While I have written an overall review for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I figured dedicating a piece to my thoughts on each individual route would make that post way too bloated so this seems like the way to go. Obviously as this covers every route I’ve finished, there are going to be major spoilers so don’t read ahead unless you’ve already finished the game or don’t care about being spoiled.
Black Eagles 1 (Crimson Flower):
This is the first route I finished. I enjoyed this route a lot, because Edelgard is a fascinating and complex character. She has a strong personality and ideals, and the route focuses on her pursuing such ideals, with the player character acting as an emotional anchor to keep her grounded and more “human” in her war to free Fódlan from the grips of the Church. What stood out to me about this route was the actual decision to stand down and not kill her, as it’s more or less the only real, consequential decision the player makes in the game (in all other routes the player just follows orders from the house leader and/or the Church). The ending of the route is also very fitting, as it’s the only ending where the player’s character truly becomes “human” (and loses the awful green hair), signifying humanity taking control for itself instead of being controlled by the Church for 1000 years, and also being the one route where he/she doesn’t end up being forced into becoming a ruler of any sort. This route is also interesting because it actually makes Rhea an interactive character rather than an exposition plot device (albeit she’s a villain in this route). The success of Crimson Flower more or less depends on good character writing for Edelgard, as she’s the antagonist in every other route, so there needs to be a compelling reason for the player to actually want to support her, and this route does just that. In the other routes, she’s ruthless and pragmatic and resorts to rather unsavory methods to try and win the war she starts like using crest beasts and having Cornelia incite a coup in Faerghus, which sends Dimitri down the dark path you see in the other routes (elaborated on the most in Azure Moon). In her route, you see a version of Edelgard who’s still an anti-hero, willing to declare war and ally with the big bad (those who slither in the dark, TWSITD) to pursue her goal of tearing down the oppressive crest-centered nobility system that’s been in place for a thousand years, though this time around, she learns to trust and rely on her friends and allies more, which causes her to try and see through the war in a more just manner and minimize the influence TWSITD have over her (and eventually neutralize them after the war). This also makes the battleground after the time skip a lot more even, rather than the one-sided stomp in the other routes that forces you to fight as an underdog because the Empire has all but won in the other routes.
The route did seem like it suffered from time and/or budget issues during development however; it’s the shortest route, the threat of TWSITD (main bad guy organization) is dealt with in the epilogue rather than in-game, and some missing cutscenes that the other routes had. Aside from that, I did have gripes with how the route more or less ignores the consequences of some the actions Edelgard took pre-time-skip while under her Flame Emperor disguise or the actions of TWSITD while she was still allied with them. Sure, she wasn’t the one who killed Jeralt and she heavily disapproved of their actions and helps you avenge him (but prior to the reveal), but I just found it a bit weird that you as the player character never have any discussion with her on it to at least clear up misunderstandings. I could see her talking it over with the other students over the course of the five-year time skip, but the player character never gets that same treatment due to being in a coma for that period of time; you kind of just show up after five years and just take over as general. However, since finishing this route the developers have added Jeritza as a playable unit in this route, and considering he’s the Death Knight I wager some of these are addressed so I’ll give this route another look some point in the future. Overall, this route feels the most narratively tight, albeit a bit cut short from what I’m just going to assume is time/budget restrictions. It is a great route that features an important ideological clash that brings up the moral debate of whether war/violence can ever be justified for a greater cause, and also humanizes Edelgard considering she’s a central antagonist in all other routes.
Post-DLC Edit: Jeritza was an awesome addition. A fantastic unit that shreds on the battlefield as well as a compelling character in his own right, it is great that the Death Knight actually received more deserving characterization after being criminally underused when the game first released. I got the impression there is a lot more to his character after playing through Mercedes’ paralogue in Blue Lions, so being able to finally play as him and interact with him was a real treat that certainly makes Crimson Flower feel more complete as a route. I do wish he had more supports, however he does have a support with one of the Ashen Wolves house members which was pretty cool.
Golden Deer (Verdant Wind):
I wasn’t as big a fan of this route as Crimson Flower since this route is less character-driven; Claude, while an excellent character in his own right, is relatively very grounded and in my opinion doesn’t have as strong chemistry/rapport with the player character (which makes sense given his character). Also compared to Edelgard and Dimitri, he’s relatively morally white so by default his character isn’t going to be as controversial as the other two lords (he isn’t a perfect person by any means, but his flaws are a lot “tamer” than those of the other two). As a consequence the emotional build-up you get in Crimson Flower or Azure Moon isn’t really as present, which can be considered a weak point since I consider this game’s character writing/development to be far stronger than its actual narrative, as there were a couple of times where the plot felt a bit slow (or sometimes didn’t make much sense). Also, with all the talk about Claude being a schemer, you don’t actually see a lot of his scheming on screen (half the time he just peaces out and then comes back with the problem already solved) which is a shame as it doesn’t really show the player why his scheming has the reputation it does. Finally there’s the issue with the ending where Claude essentially makes you the de facto ruler, which kind of seems out of character for him so that ending left me scratching my head a bit (there’s also the issue of making an individual with a personality as interesting as cardboard with absolutely zero political experience whatsoever the ruler of an entire continent).
With that said, Verdant Wind is probably the most important route as far as understanding more of the universe goes, as a big part of the route focuses on you and Claude attempting to get to the bottom of things, the truth behind the Church and the motives/background of TWSITD. In Crimson Flower, TWSITD are relegated to an epilogue note and Azure Moon they’re largely ignored and somewhat dealt with by coincidence, so it’s nice to see the actual big bad get dismantled in actual gameplay (also they play dubstep music in one of the maps which was completely out of left field). The final battle for this route was probably my favorite one of the routes, because getting to fight Nemesis is cool and the battle was both fun and challenging. It’s cool to fight the original wielders of the Relics; it’s that classic theme of the old guard being surpassed by the new generation, with the new generation being the students, some of whom are descendants of the Elites. From a narrative perspective the battle is extremely weak, as there’s no build-up whatsoever and Nemesis sort of just shows up, but it being as fun as it was gives it a pass. Overall, the route is important for the lore it covers, and it is still kept fun and entertaining with the cast of the Golden Deer house. The Golden Deer house also has Lysithea, and using her to nuke the Death Knight early on is always going to be funny.
Blue Lions (Azure Moon):
I honestly cannot say whether I enjoyed this route more than Crimson Flower, because both this route and Crimson Flower have their strengths and weaknesses. Regarding Azure Moon, I feel that the Blue Lions main cast members had the most chemistry between each other, which makes sense as most of the members already had existing relationships with each other and are in some way connected to an important event in Faerghus’s history via the tragedy of Duscur. This gives them all something to relate to and build off of, and as a result you get a very tight-knit cast that bounces off each other well that you don’t see as much in the other houses. While I think most of the characters (at least the important ones) in this game are great and well-written, I definitely found myself the most attached to the Blue Lions students, mainly for the reasons mentioned above. This route also addresses a lot of themes that relate to the characters’ backgrounds and cultures, scrutinizing concepts like chivalry and loyalty which are usually big themes in a lot of medieval fantasy games, most notably depicted in Felix’s character arc and his interactions with others. A lot of fantasy stories like to talk about the positives of loyalty and chivalry and how important it is, so it’s refreshing to see a story that takes the opposite stance, analyzing how these two seemingly positive qualities can be toxic if worshiped. Dimitri’s arc is also excellent, depicting the journey of a man with a tragic past who falls victims to his demons (I think his fall to madness was really well executed), but eventually finds the strength and purpose to carry on, fulfilling his duties to his people and his friends, and who doesn’t love a redemption story?
However, I do feel like the route could have handled his redemption in a more smooth fashion; the redemption obviously had to happen but I felt like the way it happened was a bit too abrupt, and I think the process could’ve been smoothed out a bit more; it feels like the writers put 110% effort into developing his fall into madness, which was very well executed, but then they realized they had a game to finish in a few chapters and slammed the gas because they remembered that Dimitri was supposed to be a good person at the end of the day. While I can buy Dimitri finally making the decision to change rather quickly, he goes from “KILL EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM” to basically a completely sane individual with all of his morals and goals restored almost overnight. It would be one thing if you as the player character and the rest of the class participated in the redemption process earlier instead of just acting as scared bystanders, then Dimitri’s final turn back to the light wouldn’t seem like it’s coming out of the blue as much (also the whole thing with Gronder Field was a mess narrative-wise). Azure Moon also doesn’t explicitly deal with the threat of TWSITD; by coincidence the Blue Lions kill off the important figures in the cult (including the leader), but considering their persistent nature and how they were mentioned and/or dealt with in all the other routes, it does feel a bit weird that they never get that much attention in Azure Moon, especially since they do hint at the existence of them at various points in the story. This does raise future questions about how Fódlan will fare in the future, though obviously that’s all up to fan-made conjecture. My final issue is that for how important the tragedy of Duscur was in the lives of most of the cast, relatively little light is shed on it. All we know is that it was a coup that resulted in most of Dimitri’s close friends and family being killed and that it led to the people of Duscur being basically genocided. It would’ve been an interesting bit of lore to cover for how much narrative weight it has in the story. Overall, Azure Moon is still a very strong route and it’s hard for me to decide on whether I enjoyed this route or Crimson Flower more. I think Crimson Flower felt more consistent with its highs and lows (the apparent budget/time restrictions are really its only major flaw), while Azure Moon had bigger flaws, but also better moments.
Black Eagles 2 (Silver Snow):
This was a route that’s important for narrative purposes, because this is the route where instead of siding with Edelgard, you stick with the Church. This route is also a bit more lore-focused, and goes more into your background/origins, as well as your relationship with Rhea, the archbishop. It’s significant because it’s in this route you find out how you truly came to be and why you’re stuck with Sothis, and you also find out why Rhea did this to you. Silver Snow is also the route that focuses on the good parts of Rhea’s character, and you get to see some of the rationale behind her actions. In Crimson Flower, you get the impression that she’s a power-hungry individual who seeks to control the masses through the religion she started, with her fair share of skeletons in the closet especially since she’s been doing it for at least 1000 years. In this route, you find out why she does this, and you learn that she’s a survivor of a tragedy that took place long before the events of this game, and that a big part of her starting the Church and the faith was to keep her and her surviving close ones safe from humans who would want to kill her, as well as restore her mother whom she believes was wrongly taken from her. It doesn’t exactly justify her, but it certainly does make her a lot more sympathetic, especially since outside of those actions she’s a relatively good-natured individual who takes in the less fortunate under her wing and generally does her best to try and keep peace in Fódlan. Also, Silver Snow is the one route where you can S-rank support Rhea, which is both kind of funny (because in a way she’s both your grandmother and daughter, though daughter is more of a stretch) and sweet. Finally, because you chose not to stand with Edelgard, you’re forced to fight her, and the cutscene where you cut her down that also plays in Verdant Wind has a much stronger emotional impact in this route, because you were actually her professor in the first part and thus had the time to actually develop a relationship so having to fight her feels much worse than it does in the other routes.
From a gameplay perspective, however, this route kind of sucks. For one, you lose the awesome units that are Edelgard and Hubert, and the units you get to replace them aren’t unique (the units who replace them you can recruit in all the other routes besides Crimson Flower). This route is also very, very similar to Verdant Wind, albeit you don’t get to fight Nemesis at the very end and instead fight Rhea who somehow still goes insane despite not doing so in Verdant Wind. If you have played the other three routes, unless you don’t mind repeating Golden Deer, you can honestly skip this path and just read up on it or watch the important conversations to get all the story and character details. The real flaw is not making Rhea a playable unit; Rhea being an actually usable unit would totally be a good enough reason to play this route from a gameplay perspective. She would obviously excel at white magic, but due to her background as the warrior Seiros she’d be an excellent physical combatant as well, so I’d imagine deciding a good class path for her would be a fun task.
Route Tier List?
While I think each route has its great and weak parts, if I had to rank the routes based on my own experiences and preferences, I would probably put them in order of: Crimson Flower, Azure Moon, Verdant Wind, then Silver Snow. I think Azure Moon had some stronger individual moments than Crimson Flower, but ultimately it had a few big flaws in its narrative which puts it behind Crimson Flower, which I think had the more consistent story. Verdant Wind drops some super important world-building information, but I didn’t personally connect to the characters as much and that route goes to show that Three Houses’ character/world-building is far stronger than its actual narrative, and Silver Snow is dead last for being a somewhat re-skinned Verdant Wind that’s not nearly as fun to play. I think all of three houses have great casts as well, though I personally liked the Black Eagles and the Blue Lions the most (the Black Eagles in my opinion had the most interesting individual characters, and the Blue Lions had the most chemistry between their students). Golden Deer also had a few standout characters (Claude, Hilda, and Marianne in particular), but I didn’t feel like the rest of the cast resonated with me as well as the students from the other two houses.