It’s been a hot minute since I last thought about Fire Emblem after experiencing its most recent mainline release of the super lukewarm Fire Emblem Engage. It’s been the only modern Fire Emblem game I played through once and never picked up again. A major reason as to why I struggle to return to it is simply because it has no characters I outright adore. For as much as I am in full agreement on the shockingly poor to mid writing that plagues Fire Emblem Fates I did find myself coming back to it for one reason or another; both being because of certain characters surprisingly enough.
That’s right, even after all this time I never quite got over my obsession with Nohr’s crown prince Xander.
Spoilers are mentioned.
Who is Xander?
Since Fire Emblem Fates’s story is cut up into three blocks of alternative timelines for players to pursue – its three routes of Birthright that sides with Hoshido, Conquest that sides with Nohr and Revelation that sides with neither family – Xander acts as either a major playable character in Conquest and Revelation and as a recurring boss/villain in Birthright. He’s Conquest’s character foil to Birthright’s Ryoma, with the two being the eldest brothers of the focal rivalling kingdoms. This therefor makes him the player character’s adoptive older brother as well as son of its main antagonist Garon.
There’s a lot weighing on Xander’s shoulders and it’s both ironic and tragic that he can be summed up as being quite the disappointment for both its players and characters alike. Still, it’s hard not to love the giant, insecure royal hunk. He’s doing his best – and so will we in defending his best (but mostly hidden) qualities.
Why we love him
Why we love him is probably obvious enough with one look of him. Xander’s attractiveness is even mentioned within its own universe by fellow onlookers, especially within its beach DLC. We had to get this point out of the way first thing because trying to make any balanced discussion on Xander is a recipe for disaster. He’s tragic in more ways than one. For one thing the writing of the game completely tramples on his greatest merits and me saying that is nothing new. In fact, the final confrontation with him as an ongoing opponent in Birthright has him kill off his little sister by accident, the one thing he values most. But it manages to get much, much worse.
Things make even less sense after the accidental fatal wound is delivered since Xander decides to simply give up and not keep the last wish uttered by his dying sister in mind. It’s trash writing and Xander is a very poorly handled character as a result of it. And yet I still love him because of his sheer potential and star quality of a good guy he so clearly demonstrates outside of its goofy storyline. Support conversations are a big deal in the Fire Emblem series for adding characterisation and depth to its characters and in Xander’s case, it’s the only good thing we have of him.
There are plenty of examples to make this case about Xander being a genuinely sweet and lovable guy. Firstly, he is such a good brother. He compliments and reassures Leo during their support conversations about said little brother’s value and worth because he keeps comparing himself to Xander. By the end of the support chain Xander outright admits to training hard to overtake or at the very least keep up with Leo’s superior intelligence. Xander wants to be the one who looks after him as his older brother. It’s obviously really sweet and comes from the heart.
Much of this context regarding Xander’s unmentioned past also comes up in his support conversations with Sakura where Xander relates to her shyness. He’s honest and encouraging of Sakura coming out of her shell as he admits to being just as reserved as she is when he was younger.
Further concerning his past is just how hard working he’s been to become the capable and battle-hardened paladin crown prince that he is today. His cold, stoic appearance that is understandably intimidating upon first glance masks the hidden depths of his character which can only be witnessed in his support conversations. He’s not the type of person he pretends to be for the sake of looking like the part of an upcoming ruler to his kingdom. It’s a mask to hide his uncertainty about himself and the future of the land.
Furthermore, there’s never enough emphasis put on the areas of Xander’s self-doubt. In certain conversation chains Xander will hint to struggling with suicidal thoughts. He’s troubled, unsure and lonely. He feels cynical about the justice of the world due to having experienced the majority of his father’s cruel and controlling ways. He even outright states during his last scene in the Birthright route that his death would be better for his kingdom – he’s never believed himself to be a good enough leader.
Why you will love him
In whichever way you decide to look upon him, Xander is a mess. If he’s not sounding completely and utterly brainwashed and in denial about his own father being the maddest king across the lands during the plot then his hidden fears and insecurities about himself makes him a walking disaster in need of as much support he gives those around him. He’s pressured to serve his father, side-lining his own feelings and desires for the sake of remaining loyal to his familial obligations. He is in a tough position.
Support conversations reveal that he has lost people close to him in the past which makes him put others at arms length. But he remains compassionate and attentive to everyone around him even still. He is clearly a nice guy who goes out of his way to help others (see his approach in welcoming Azura), sees the good in everyone (just look at his relationship with his retainer Peri and obviously Garon), wants to right past wrongs (feels guilty over having to fight and kill others during Nyx’s support chain) and is an evident family man, going as far as to put the wellbeing of his family over his duties as paladin and prince.
Such positive traits of his are made all the more obvious by his support conversations with the playable character, being an adoptive sibling to Xander and yet he makes even more of an effort to be just as affectionate to and supportive of them as his own blood siblings. Regardless of just how much of a inconsistent character he is I can’t help but love him. He was dealt a bad hand but he’s won us over in all other ways.