It's been five whole years already since Nintendo's Fire Emblem and Koei Tecmo's Warriors series first collided, resulting in the rather magnificent Fire Emblem Warriors, a game we called "one of the best Musou outings yet" that "combines enjoyable combat with real-time tactics, faithfully paying tribute to the two franchises it fuses together."
Yes, we may have been somewhat concerned in the run-up to 2017's hack-and-slash spectacular, fearing that we'd get little more than a bog-standard Musou effort with a quick Fire Emblem reskin, but our fears proved unfounded as Omega Force and Team Ninja managed to serve up a delightful melding of two unexpected bedfellows. Here was a game that successfully took the strategy and relationship elements of Nintendo's turn-based tactical RPG and fused them with the OTT action of Koei Tecmo's long-running Musou franchise, resulting in a delightful experience that sits alongside the likes of Hyrule Warriors as the very best the genre has delivered in the past ten years.
Of course, since 2017 we've seen the huge success of Fire Emblem: Three Houses on Switch, and so it comes as no real surprise that we find ourselves returning to the battlefields of Fódlan on June 24th in Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, a game that looks set to improve upon everything we enjoyed about its predecessor. We've been getting stuck into the game over the past week or so in the build-up to our full review, and so far we reckon this one's looking like a bit of a winner.
If you've already indulged in Fire Emblem Warriors you'll mostly know the score here, with the game this time taking the entire cast from Three Houses. We counted 24 characters in total alongside a brand new protagonist, and flinging them headlong into Musou-style battles against hordes of enemies. The core of the gameplay here remains much the same as 2017's effort, you'll begin by choosing whether you want to play in either classic or casual mode, meaning your comrades will either resurrect or suffer permadeath, and you also get to make a choice between a "slow and steady" or "quick and efficient" mode that affects how much pre and post-battle planning and number-crunching you need to sit through.
Once you've made your choices in these regards you're introduced to the game's new protagonist, Shez, (who can be male or female) as they face off against Byleth, quickly suffering defeat and heading off to lick their wounds before joining forces with Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude to defeat some nasty bandits, a chance encounter that sees them invited to join one of the game's three houses before setting off on an all-new adventure.
The first big difference to the core structure here in comparison to 2017's effort is the fact you can choose to align with either Edelgard's Black Eagles, Dimitri's Blue Lions, or Claude's Golden Deers as you set out to help them on their individual questlines. This choice of three paths not only boosts the replayability on offer, but also does much — as far as we've experienced in the first handful of chapters at least — to improve upon the story aspect of the previous Fire Emblem Warriors, an element which was fairly lacking.
There's simply far more to dig into here in terms of characters and narrative (not something that can often be said about a Musou game!) and early doors there are lots of cutscenes, dialogue choices, and discussions to get wrapped up in. We've chosen to run with Edelgard for our first playthrough, and between battles we've been spending plenty of time with Hubert, Ferdinand, Linhardt, Caspar, Felix et al, an aspect of proceedings that the game pushes through a smorgasbord of side activities that give you the opportunity to improve or deteriorate relationships — a factor which directly affects how well your comrades perform on the field of battle.
The battle camp element of Fire Emblem Warriors makes a return here and it has, as expected, been bolstered with new ways in which to interact with those in your party. Chores are back, allowing you to gain battle bonuses by teaming up in order to perform duties around camp, as is cooking, which enables you to bestow boons upon yourself and your party by filling your bellies with delicious meals before setting out to batter another angry horde of bad guys.
Sticking with camp, you'll also find a record keeper who allows you to replay key battles for XP and rewards, a facilities manager where you'll upgrade your camp, giving you access to more ways in which to interact with comrades and gain boosts, a training area, blacksmith, battalion master, shopkeeper, armourer and more besides. Phew!
In short, between battles here you've got a wealth of ways in which to bide your time and dig into the signature relationship aspects of Fire Emblem. You'll even get to have special conversations with key characters where you can head off for some alone time and can develop these relations further. We're not quite sure how far or in what direction these special relations develop, we're still quite early doors with the game, but fans of the series are certainly being well catered to here with regards to how much interaction they get to have with the entire cast from Three Houses.
Taking into consideration that we're only experiencing one house and its protagonists so far — and this has given us more than enough in the way of characters to set about levelling up, outfitting, equipping, and getting to know — there certainly seems to be a ton to dig into here when you consider all three house paths and any potential crossing of fates that may or may not occur further down the line.
On the battlefield, well, as we already mentioned, things are much the same as ever, with your chosen party of warriors charging around maps and using a mix of simple combos and flashy special moves in order to blast through enormous numbers of foes. Class-specific special moves, combat arts, and magic attacks all return, as does the Awakening mechanic that sees you temporarily power-boosted. You can also perform critical rushes and team up with any nearby party member — known here as "assigning adjutants" — in order to pull off super flashy team combos. Just as in Fire Emblem Warriors, there's also a weapons triangle in effect here, with certain types of weapon more effective against others. It may sound slightly complex, but in practice you simply scroll through your available warriors and the battle map will indicate with blue and red icons whether or not that fighter is stronger or weaker against the enemies that you're currently up against.
With regards to choosing warriors from your roster, we've also been impressed with just how much you can dig into improving and specializing your favourite characters, who you can then play as by swapping around whilst in action. There are a ton of different classes to get stuck into here and you can choose to swap out and train in any of these as you see fit. Shez, as an example, starts off the game in the Fluegel class, which specialises in dual-wielding swords, but you can then train up and switch out to any of the game's other branching classes, all of which work up through beginner, intermediate, advanced and master levels. We can't give away some of the tastier aspects of what's new with the game's various classes and master levels just yet, but rest assured there's plenty to get excited for if you know what's what with your Fire Emblem strategies.
Of course, all of this stuff feeds directly into the one big difference between this and a regular-style Warriors game, and that's the ability to pause the action at any time to give your current party orders and direct them around the battlefield. You'll need to direct your squad to assault and seize strongholds, protect and guard various special units during on-the-fly bonus objectives, and ensure that you've got all bases covered in order to stop enemies regaining control of positions once you've moved onto another area of the map. Pre-battle you'll get the opportunity to choose exactly who you want to take into scraps and it's here that keeping an eye on who's best to take on a level's enemies will pay dividends.
If all of these systems sound like a lot of hassle, fear not, it's actually all impressively streamlined stuff and it gives the repetitive nature of the core Musou combat a satisfying strategic layer
If all of this sounds like a lot of hassle, fear not, it's actually all impressively streamlined stuff and it gives the repetitive nature of the core Musou combat a satisfying strategic layer, as does the ability to shift between any character currently on the field with the push of a button, enabling you to juggle who fights who in real-time.
On the game's world map, which you'll settle onto before missions, you've got a main campaign objective to work towards by taking on smaller battles as you slowly conquer a region. Once you've completed these battles and successfully polished off a specific region's main story confrontation, you've then got a bunch of additional side activities to hoover up for loot, as well further character-specific quests and expeditions to indulge in, all of which net you loot, weapons, materials, XP and so on. We've been slightly concerned with the length of a few of the battle missions we've played — some feel as though they're over before they've really begun, but we're keeping our fingers crossed that they develop into much beefier confrontations further down the road.
In terms of performance, something which has been a major factor with regards to Musou games on Switch in the past, we've been thoroughly impressed with what we've experienced so far. We've taken part in some pretty huge battles here and there, facing off against hordes of enemies and a handful of bosses and other beasties, and we've yet to notice any frame rate issues whatsoever. There's no choice of graphical settings this time around, no quality or performance modes to toggle between, but what we've played so far runs superbly well and looks fantastic for the most part in both docked and handheld modes, with plenty of flashy attacks and some nice environments making up for a slight lack of detail in enemy units.
We've yet to try out the game's co-operative battles, a gameplay option that opens up after the 4th chapter, allowing for drop-in hack-and-slash fun, but in all other capacities this one looks as though it's managing to avoid the technical issues we've seen with the likes of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
With a demo rumoured to be dropping, [UPDATE: It's available right now!] it's not going to be too long before you get your hands on this one for yourself and, from the handful of hours we've put in so far, we're optimistic that we've got a bit of a belter on our hands that should satisfy Fire Emblem and Warriors fans alike.
Will you be jumping into Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes when it drops later this month? Let us know in the comments!
- Further reading: Best Nintendo Switch Warriors Games - Every Switch Musou Game Ranked