A tip: If you’re playing Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, stick with the “classic” mode, whatever happens. C’mon. Despite its musou trappings, Three Hopes is still a Fire Emblem game, with all the life-or-death stakes and high-minded strategizing that entails.
To be clear, this is not an assessment of the game’s inherent challenge level. Three Hopes, released last week for Switch, is a spin-off of the 2019 strategy game Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and is playable at three difficulty settings: easy, normal, and hard. More than just a measure of health and damage values, these settings also dictate how many enemies attack you at once and the rate at which your various special attack meters fill up. All settings are totally valid. (I personally play on normal.)
Three Hopes is further playable in two game modes, which will be familiar to longtime fans of the mainline entries:
- Casual: When a party member runs out of HP, they’re unusable for the rest of the battle, but will resurrect at the end of the mission.
- Classic: When a party member runs out of HP, they’re dead for good. Sorry!
The actual ramification of your choice goes into effect during the game’s fourth chapter, and you can switch from classic to casual in the game settings menu. Fair warning, though: You can’t switch from casual to classic. (During the first three chapters, fallen units will come back to life even on classic mode.) So there’s a bit of an impetus to start a new game on classic, see if it works for you or not, before deciding which mode you want to play on at the end of the third chapter. If you’re just looking to tap Y-Y-Y-X your way through some frenetic battles, casual mode will serve you fine. But if you want to replicate the nail-biting torment of traditional Fire Emblem stages, classic is the way to go.
Three Hopes is ostensibly set in an alternate timeline of Three Houses, but stars most of the same characters. Early on, you get to ally with one of three factions: the Blue Lions, headed up by the stoic Dmitri; the Black Eagles, led by Edelgard, who desperately wants to make fascism fashionable; and the Golden Deer, which counts the swoon-worthy Claude as a frontman. And like Three Houses, you soon get to know—and deeply care for—the people who comprise these factions.
In a tactical game, it’s one thing to send a nondescript, nameless “brigand” unit into the fray. It’s another entirely to send Hilda, your reliable, pink-haired, ax-wielding warrior into the same fight. You know she likes singing and dancing and colorful flowers. You know she’s lazy as hell, hates responsibility, and will pass the buck at any opportunity. You know she’s tight with Raphael, the Golden Deer’s hungriest member, and is a close confidant to Claude. If she dies, that’s gonna sting. The same could be said for every member of the Golden Deer whose name isn’t Lorenz.
On classic mode, this devotion reflects in battles. At any point, you can press the plus button to pause the game and pull up a grid-based map of the battlefield, and then direct party members to attack enemies they have an inherent advantage over. (Three Hopes makes use of Fire Emblem’s classic “weapon triangle.”) You can also use the D-pad to swap between characters, giving you greater control over any particular party member who may be in a bind. When battles get tense, when your party members start losing health, you start to make these moves more intentionally, because any fuck-up means losing a favorite character—for good. That feeling isn’t possible when playing on casual mode.
And if you do end up losing a character you really, really like? Hey, that’s what save-juggling is for!