It seems when Koei Tecmo and Omega Force set their minds to making a Musou game in an established universe, it comes out better and better each time, especially when it properly utilizes and implements features from the source into their formula. We’ve seen Fire Emblem Warriors in the past and it wasn’t half-bad. However, Three Hopes takes it up a notch, featuring diverging storylines, character relationships, and an interesting alternative timeline to the one we saw in Three Houses.
A land divided and headed for battle
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes begins with all of the narrative backdrop of Three Houses, including the land of Fódlan and the reigning factions over it in the form of the Adrestian Empire to the south, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus to the north, the Leicester Alliance to the east, and the Church of Seiros at the center. It also features Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude as leaders of the three factions respectively, the Officer’s Academy at the Church’s Garreg Mach Monastery, and the students who faithfully follow each leader.
Where it departs from all of that is by flipping protagonists around. Byleth (the hero character of Three Houses) is established early as a very powerful antagonist here and we instead play as a mysterious male or female mercenary by the name of Shez. It isn’t long before Shez’s back is put to the wall in a battle with Byleth and they discover an unknown power that reveals an inner presence in the form of a celestial being known as Arval. Barely surviving the encounter, Shez and Arval go on to fight the very bandits Byleth would have saved Claude, Dimitri, and Edelgard from in Three Houses, becoming their friend and moving to join them at the Officer’s Academy. From there, the player joins a house and heads down one of several paths in the game.
I really like how the houses and their unique goals play into this alternative take on the Fire Emblem: Three Houses story. From the moment you choose a house to play with, Three Hopes diverges heavily and you are entreated to a vastly different array of battles. It also means you end up having a whole different set of characters to play depending on who you go with. Three Hopes’ story moves at a bit of a breakneck pace, getting quickly to a time skip that sees the factions begin to engage antagonistically with each other. However, I do enjoy the spins it takes with Shez, Byleth, and their parts in the ongoing conflict. Much as was the case in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, don’t expect the story to end up the same way here either.
To arms, one and all
In regards to its gameplay, Three Hopes does a lot to spruce up the experience inside and outside of combat, including upgrades and features from more recent Musou games, as well as its own implementation of certain features from the Fire Emblem universe. Classes still play a role in benefits or penalties as you pit your controllable units against opponents. Axe fighters are great for smashing lance users where swordsmen can easily overcome axes and archers are great for taking out flying units, etc.
Besides that, you’ll have up to four characters to directly command in each battle while surplus units can be indirectly ordered to carry out combat and movement on the battlefield map. Choosing where units are going to go, how they’re equipped, and which ones you’ll be able to directly control are a big part of the game’s strategy, which is improved even from what I’ve praised in Age of Calamity and Samurai Warriors 5. The only issue I take with this system is that characters are confined to classes, and so there are only actually a few different playstyles in the game as opposed to characters having their own unique fighting style. The silver lining on this is that characters have their own trees of unlockable active and passive skills that can be equipped to help them specialize a bit, such as Ashe gaining the lockpicking talent to open chests without a key or Edelgard being able to imbue her axe with fire damage.
Even so, battle plays out in familiar Musou style with players moving around a mapped battlefield with any of their controllable units, taking part in battles with enemy officers and their thousands of minions and seizing strategic objectives. Players can switch between playable characters at will or direct them on the Orders Screen to pursue an objective on their own. New here is a Guard feature in which you can order one officer to defend another officer. Given that there are an increased number of controllable officers on each battle in Three Hopes, I very much like the Guard order as it helps to keep some of your units moving together and bolstering each other.
Also well implemented in Three Hopes is the use of narrative choices and relationships both on and off the battlefield. At various points in the game, players will have chances to choose between different answers to different situations. Those answers may garner the affection and friendship of individual characters towards Shez. In battle, you can also build support points by having characters link up via the Adjutant feature. By using this, the two characters are linked, allowing you to swap between them and access their abilities if you have high enough support. Defeating enemies with Adjutants linked also grows the two units’ support level. A high enough support level can cause unique things to happen and is well worth exploring with characters you favor.
Of course, Fire Emblem is a fickle beast of a strategic RPG, allowing characters to die permanently if felled in battle. Three Hopes is no different. Generally losing the leader of the house you align with like Edelgard, Dimitri, or Claude is grounds for mission failure, but characters like Caspar, Ferdinand, Ashe, Bernadette, and other minor characters can actually be slain and removed from future battles. This means putting care into where you move your units and what kind of class opposition they’re going up against, which is also a very Fire Emblem thing.
The presentation of the game inside and outside of the battle is also fairly decent. The battlefield levels are vast, the scenery in cutscenes is also decent, and the characters are all very uniquely designed, especially after a time skip sees all characters grow up a bit. The music in Fire Emblem Three Hopes is great, featuring a fantastic blend of music from Three Houses and various different takes and alterations of those tunes for its Musou battles.
Where the game doesn’t quite hold up is when there’s a lot of clutter or chaos on the screen. There are a lot of times where there’s a lot going on at the same time in Three Hopes’ battles. Unfortunately, in docked mode, the game doesn’t always keep up the way it should. The camera can be finicky and get way too close or trapped behind objects and bunch of soldiers or attacks going on at the same time makes the game notably drop frames. Strangely, this wasn’t as noticeable an issue in handheld mode for what I experienced. The game is generally pretty in both visuals and sound. It just doesn’t always keep it stable. At the end of the day, it's also still a Musou game where you take out thousands of troops and challenge key characters on the battlefield. If that formula hasn't caught your interest before, I doubt Three Hopes is substantially different enough to do it now.
For the fate of Fódlan
I really feel like anyone who has been through Three Houses would be doing themselves a disservice to skip Three Hopes. The story diverges enough to make each house a new adventure all its own and each of the paths has a vastly different array of battles to fight. Additionally, aspects of strategy, classes, skills, and camaraderie between characters have also made their way over and are implemented well here. I wish characters fought a bit more uniquely and that the game performed a bit better in docked mode, but outside of these complaints, Three Hopes feels like another solid example of what Omega Force can do when Nintendo entrusts its IP to the Musou dev.
This review is based on a digital Nintendo Switch copy supplied by the publisher. Fire Emblem: Three Hopes launches on June 24, 2022 on Nintendo Switch.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
- A cool alternative story to Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- Wide array of battles depending on faction choice
- Good use of Fire Emblem features like classes & skills
- Music is excellent
- Characters in each faction are widely unique
- Somehow plays a bit better in handheld
- Still the usual Musou formula in battle
- Framerate is choppy when there's a lot going on
- Fighting style variety is confined to classes
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes review: Warring kingdoms (Three different ones)
I seem to like the idea of these games more than I actually like them. I picked up Hyrule Warriors and played for a few hours before falling off. The moment to moment gameplay just isn’t super compelling for me for whatever reason.
Yeah, if you're not already sold on Musou gameplay, I don't think this one will be the one to win you over.
I do, however, think Omega Force is continuing to get better at adapting the elements of the IP they work with into Musou style. Three Hopes is definitely still a Musou game, but there are so many well-implemented Fire Emblem things in there - an improvement on what they did with Age of Calamity IMO.
Yeah, the demo was shockingly entertaining (and long, just handing you the first few hours of the game).
The amount of Fire Emblem they worked into this game did a lot to pull me in :D