The best (and worst) of both worlds.
Between Persona 5 Strikers, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, and now Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, we’re getting a lot of mileage out of Omega Force’s ability to dress up the Dynasty Warriors series’ gameplay into a perfect mimicry of some other franchise’s style. Unlike the original Fire Emblem Warriors, Three Hopes fully adopts the setting and aesthetics of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, serving as an alternate version of the events depicted in that game. As a fan of both Fire Emblem and Warriors games I’m incredibly happy with the result. Three Hopes shares many of its predecessors’ greatest strengths, although it also sadly shares many of their weaknesses.
When you think of a Warriors game (also known as a musou game) you probably think of one powerful soldier tearing through entire armies of weaklings with big, flashy special moves. You probably think of strongholds that must be captured by defeating a captain, and powerful boss enemies with radial stamina bars that take big damage when that bar is depleted. Three Hopes does not stray far from that formula; in this regard it has more in common with Age of Calamity’s classic Dynasty Warriors-style missions rather than Persona 5 Strikers’ fully explorable dungeons with quick combat encounters.
However these basic gameplay mechanics are the only thing that this game has in common with other musou games. In pretty much every other way, Three Hopes is shockingly similar to the original Fire Emblem: Three Houses. In between battles you’ll walk around a camp and talk to the characters in your army, getting their perspective on how events are unfolding. You’ll train your units to learn different skills and weapon proficiencies (an analogue to Three Houses’ classroom), do chores to build bonds between characters, and even witness full-length support conversations where you get to know each character and their relationships a little better.
In battle, a greater emphasis has been placed on the ability to give direct orders to your AI-controlled units. This is not a new feature in musou games, but it feels more worthwhile in Three Hopes due to the rock-paper-scissors effects of Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle. Since you can be confident that a sword-using unit is going to defeat an axe-wielding enemy, there is a lot of value in taking stock of your units’ positions on the orders screen and directing them around the map to complete objectives. This will end up being necessary if you want to go for the best rankings in each mission, since it’s very rare to only have one objective to complete in any given battle.
The biggest innovation is the structure of how side missions are directly integrated into main story progression. Each chapter has a war map with distinct combat zones between your camp and your main objective. Each zone represents a quick side mission where you’ll defeat a few minor enemies and maybe rescue a villager or two, collecting resources and raising your units’ power along the way. In order to reach your main objective and play the next story mission, you’ll need to complete enough combat zones in order to clear a path for your army to advance. In theory this is pretty much the same setup as Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity which had side missions on its overworld map that dropped resources. In practice, the integration of these side missions into main story progression helps give them a sense of purpose so that they feel more like you’re accomplishing something rather than just making them obstacles to get the specific character upgrades you want.
Of course, Three Hopes also puts a heavy emphasis on its story. Cutscenes are just as frequent and lengthy as they were in Three Houses, and the plot shares many of its predecessors’ strengths and weaknesses. The cast of Three Houses is one of my favorite casts in the entire franchise, and the rich lore and worldbuilding of Fódlan is taken advantage of to craft a narrative with epic military stakes and dramatic political intrigue. In many ways I actually like Three Hopes’ story better than Three Houses because I found the progression of the war and each strategy being executed by each faction much more interesting and easy to follow this time around.
Sadly, much like Three Houses, Three Hopes fails to stick the landing on its story in many big ways, and massive plot threads are given hasty, unsatisfying resolutions or abandoned altogether. I should note that I only played one of the game’s three routes, Scarlet Blaze—and just that one playthrough took me over sixty hours—so your mileage may vary on other routes. But after a solid fifty-five hours loving the game, the last ten or so left me scratching my head and thinking “wait, that’s it?” Even fewer of the game’s plot threads are resolved if you happen to miss the optional ‘true ending chapters’, and it is very easy to miss them, so you might want to spoil yourself on how exactly to unlock those chapters.
The final big question of Three Hopes is how it runs on Switch. Musou games on Switch have had pretty inconsistent performance on Nintendo’s handheld; the multiplatform Persona 5 Strikers managed a mostly stable 30fps on Switch, but Age of Calamity struggled to hit its 30fps cap. Three Hopes targets an ambitious 60fps, though the word “targets” is doing some heavy lifting there. UI elements and menus consistently hit that full 60fps number, running buttery smooth. Of course those menus aren’t really what you’re here for, and reality can often be disappointing. During battle you’ll often see the framerate hover roughly around 30fps. The exact framerate can vary pretty wildly between ranges around 35 and 25fps, but there are predictably some pretty big drops when the action starts to get intense. Flashy special moves will cause the framerate to take a big hit as low as 20fps, although some moments that feel like they should cause even bigger drops are more stable, managing to hold pretty close to 30.
The game occasionally manages to reach heights of around 40fps when very few characters are on screen, and at one point when the camera was zoomed in to a single character model with no one else in sight, I managed to spot the game running at a record high of 50! Wow!
Although the game technically runs better than Age of Calamity, which struggled to reach its hard cap of 30fps, the uncapped framerate can make things feel even worse in Three Hopes. Though it may have a higher average framerate, the drops are often much bigger, and a 30fps cap would’ve helped to alleviate this. If you want to find a bright side, I guess the uncapped framerate will help this game a lot if a Switch Pro ever ends up being real, but until that day comes we’ll only be able to dream of seeing this game run at a full 60fps.
At the end of the day, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes met my expectations, though after the stellar first impression from its demo covering the first four chapters I did make the mistake of hoping for more. The sheer scale and depth of this game’s commitment to matching Three Houses’ style and structure made for a very pleasant surprise that sadly made it even more disappointing when the ending fell as flat as it did. Almost overnight I went from not being able to get enough of the game to wondering if I had it in me to play even one more of the game’s three story routes. Three Hopes is a must play for diehard fans of both Fire Emblem and Dynasty Warriors alike, but I almost wish that it had committed less to the scale of its story so that its poor final hours weren’t so much of a bitter pill to swallow.