigner and can’t really speak the language. She has broken Japanese, just like me! She’s constantly frustrated by her inability to communicate her thoughts properly, just like me! She is an irresistibly pretty hunk that gets lots of fanart, just like me!
Somewhat arbitrarily based on this instant appeal, I decided that I would recruit Petra into my party at all costs, gearing my entire playthrough towards having her join me and become my most important character.
Then I got my C-Support with her…
Petra: Is that really what you are thinking? Or maybe you have curiosity about the mark on my face?
Byleth: The mark?
Petra: You are already knowing that I am from Brigid. This is a mark from Brigid. It is a prayer to the forest spirits. […] I have more marks on my arms and back. They are prayers for my family’s health and triumph. Are you wanting to see them?
Byleth: I would love to.
Petra: That gives me happiness. I will be showing them to you soon.The C-support conversation with Petra
This… this was some spicy stuff, and still just the first conversation with her.
It was clear that I was going to marry Petra as well, no matter the cost. I recruited her, raised her support to A in no time, and even made her the team Dancer so that she would legitimately be the most helpful unit in the entire game.
See, unlike the past couple Fire Emblem games, there are no offspring or time travel gimmicks involved, so romance and marriage in Three Houses is irrelevant beyond gaining support bonuses. Therefore, there are no kinda creepy fantasy breeding mechanics to interfere—I, the self-insert protagonist, could finally marry a character I wanted to marry rather than wonder who’s the best to marry for stat reasons!
It was about thirty hours into the game when I came upon the sudden realization, though…
Petra was at an A support–
But there was no S support listed.
For some reason, for so many hours of play, it had never even occurred to me that the S rank wasn’t even there, or that you could just up and see all of the S rank romance options ahead of time in the menus (more about Three Houses’s spoiler-heavy, clunky game design choices at a later date).
You see, in my months avoiding the news on Fire Emblem while I waited to play it on my own, I had missed the controversy over its LGBT representation. While gay male options for the main character are much more limited, it turns out that gay female options are also quite lacking.
And this character who I just assumed was gay or bisexual turned out to apparently be a straight the entire time. Even with some pretty damn romantic-sounding support conversations, we were just going to end up being special friends or whatever. By this point, I had already invested so much time in making her my best unit that there was no turning back from there. But the problem was that none of the actual WLW character options appealed to me at all!
What a bummer, right? I will admit, I was legitimately upset by this development. Like, super energized and ready to bombard social media with frenzied posts and fevered petitions to get Petra patched in as a gay romance option. It’s not fair that the game basically gay-baited me into thinking Petra was totally into me when it turns out that she was never an option.
I got over it later. Mostly. But in that annoyance I came to the conclusion that this anger I felt is actually a very good sign for the state of pop culture.
Think of it– I’m getting angry over a video game for not including enough LGBT romance options, when just six years ago, Fire Emblem Awakening did not have even one? Ten years ago, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn had an LGBT protagonist in Ike (trust me on this one, or read this absurdly long essay if you are not convinced) and one lesbian side character, but those were hidden in implication and secret endings.
Mass Effect was something of a trailblazer when it had one single lesbian romance option, and Mass Effect 3 was touted as revolutionary when it added a gay romance option as well. That was 2007 and 2012.
One of the first major transgender characters in a TV show was 2013 with Orange is the New Black. The first openly gay cartoon characters weren’t until 2014 with Steven Universe.
It’s absurd how quickly everything has moved since these milestones!
Five years after gay marriage was legalized, and I’m upset not that there are awful stereotypical LGBT characters, nor that there is a distinct lack of them, but because one specific character is straight? I can’t believe we’ve reached that point already. It’s incredible!
We are now at a stage in LGBT representation where the mere existence of a gay character isn’t enough. “Throwing a bone” will elicit more shrugs than praise, and the only way to satisfy people is to go above and beyond. Nintendo failed miserably with its very controversial gay options in Fire Emblem Fates, but even with improvement in Three Houses, it’s still not enough, as chronicled in this nice article on The Verge. It’s not enough, and that’s a good thing for pop culture in general.
The me of 2013 was absolutely delighted to unlock the secret deep within Animal Crossing New Leaf to let you receive all haircuts regardless of gender. The me of 2019 had absolutely no reaction to the news that Cyberpunk 2077 was eliminating gender as an option from their character customization system. I think that really says something.
And that something is that Three Houses gets no positive marks from me for including stuff that ought to have been there, explicitly, for many games already. Props to the Fire Emblem developers for sneaking in LGBT elements in their games at a time where that was still an extremely controversial thing, but they have not caught up to the times enough for me to appreciate it.
We need more LGBT romance in these games. Adding more bisexual characters where the dialogue is mostly the same is NOT what I mean, either. Why in all of Three Houses are there no exclusively gay or lesbian characters? We don’t want video games with a self-insert or blank slate main character to be able to romance every single character no matter their gender; that takes away from the whole point of queer relationships. Representation is more than marking off check boxes, and surely Nintendo will learn this someday. They’ll have to, because there’s no chance the next Fire Emblem will be able to coast by with the same stuff Three Houses got away with.
Also, the worst part about all this…
It turns out that Petra has an explicitly romantic ending with another female character, even though your female self-insert character cannot marry her. What the hell is this, Nintendo?!
Let me marry Petra!!!!