When Fire Emblem Three Hopes was first announced, I was ecstatic. I’ve deeply enjoyed recent entries in the musuo crossover genre such as Age of Calamity and Persona 5 Strikers. Making another such game but specifically focused on what is probably my favorite Fire Emblem seemed like a guaranteed Ian-pleaser. Then I made a mistake: I played the first Fire Emblem Warriors. That game brought my expectations and my excitement way down, serving as my least favorite Warriors title I have played by a pretty solid margin. My issues with the game were myriad. I felt like the story was phoned in and the class system made the many playable characters feel less distinct, essentially like swappable skins rather than unique units. I was also concerned that some of the more interesting systems in the game – like what the weapon triangle brought to the musuo experience in terms of strategizing on the battlefield – would be removed since those elements did not exist in Three Houses.
While I did find the more recent trailers and tidbits of info shared about the game to be encouraging, nothing tells you more about a game than experiencing it directly. So I was pretty excited when the Three Hopes demo essentially leaked, and on the day it came out I was practically jumping for joy – though that was certainly influenced by the trailer announcing the demo and some of the news that came along with it. Wednesday afternoon once work was done, I nestled into my couch and squeezed as much content as I could out of the Golden Wildfire route of the demo. So what did I think? Did any of my concerns manifest?
Let’s start with the premise. Three Hopes is an alternate history of Three Houses, or at least that’s how it is presented in the beginning. Instead of playing as protagonist Byleth, you play as a younger mercenary named Shez who battles Byleth and loses. On the fateful night where Byleth would have met the lords of the three houses, Shez meets them instead. From that point forward, the history of Fodlan as we know it begins to change as familiar events play out differently and send our heroes on a new path forward into the future. The demo covers the entire “academy phase” – only three chapters in this game – and a partial chapter of the “war phase” that comes after.
I should throw in here that if you’re reading this and haven’t played Fire Emblem Three Houses, if spoilers are something you care to avoid then you don’t want to play Three Hopes first. This game pretty liberally crams in spoilers about the first title and by chapter three some of the biggest twists in the first game are just kinda mentioned offhand with no real fanfare. Part of the impact of this game comes from seeing what is different from the first title and building on some of the working knowledge you already have, expanding on the lore of the setting and allowing you to see familiar characters interact with new characters in interesting ways. While the game does take some steps to introduce you to the characters as if you are a new player (you get as much in this game before choosing a house as you do in Three Houses), overall it seems like you’ll have a better experience if you’ve played Three Houses or at least know the story from watching a let’s play or something similar.
Let’s talk mechanics for a bit. As a musuo title, Three Hopes is all about the one vs one thousand gameplay that has put the Warriors series on the map. You play as a single powerful commander on a battlefield full of cannon fodder to cut down. Your challenges come in the form of other powerful captain and commander units, giant monsters, and tactical threats. You’re a lot more likely to lose a battle in this game by leaving a key stronghold unprotected than you are actually losing in combat – in that sense, the strategy elements of Fire Emblem are a great fit for the musuo genre. More so than other Warriors games I have played, this game involves lots of giving orders to make sure my units are going where I need them to in order to take the most advantage of their bonuses and their movement type.
If like me you’ve played the original Fire Emblem Warriors, there is a decent amount here that is familiar. You make attacks with the Y and X buttons, your light and strong attacks, respectively. By mixing in strong attacks after a different number of preceding light attacks, you perform combos with different finishers that have different shapes and different effects on the enemies around you. Using a strong attack outside of a combo performs a class action, an attack that is unique to the class you are currently playing. When the enemy is pressing the offensive, using the B button to dodge or the ZL button to block allows you to protect yourself from harm. As you battle, you fill up a warrior gauge that allows you to perform powerful area attacks with the A button, and you also fill an Awakening gauge that lets you transform into an empowered state by pressing ZR+A. So far we are fully in “all this was possible in the first FE Warriors” territory.
Fortunately, Three Hopes builds significantly on those building blocks. Each character has a unique ability independent of their class, some of which are passive and some are active, activated with the ZR button. Shez for example can warp forward in a short burst while Lorenz draws enemies in close in a whirl of rose petals. Some examples of passives are Claude’s ability to imbue all of his attacks with wind or Leonie’s enhanced light attack combos. In addition to unique abilities, each character also has two combat arts/spells which they can unleash during combat at the cost of durability. Please note that in this game, durability is simply a resource you spend to perform combat arts – it does not actually effect the integrity of your weapon or cause you to lose the weapon. Combat arts and spells have unique shapes and side effects and vary from character to character – two characters in the same class can learn different arts from that class, helping to add to the feel that each unit is a bit different even when they have the same combos.
The weapon triangle is still present in this game but has been meaningfully expanded. Magic, bows, and gauntlets form their own triangle now, which makes spellcasters and archers a lot more useful than in the first Warriors game as they have a greater purpose than just targeting down units with special vulnerabilities. When you’re preparing for a map, a nifty chart that shows the weapon and unit types of the majority of the enemy forces allows you to judge what types of units you should be bringing along to the fight. Characters who haven’t participated in battle recently may also have an energized bonus which grants everyone more EXP based on the number of energized characters who participate in the battle. These factors join in with the unique abilities of your characters and what classes you are currently training to influence who you want to bring to the battlefield on any given map.
A huge element of Three Houses was the monastery, a steady home base you explored every chapter to have conversations and meals with students as well as training their skills through periods of instruction. Three Hopes captures this action through a campsite near the battlefield where merchants, teachers, and your fellow students all gather between battles. At the camp you can utilize and upgrade the various facilities which give your characters class EXP, mild passive bonuses, or boosts to morale that increase their damage output. You can also purchase items, weapons, and even level ups, as well as read up on lore and have conversations with a number of NPCs. The presence of the camp phase helps to capture the overall vibe of Three Houses – you do a battle, return to base and improve characters or make purchases, then head out to another battle once you’re ready.
A particular aspect of Three Hopes that I am very pleased with compared to the original FE Warriors is the quality of the support conversations. While not every character has a full dialogue with every other character when they reach a support rank, Shez has a dialogue with every character at every rank and other pairings may have one or two conversations as their relationships improve. These conversations are not quick one-liners – they are meaningful chunks of dialogue that expand on the history of the characters or highlight the unique relationships between certain pairs. A big part of the appeal here is seeing how the familiar faces of the party connect to Shez, our new protagonist. Seeing how Hilda and Marianne interact with particular aspects of Shez’s upbringing or abilities prevents these conversations from feeling like total repeats of what we heard from these characters in Three Houses. It helps that Shez is full of personality and well-acted, adding a lot of heart to the protagonist role that was not present with Byleth in the original game.
Overall, I’m happy with what I have seen from Three Hopes so far. At least in the beginning it seems that a lot of my concerns from the first FE Warriors have been addressed while also adding a lot of elements that make this title feel uniquely suited for the Three Houses setting. As I continue to play the game more, I’ll be looking at the route differences to see how much they add to the game in terms of replayability, considering how the story expands on Three Houses to see if it does something unique and interesting, and feeling out the class system more to see the ways in which it helps each character to feel unique and fun to play. The demo has cemented my excitement for the full game – once the end of June rolls around, I’ll be eager to dive into the world of Three Hopes and see what exactly the total experience has to offer.
“You’re a lot more likely to lose a battle in this game by leaving a key stronghold unprotected than you are actually losing in combat – in that sense, the strategy elements of Fire Emblem are a great fit for the musuo genre.”
….It was at that moment that Mitchell realized he had completely misunderstood Musuo games and wondered if playing with this new understanding would radically improve his experience.
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If it does, you’re welcome, haha!
I think as much as I didn’t like the first FE Warriors, that game was the first time it really *clicked* for me just how much the musuo genre already has some strategy elements built into it that Fire Emblem simply builds upon naturally. Unit positioning matters in something like Age of Calamity, for example, but it doesn’t necessarily matter which unit you send where. In FE Warriors, the weapon triangle system challenges you to think about who to send where, which is an extra layer that I personally really like. The presence of healers also means you can have backup units on the bigger maps who you give orders to go heal people who are getting weak, which is another nice upgrade compared to something like AoC. I think it’s totally fair not to enjoy those extra considerations but the strategy RPG fan in me certainly appreciates it.