In a twist of fate, I never did once play Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’m ashamed to admit that a rather large spider above my TV stopped my initial plan to start the game one warm summer night, and I never found the time or will to try it again.
Stop reading now if you want, but know that my admission of guilt means you’ll get unfiltered thoughts on Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes: a game I have no personal connection with. Black Eagles? Arundel? I hardly know em’. I only know of Byleth from the hullabaloo they stirred by being yet another Fire Emblem character added to Super Smash Bros.
I don’t know these characters, but I ultimately don’t think it matters: I never once had a clear grasp of the story of Fire Emblem: Warriors: Three Hopes, yet I had a great time throughout, murdering those who looked a little rough, and beating the cute ones within an inch of their life before convincing them to join my crusade like cowards without resolve. They won’t die for their cause, and they probably won’t die for mine, but I was happy to make them the perfect soup and send them into battle all the same.
Back on point, though, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is, as you should gather from the Warriors moniker, a Musou game. What that means is that you’re put in charge of a tiny army tasked with taking on thousands of soldiers in stage-based battles, running around each level’s map, and cutting through lightly armed battalions like butter.
Slightly stronger adversaries prop up key strongholds that you can capture to bolster your own waves of mindless allies, but the aim is the same: mash a combination of X and Y enough to beat them up, and then use whatever other buttons blink on the screen to execute big, flashes finishers and impressive area attacks that bring both your enemies and your Nintendo Switch to their knees. You can even pair up your favourite characters as adjutants (best buds) to have them join in with their own atomic-level skill as well, which can make for an overpowered (and easily abused) tactical advantage.
The general order of business is to control your favourite character and then order your other named NPCs to attack, defend, and capture other objectives on the map. Some objectives can be a little obtuse, which, paired with an apparent lack of colourblind options for people such as me, can lead to some irritatingly repetitive game over screens, but there’s a certain degree of joy to be had in finally figuring things out.
Fighting For Freedom With Freedom
To break up the monotony of running endless skirmishes with the same combos, you’re free to control any four characters at the touch of a button. You can issue commands to all eight in larger battles, but it’s only your finest four you’re able to directly control, which can force some appropriate (and feel-good) hands-off moments where you have to hope the generals you’ve sent out are up to the task at hand.
Like any good game in the series, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes has an extensive class system at its core. Generalist classes become increasingly specific Intermediate, Advanced, and Master roles naturally over the course of the game, bringing endless combos, handy traversal options, and superior area attacks and heals to the war table.
Any character can live up to the profession you choose for them, and you’re welcome to have them master each in time. Their natural talents have them excel at specific ones - like agile characters having the stats to properly support being a Thief - but there’s a lot of fun to be had by having the well-mannered and lanky nobles don sharp gauntlets and punch the snot out of the enemy’s heavily armoured brutes.
There are some instances of gender-locked classes and missions that are downright inexcusable in a world that’s finally starting to grapple with the realities of its historical gender discrimination practices, but there’s no getting around the fact that the game’s extensively customizable and traditional RPG elements remain a high point. Your favourite characters are rarely locked from mastering a dizzying number of fighting styles, creating the means to play out a war almost exactly the way you want to. You can even lightly customize the clothes they wear into battle if you decide hulking plate armour isn’t the look you want your imposing axe murderer to imprint on their foes.
The Calm Before The Bladestorm
Between battles, which can take anywhere from five minutes to 50, you’re free to chill out at your garrison. Go ahead, chat up comrades, train with the troops, and do just about anything you can to meaningfully interact with the members of your chosen house. Bigger brawls even allow you to spend an allowance on tactics that range from bolstering a defensive position to encouraging a member of one of the other two houses to join your side at the end of a battle.
Explaining all these systems is where Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes often gets a little tiresome, though. To explain its many menu screens, icons, and light strategy mechanics is an irritatingly lengthy tutorial system that never stops tossing blocks of text on your screen throughout your playthrough. You can turn them off altogether if you really want to, but even with them, one was so badly explained (or simply got lost in the rabble) that I’d already slaughtered an officer my garrison lunch buddies would have loved to shoot the breeze with before the game actually told me how to instigate the appropriate plea bargain.
And therein lies one fundamental issue I’ve had with this game throughout my two dozen hours with it. Between the tutorial text screens that really could have been handled better, to the sheer length of the cutscenes in the opening chapters, it takes far too long for the game to properly click. If, like me, your brain just can’t handle lengthy and intrusive text boxes and requires regular shots of actual gameplay, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes can be a bit of a slog. But stick with it.
On nights where I’d only get an hour or two with the game, it felt like the majority was spent doing chores at the camp, getting lost in convoluted menus, figuring out subsystems my brain wouldn’t let me take in from text boxes alone, and watching cutscenes that went from the 'enemy, ally, general narration' structure, and to the somewhat paranormal so frequently that my infinitely distracted personality just couldn’t let me sit back and enjoy the ride. In my mind, though, those conditional weaknesses are proof of the strengths of this uniquely positioned game.
Once you’ve settled on your favourite cast of characters, downtime can almost exclusively be spent hanging out with them, which bolsters your chosen squad’s strengths on the battlefield as well.
While I wasn’t necessarily there for the overarching storyline or the min/maxing of character relationships and lore, the less interesting parts of the game were eventually reduced to minor inconveniences, leaving deceptively simple battles and the occasional chitchat left to easily carry things forward. The whole cast was still there to back up powerful moments - like baiting a boss into a corner for a battalion of captured trebuchets to pummel, but you’re free to pretend they didn’t exist soon after.
Everything's Coming Up My-House
It’s clear that not every element of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes was tailor-made for me, but once I’d found my band of merry men and figured out its intricacies on my own terms, I found value in what it was offering without having to rely on the 40+ hour RPG that came before. Once it clicked after a couple of sessions, I was always itching to play just one more battle at the end of the night.
I could argue there’s almost too much to get stuck into here, but most of its subsystems and plots can be ignored without affecting the core gameplay. This made it easy to recommend Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes not only as a wonderful way to enjoy the original game’s cast in a new light but as a warm welcome to anyone who’s put off by the franchise’s traditional turn-based RPG systems
It’s simple enough for anyone to get a lot of enjoyment out of while retaining its deep strategic RPG roots for those who demand more of a challenge. It’s a great way to meet the characters an army of fans formed around just a few short years ago, and one that’s absolutely worth checking out.