I’m a huge fan of the character design in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Despite the fact that most of the characters wear the same clothes – their school uniform – each and every one of them is peppered with the perfect amount of flair to make them stand out. It’s not just a random pink backpack or some blue shoes thrown in here and there to help them stand out; every inch of their designs have been tailored to their personality. You can tell what archetype each student fits into instantly, but that’s not because they’re defined by aesthetics, it’s because their aesthetics have been specifically chosen to complement their personalities. That’s why Bernie’s post-time skip look is such an abomination.
Setting it aside for now – I’d like to avoid talking about it for as long as possible – we should probably start by looking at what her pre-time skip costume got so right. Bernie, a scatterbrained shut-in, always has a dishevelled look about her. She knows she’s only going to be out of her room when she absolutely has to be, so she doesn’t put much effort into her appearance; she even wears a hoodie underneath her uniform so she’s always comfortable. Conversely, someone like Dorothea never has a hair out of place. She’s a relatively poor girl trying to fit in with the rich elite, so she knows she always has to look her best. It also comes from her theatrical background, which helps to explain the stylish French beret, too. Dorothea and the other female students, who tend to be equally glamorous or else complete tomboys, are crucial to grounding Bernie. While everyone is nice to her, she is paranoid that they don’t like her, and so having a design that shows her as sweet and friendly yet so clearly out of place is key to understanding who she is.
Bernie and Dorothea are both at the opposite end of the spectrum to one another in terms of confidence and style, so it’s fitting they be opposites when it comes to the post-time skip glow up too. Dorothea has ditched the beret, and instead of the girlish curls, she has much longer, more luxurious locks. It’s like the Disney Channel effect, only she went Selena Gomez instead of Miley Cyrus. Bernie on the other hand comes back looking a mess. That’s the only possible way I can think to describe it.
Her hair used to be a short, if slightly unkempt, bob that fell loosely around her face. Post-time skip, it’s a Fifth Element-style atrocity cut to three different lengths and paired with a hideous hairpin and earrings that neither go with her look or suit her personality. You’d think she did it herself, which would at least fit her penchant for being a shut-in, but it’s too neat and straight, and too deliberately paired with accessories for it to have been the work of a bored Bernie standing in front of her bathroom mirror with scissors.
There are a few other success stories alongside Dorothea. Claude, Ignatz, and Mercedes all end up looking like more mature versions of their old selves, and Edelgard’s transformation suits her story. While I personally prefer Petra’s pre-timeskip look, I have no major issues with the look she returns with, even if it shifts her away a little from her established personality. Meanwhile, although Lorez’s look and haircut is hideous post-time skip, it’s just as bad beforehand, so it’s not so much that he gets worse so much as it’s the game putting lipstick on a pig.
Bernie’s look goes beyond just the haircut. Her outfit is also ridiculous. Thanks to her top and collar being two distinct garments, she has a small triangle of flesh visible above her cleavage, and while it doesn’t particularly sexualise her, it’s also very obviously not her style. She used to wear a hoodie below her uniform for extra layers, and now she wears a low cut blouse with only a strange epaulette collar giving her any coverage at all from the mid chest upwards? Nah. I like the gloves, and that’s it.
I guess this is supposed to show that she is uncomfortable in her more grown up life, where she has duties and is expected to fulfill engagements, as opposed to when she was a teenager at school and the only thing she had to worry about was making friends. But even then, it doesn’t do a good job of that, because back at Garreg Mach, surely she’d have more freedom to dress how she chooses? At least a little bit? She certainly wouldn’t be compelled to wear those ridiculous earrings or that hideous hair clip. I spent the whole first half of the game trying to get Bernie to come out of her room. By the time she’s brave enough to in the second half, I wish I could tell her to go back inside and change.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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