Despite public cynicism about musou games, which seem like straightforward hack-and-slash fests against armies of faceless foes amid chaotic battlefields, I’ve long felt that this style of gameplay could bring out Fire Emblem’s best war-simulating potential. Two months ago, I wrote about how Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes could actually be very good. I played the demo over the weekend, and I’m happy to confirm that I’m right. While the early game has some hiccups, Three Hopes is the refreshing and original entry that this 32-year-old series sorely needed.
Three Hopes’ main plot takes place in an alternative timeline of 2019’s Three Houses — the most recent game in the main series — but its gameplay builds off of Fire Emblem Warriors, the 2017 title that first crossed Fire Emblem with over-the-top musou action. Instead of manoeuvring your units one turn at a time like in a convoluted game of chess, you’re thrown into a real-time battle in which you have to hack and slash your way through hordes of enemies, capture ever-shifting forts, and complete escort quests. But despite what the gameplay trailers might show you, Three Hopes is a lot more dedicated to strategy than the original Warriors.
Each character has a dedicated personal ability that helps define their niche in the roster. As I attacked enemies with Hubert, for example, I realised that he would cause shadowy wounds to appear on his foes. By pressing the right trigger, I could cause those wounds to explode for extra damage. The main character’s special ability allows them to dash forward, and Bernadetta’s creates a small field that increases her critical hit rate.
These differ slightly from the first Warriors game, which had abilities that mostly fiddled with damage numbers. Three Hopes has personal skills that actually change how characters play. Special weapons add further customisable bonuses to each character’s attacks, rather than simply having higher base damage like in Warriors. For example, the rare Venin Axe can poison enemies that aren’t felled by your first blow. Being able to swap unique weapons added another strategic layer into my pre-battle planning.
Despite the more thoughtful gameplay design, I felt a little perplexed at what the game was trying to be. It’s plenty strategic for anyone who enjoys extensive war planning (not taking advantage of the item pots will lead to a less ideal run), but it also did away with the focus on capturing forts. In fact, I’ve cleared maps without capturing every single fort. When I did try to curb stomp all of my enemies, I was punished with an A (rather than the superior S) rating for taking too much time. I think there’s still a lot of room for the full version of Three Hopes to shift my opinion about how balanced the game is. The demo seems to tone down a lot of the “hack-and-slashiness” of the genre. It’s a lot harder to fill up the special power bars, and potion drops are a lot less common than I remember from the first Warriors game.
But enough about strategy! You’re probably reading this blog because you played the more popular Three Houses tactical RPG, and you want to know if Three Hopes is a worthy follow-up to that records-shattering strategy sim. Obviously, I can’t say much about the actual plot because the full game doesn’t release until June 24. But so far, it nails the extensive worldbuilding that made me fall in love with the continent of Fódlan in Three Houses. I was speaking to a generic NPC at my war camp, and she told me a story that hinted at some shady power dynamics within the church. That’s the good shit that made Three Houses a standout in a series known for storytelling, and I’m stoked to see more when the full game launches.
What I’ve always loved about Three Houses is how fully the writers fully committed to “what-if” scenarios across its different timelines, and Three Hopes continues that tradition. I won’t spoil anything, but I felt very satisfied with how the story attempts to explore plot scenarios that could never have happened in the first game. You know how the Three Houses protagonist Byleth was heartlessly trying to murder your character in the Three Hopes trailer? I finally got to play the proper context around it, and the scene didn’t feel out of place at all. I started thinking: It wasn’t enough to be familiar with a character’s kindness. To truly understand a character, you have to be familiar with their cruelty, too. And Three Hopes is both idealistic and cruel in a way that only a non-linear video game can be.
If this would be your first Fódlan-set game, then I would suggest playing Three Houses first. Three Hopes’ plot moves considerably more quickly and assumes prior knowledge of the prior adventure. And that’s exactly what I want from a sequel to one of my favourite Fire Emblem games.