Places overflowing with memories — blending together to mask the imperfection of remembrance. It is not always loss that causes grief. What could have been can be its source instead: Regrets and paths not taken, missed opportunities that will never return. All too often, this is the most tortured face of nostalgia.
These ruined halls entomb
When I started my very first playthrough of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it was in blissful ignorance. Somehow, I had avoided most major spoilers — and my journey as the head teacher of the Blue Lions began under the tacit assumption that everybody at the monastery would continue to march forward as a united front until the very end. In my mind, selecting one house over the others was tantamount to selecting the cast of students who would grow closest to me while all others would remain nearby as friends and allies. I never expected that I would eventually be forced to face many of them on the battlefield.
Of course I was certain that the initial (relative) peace was not meant to last. The very nature of the videogame I was playing negated this possibility from the start. Yet, as I grew fonder of the students from all houses, a wishful part of me was longing for a happy ending without omissions. Little did I know that in the very moment I had decided which house to lead, I had already pronounced death sentences to be carried out five years later.
Three Houses is unafraid to hurt, unafraid to take away everything from some of its characters, leaving them with nothing but an empty ‘what if’: What if things had been different…? The shift in tone at the beginning of the second part captures this well and marks one of the most sobering moments. Gone are the occasionally playful heroics, replaced with lines spoken by weary returnees, so much more subdued and almost hushed — their demeanor contorted by the harsh reality of war.
And I appreciate this pain. Not because I do not want everybody to be happy; but because I understand that my wish is unfulfillable. The fallout, the violent confrontation, all of it had been inevitable. There might be no middle ground in an ideological struggle such as this, no matter how wildly my mind races to find solutions that could work for all parties involved. Still, I am drawn to this melancholy — relieved, as my tears dry, that just like in real life there is no magic trick that heals all heartache and erases all pain.
What if we had been born into a different time? What if we had managed to understand each other? These questions ring hollow now. Three Houses does not pretend that there is an inherent justice in life which will eventually prevail. And the stories it tells feel real precisely because they inflict sorrow and leave me with questions without answers.
I fear the edge of dawn,
Knowing time betrays.
Maybe in the end there is no way around this realization. As everything fades eventually, so too will the pain and later still the memory of the pain that haunts the halls of a fictional monastery as it haunts all places everywhere.
Forgetting travels at an unremitting speed. Moments of melancholy grant temporary mementos.