Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes Review
Somehow, Koei Tecmo keeps pumping out Warriors games, and I’m not really sure how they do it. On the Switch alone, we’ve had Fire Emblem Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, its sequel Age of Calamity, Persona 5 sequel Strikers, One Piece Pirate Warriors, and so so many more. The latest entry, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, takes that hack-and-slash gameplay you know and love, dopes it with a healthy serving of Fire Emblem: Three Houses characters, lore, and setting, and introduces some really fascinating Three Houses-inspired changes to the Warriors formula. What results has the potential to be the best game in the genre to date… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start with the story. Three Hopes is perhaps best described as the Disney+ Presents Marvel’s What If…? of Fire Emblem Three Houses. In this case, the “What if…” is “What if somebody else came to the rescue of Claude, Dimitri, and Edelgard when they were getting attacked near Remire, rather than Byleth?” That somebody else is Shez – the protagonist of this game – a mercenary who coincidentally had a previous run-in with the Ashen Demon themselves… and got absolutely routed.
After Shez rescues the three future leaders, they’re invited back to Garreg Mach and asked to become a student. Just like Three Houses, you’ll get to pick a house to join — Claude’s Golden Deers, Edelgard’s Black Eagles, or Dimitri’s Blue Lions. This choice is, obviously, quite important! It’ll change a pretty significant amount of the game, from which story you experience, which fights you partake in, which side of the future war you’ll be on, which characters you start with, and perhaps just as importantly, which characters you’ll have access to later in the story. My first choice was Blue Lions, which I’ve played to completion, and I’ve played about halfway through Golden Deers. I’m mostly gonna be talking about Blue Lions, but I’ll have a few words to say here and there about what I’ve played of Golden Deers, too.
In what amounts to a pretty massive departure from Three Houses, you won’t stay at the academy for long. Barely a few months from arriving, each of the three house leaders get called away to their countries to put out fires. These fires very quickly turn into raging infernos, because this is Fire Emblem and nothing is ever simple. In the Blue Lions’ case, Dimitri is called away to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, where his despotic uncle, the current monarch, is being a bit of an ass, to put it likely. Dimitri has no choice but to revolt against him, as the heir apparent of the Kingdom, cleaving the despot’s head from his shoulders, and assuming his place as the new king. Of course, this creates quite a bit of instability and turmoil in the kingdom, with staunch supporters of the previous king Not Happy about the situation and determined to cause some trouble. This, along with Claude needing to deal with an attempted Almyran invasion and Edelgard doing wild emperor things, puts the officer’s academy on hold, and sends each of the houses back to their homelands for two years.
Shez, of course, goes with them, in my case heading back to Faerghus to work in the kingdom army as a commander. This is a good idea, because Shez is ridiculously strong and also has a super powerful god-like amnesiac named Arval living in their head, which grants them the ability to transform, summon a powerful ghost weapon, and destroy some fools. Oh yeah, you didn’t think you were getting away from JRPG nonsense, did you? Early on it’s shown that Shez’s powers are pretty similar to Those Who Slither In The Dark, a twisted enemy faction that, depending on your route, played a small to pretty big antagonistic role in Three Houses. But like Three Houses, it’s a slow burn to get to the wacky stuff. Those Who Slither pop up every now and then in the first half of the game, which is primarily about the kingdom’s war with the empire and all that entails, but it’s not until the second half where the focus shifts onto the mysterious faction.
Still, the way the story plays out – both in the first and second halves of the game – is incredibly compelling, with all the intrigue and mystery that you’d come to expect from a Fire Emblem game. There’s plenty of twists and turns, uplifting moments and crushing defeats, rescue missions and desperate, barely survivable defences. And the way these events play out is logical and makes sense viewed through the lens of Three Houses; even if the story treads a different path, this is still technically the same universe — consider it a 5th (and 6th and 7th) route, in addition to the ones presented in Three Houses. The characters are all consistent with their strategy RPG counterparts, even if the way they’re presented seems otherwise. It’s a complex twist of fate, with tonnes of overlapping threadlines and stories to tell, and it’s pulled off with incredible success.
Speaking of characters, I was really pleased to learn that there’s a bunch of previously unplayable characters in Three Houses that are fully playable in Three Hopes. I can’t reveal all of them – that would spoil the surprise! – but there’s certainly some interesting ones in there. Take, for example, Rodrigue, Felix’s father— in Three Houses, he was a fairly minor non-playable character, depending on the route you took, but here you can play as him, build support with him, and (my favourite) put him in all the different combat class outfits just to see what he looks like. There’s plenty of others, including some you absolutely would not be expecting, and the Ashen Wolves are recruitable too, sans-DLC. All of the characters with expanded roles, as well as new characters, are as well-written as any of the returning personalities, and Shez and Arval in particular are absolutely delightfully written. The decision to make Shez more than a silent player-insert was a fantastic choice, and his playful banter with Arval is absolutely to die for.
One other thing worth emphasising, again, is that the story is a very very slow burn. The progression through the story is often ground to a halt with required side missions and, yes, a bunch of off-time kingdom management-type stuff, just like Three Houses. Now, I think the combat (we’ll get to that in a bit) is very good, so completing all the side missions has been absolutely no major chore for me. But in saying that, there’ve been quite a few times where the story has started to rise towards a climax, only to be put on hold for a couple hours while you dredge through some busywork to clear out strongholds, allocate resources to improving facilities, having lunch with characters, and managing inventories. It can get tiring after a while, and if you weren’t a fan of all the stuff that happened in-between missions in Three Houses, you’ll probably dislike this, too. Put it this way: this game is just as big of a time investment as Three Houses, so if you’re coming into this expecting it to be a casual affair then you’d best readjust your expectations.
So finally, we get to the combat, the bread and butter of this game and what separates it from Three Houses. Unlike that game, Three Hopes is (as the rest of its title suggests) a Warriors game, also known as musou. It started with a series called Dynasty Warriors, a high-energy hack-and-slash series based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but it’s branched out a lot since then, ranging from a Gundam game to two Zelda games, a Persona 5 sequel, and a crossover Fire Emblem game featuring a host of characters from Fire Emblem games past. A lot of these spinoff games try to incorporate some of the mechanics from their main games to spice up the action a bit, and Three Hopes is no different. While hacking and slashing is important, you’ll be spending a fair bit of time in the battle map in the menu, giving strategic orders like you do in Fire Emblem.
See, each character class has its own way of attacking, but for the most part the inputs required to attack are the same for everyone.That means that swapping through characters is pretty intuitive — you might not know exactly how a new class behaves or what an attacking ability does exactly, but you’ll always know how to get them to attack. Each weapon type generally has its own strengths and weaknesses, too — bows are good against brawling and flying enemies but generally weak against magic classes, while spears are good against swords but ineffective against axes. For the most part though, you don’t really need to think about this all that much, as when you’re hovering over a character on the battle map (or playing as them in battle), a little icon will appear above enemies telling you if you’re strong or weak against them. Generally, you’ll want to make sure each of your characters on the field, which tops out at four playable and sometimes a few extras that aren’t playable but are commandable, is fighting to their advantage, otherwise you’re gonna have a bad time.
But that’s just one of the strategy aspects you’ll have to contend with. At any given time, you may have up to half a dozen specific enemies to defeat, a stronghold to defend, an ally to keep alive, or a specific area to capture. Unlike some other musou games where you can often feasibly do all of this with one character, making your way through the map like a maniac on a rampage, it simply is not possible to do it all yourself in Three Hopes. You can try, but you will absolutely lose, and I say that as somebody whose Shez is more than double the level of any other character on the team. If you want to win, or if you even want to survive in most battles, you’ll have to open up the battle map and direct your allies to take on some of these tasks. The tasks also change frequently, get added to, get influenced by strategies you’ve picked up, and can sometimes even have very tight timers on them. It’s a hectic, fast-paced game with little room for phoning it in, and that’s what truly makes it fantastic. It’s as much a musou game as it is a Fire Emblem game, where your decisions on the battle map matter just as much as your ability on the battlefield itself, all tied together in a way that feels exhilarating and exciting.
Unfortunately, I do have some issues with it. I mentioned in my preview of the game that a lot of the characters feel very samey if they’re using the same weapon type or class. A bowman will pretty much always feel the same as any other bowman, a mage will always feel the same as any other mage, and spear-wielding cavalry units are pretty much all the same, too. Sure, each character has their own unique quirks – Catherine can electrify herself to deal double damage on hit, Lorenz can summon a big, red, swirly vortex to knock enemies about, and Ignatz has a cute paint effect that changes depending on the colour – but they’re rarely enough to make a character feel truly unique to play as. Annette and Hapi might have entirely different unique abilities, but they’re gremories with largely the same strengths, weaknesses, and skills, and that makes them pretty much interchangeable in 99% of scenarios, along with the other 5 gremories on my squad. The only characters that buck this trend are Shez and the house leaders, who each have character-specific classes that are quite unique and interesting to use compared to a lot of the others.
Thankfully, you can offset this playability concern with a big bump in usefulness by changing up characters’ equipment and abilities. Some weapons do extra damage to certain enemies, like armoured or flying units, so one could feasibly set up one swordsman with a sword that’s great for killing pegasi, and another with a sword that’s great for killing knights. Battalions also make a return here, offering stat boosts and granting strength and resistance against a specific weapon type, essentially allowing you to nullify weaknesses or add an extra strength that a character previously didn’t have. That means that, even if they play very similarly, those two swordsmen will both still have their uses, and it may even be worth it to have both of them on the field at the same time. And when much of combat is spent ordering other units around from the battle map, having a wide range of characters that can specialise in taking down specific types of enemies can be a huge boon, even if you never switch characters in combat yourself (hence the ridiculously overleveled Shez). Still, even if a lot of characters feel samey, pretty much all of them are still very fun to play as. Except bows, which I was not a fan of in the slightest. But hey, you can’t win them all.
As with Three Houses, you’ll also have a lot of extra-curricular activities to partake in, too. Most of these take place in the encampment, this game’s equivalent of the monastery, though thankfully it’s just a fraction of the size of the monastery. At the encampment, you’ll be able to cook food with your friends for buffs in battle, train to improve your classes and abilities, do your shopping and smithing to improve your equipment in battle, and even do chores to build up support levels. You can also take characters out on expeditions, which acts pretty similarly to tea time in Three Houses, but without the intense time limit to answer questions. Completing optional quests lets you gather resources to improve facilities at the encampment, which can open up a lot of new options for all your little guys to get better at everything they do. Perhaps my favourite part of the encampment facilities is that you can just straight up pay cash to level up a character at the training master, which has let me keep all of my characters at roughly the same level (except Shez), even if I haven’t used them in a while. It’s an absolute godsend, and it’s the kind of quality of life addition I’d really like to see moved over to a main game in the future, too.
For those wondering about performance, I’m very pleased to say that, for the most part, Three Hopes runs pretty well and looks fairly good while doing it. There are some minor hitches here and there, like when there’s a tonne of enemies on the screen while you’re doing a gigantic, flashy, effect-laiden finishing move, but 99% of the time in combat the frame rate stays consistent and pleasant, even in two-player split-screen mode. Curiously, I’ve had more frame drops in the encampment, where drops are kinda frequent in a way that’s a little bit unpleasant, but given how ridiculously low the stakes are there, and given you can teleport around to all the places and units you’d like to be, it really does not impact the experience in the slightest. In terms of art direction, the game looks pretty similar to Three Houses, as you’d expect, and character models seem to generally be of high quality pretty much all the time, as opposed to Three Houses’ strange inconsistencies. The soundtrack is also a banger, but it always is in these kinds of games, so all I can say is that you should play with the sound on and the volume up.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes may just be the best Warriors game to date. It’s an utterly flawless fusion of fast-paced hack-and-slash gameplay with methodical, considered strategising, with a returning cast that is as vibrant as its ever been. With a cast as big as it is, it’s not surprising that a lot of characters come off feeling similar in combat, but that’s easy to look past with how fantastic every other aspect of it is.
+ Combat is extremely fun and strategic
+ Story is slow burn, but intriguing and compelling
+ Shez and Arval are wonderful
- A lot of characters feel very samey to play
- It's a very very very long game
- Weird frame drops in the encampment (but not in battle)