Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is the full package - Preview

In the week I’ve had with Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes I have to say, I’ve been having a great time with it - much more than I could have ever expected. I’m a big Three Houses fan; despite its flaws, it's probably one of my favorite entries in the series. I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of Warriors/Musou games, though, which is surprising since I play almost every licensed spin-off that Omega Force puts out. Don't think about it too hard, I don't get it either.

Being a sequel to the original Fire Emblem Warriors, and in a way a technical follow-up to Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity had me conflicted. I didn’t care much for either of these. What I was surprised to learn was that Three Hopes seems to share a design philosophy with Persona 5 Strikers. This sentence will either excite you beyond belief or confuse you, so I’ll clarify further.

Fire Emblem Three Hopes replicates the structure of Three Houses, changes and improves parts to make it work with the new gameplay style, and offers a new story that fits in rather well for returning fans. In this preview window, I’ve been able to play the first eight chapters of Edelgard’s Crimson Blaze route, and it’s hard to deny just how much the game has won me over in this time.

I’ll admit, the game’s prologue did not leave the best first impression. The first four chapters consist of Shez, the new protagonist, experiencing an abridged yet slightly altered version of the pre-war act of Three Houses. Shez is a welcome new addition, being a mercenary like Byleth but with an active role in the story thanks to having voiced dialogue. You’d expect Shez to be a generic observer, spouting the usual power of friendship dialogue. You know how it typically goes, best at everything and loved by all. To some extent, they can be exactly that, but the writers succeed in actually making it believable that the cast would like them… by putting in the work to make them actually likable. 

There’s nothing worse when playing a game where a painfully generic main character is beloved by all, but you feel a disconnect because you just can’t see it yourself. It’s so hard to really describe what makes Shez work so well, especially under the restraints of a preview embargo, but I think this would do it. Out of every protagonist in the Fire Emblem series, Shez is the only one I’d probably want to go grab a drink at a pub with after work. Being an orphan and a merc that enters the story down on their luck after original playable character Byleth kills their mercenary troop, Shez’s initial motivation is revenge and money. He’s approachable despite that.

The male Shez just seems like a nice guy with enough of an edge to keep him from being optimistic to an annoying extent. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of protagonist, but Shez feels like the perfect fit for this story. By the time I hit chapter 8, it feels like he was always supposed to be here. I’m keeping my expectations in check, but I’m genuinely quite excited to see where his story goes and hope they stick the landing in each of the three routes.

Shez joins Garreg Mach Monastery as a student, and the narrative speedruns that arc to get to the war. It was quite jarring, to see the game fly through what was initially about half of the Three House’s story in about 4 hours. You do a couple of story missions and then hit the timeskip. I was really disappointed at first, but after this, the game slows down to a reasonable pace and seems to devote the rest of the game to the war. As I settled into the main gameplay loop, I realized that rushing past the first act of Three Houses was a blessing in disguise.

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The war was always the most interesting part of the story, so assuming we know most of the world-building and getting to the fun parts to explore new ideas was a great idea. This has an unfortunate side effect of more -or -less requiring people to have played Three Houses (unless they want to read a bunch of lore journals, which I don’t think is ideal but more power to you). Make no mistake, this is not a Musou-themed retread. This is a game made for fans, with a story that does its best to not waste their time with things they already know. I’m enjoying Edelgard’s route a lot so far, and outside of that prologue, it seems like they’ve committed to not rushing her story this time around.

You might be surprised to see so much of the intro of my preview talk about Shez and the story, and that’s because it was clearly a big focus for the game. Thankfully, this wasn’t done at the cost of fun gameplay either. Once chapter 4 comes around, the game settles into a familiar loop to the original. You have a main base, facilities, free time points, and a fun cast of characters to hang out with. When you’re not in the musou battles, or just need a break, you’re walking around your base camp. It fills the same role as Garreg Mach does, but thankfully is a lot smaller while maintaining content density.

Not only does it take less time to make your rounds at the beginning of each chapter, but put simply, Three Hopes cuts the tedious parts of tackling your down time. My biggest issue with the new hub is that each line of dialogue is no longer fully voiced. One of Three Houses biggest achievements to me was just how much dialogue was voice acted. It personalizes the world and makes it feel engrossing. I got over this, and every cutscene and support conversation remains fully voiced, but it would have been nice if this attention to detail was kept.

The calendar system has been ditched, replacing it with a War Map that allows players to take progression of each chapter at their own pace. You have your base on one end, and the location your army needs to travel to at the other. Between that are a plethora of side missions, some of which need to be done, contextualized in the story as your army reclaiming territory as they make progress to the main mission. You can make a beeline to the main story mission, but the game subtly recommends you clear out the map. You’ll get more supplies, which can help grow your base, and level your units up evenly as you approach the chapter’s main mission. Most importantly, doing so will net your Strategy Points that can be spent on persuading familiar units to join your cause during the main mission.

It’s rather hard to offer a groundbreaking opinion on Musou combat, god knows I’ve tried in the past. I don’t think the actual combat in Three Hopes is revolutionary, but it’s solid and enjoyable enough that combining it with Three Houses' addictive gameplay loop has led to one of the most fun Musous I’ve played. Let it be known, that almost every mechanic in Three Houses that existed to train and improve your units has made it over. I can’t think of any that haven’t, and they work great here. Your units can train through a class tree, with a recommended path and the freedom to branch off into any style they want. You end up with characters in certain playstyle archetypes, but all of their individual use cases have kept me from relying on only a few. A select few of them have unique classes, like Edelgard and Shez. 

Performance was one of my biggest worries. If you remember my Age of Calamity review from last year, my biggest gripe there was how poorly the game ran. The Switch is getting up there in age now, so developer ambition is frequently met with friction from hardware restrictions. The game seems to target 30 FPS, and on my TV it hits that more often than not. Undocked is obviously not as consistent, but never drops down to unplayable for me. The biggest framerate hits I’ve found are easily in the main base, so thankfully battles only chug when the effects get really extreme. Strange enough, I’ll often find the performance jumping up to what appears to be a solid 60 FPS in secluded locations such as in buildings. I’m not sure what’s going on behind the scenes here, but I can only imagine how perfect this game would be on a stronger Switch. Here’s to hoping. 

The resolution has held up well, moreso when playing it docked, but it looks comparable to the original game’s visuals undocked as well. The most impressive improvement of the visuals for me so far was replacing the weird fake 3D backgrounds of the original game (2D images stretched out in what appeared to be a sphere around the characters) with full 3D backgrounds for cutscenes. It’s a great touch, and combined with a larger font shows that it seems like the dev team listened to feedback. Three Hopes isn’t the prettiest game ever, but it’s about on par with the original game if not slightly better looking.

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I’ve quite enjoyed my time with Three Hopes so far. The gameplay loop, my favorite part of Three Houses, has been kept in and improved to make for a tighter paced experience fitting for a Warriors game. Battles are fun, backed up by several RPG systems and competent AI party members to keep it from being boring. The story is fun so far, no literary masterpiece but an entertaining tale with engaging characters that knows when to take itself seriously. That, to me, sounds like a worthy successor to Three Houses. I’ve also been surprised at how much content seems to be in the game. Judging from the pace I’ve played out so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if the content on offer rivals Three Houses. Time will tell if it will avoid crumbling under its own weight, but I’m pretty optimistic based on this first impression.

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