With the success of the likes of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, Persona 5 Strikers and, of course, 2017’s Fire Emblem Warriors on Nintendo Switch, it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Omega Force, the developer behind the long-running Warriors franchise, is intent on continuing to serve up more zany crossovers that mix its spectacular Musou mayhem with aspects of whichever series it happens to be teaming up with this time around.
The first Fire Emblem Warriors was a mostly successful melding of Warrior’s signature mass brawls and the relationship-building and strategy elements for which Intelligent Systems’ tactical RPGs are best known. Now, some five years later, we’re being treated to a follow-up that takes the entire cast of the hugely popular Fire Emblem: Three Houses and flings them headlong into hack-and-slash battle. Is it mostly more of the same? Well, yes — Musou gonna Musou — but crucially this second bite at the cherry fixes the first game’s biggest flaw by providing a twisting, turning narrative that’s a huge improvement over the serviceable but uninspired story delivered in 2017.
Kicking off in an alternate universe/timeline to that found in Three Houses, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes sees you assume the role of a brand new character, Shez, just as they prepare to face off against Three Houses protagonist Byleth (don’t worry, it all gets explained). This opening battle sees you suffer a humiliating defeat and head off to lick your wounds before joining forces with Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude in a chance encounter that results in your being invited to join one of the game’s three houses and setting off on an all -new adventure.
It’s in this choice of houses — whether you decide to run with the Black Eagles, Blue Lions, or Golden Deer, and the various paths you’ll travel down as a result — that the game’s narrative aspects see most of their improvements. There’s a whole lot going on here, with all the main characters that fans will no doubt be expecting to see getting plenty of stage time as pompously overwrought politics (there’s a lot of bent knees and behooving in this one), burgeoning relationships, rivalries and more all play out over the course of a robust campaign that should take you a good 30 hours to see through — and that’s just for one house’s route through the action. Phew!
Yes, where the original Fire Emblem Warriors felt a little anemic when it came to the story side of things, here you’ve got a veritable feast to get tucked into and it’s all backed up by a plethora of systems and activities that you’ll indulge in between battles which allow you to spend lots of quality time with the members of whichever house you’ve sworn allegiance to. You’ll get to wander off on private expeditions in order to improve relations with whomever you fancy, make dialogue choices, hand out gifts, indulge in “support conversations” and even head out into the wilderness on short little trips that see you converse, answer questions and make jokes all while moving the camera around freely to have a good old look at the current object of your affections. You just can’t beat a good old chinwag.
Of course, this is still a Warriors game and so all of these relationship-focused aspects feed directly back into the ass-kicking action at the heart of everything, with improved relations and the time you take to cultivate them leading to better performance on the field of battle. You didn’t think you were just making friends for the sake of being nice, did you? Get a grip, mate.
Without wanting to go into too much detail, and for fear of spoilers that would ruin the party somewhat for you, dear reader, we won’t speak much more on the story side of things here, other than to say it goes to some exciting and dramatic places and there’s plenty of surprise appearances, shocks, broken allegiances, heel turns and all that tasty stuff thrown in for good measure.
Lots of sweet content to get excited about for Fire Emblem fans, then, and that’s all before we get to talking about the great big bloody scraps. Yes, if you’re coming to this one as a Warriors fan, you will not be disappointed either, as Omega Force has done a top-notch job, not just in layering on lots of suitably Fire Emblem-esque strategy elements, but in delivering an action-packed spectacle that runs impressively smoothly during its biggest battles — although we did notice a bit of slowdown here and there whilst wandering around your encampment between fights.
As was the case in the first Fire Emblem Warriors, battles here differentiate themselves from other Musou efforts by giving you the opportunity to select and direct your party of protagonists both before and during face-offs with some pretty engaging real-time tactical fun. A pre-scrap map lets you browse your current roster of fighters and icons on the screen will change from blue to red and back as you go, indicating whether or not characters are a good match-up for the types of enemies you’re about to square off against. This all works into the game’s returning weapons triangle system where swords, axes, lances, bows, and so on have strengths and weaknesses over one another, providing another nice little wrinkle of strategy.
Once you’ve selected your preferred team setup you can dive into battle proper and get busy using all the usual flashy combat arts and magic, critical rush attacks, powerful partner specials, Awakening-boosted frenzies, and more to tear your enemies to absolute shreds in timeless Musou fashion. You can also pause a fight at any point to individually direct members of your team to sixteen specific strongholds, go on all-out assaults against a particular boss who’s just wandered into the fray, or defend some hapless individual — or group of individuals– who need shepherding to safety. Most of what’s here in terms of the combat side of things will be familiar to anyone who’s played 2017’s effort (or any of these Musou crossovers, really) but now there’s more in the way of character-specific skills and attacks that give the whole thing a nice shot of variety that makes sticking with. Leveling up and strengthening your favorite characters feels far more worthwhile.
On this note, another area in which Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes improves upon its predecessor is in how easily you can now switch any character’s class, training your fighters up in multiple disciplines, or all of them if you fancy, and switching them around as you see fit. We can’t go into too much detail on the various classes or specific abilities included here, but needless to say this side of things has been bolstered with more levels to work through, and the practice of actually unlocking classes and branching off to specialize in each one is far more straightforward this time around. It all makes for a game that feels slicker and gives you more freedom to take your favorite Three Houses characters and turn them into the warrior you want, whether that be a great big lumbering armored knight, a dual-wielding master of swords, or a wyvern-riding axis fiend.
The base camp is another aspect of 2017’s game that makes a return this time around and here it’s bolstered by even more ways to strengthen relationships, improve weapons, sell and buy goods, train, cook, run errands and chores, pick up rewards, and expand all of your facilities through multiple levels on more skill trees and stat-heavy menus than you can shake a Killer Lance+4 at. There really are a lot of distractions and moving parts to busy yourself with and it makes for a game that strikes a fine balance between all-out Musou action and downtime where you can soak in all that lovely character-driven Fire Emblem goodness.
Of course, if you hate the thought of spending time looking at numbers, picking out weapons, and equipping all the best doodahs between scraps, you can choose to play the game in a “quick and efficient” mode that dials back the pre- and post-battle stat crunching. You can also press ‘Y’ to optimize your roster’s equipment in the “convoy” area before fights, so there are plenty of corners to be cut if you’re more of a straight-up fighter than a lover of prep work.
Speaking of game modes, just like the last entry — and in keeping with the spirit of Fire Emblem proper — you can choose to play this one in either Classic or Casual, with your most treasured characters either returning to the fray after death or being subjected to irreversible permadeath depending on how you rock. We ran with permadeath engaged and had a few tough losses along the way, but there are so many cracking characters here, so many additions to the line-up as the story moves along, that there’s always a top-notch replacement waiting just around the corner. Keeping permadeath turned on really does infuse the whole thing with a nice bit of tension, too — you’ll find yourself desperately rallying around the battlefield to guard your friends at points — so we reckon this is the way to play if you’re looking for maximum drama.
With great big action-packed battles that see you direct your squad around busy maps full of cannon fodder foes and bosses plucked from all over Fire Emblem: Three Houses, plus the ability to call in battalions of hired goons, summon support to your cause, recruit defeated enemy commanders into your ranks and more, the action here is as frenetic and strategically absorbing as it’s ever been in a Musou mix-up of this kind. Take all of this slick hack-and-slash battling and pair it with a much-improved story, lots of opportunity to engage in relationship building, leveling up, improving facilities, forging, cooking, training and more, and you’ve got a Warriors game that’s really hard to find any major fault with.
Of course, it’s not an entirely flawless endeavor by any means and, if we must get negative, the balance between battles and downtime early on — up until around chapter five, precisely — feels a little off, with a lot of long conversations that then flip into fights which are just far too short and easy to blast through, but this imbalance spells itself out once the story really gets going. Oh, and if we’re being picky we could also point a finger at the fact the game is still introducing brand new mechanics over 10 hours into its campaign, which can get a bit much. These small issues aside though, we’d be hard pushed to find much else to complain about here.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, in summary, feels like a solid improvement over its already quite impressive predecessor. It’s a game that manages to strike a beautiful balance between all the drama and strategy of Intelligent Systems’ series and the non-stop hack-and-slash mayhem that Omega Force is known for. With good performance in both docked and handheld modes — apart from a little bit of noticeable slowdown whilst wandering around camp — great use of HD Rumble to give attacks some satisfying oomph, and lots of flashy specials and screen-shaking moves to pull off as you flatten thousands of foes at a time, this is a hugely addictive and entertaining effort in which fans of both Fire Emblem and the Warriors franchise should find plenty to enjoy.