Fire Emblem: Three Houses was officially announced at E3 2018 as the latest in the Fire Emblem series of games. One thing that immediately stuck out is that, like Fates, the title is actually quite different in Japanese.
In Japanese, the title is 風花雪月. Read as fuukasetsugetsu.
This is a pretty surface-look at the matter, working with limited contexts… we don’t know much about the game itself, so what exactly may or may not apply is a mystery in itself.
My colleague Rey summarizes it well on his tweet:
Which then another colleague of mine, Black Kite, further expanded upon:
While it remains to be seen what significance the seasonal references hold, it’s a pretty nifty thing. At a glance the main characters do not seem to contain references in their name. Three Houses is a more straightforward title that touches on the trio they showed, so that one with limited context still makes sense. There are three characters shown, and a player character too. Perhaps that makes the fourth?
But how does one get from four seasons to three houses otherwise? Let’s first take a deeper look.
These characters actually reference a poem by Bai Juyi, which is presented in Japanese as an often condensed single line from a larger context:
Which translates to, “At the time of snow, moon and flowers, I think of you.”
The three presented in that order become the Snow, Moon and Flowers combo.
雪月花 ( せつげつか )
You will notice three characters here: snow, moon, and flowers, which represent the snow of winter, moon of autumn, and flowers of spring respectively. Indeed, they are popular in older Japanese culture (such as ukiyo-e pictures), and originated from China. Often referred to as the “snow moon flowers.” Summer seems to often be excluded (perhaps a lack of beauty in its heat). Indeed, this convention even appears in other media.
But more relevant and more interestingly, there is an alternative meaning to these: The “three whites” in art.
- Blue-White = Winter
- Yellow-White = Autumn
- Pink-White = Spring
Why would the color meanings be relevant, well, let’s look at the three characters they showed off:
They indeed have the pink (red), yellow, and blue conventions. That is in the same order of the Japanese title, too (風花雪月 if you take away wind, Flower/Pink/Spring, Snow/Blue/Winter, and Moon/Autumn/Yellow).
And, their names are (left to right):
- Edelgard von Hraesvelgr
- Dimitri Alexander Blaiddyd
- Claude von Regan
I’m not an expert on the naming conventions, but if anyone can connect any parts of these names to the seasons or colors, let me know!
But now you get a better glimpse at how the three characters and their respective countries tie to the Japanese title, and thus how the localization arrived at Three Houses. The seasonal reference may not have worked as well in English, as calling it Fire Emblem: Snow, Moon, Flowers would be odd.
Wind remains as the fourth case, the odd one out. Omitted from the English title as the fourth. I surmise it may have to do with the avatar character, who may be the “fourth” wildcard here. Perhaps you pick a house? Perhaps not. Three Houses still works for the player character, as one can assume they are affiliated with none (and thus “Three Houses” is still accurate).
One could have translated it more literally to Fire Emblem: Four Seasons though that lacks the more poetic intrigue to it. So there is likely more to the difference in names than we can surmise at this point.
The kanji as they appear in title order
You may note for the poem reference the kanji had to be rejiggered a bit, however. If we take it in the exact order presented:
There is a Japanese wikipedia entry on this.
It basically states that the term is a Chinese phrase that is used for an appreciation of nature and the feelings it brings to people, similar to the Japanese 花鳥風月 (yet another different set of kanji) which means almost the same thing (with a small nuance being the difference in the two, with the Chinese original phrase often having negative connotations the Japanese one lacks).
What this could mean for the game is uncertain. If it is some sort of game that goes against, say, a deity of nature, it could make sense in a way. But with our limited context, going with the poem reference is more likely. This is subject to change of course, with the more we learn in terms of what exactly this game is about which would help us reach a better understanding. Chinese is not my specialty, and whether or not this title thus references the Chinese aspect of the phrase or the Japanese on remains to be seen. Context is key!
Update: A fellow FE translator over on twitter sent this blurb about the Chinese side of the phrase:
I found the phrase on Baidu (basically Chinese Wikipedia, for a lack of a better term), and it seems that they attribute the phrase Wind Flower Snow Moon to Shao Yong (rather than Bai Juyi, who used Snow Moon Flowers), as Shao Yong has a line in a poem stating 虽死生荣辱，转战于前，曾未入于胸中，则何异四时风花雪月一过乎眼也。(风花雪月 being the phrase written in Simplified, of course.) Unfortunately my Chinese isn’t good and I don’t know what the poem says, but I thought this might be of interest to you.
My Chinese isn’t good at all either. If there are any experts in Chinese out there who would like to help add to the conversation, please let me know in the comments or twitter. : )
Update II: From a Chinese Studies major in the comments below:
It’s a word about natural scenery and romantic relationships. We often describe a romantic scene or stories especially for couples as “风花雪月”, we also use it to describe blank and boring poems,which are full of meaningless adjectives. The new game may have marriage systems in it, as the title “风花雪月” implies.
That is the Chinese meaning of the word, and seems to focus more on romance (in the love way, rather than fantasy). Though this may be due to deriving from said poem, how it relates to the Japanese interpretation as well as “Three Houses” in English is up for speculation.
What comes to mind for me is the use of the word “House” in the English title which gives off a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” vibe (like House Montague or House Capulet). That tale is often associated with romance as it is, for English readers. But it may be a little bit of a stretch. Still, it’s nice to have this additional information.
The title references a poem that only actually uses three characters known as the “Snow, Moon, and Flowers” convention which appears elsewhere in Japanese art history and media, too. But it also refers to three specific colors, colors which the three protagonists here match. The fourth character, “wind,” is a wildcard –potentially the avatar’s role in this game? Either way, you can see how the three seasons, colors, countries, and characters led to the title “Three Houses” instead.
I didn’t cover the deeper contexts of what the larger poem (and its origins) may mean for the game, as I was focused on the title/literal artistic motifs behind it. So here are two more very helpful posts:
User Aethin on serenesforest.net goes more in-depth on the poem itself and speculation of the names.
u/Aggro_Incarnate on reddit also posted speculation akin to my post but also tries to fit to the name and regions in a more in-depth way than I did.
Update: Now that the game has been out for awhile, it may become more obvious what sort of things were intended with this title. Four routes that correspond with the four kanji in the title, among other things! I will not update this post though to keep the speculation and information in its original form.
That’s all there is to say on the matter for now!