You may have heard that the thief class exam in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a waste of your time. What do thieves do that myrmidons don’t do better? Aside from having good speed growth and extra skill gain for bows, is it worth staying in the class after you get the chance to promote? The Steal skill is right around the corner, after all.
Here’s the short answer: no. Unfortunately, stealing has been rendered nearly worthless in Three Houses. But it wasn’t always this way.
Of the 16 games in mainline Fire Emblem, the “Steal” ability appears in eight, including Three Houses. Of those eight games, it is only possible to steal weapons and staves in three, which is in theory the most useful reason to steal from an enemy in the first place. By taking an unequipped ‘secondary’ weapon such as a javelin, it’s possible to restrict a foe’s ability to attack from range permanently. Even though Steal was undeniably at its best in these three entries, it’s not useless in the other four in the same way it is in Three Houses.
This is because all of the games prior to Three Houses could count on you actually having a thief. Although there was no way to guarantee that a player had successfully kept their low-HP rogue alive, games prior to Three Houses could undeniably assume that because there was a recruitable thief in the roster, a decent chunk of serious players would have access to steal. As such, they could plant items on the enemies to be stolen without needing to worry about the game’s balance – skilled players would always have access to these bonus items if they wanted them.
Because of the open-class design of Three Houses, the devs could make no such assumption about players’ unit availability, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the majority of ‘bonus’ items are simply placed as drops on tough foes like the Death Knight. And if all of the extra items are droppable, what reason is there to waste time with the thief class and its relatively poor growth rates when much more appealing sword classes like Mercenary are right there?
There’s only a handful of items in the entire game that are locked behind the Steal skill in Three Houses. Two of the best of these items are available on the same map: the Battle of the Eagle and Lion will have both of the house leaders the player didn’t choose sporting an Evasion or Accuracy Ring. These rings, while useful, aren’t necessarily worth burning a certification exam and spending hours of grinding just to unlock one skill. But here’s the real kicker for Steal: there’s no point at all in staying in the Thief class to learn the skill because it’s inherent to the thief class and reclassing is free.
Instead of wasting time and level ups to keep the skill unlocked forever, players can simply reclass into thief whenever they want for the two maps where stealing benefits them, and then continue along the game in classes that provide a better skill. If the lack of items to snag in the first place hadn’t shot Steal’s utility in the foot to start with, the fact that there’s no cost to reclassing and the skill is inherent to the class you’re supposed to learn it from murdered it in cold blood. Maybe this could have been avoided if the skill learned from Thief was permanent locktouch, but even that is circumvented by Ashe’s existence and the fact that door and chest keys are purchasable at the store.
The tragic fate of Steal in Three Houses reminds us that game balancing is a perpetual juggling act. For every added mechanic, there’s always the potential for an unexpected ripple effect to change the way we use others. Now that Divine Pulse exists, is soft-resetting necessary? Now that Close Counter can be learned by anyone, are bow units far too powerful? In the end, Steal may fade out of the lineup of skills in the next Fire Emblem due to lack of use – or perhaps it will come back into the limelight as part of a wave of balancing efforts.
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