During my second run of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I noticed that some aspects of my strategy with the Blue Lions were different compared to my Golden Deer run. This wasn’t only due to the characters having different personal skills or class preferences, but because the spells my magicians had access to were quite different from what I had seen in my first playthrough. While Mercy had a great combination of healing spells, she didn’t seem to learn many useful offensive spells or to have any that granted my team new movement options. Warp and Rescue had been helpful parts of my fighting style in the Golden Deer, so learning to play without them was a shift in perspective during my Blue Lions run.
The observation that different characters had different sets of spells at their disposal, and that those spells could change how you approached the game, started the gears turning in my head. It seemed that every character in the game had differences in their spell lists. Lysithea carried dark magic spells instead of black magic, Annette specialized in wind while Byleth mainly used fire, both Marianne and Mercy had physic but only Mercy had fortify for area healing – if everyone’s spells were different, could it be possible that some characters who were not obviously gifted in magic could actually have good spells in their arsenal? What if a character without a strong proficiency in faith had the warp or rescue spells that I wanted for the Blue Lions? What if someone with a weakness in reason actually had better black magic than someone who was gifted?
I decided in that moment to undertake a Herculean task – I would play through all of the game’s routes with a sole focus on magic, teaching every character to master both reason and faith in order to learn and record their spell lists into a guide. This guide would help players know which characters were truly gifted in magic despite their supposed gift for spellcasting – it would help me identify the diamonds in the rough, the characters who would make good magicians despite not being clearly designated for the role. Because the Black Eagles are allegedly more gifted in magic than the other houses and they were the next house on my list anyway, I decided to start my all-magic journey with them. I’ve now completed that run but things didn’t work out the way I planned. This article is not a magic guide in the way I intended – there are no spell lists here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the challenges that come with teaching magic to characters without the gift for it, and whether or not it’s a worthwhile challenge to undertake.
LESSON ONE: Learning Magic is a Slow Burn
Learning to use a new weapon in Three Houses is a pretty simple task. Pick up a training weapon at the store, hand it to the character, and maybe baby them a little bit if the damage isn’t as high as you wanted it to be at first. The combination of battle experience and instruction time will help the character to quickly gain access to stronger weapons, making it easier for them to deal damage and therefore making it even easier to learn new techniques with those weapons. Once you get your first combat art it becomes even easier, enabling the character to boost their damage with one big attack in order to help them in situations where they can’t quite finish off an enemy.
Magic doesn’t work that way. You can’t just start casting spells – you have to learn them, which means spending instruction time on skills that you won’t actually be able to practice in the field. For reason, you have to wait until level D to learn your first offensive spell. For faith, you learn Heal at D and then Nosferatu at D+, which means you don’t have an offensive white magic spell to practice with until you’ve leveled up faith three times (for most characters without a strength in faith, they’ll start at E). During these early levels where you can’t cast spells, battles are passing by where the character cannot practice and improve, slowing down their progress compared to characters practicing with new weapons.
It also takes longer to get access to more powerful versions of magic. There are no magic combat arts, which means you have no way to juice up your basic wind spell when it isn’t enough to get the job done. Most characters will have to wait until reason level C to learn a spell with more hitting power, and because magic has a certain number of spells per battle rather than durability, you’ll have to carefully weigh when to use those more powerful spells to take out enemies. All of these factors work together to make learning magic take more time than learning weapon skills, and to make it harder on characters who are not naturally gifted.
LESSON TWO: Magic Suffers from Class Restrictions
If you want to master a new weapon while studying a different class, Three Houses gives you the freedom to go for it. If you want to plop a bow on your fighter so she feels more like a warrior from previous FE titles then go for it! You can put a sword on your fortress knight to get that D&D paladin vibe, or put gauntlets on your pegasus knight to punch people in the sky (I’ve never done that last one but I sure want to now). This is helpful because it allows you to train for a class you want to eventually qualify for while remaining in a class that you already have certified. Unfortunately, magic doesn’t work this way because there are so many limitations on which classes can catch spells.
To maintain the ability to cast spells throughout the run, every character in the party will have to choose from a very small selection of classes. Monk is the only eligible beginner class, then there’s mage, dark mage, and priest for intermediate, warlock, bishop, and dark bishop for advanced, and then holy knight, dark knight, mortal savant, and gremory for master classes. Not that dark mage and dark bishop are male-only and gremory is female-only, so you’re going to be dealing with gender restrictions limiting your options even further. Male characters in particular are going to struggle during an all-magic run because you need to be studying lances/riding or swords on the side in order to reach a master class, but that takes focus away from mastering your spells.
Classes are further limited by practical considerations about mastery abilities and spell charges. Classes have less influence on growth rates in Three Houses than a character’s natural affinity. This means that if a character has low magic growths because they are intended to be, say, a warrior, then they’ll continue to have low magic growths even after you change them to a magician. In order to reach a halfway decent level of attack power with such characters, mastering mage in order to get Fiendish Blow is pretty much a requirement. As you reach higher levels, the choice between warlock and bishop will depend a lot on which type of spell you want to practice with. Warlocks double their black spells and bishops double their white spells, but the issue is that you’re only likely to unlock one of those classes when you have already reached A rank in the appropriate magic skill. While some characters do learn additional spells at A+, this is limited to those who are gifted in magic and for most characters you’re done teaching them spells by the time they qualify for certification as a warlock or bishop.
LESSON THREE: Most Characters Aren’t Worth the Effort
The core hypothesis that drove me to create a magic guide for Three Houses was the idea that there were most likely characters without an obvious affinity for magic that would still be valuable to train as magicians. Maybe someone with a weakness in reason or faith would still learn spells that made it worthwhile to invest in them. My hypothesis wasn’t necessarily wrong, but what I discovered is that it is true in so few instances that more often than not, you are better off simply focusing on characters who are known to have gifts for magic.
Many characters that I trained, whether they were weak in magic or neutral towards it, only learned spells up to level C. That means they learned two black spells (generally Fire and Bolganone or Wind and Cutting Gale) and then three white spells (Heal and Nosferatu are guaranteed at D and D+, and the level C spell was generally Recover). While I was pleasantly surprised by the number of units who learn Physic, many of those units had no other reason to teach them magic and so taking the time to learn a ranged healing spell would ultimately not be worthwhile. Characters who don’t have something unique about their spell list can effectively stop learning magic at rank C, and while their black magic spells may vary somewhat they are effectively interchangeable.
I did find some exceptions, of course. Bernadetta actually makes a pretty solid gremory – she has a full spell list for both reason and faith that includes a lot more variation than many other characters. She has high crit with Blizzard, longer range with Thoron, and bonus flying damage with Excalibur. On the faith side, she can perform ranged heals with Physic and gives your team additional mobility with Rescue. Her personal ability offsets her initially low magic and her innate magic growths are decent enough to allow her to keep pace with other magic specialists. Teach her Fiendish Blow and she’ll be blasting baddies with the best of them. It’s also worth noting that for characters who are gifted in one school of magic, they often still get decent spells in the other school even if that school is their weakness. For example, Edelgard has reason as her budding talent but is weak in faith. Despite this, she gets Seraphim at faith rank B, giving her a move that deals special damage to demonic beasts. Manuela is weak in reason despite her strength in faith, but teaching her reason all the way up to level A gets her Bolting, a lightning spell that can hit targets as far as ten spaces away. These sorts of spells are quite rare and even many characters who are gifted in reason don’t learn one.
LESSON FOUR: Making the Best of a Bad Situation
This last section focuses more on my perspective as a writer, so if you’re only here for the Fire Emblem stuff then feel free to duck out. I had all sorts of issues during the course of this run. In addition to the problems described above, I ended up being forced onto a different path than the one I planned to choose for the game, which really threw off my groove for preparing the guide. I wasn’t able to finish my sections on Edelgard or Hubert, and because I only had characters like Cyril and Catherine for the second half of the game they didn’t have enough instruction time to master their skills enough to learn all their spells (or at least for me to see if they could learn more spells). I also found out about halfway through working on the guide that a pretty similar guide already exists on Serenes Forest. Each time I hit a snag in my progress, I put the game down for some time and considered giving up entirely on the project.
In the past, I’ve often ducked out of difficult projects when they stopped going how I wanted them to. I’ve trashed blog posts, prematurely ended playthroughs, and canceled ongoing series because of disappointment that a project didn’t turn out the way I envisioned. I was tempted to do so again with this magic guide, but this time I made an effort to shift my perspective. Not every project will end the way I envision. But letting go of what I thought should happen and instead working with what I had allowed me to still achieve something out of the experience. I still got an article written, and I still finished one of the four routes of Three Houses. I learned information that is valuable when considering how you train magicians in the game and I gained knowledge that will ultimately inform my final review. I even got an idea for my final run of the game, an approach to the Crimson Flower path that I think will keep me excited enough to play this game one more time and put the finishes touches on my Fire Emblem journey.
Powering through like this – learning to shift with the changing circumstances and still come out with a lesson at the end – has shown me that I am capable of more than I thought as a writer and a person. I can get myself through negative circumstances and overcome disappointment. I can find new life in projects that I have stopped being excited about and use that life to maintain a consistent writing schedule. I look back at this experience and I’m proud of what I managed to accomplish. When more important things in my life go wrong and I’m tempted to quit, I can look back at this experience and know that I do have the ability to bounce back. When I’m willing to shift my expectations without giving up entirely, I can accomplish more than I previously thought I was capable of. For that lesson alone, I’m glad I underwent this disastrous attempt at creating a magic guide. I set out to find the hidden magic in my Fire Emblem characters, and instead I found the magic in myself.
“Oh god Ian, when did you get so cheesy?”
And with that, adventurers, I think I’ll take my leave. Thanks for checking out the story of my failed magic guide, and I hope my experience will inspire you to push yourself towards a goal that’s giving you trouble right now. That being said, if your goal is to do an all-magic run of Three Houses…maybe try something else!