The fate of Fodlan is in your hands... again, in Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes for Nintendo Switch.
Musou games are a 3D take on the classic beat 'em up genre that started in 2004 in the PS1 era with Dynasty Warriors developed by Omega Force and published by Koei games. Omega Force have remained the premier developer for this somewhat niche genre since its inception, with 16 titles in the original Dynasty Warriors series, 10 in the Samurai Warriors series and 5 in the Warriors Orochi series. A number of IP owners have also collaborated with Omega Force with One Piece, Zelda, Persona, Berserk and of course Fire Emblem all receiving one or more Musou titles of their own.
This one is a spin-off from a little known series known as 'Zelda'.
For those uninitiated with the series, 'Fire Emblem' might only stand for 'that game where too many Smash characters come from'. Those people need to educate themselves...
Forget Mario, Zelda and Metroid - Fire Emblem is one of the best and longest running series in the Nintendo family. Since the original game 'Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light' released on the Famicom (NES) in 1990, there have been 13 main-line titles and three re-makes in the series' standard 'Tactical RPG' style along with three spin-off titles: Tokyo Mirage Sessions (a turn based RPG), and two Musou titles being the first 'Fire Emblem: Warriors' and now the subject of this review: 'Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes'.
The most recent main-line title in the series was the 2019 Game of the Year contender, Fire Emblem: Three houses. Omega Force and Nintendo look to capitalise on that amazing game with this second Fire Emblem musou title. Do they do enough to bring tactical/strategy RPG gamers over to the much more action oriented beat 'em up style? And what about gamers who have never played a Fire Emblem game at all?
The plot of the original Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a deep and complex tale of the land of Fodlan, its three nations in peace and a religious faction that is not quite what it seems. That game follows the protagonist Byleth through their time at the Garreg Mach monastery. Three Hopes brings back the exact same cast of characters in what can be considered a 'parallel universe' or alternate reality to the original game. This time our protagonist is the mercenary Shez, who once again must choose who to align with at the start of the game: Dimitri and the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, Claude and the Leicester Alliance, or the correct choice - Edelgard and the Ardestian Empire (you can choose whoever you want, but Edelgard is bae).
We are introduced to Shez in an introductory battle where he is almost killed by the Three Houses hero, Byleth. Shez is saved by the mysterious being Avral, and of course swears to destroy Byleth in revenge. Soon afterwards, Shez rescues the three young heroes (cough...Hopes) from a bandit attack and it is at that point that Shez is allowed to enrol in the officer's academy and choose who to support.
At that point the story splits into three arcs that need to be completed on separate play throughs. Each of the factions have their own motivations and goals that cause the leaders to declare war on those that they previously considered friends. The three pathways allow us to spend more time with the amazing cast of characters. As we progress through the story, there are multiple opportunities to recruit some of the opposing forces to your side, in addition to some characters that were DLC only in the original Three Houses. As with that title, it is a pure joy to experience the interactions between the various characters.
The light-heartedness of the banter between characters at the war camp doesn't detract from a heavy story as one would expect when war is involved. There are traitors and betrayals. Characters die. Similar to Three Houses there are 3 normal endings, one for each faction, in addition to the 'true' ending which requires specific choices to be made through the game. Due to the quality of the presentation of the characters (animations and voices) I did feel that the 'standard' endings felt a bit flat, though the 'true' ending does make up for this somewhat.
Overall, the story is a bit weaker than Three Houses. But not by much. Certainly if you enjoyed that adventure, you will love having the chance to revisit Fodlan - even if things are a little different this time. If you are new to this world and these characters, I would suggest playing through Three Houses first to experience Fodlan the way it was intended before this spin-off.
The gameplay is where Three Hopes has the biggest departures from Three Houses, though there are many similarities here too. Lets start with the biggest difference which is of course the main battle mechanics.
Three Houses is a slow, tactics based Strategy RPG. Three Hopes is a fast-paced 3D beat 'em up. The majority of missions will have you take your choice of 4 team members (which may or may not include the protagonist Shez) into battle. You can freely switch between these 4 characters as your active fighter at any time, meanwhile the other three can be directed to complete various tasks on the map such as attack enemy leaders, seize or defend areas on the map, defend other characters on the map or even open chests.
It is important to utilise orders, as if you do not direct the other three characters they will basically do nothing. Characters can use light and heavy attacks, two slots available for skills or spells, class specific attacks, character specific unique skills and build up a warrior gauge to use special attacks (think limit breaks). There is a lot on offer here, and using different classes of characters does provide some variety, though the classes do tend to feel same-y after a while.
Sometimes the sheer amount of little interconnected systems can feel like a bit much, but often you can ignore these and just push through battles with brute force. Fortunately, it is always fun to mow through literally thousands of enemy troops to reach each mission's goal. Even better - you can bring a friend in two player split-screen mode if you want to!
Battles are important of course, but more than half of this game is spent outside of battle in the war camp. The mobile war camp of your chosen faction in Three Hopes replaces the monastery of Garreg Mach. Some of the activities you perform here feel familiar, but others are used to prepare your army for the upcoming mission, and these activities are essential if you want to succeed.
Each area of your camp need to be upgraded with items found out on the battlefield - these are drip fed to you through the adventure to ensure you can only access certain skills, classes and items after particular points in the game. As in Three Houses, each character enters battles using a specific class. Unlocking more powerful classes requires use of the Training Grounds which also provides opportunities for your team to obtain new skills in their chosen class.
The original Fire Emblem Warriors title included 32 playable characters (9 of which were DLC only). Three Hopes has bumped things up a notch with a massive 54 playable characters. There are 39 classes accessible to the majority of characters, with Shez and the faction leaders having a few unique classes only they can access.
Meanwhile the Tactics Academy upgrades each character's unique skills and provides other bonuses like allowing them to carry more healing potions into battle. Cooking and completing chores are also used to build up the support level with other characters and provide other small bonuses before heading to the battlefield, and you can also take one character out with Shez on an expedition to find out more about them.
There is a lot to do at camp, and it provides a great break between the battles which would otherwise become quite monotonous. All in all this leads to a gameplay experience that is very more-ish. You will finish a battle and want to see what you can unlock at the camp, and then once you are done at camp you will want to run out on the battlefield yet again. It is a great balance and it is very easy to spend many hours in this iteration of Fodlan.
I loved the presentation of Three Houses, and the team at Omega Force certainly captured the same feel here in Warriors: Three Hopes. The characters are animated in beautiful cel-shaded style bringing that true anime feel to experience. Battle animations are fluid and enjoyable to watch and some of the characters have great animations to accompany their unique skills.
Voice acting is absolutely top notch and it was great to see that they brought back the entire original cast from Three Houses. They backed up the awesome performances in Three Houses by doing another great job here. The excellent writing in this title provided them with what I expect would be a fun job - and it showed in their accomplishments in Three Hopes. Sound effects at the camp site and in battle sound meaty and suit the environment we are presented with. The soundtrack is also excellent with a few absolutely banger tracks, though there isn't a huge amount of range here.
What I found most impressive was how the game actually ran on the Switch. Loading times are very quick whether fast travelling around the camp, switching between characters in battle or even the actual loading of the battle environment on starting a quest. Furthermore, the ability of the switch to have dozens of enemies on screen, plus battle animations, without any significant slow down was just crazy.
The only negative for me was that the battle environments, with a couple of exceptions, did start to feel a little similar to each other, but that was easy to ignore due to the pure fun of the battle system.
Musou games are a niche genre - small enough that a lot of gamers might not have ever tried them. Omega Force are using big series like Zelda, Persona and now Fire Emblem to reach a wider audience, and I think that is a great thing. Variety in games is great and Musou is definitely its own thing - and Omega Force is simply the best team making these games right now.
For fans of the Fire Emblem series (and Three Houses in particular), this is almost a must-play game because it allows us to return to a deep world with engaging characters that are extremely likable. The quality of the story might not be as strong, but playing this game feels like being at a party with a table full of candy and snacks - you just need to keep going back for a little more...just one more piece...maybe a little more.
This game isn't going to knock some of the bangers of this year out of any 'Game of the Year' lists like its predecessor in Three Houses did, but I had a lot of fun, and wouldn't be surprised if I get the urge to fire it up again later in the year for that sugar rush of smashing out 5000 hit combos with my girl Edelgard.
So, why should you play it?
You loved (what should have been) the Game of the Year for 2019 Fire Emblem: Three Houses and want to re-enter that world.
The power to mow down literally thousands of enemies is what you seek
But, why shouldn't you play it?
Games with too many complex interconnected systems aren't your style
You dislike games in with a style rooted in anime
A review code on Nintendo Switch was kindly provided by Nintendo Australia for the purpose of this review. If you enjoyed this review, please check out more of our articles and reviews here or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Leigh 'SirLemsip' Zemski
Leigh is a game reviewer and columnist from Melbourne. His favourite genres are JRPGs, rhythm games, third person action games and old-school shoot 'em ups. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com