Playing Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes feels like cooking in a really big kitchen. You might be stirring the contents of a pan one moment, only to turn around and find to your horror that another dish has literally gone up in flames. So over you run to this new disaster, and again, and again, until all the fires are quite literally put out and you're standing victorious with one nice meal.
That's what the battlefields of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes feel like. Ditching the turn-based combat of the beloved Fire Emblem: Three Houses in favor of Koei Tecmo's Dynasty Warriors-style hacking and slashing, the students of Three Houses dash across vast battlegrounds, slicing and dicing thousands of enemies as they go, dealing with elite enemies that pop up periodically to pose a new challenge.
You're constantly juggling with new threats in Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. You might start one mission with the goal to capture every enemy stronghold (read: obliterate everyone in the vicinity), but partway through a flying unit atop winged horses might rock up on the battlefield and alter your entire strategy – forcing you to dispatch a unit that's well-equipped to take them on, like an archer or lance unit.
It crucially makes Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes much more than just shooting fish in a barrel. Whereas the combat of 2020's Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity felt a little stagnant five or so hours in, Three Hopes keeps throwing new challenges and situations at you by evolving pre-existing battlegrounds with new enemies to smite in real time. It’s hectic, and at times incredibly stressful, but it makes Three Hopes far more enjoyable.
Poor pawns and galant generals
Three Hopes puts you in charge of everything, all at once. You're effectively the general of your own army, and real-time battles can be paused to bring up a map screen of the entire battlefield – allowing you to take stock of how a fight is unfolding and where best to focus your attention. If a brawler unit enters the battleground to the north, you might need to rapidly send a swordsman to intercept them, or send a mage unit to wreak havoc in an enemy stronghold guarded by mounted units. Failing to intercept or otherwise mitigate enemy units can wreak havoc on your units and bases captured so far.
It's here where Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes draws smartly on Three Houses. The Nintendo Switch RPG uses a turn-based combat system, forcing you to think a few steps ahead to successfully impede encroaching enemy soldiers, and Three Hopes replicates that effectively – albeit with far more immediacy. You'll need to use tactical thinking when surveying the field of war, making meaningful choices about which units you should deploy and where. You'll see the results of this play out in real time, with you in the thick of it, fighting alongside your units – it makes each fight a hell of a lot more meaningful as a result.
That each unit you’re deploying is a character from Three Houses makes the combat coalesce with the story. The new musou game takes place in an alternate timeline from the Three Houses saga, where the player steps into the shoes of the mercenary Shez instead of professor Byleth, and actually becomes their nemesis instead. From there though, it’s more of a familiar beat for Three Houses players, as you can join forces with either the Golden Deer, Black Eagles, or Blue Lions to guide them through to dominance in the land of Fodlan, which has once again been plunged into war.
That units you're commanding are valued allies, even more so if you've played Fire Emblem: Three Houses, only works to make battles feel more impactful. There's even the option to play on 'Classic' difficulty, where just like in Three Houses, if a unit's HP falls to zero they're sidelined from battles for the rest of the game. Outside of this though, battles generally feel pretty breezy, particularly if you're not fussed about hitting extra objectives or completing missions in under a time limit for a prestigious 'S' rank.
Revisiting the past
As much fun as it is to see some returning favorites from Three Houses, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes does struggle to recapture their original characterization. People rightfully loved the cast of Intelligent Systems' 2019 strategy game, and everyone had their own characters to root for – whether it be the arrogant Lorenz in the Golden Deer, the wry Hubert in the Black Eagles, or the stoic Dedue in the Blue Lions. You need only look at the community that has surrounded Three Houses, and is still there nearly three years after its launch, to find a bustling scene of creators coming together to celebrate their favorite heroes. It's a shame that developer Omega Force hasn't allowed characters time to shine like Three Houses did.
It’s through this that Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes comes close to forgetting about what made Three Houses so great. The 2019 original took time throughout its plot to make sure you were getting to know your students as Byleth, but as Shez in Three Hopes, you're more sprinting headlong into battle with merely a few chest-beating words of encouragement from your house leader. Others like Raphael, Bernadetta, and Felix sort of get reduced to one-note cardboard cutouts in the background, chiming in every now and then to reinforce their one character trait.
The saving grace of this is the return of Support Links. Whenever you opt to take a breather between battles, you can run around a camp and undertake different activities with your allies – you might groom horses with Dorothea, or cook a nice (hopefully) meal for Ignatz. Spending time together boosts your Support Link with a character, and whenever you hit a new rank, you can head over to them for a conversation that delves deeper into their actual character and the problems they're facing in Three Hopes.
These won't exactly reveal groundbreaking new information to anyone already familiar with Three Hopes' cast from back in Three Houses – Lorenz is still a prick, Caspar is still a jock, and Bernadetta still has the social skills of a zombie. What the Support Links are, though, are a much-needed break from the heat of battle, and a pleasant reminder of what the allies you're actually sharing the battlefield with are like away from the fight.
In fact, Three Hopes even offers characters that were only alluded to in Three Houses. Should you opt for the Golden Deer route, you'll finally get to meet Hilda's towering brother Holtz, for example. Fodlan has a staggering amount of history and detail to cover, and lore buffs looking for a little more detail on the wider world than they found in Three Houses are actually in for a surprising treat with all these additions in Three Hopes.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes almost pulls off what should be an audacious crossover – frantic large-scale, Dynasty Warriors-style battles with some of the tactical depth which made Fire Emblem so famous. Where Three Hopes slips is in its ability to properly breathe new life into the characters that were so clearly at the heart of the Three Houses experiences. Support Links are a nice touch, and demonstrate that there's more to Three Hopes than hacking-and-slashing across big open battlefields, but the sidelining of such a beloved cast of heroes is difficult to square away. Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes threatens to break new ground for the Warriors series, and is a solid new venture for the Fire Emblem series at large, but the melding between the two concepts isn't as seamless as it could have been.