The second Dynasty Warriors and Fire Emblem crossover is an alternative history version of Three Houses but does it really do anything differently?
Nintendo is never one to discuss its motives, but it seems clear that the company will go to relative lengths to support local, Japanese developers. Over the years, they’ve been very supportive towards the likes of PlatinumGames, the not-dead-after-all Treasure, and many other independent developers. To what degree, if any, that support is altruistic is unclear, given they did nothing to prevent the collapse of Alphadream or Cing, but they’ve certainly worked a lot with Koei Tecmo over the years; although it’s very hard to understand why.
Nintendo-published games developed by Koei Tecmo include such non-classics as Metroid: Other M, Fatal Frame: Maiden Of Black Water, and Pokémon Conquest, but what they’re most known for is their Dynasty Warriors crossovers. These aren’t official tie-ins, in that they don’t technically have anything to do with the Dynasty Warriors series, they just reuse the same gameplay and fit it around an existing game like Zelda: Breath Of The Wild or Fire Emblem.
This is the second Fire Emblem tie-in and in theory it should be a perfect fit, given Fire Emblem’s well established fantasy world. Conceptually at least, Three Hopes is not a lazy sequel either, as it adds several layers of extra strategy before you ever get to fight anyone. There is one little problem though, and it has to do with Dynasty Warriors being a terrible game.
If you’re not familiar with Fire Emblem, it’s a long running series of strategy role-players which, after years of being almost forgotten, hit the big time on the 3DS with Fire Emblem Awakening in 2012. Since then, it’s become an increasingly important Nintendo franchise, with 2019’s Three Houses on the Switch also doing extremely well. That’s despite the fact that it was primarily developed by Koei Tecmo and so, in their interminable style, ended up looking like a cheap indie game with graphics so low tech they make Pokémon look like Horizon Forbidden West.
As the subtitle implies, this is very much inspired by Three Houses, but portrays an alternative history version of its events, which see the Garreg Mach Monastery from the original being closed to students and events playing out very differently than before, even though most of the characters are the same and have similar motivations to before.
You play as a new mercenary character who adopts one of the three factions as their own, after a near fatal showdown with Byleth – the player character from Three Houses. That means there are three very distinct story routes through the game and even though most of the battles are only slightly different the fact that you’re also playing with a different set of ally characters does give a good illusion of variety. Or as much variety as Dynasty Warriors ever provides.
There is so much window dressing to Three Hopes that it’s very easy to forget that the core gameplay experience is so weak. You can spend ages getting ready for battles as you talk to other characters, take them to dinner or engage in other social chores to increase your friendship with them, perform side missions, train them and yourself to level up, buy and upgrade weapons and armour, and recruit additional soldiers.
Most of these options are similar to Three Houses, just with less emphasis on romance and an upgradeable base camp instead of a monastery as the world hub. On top of this though is a Risk style world map where you can pick exactly what battles to fight, including non-essential encounters that can help you level up or gain more resources before the mandatory story mission of each chapter.
There’s not much genuine strategy involved, certainly not as much as a real Fire Emblem game, but nevertheless it’s an engaging façade that would have been very welcome if the battles themselves weren’t always such mindless nonsense.
The basics of combat are exactly the same as always, as you skitter around a relatively large level, trying to take over strongholds that generate cannon fodder soldiers for either your side or the other. There has always been a tactical element to the Dynasty Warriors games, where you have to carefully consider where to focus your efforts and those of your allies. Although in most cases the most dangerous part of a level is when an enemy position is suddenly reinforced for story reasons that you had no way of anticipating.
Three Hopes allows you to control allied characters from an overview map, giving them specific locations to travel to or orders like guarding another character. This is less impressive than it sounds when you consider how simplistic the artificial intelligence is but it’s still a welcome option, that means you don’t have to personally try and be everywhere at once.
One of the most important elements for any action game is a feeling of tactility, the sense that you’re physically controlling the onscreen character and that movement and combat gives the impression – through gameplay, visuals, sound effects, and force feedback – of a tangible connection between you and your avatar. Three Houses is one of the least tactile video games ever made.
Your character slides across the ground as if on roller skates and when fighting only vaguely waves their weapon in the general direction of an enemy. Everything looks like a movie fight filmed from the wrong angle, so you can clearly see that no one is hitting each other, and it’s made all the more absurd because of Dynasty Warriors’ central gimmick, of being able to take on dozens of enemies at once.
By default, these hapless grunts stand around listlessly, never being the slightest danger to you, and seeing them all fly up in the air at once, like you’re tossing a salad, looks absolutely absurd – while underlying the fact that the combat requires almost no thought or skill on the part of the player. The melee action and combo system is somehow even simpler than the other recent games, like Persona 5 Strikers and Huryle Warriors, and they weren’t exactly Devil May Cry to begin with.
The real problem with Three Houses is not how bad it is but how it seems like it could easily be better if it implemented its various systems in a more competent manner. Not only do different weapons have a rock, scissors, paper style relationship with each, in the traditional Fire Emblem fashion, but there are elemental attacks to consider and a huge range of different magic spells and special abilities.
Most of the time though you only have to make a simple, robotic decision of which is the optimum weapon to wield before you start a fight (you can have an ally character permanently attached to you, that you can switch to instantly) and then it’s never thought of again. And even that isn’t a necessary consideration until later in the game, as most of the time you can simply win by mashing the attack button, no matter which weapon you have.
For a moment there, with games like Persona 5 Strikers and Hyrule Warriors, it seemed as if the Dynasty Warriors spin-offs were finding a niche for themselves as dumb arcade style entertainment -the equivalent of ordering in trashy fast food to relax with, because you can’t be bothered with a real meal. But Three Hope is such a waste of potential that the comparatively greater effort it makes with its strategy elements rings all the more hollow.
The Dynasty Warriors games have been exactly this slapdash and unengaging for two decades now and there’s little reason to expect them to change in the new generation, but why Nintendo keeps sullying their brands with the association is a mystery. Unless it’s to make you want to go and play a proper Zelda or Fire Emblem game instead, in which case Three Houses succeeds admirably.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes review summary
In Short: Fire Emblem should be the perfect partner for Dynasty Warriors style action, but this incompetently made crossover squanders its potential on trite fan service and hollow gameplay.
Pros: A mountain of content, not just in terms of the three different story threads but the wealth of strategic options, including a huge range of characters and weapons. Split-screen co-op mode.
Cons: Terrible combat that looks and plays like it’s 20 years out of date. Very few strategic choices are actually meaningful and the characters are all extremely one-note. Low-tech graphics.
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