It is entirely possible that 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses never receives a proper direct sequel. In the history of Fire Emblem as a franchise, it is certainly not without precedent, regardless of how well it might have done when it was released for the Nintendo Switch. The spinoff title Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes from Koei Tecmo's Omega Force might be it for the foreseeable future. If that does so happen to be the case, however, it's just as well that Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes manages to feel like a true Fire Emblem despite its very nature.
While that might seem like faint praise to some, it is honestly the highest possible compliment one could pay Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. Despite swapping out the chess-like tactical gameplay from the traditional Fire Emblem franchise for the musou-style, 1-vs-1,000 action combat, it has all of the charm and affectations of a video game from the franchise's traditional line. It's a frankly stunning melding of the two different franchises' mechanics.
It would have been easy enough for this to simply be another iteration of 2017's Fire Emblem Warriors, which followed its own story with a good dollop of popular characters from the history of Fire Emblem, but Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes goes above and beyond to synthesize the continent of Fodlan and its people that were both introduced in Fire Emblem: Three Houses into an all-new story with some familiar, and some entirely unfamiliar, beats.
Functionally, this is accomplished by inserting the game's new protagonist, Shez, into the foundation of the story of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Like Fire Emblem: Three Houses' protagonist Byleth, Shez is a mercenary that also happens to have a mysterious disembodied spirit only they can see – Arval in this case, not Sothis – empowering them somehow. Unlike Byleth, however, Shez starts Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes with a huge chip on their shoulder after the band of mercs they were palling around with previously gets wiped out by Byleth and the rest of Jeralt's Mercenaries.
Following that, Shez vows to get strong enough to beat the Ashen Demon and wanders around for some time until they just so happen to stumble into the opening sequence of Fire Emblem: Three Houses instead of Byleth. The three leaders of the Garreg Mach Monastery's academy's houses – Claude, Dimitri, and Edelgard – all find Shez in the woods with bandits attacking them during a school exercise.
That one serious departure is enough to create a completely new story around. Players still get to pick a group of miscreants to support (I went with Edelgard first this time having gone with Claude my first time through Fire Emblem: Three Houses) but Shez's lack of institutional support compared to Byleth means they join up as a student rather than a professor, making them a peer rather than a role model, and it just sort of snowballs from there. Even if you're already familiar with the broad strokes of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes manages to be enough of a departure to feel well and truly new.
It's a lot of little touches that really make Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes shine compared to its immediate predecessor, Fire Emblem Warriors. Players can chat up playable characters and nonplayable characters alike in a base before going off to battle, including gifts, and the base itself can be upgraded. There's even a version of having tea, which is going on expeditions with individual characters. Gifts, training, gathering supplies, upgrading tactics, and so on are all different ways in which to spend your time and make for a much more complex title than might initially be assumed.
The combat gameplay is more or less the same as it was in Fire Emblem Warriors, but it feels like there's been a significant effort to add more variety and tie the battles into the greater struggle of the narrative. It helps, of course, that I am intimately familiar with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, because that means small touches like Ignatz's Warrior Gauge releasing pulling on his passion for painting for some dazzling effects has a depth to it that might not be there for folks that have not played that title, but the effects are dazzling whether you have the context or not.
Even with the benefit of context, the sheer number of battles inevitably makes later stages of the video game feel like a bit of a slog. Getting the highest rank in any given fight, an S, means more loot at the end of any given fight, but that means meeting certain criteria like defeating 500 enemies within seven minutes and so on. If musou-style hack-and-slash combat isn't something you're already keen on, the video game's battles will likely feel like a chore more than an engaging part of the game. More than once I found myself sighing while charging yet again halfway across the map to accomplish some goal that only cropped up in the middle of things, and it's easy to see why that might grate even further on others.
Again, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is not a mainline Fire Emblem title, and anyone expecting a 1-to-1 recreation is going to be disappointed, but it absolutely comes from the same lineage. If losing the cerebral, tactical piece-moving combat doesn't dull your interest – if that's not why you came to Fire Emblem in the first place – Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes has enough of the franchise's DNA to satisfy. And in some ways, zooming across a battlefield while triggering abilities like Assassinate or Nosferatu seems more in line with the chaotic, war-torn battlefields of Fodlan than what came before. I might not go so far as to say that Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is my ideal for what Fire Emblem could and should be going forward, but it is quite frankly a lot closer to perfection than it has any right to be.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is set to release for the Nintendo Switch on June 24th. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the latest and greatest Fire Emblem Warriors title right here. A digital code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch OLED.