I can't deny that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is one of my favourite games this generation. From defying the church to restoring a kingdom, I saw everything each route could offer, yet Three Hopes' announcement still left me cautious. Following the success of Hyrule Warriors and, of course, Fire Emblem Warriors, Nintendo has once again teamed up with Koei Tecmo for a musou spin-off, swapping Fire Emblem's tactical RPG gameplay for hack-and-slash combat. I had my doubts at first, but after several chapters those fears are being put to rest.
Three Hopes isn't a simple retelling of Three Houses, nor does it work around the existing storyline. This time around, we're playing as Shez, a former mercenary who becomes a student at Garreg Mach Monastery. Like before, which house you enrol in determines your storyline as you choose between Edelgard's Black Eagles, Dimitri's Blue Lions, and Claude's Golden Deer. I'd recommend playing Three Houses first, but thankfully this experience doesn't hinge upon it.
Rather than Garreg Mach, Shez spends their free time in the war camp, a new hub packed with different facilities. Because you're directly exploring this camp on foot instead of accessing facilities off a map, you feel more involved in the war effort than similar spin-offs, namely Age of Calamity. Support events with other characters still exist but socialising has been scaled back - there's no S-rank options for romance here. Even still, Three Hopes replicates Three Houses' social elements well, letting you invite others to camp meals, go on expeditions, and more.
Once you've finished preparations you select a mission from the war map and pick which units you want to fight with after which you're off. In some ways, this is no different from your standard musou games - we're still cutting down countless enemy hordes at the press of a button, charging the Warrior gauge to unleash deadly strikes. Capturing enemy outposts still reinforce your position, there's enemy commanders to kill, and adapting to new developments as they come remains key. It's a familiar cycle and if this didn't appeal previously, Three Hopes probably won't change your mind.
Yet, Three Hopes is so much more than Dynasty Warriors with a Fire Emblem skin. Between your troops, anyone not under direct control can be ordered towards certain targets, saving considerable time. Certain weapons are more effective against particular units, so archers can still do powerful damage against Wyvern riders or Pegasus knights. Weapons durability only applies to special attacks, which reset after each battle, but can replenish mid-battle with items. Finally, major battles let you pick strategies like recruiting an enemy commander or sabotaging defences - much like 'Secret Plans' in Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires
As a decade-long Fire Emblem fan, I'm relishing this strategic gameplay. Better still, I didn't notice any considerable performance problems in handheld or docked mode, even when fighting large groups. I'm greatly enjoying what I've seen and it's still very satisfying to mow through enemy hordes. Three Hopes feels like a significant improvement over the first Fire Emblem Warriors. It's more refined, its strategy runs deeper while it's all pleasantly familiar. I'm excited to see the rest.