When Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity launched in 2020, it redefined what it meant to be a Musou spin-off. It went above and beyond to translate key mechanics and features that make Breath of the Wild what it is, into a Warriors-style framework, and the end result was a resounding success. Fire Emblem is receiving almost identical treatment, where 2017’s Fire Emblem Warriors was a franchise-wide homage of tactical RPGs greats, the upcoming Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is a more focused spin-off of 2019’s excellent Fire Emblem Three Houses. After about 12 hours with the Scarlet Blaze route, I’m left with mixed feelings about Three Hopes overall, but simultaneously am optimistic as the pace picks up towards the second half of the game.
Much like Three Houses before it, Fire Emblem: Three Hopes takes place on the continent of Fódlan, telling a new story based on the events that transpired in the original game. You play as Shez, a mercenary who is thrust into an unexpected situation at Garreg Mach Monastery after a chance encounter with the titular Ashen Demon – better known as Byleth. You’ll soon be prompted to choose one of three houses to enroll in at Garreg Mach, as Shez is wrapped in a conflict that unfolds differently depending on which house you pick.
Bar a few burning questions that I have in regards to the roles of Byleth and Shez in the grand scheme of things, the first 8 chapters of the Scarlet Blaze route sports similar narrative beats to those found within Three Houses, leaving the current plot feeling underwhelming and slow-burning in pace. It often throws the same twists and general story beats at you in its opening hours, especially because Shez’s circumstances somewhat mirrors Byleth’s in Three Houses. I suspect those who are new to this world won’t have the same issues, but returning players might find the introduction worn out, further exacerbated by potential repeat playthroughs of Three Houses.
The narrative highlights undoubtedly come from character dynamics between Shez and the supporting cast, it’s great to see these characters back again and as you remember them. I chose the Scarlet Blaze route because I joined The Black Eagles during my first Three Houses playthrough, and it can’t be understated how enjoyable it is to be back with Edelgard and her peers. Whether it’s simple support conversations, or a full-length cutscene, the writing here is a consistent treat, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves as the narrative progresses further.
There’s a lot to break down with Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes in regards to gameplay. These Warriors spin-off are never as simple as a skin over a well-established formula, they take mechanics and ideas that are key to the original games they’re based on and implement them in ways that compliment the hack-n-slashing catharsis of a Musou game. Three Hopes is no different, slowly but steadily introducing new systems both inside and outside of battle that intertwine to create a hybrid of classic Fire Emblem strategy and frenetic hack-n-slashing.
The units you get access to largely come down to which house you choose to enroll in, each having their own class with unique strengths and weaknesses. Three Hopes, like Three Houses before it, opts not to include the series staple weapon triangle, meaning weaknesses and resistances are tied to weapon and magic types. This means there’s a lot more to think about when it comes to your pre-battle planning, with limited controllable units per fight, you want to bring units that complement each others strengths and weaknesses while covering all bases for the upcoming fight.
Battle itself is going to be familiar to anyone who’s played a Musou game before, pitting playable characters against hordes of enemies as you mow through them all with ease. You’ll clear out enemy strongholds, fight mini-bosses and bosses, escort AI units, and more. The mission variety here is still pretty standard for a Musou game – which is to say somewhat repetitious, but the main conflicts are always on the longer side, lending to that feeling of conquest. The power fantasy, as always, is here in full-force, with a few new Fire Emblem style trimmings that gives Three Hopes its own flavor.
The Weapon Arts system, for example, allows you to execute powerful attacks that can inflict certain status effects or target elemental weaknesses at the cost of weapon durability. This means you have to pick and choose when to use Weapon Arts, as they only refill upon completing a battle. Would you rather save them for an upcoming mini-boss? Or maybe use one with a wide area of effect to completely clear out an enemy stronghold. It’s moment to moment decision making like this that add small wrinkles onto an otherwise fairly straightforward combat system.
Much like Fire Emblem Warriors, Three Hopes designs move-sets based on class type. This is more fitting here given units in Three Houses are similarly customizable, where members of your army can undertake certification exams to bolster their skills and move up to more skilled classes – or change to an entirely different one. It allows for a similar degree of flexibility and customization found within Three Houses, and has been a joy to play around with. My only gripe is that these classes take a little while to fully step into their own identities, so the repetition sets in rather quickly with multiple units on the same class.
When not in battle, you’ll be preparing for upcoming conflicts back at a base camp, where you can increase relationship standings with other characters, improve facilities, and much more. You can spend time doing Chores with other characters, cook them food, or participate in training with them to increase weapon and class proficiency. There’s only a certain amount of time allocated within each chapter, though, so picking and choosing what you want to do requires some careful deliberation.
The Switch has struggled for sometime now to keep up with modern hardware and it really shows in Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. The game borrows visual cues from Three Houses, which is to say 2D character portraits, character models, and the CG cutscenes look great, whereas environments feel left behind. This wasn’t as noticeable in Three Houses because a bulk of the gameplay takes place from a top-down perspective, but Three Hopes is almost always in third-person, bearing all the low detail and bland environments front and center.
Performance is a similarly mixed bag. It often drops to sub-thirty frames-per-second in handheld mode when the going gets hectic, which is quite often in Musou games. Docked performance fairs a little bit better, holding on to higher average frame rates at 1080p, but nothing that changes the experience drastically from its handheld counterpart, leaving a lot to be desired overall.
After 12 hours of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, I have my fingers crossed that the momentum established in the last few chapters will be carried forward through to the end of the game. While I wouldn’t say the 12 or so hours I’ve spent with it so far have been bad or even boring, there is clear room for improvement here and a lot of potential for an interesting narrative and gameplay loop once progression starts ramping up further. Right now, it’s a musou game that doesn’t do anything too remarkable, with some fun Fire Emblem inspirations, and that’s okay, but every now and again there’s glimmers of something more, and I can’t help but hope that the rest of the game delivers on that promise.