I love Musou games. Mowing down hundreds of enemies while stringing together killer combos is the kind of visceral fun that really appeals to me. At the same time, I totally understand that it’s not everyone’s bag. The same can be said for turn-based strategy—I dig it, though I get that not everyone else does—but Fire Emblem: Three Houses broke the mold and brought both the genre in general and that franchise in particular to the masses. So if you were disappointed to learn that the next release was a Warriors spin-off rather than a new entry in the core series, rest assured; despite its hack-and-slash leanings, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes feels like a Fire Emblem game in every way that matters.
Neither a prequel nor a sequel to Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Three Hopes is best viewed as an alternate retelling of the 2019 title. Many of the characters, locations, and plot points (specifically as they relate to the fracturing of Fódlan’s delicate political/religious alliances) will look familiar to fans of Three Houses, but—in addition to swapping out turn-based battles for real-time combat—things are… well, slightly askew.
Byleth, your avatar in Three Houses, now serves as a foil to a newcomer, Shez, who acts as your primary player character in Three Hopes. Just as Byleth is saved by his spirit guardian Sothis in the original telling, so too is Shez saved from certain death (at Bylteth’s hand, no less) by the equally enigmatic Arval. In Three Hopes, it is Shez whose fateful meeting with Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude leads him to the school at Garreg Mach Monastery where he becomes a major player in the simmering political upheaval.
In short order, Shez must make a choice between the houses of the Blue Lions, Black Eagles, and Golden Deer, thus determining where his loyalties lie during the ensuing conflict. However, since this is Fire Emblem, it is Shez’s decisions both on and off the battlefield that determine where the story of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes goes throughout its 40+ hours of gameplay.
As with any Warriors game, combat is straightforward and nicely intuitive. The X and Y buttons control strong and regular attacks, B is used to dodge, and the A button unleashes a warrior’s special attack. Combos are the bread and butter of Musou combat, and they are typically achieved by alternating between X and Y strikes, stringing together exaggerated assaults, and filling up the gauge used to activate that sweet, sweet warrior special. My OLED Switch performed wonderfully in handheld mode, despite the many enemies on screen, with the only slowdown I noticed being during those special attack animations (which are sort of slowed down for effect anyway).
Clicking down on the right thumbstick locks on to an enemy, and the d-pad is used to cycle up and down between control of Shez and his allies—an important tactic on the battlefield where victory conditions and side missions change frequently. The ZL trigger can be used to reset the occasionally fiddly camera, and ZR is employed in tandem with the lettered buttons to perform unique combat actions and to use HP-restoring vulneraries.
Scattered amongst the cannon fodder, Shez and his allies will find hardier enemies who, when defeated, drop loot. This, along with the completion of various objectives and breaking the occasional color-coded loot pots, results in post-battle awards. Money, items, resources, and weapons are easily acquired via skillful performance, and the higher your rating the better the payoff.
In addition to type advantage (arrows, for example, are more effective against flying enemies) the Fire Emblem weapon durability system also carries over to Fire Emblem Warriors, but with one important difference. It’s only by using Combat Arts and Magic attacks (mapped to the R trigger Quick Menu) that weapon durability is reduced. Exhausting durability simply means you can no longer use those special attacks, and all durability is restored to a weapon after the battle.
The weapon type accessible to any given character is tied to their class, another Fire Emblem hallmark. Tricksters and myrmidons employ swords, while soldiers and knights use spears. Leveling a character up allows them to master their current class and potentially advance to a more powerful iteration with access to higher-level weaponry.
Class promotion, as well as acquiring gift items and spending time with your troops to build relationships, is handled at the game’s roving base camp. No matter where it’s located in Fódlan, your base camp hub is always laid out the same… Though its inhabitants tend to wander between battles, so it does sometimes take legwork to find the character you’d like to interact with.
This relationship-building is just as integral and rewarding to the plot of Three Hopes as it was in Three Houses. You learn more about the personalities at play by how they interact with each other—even if some of their quirks or personal motivations from the previous game differ in this slightly altered environment.
Resources acquired in battle or through completing optional missions outside of combat can be used to improve the various base camp facilities such as the item shop, training grounds, and blacksmith. This helps keep things interesting and engaging, even when you’re not cutting down your foes. No matter how trivial the interaction or how minor the upgrade, Three Hopes continually rewards the diligent player with constant forward momentum.
Between base camp maintenance and fearsome combat comes battle prep. Here players are treated to an overview of the upcoming map and allowed to tweak their unit positioning and tactical orders before the combat unfolds. It’s the proverbial calm before the storm, a brief respite where things are still and quiet. As soon as the fighting begins, though, expect to second guess your deployments and rethink your strategies because, as they say, no plan survives contact with the enemy.
Exploring and capturing new regions also nets the player strategy resources, points that can be used in the chapter-ending battle to help turn the tide in your favor. These are used to execute special battle plans, sabotage enemy strongholds, or even to woo combatants into your fold. In a game that is, on the surface, all about crazy combos and wholesale slaughter, it’s a really nice nod to the more deliberate, thoughtful gameplay of the original Fire Emblem franchise.
In addition to its focus on strategy, its ever-unfolding-if-occasionally-unwieldy plot of betrayal and intrigue, and the return of so many welcomed and familiar faces/voices, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes truly brings the very heart of the Fire Emblem franchise to the action genre in a way that I find irresistible. Even when characters behaved in ways that seemed counter to their Three Houses selves, even when my path through the game (Golden Deer, of course) didn’t do much to explain Shez and Arval and their enduring mystery, even when the character pop-in at base camp got so bad that I had to look at the map to reassure myself that, yes, someone actually was only a few feet in front of me—this is, for the record, my only legitimate gripe against the game—I kept playing because I love Fire Emblem and this is Fire Emblem.
If you love Fire Emblem too, or if you enjoy a good Warriors title, or if you’re just in the market for a big fantasy RPG with an equally big focus on combat to help you while away the summer hours, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is the game for you. It is certainly the game for me—I say as I start up new game+ mode. Perhaps this time, I’ll see what’s going on over on Dimitri’s side of the map.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. If Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes doesn’t turn out to be my game of the year for 2022, no one will be more surprised than me.