Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is magnificent. As much as Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity delivered an outstanding companion piece to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, here we are given the welcome chance to return to the war-torn lands of Fódlan and reunite with the characters that we all fell in love with in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Koei Tecmo Games once again prove to be an able partner to Intelligent Systems, effortlessly combining the Warriors series’ lust for over-the-top action with Fire Emblem’s steadfast strategic and story-rich underpinning. I had high hopes for this one – no pun intended – based on what has come before, and even I was surprised to witness a game unravel before my eyes that somehow managed to exceed them in near enough every way.
After a fateful battle with Jeralt’s Mercenaries and a near-fatal confrontation with Byleth – now known as The Ashen Demon and feared with as much notoriety as Dynasty Warriors’ own Lu Bu – a mysterious otherworldly being called Arval appears to save the life of newly-introduced protagonist Shez. Reeling with guilt from the loss of their mercenary companions, they set out to honour their fallen comrades by exacting their revenge.
That soon leads to a chance encounter to rescue Edelgard, Dimitri and Claude from a bandit ambush, who are each destined to one day lead the three ruling powers that now control the land – the Adrestian Empire, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus and the Leicester Alliance. After Shez proves their combat prowess on the battlefield, they attract the attention of the student’s mentors at the Officers Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery – soon receiving an unexpected invitation to enrol for one year to hone their skills. This is the game’s first inevitable divergent point at which you must choose to join either the Black Eagles, Blue Lions or Golden Deer. And so, with your choice made and the scene now set, you witness how your actions as Shez will shape the future of the continent.
Based on your decision, there are three distinctly different routes for the story to wander in – Scarlet Blaze, Azure Gleam and Golden Wildfire – that tread entirely new storylines compared with the original game for you to see unfold. I chose to join Edelgard and the Black Eagles, aligning with her ambition to unite Fódlan to establish a world with more equality in it while working to identify the elusively named “those who slither in the dark” and eliminate them. Seeing that route through to completion took me more than 50 hours – a playthrough in which I did every side mission, quest and activity as they became open to me. To see all three routes and ultimately everything that Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes has to offer will take you a considerable amount of time. Although, I have to admit that even with my seemingly unrelenting enthusiasm for the experience I felt burnout on occasion from battling through just a single route to its conclusion.
Risk-takers will be pleased to know that you can choose between Casual or Classic modes, although this cannot be changed after the start of the game. The Classic mode means that, after Chapter 4, any of your characters that fall in battle will be lost forever. Whereas the Casual mode will revive them after the battle ends. That said, at least on the Normal difficulty setting, health items are abundant on the battlefield and each character carries upgradeable Vulneraries that even computer-controlled characters have no problem using when their health is low. There were a handful of adrenaline-inducing instances where I was caught out and suddenly had to be careful, but I didn’t lose any characters in my time with the game. Maybe I’m simply lucky.
The core gameplay experience is a triumph at least, masterfully fusing the thriving strategy series with the Warriors’ series ever-popular rampage-like hack-and-slash approach – building on what was achieved for the original Fire Emblem Warriors. You take to the battlefield with four characters – my regular “squad” with the Black Eagles was Shez, Edelgard, Petra and Ferdinand – although the main missions will let you select more, even though you won’t have the chance to switch to control them all.
Changing character is as simple as pressing up or down on the directional buttons, but, to be honest, this wasn’t something that I felt I needed to do often. That’s largely thanks to the reliability of the computer-controlled characters, who you can issue orders to on the battle map. Whether ordering them to eliminate Base Captains to reduce enemy reinforcements, topple Stronghold Captains to capture them or even to defend mission critical allies, I can’t really fault how effective this was. It not only saves you time from having to run back and forth across the battlefield, but it allows you to focus on an objective while letting your other characters worry about something else.
If you’re wanting to work together with them, you can either order an All-Out Offensive to see your characters hurl everything they have at the same target or you can choose to team up with a character as an Adjutant. I’ll be honest and say that this is something that I could have used more than I did, seeing as it can help to raise your active character’s stats and grant access to their partner’s abilities. However, I never felt like I was struggling without having experimented with it more.
While much of your time locked in combat with the opposing hordes of enemies will be spent mixing regular and strong attacks to string together combos, there are more than enough gameplay mechanics to differentiate your approach so that it never risks descending into tedium. Class Actions, Combat Arts, Magic or sufficiently stunning an enemy commander to perform a Critical Rush, you can also unleash a devastating Warrior Special on your unsuspecting foes or enter an Awakened state to wreak havoc on trickier foes. Not to mention more evasive abilities like guarding and dodging.
Fire Emblem’s staple “Weapon Triangle” remains in effect but your class will also determine whether you are at an advantage or disadvantage when confronted with enemy commanders. The more advantageous effects you have, the more blue up arrows will be displayed and you will find it easier to knock back your enemy and decrease their Stun Gauge – presenting a window to perform a Critical Rush. You will see red down arrows in disadvantageous encounters, for which it’ll be easier for you to switch characters for.
At least for me, much of my motivation came from levelling up a character’s class – wanting to use Intermediate, Advanced and Master Seals to unlock more powerful classes to experiment with. As you would expect, the different weapon types – sword, lance, axe, bow, gauntlet and tome – offer more than enough variety on their own, but it’s clear that there has been an effort to make sure that the classes themselves feel different from one another. It also means that if you don’t enjoy using a particular weapon or class, you can find something better that works for you – seeing as each character has access to mostly all the classes that are available.
Of course, defeating enemies will reward you with experience that will level up your characters and continue to improve their stats. There are also stat-boosting items that you can use, and, if you find yourself leaving some characters behind, you can spend your in-game gold to boost their levels to catch up. Your efforts in battle are also ranked based on your completion time, enemies defeated and damage taken, with players encouraged to achieve an S Rank to be handed more valuable rewards, experience and gold. These are reasonable to attain as long as you know what kill tally to be aiming for, but there were some that I missed that I’ll have to go back to at some point.
The battlefields that you mercilessly rampage across range from those that are smaller-sized to those that are more expansive and labyrinthine. There are enough surprises and hazards to keep you on your toes, whether that be ballistae and fire orbs attacking your from a distance to the appearance of monstrous Demon Beasts, writhing Giant Crawlers and mechanical Golems that have multiple health bars and require that you exploit their weaknesses to vanquish them effectively. Conquering the War Map in advance of your next main mission will also reward you with worthwhile strategy resources that can be used in the chapter’s concluding battle. These can help give you an instant advantage, or even present the chance to persuade new characters to join your cause after they are defeated.
Where much of your time in Fire Emblem: Three Houses was spent in the hallowed halls of Garreg Mach Monastery, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes pitches you up in a less grandiose makeshift base camp. It is here that you can make preparations for your next battle and interact with characters, earning Support Points to increase the bonds between them to unlock Support Conversations.
There is a wealth of Facilities to use, whether that be levelling up your characters at the Training Grounds, reinforcing your characters with Battalions, cooking a boost-enhancing meal for your allies at the Recreation Quarter or stocking up on items at the Marketplace. You have a set amount of Training and Activity Points per chapter, so it’s up to you how you choose what to spend them on. There’s no Tea Time here, but, given the rural setting of your base camp, you can set out on Expeditions with characters that you have started to bond with. These work similarly though, presenting a chance for you to get to know your allies through conversations and questions – although be careful to select an appropriate response.
It certainly is a game that is bursting with content to keep you occupied with. Auxiliary Battles, Paralogues, Challenger Quests that offer greater rewards but limit your abilities in battle and even gathering materials to enhance the Facilities at your base camp, there’s much more to talk about, but perhaps it’s best to discover more about those for yourself.
The game’s technical performance is less problematic than Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, but then there’s nothing as large-scale as the Divine Beast encounters here. It looks fantastic, too, with Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ anime-inspired art direction remaining just as wondrous and often striking – even if the grainier resolution of the game’s cinematics comes as a disappointment. They deserved better.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes brazenly leaps headlong into battle, delivering tactical brilliance and heroic thrills in equal measure. This is an exceptional standout among the many Warriors games on Nintendo Switch, and perhaps the best to grace the portable home console up until this point – laden with armies to slaughter, heartfelt storytelling and more than enough content to keep you occupied for months on end whether at home or on the move.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo