Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes - High Hopes
I distinctly remember a time before Hyrule Warriors when Dynasty Warriors and its sister franchise Samurai Warriors endlessly alternated launches for more than a decade and the novelty rapidly wore off. Despite the heightened number of repetitious, and increasingly less original releases, the titles continued to sell through in high numbers for Omega Force and Koei Tecmo in their homeland, but in the west the franchises needed an injection of something, something to get more people in the door, something to shake-up the foundations of the Musou base. That shake-up came in the form of franchise collaborations, and while it wasn’t the first, it was Omega Force’s collaboration with Nintendo on the Wii’s Hyrule Warriors which really put Musou titles on the minds of players. Since then there have been several collaborations with One Piece, a sequel to Hyrule Warriors (Age Of Calamity), Persona 5 Strikers, Dragon Quest Heroes (Times Two), and a second collaboration with Nintendo, on their Fire Emblem IP. While the original title 2017 launch across 3DS and Switch didn’t do much to turn heads, Three Hopes, the alternate Warriors take on the events of 2019’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses, has gone on to become the best Warriors title, collaboration or not, to date.
For anyone who has played a Warriors game before, whether that be a Dynasty/Samurai Warriors title, or one of the many collaborative titles, the gameplay formula has been well and truly entrenched, with players looking to mercilessly carve their way through hundreds and thousands of armed goons on their way to complete an evolving objective, before carrying on to the next main mission. While that long established loop is still present in Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, it’s the numerous Fire Emblem: Three Houses systems that have been implanted into the DNA of a typical Warriors game that elevates Three Hopes beyond other titles, licensed or unlicensed in the genre. There are still support levels between you and the members of your ever-growing army to massage through chore completion, mission completion, and conversations over a cooked meal or on a one-on-one expedition, deep layers of weapon speccing at the Blacksmith and Armourer, facilities to upgrade that then provide a myriad of further upgrades, training for your squad, and new classes to unlock. Most of these systems have been embedded in smart ways that complement the core experience, enhancing it in ways that other licenses haven’t been able to do, but then there are aspects like the expeditions and character support levels that offer incredibly small buffs to your combat experience, yet demand so much time of the player that they become awfully tempting to skip through after a few short hours.
While the sub-plots of your army aren’t as relevant to the playing experience as they were in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, just like the broader narrative, they’re interesting to take in. The plights of each member of your ever-growing team are fascinating to sift through, and as is the case in the core game, require you to really get to know the character to resolve their issues and get the best out of them. The overall plot itself is an alternate timeline take on the events of Three Houses, with you assuming the role of a new character, Shez, a mercenary whose force is decimated in an attack by Byleth (yes, that one, she’s an antagonist this time), prompting you to join a house at the Garreg Mach Monestary, a decision that puts you on a whirlwind journey through to its completion. Of course the decision you make to align with whichever of the three houses, Scarlet Blaze, Azure Gleam, and Golden Wildifre means that the perspective you have on the war that later unfurls will change substantially, something that was one of the strongest elements of Three Houses, and is again the case in Three Hopes as well. It is still possible to recruit to your army from other houses though the process is far simpler in Three Hopes than it ever was previously, simply requiring players to select the option to persuade certain characters from the opposition when the option presents itself and then best them in combat; that person will then be an available unit for the remainder of your game. It is of course interesting to see the way the story twists and turns as you persuade others to join your side of the war, and even how those new members slot into the dynamic of the team. These additions don’t change the combat experience, but are certainly fascinating on the narrative level.
Decision making is an integral component to the way with which Three Hopes delivers its narrative, but it’s equally as important to the combat experience. Within any mission you’ll see the main mission objective change mutliple times as new chess pieces enter the arena, while optional side objectives appear regularly, tempting you away from the core path. Of course, being a Fire Emblem game, there’s even a permadeath mode that you can opt into which gives the player even more to consider if you choose to bite off a side-quest, or dispatch your troops one way while you go another. Permadeath toggled on or not, all of these quick decision making moments, fuelled by the relationships you’ve formed with your team are what drives the playing experience to levels not seen by other Musou titles, because without these elements, it would be a long 30+ grind mashing the same two to three buttons, clearing out thousands along the way.
One of the great challenges that Three Hopes faces is the limitations of the hardware of which its locked to. Environments that Intelligent Systems could get away with leaving a bit sparse in Three Houses due to the isometric perspective, don’t get the glow-up they need given the change in perspective. Frame-rate concerns, which typically plague Musou games are pleasingly absent here, though the offset is constant enemy pop-in, where once you looked at an empy field, only to moments later be staring at a legion of canon fodder who seeming burst out of the ground beneath them. I was equal parts pleased and underwhelmed by the musical accompaniment for the game, with several fantastic tracks from Three Houses being reworked or reused in exciting ways in a few instances. On the other hand, at times it seemed as though the developers couldn’t quite find a track from the original score that fit the scenario they were exploring in Three Hopes and so rather than constructing something original, they just stuck they embraced the Aussie “rough enough” mentality and just jammed something in there that would kind of fit.
While there are still some unfortunate rough edges present in Three Hopes, I’m so incredibly pleased to report that it’s the best proof so far of what musou games can be, if given a bit of extra tender love and care. The overwhelming majority of the Fire Emblem elements are additive to the traditional musou experience and it makes the prospect of returning to a Dynasty/Samurai Warriors, or hell, even Hyrule Warriors a significantly less enticing prospect. Fire Emblem: Three Hopes sets the bar higher than we’ve seen in this genre, and I have high hopes for whatever comes next.