Wednesday 20 July 2022

Thoughts on Three Hopes: a fast food game(?)

3 routes in 100 hours.

This is the third switch game that I played on screen via capture card and surprisingly all three are action games. It is almost miracalous that I didn't rage over the serious latency and even managed to clear the hidden boss in Neo TWEWY.

How is it possible to play games on a monitor with 300ms delay?

I got myself a new monitor this time and the difference is hell and heaven. Battles went much smoother...only then my Internet broke down that I have to fall back to pre-recording my gameplay videos which were then uploaded separately. You can find those videos here.

So how do I rate the game? Well in short, not exactly what I expected. This is the review from someone who had their first taste of the Warrior series.

It took me 47 hours to clear the Azure line on normal, then another 18 to clear Scarlet on hard. 35 hours on maddening, including many retries to S everything but I then realized 100% achievement is too hard for me so I stopped doing that at some point.

*spoiler below*


What did I expect in the demo review? Shez as a proxy on the opposite side of Sothis to find a solution between the two civilizations, and a solution between the three countries.

Is it the good end I have been looking for? Absolutely not. Does it make sense? Yes somehow. It turns out that Agarthans/Epimenedes/Arval is never supported by another alien entity that matches Sothis(at least Thinis didn't show up).

Without a matching opponent you won't expect the conflict to resolve without brutality. So either you killed Byleth (altogether with Sothis), or you recruited Byleth which could be a time bomb when Sothis threatened that she can takeover at anytime. 

On the other side, who can tell if in another thousand years the remanant at the underground would compose another plan of revenge? Even without central church and Rhea, anyone could well be the target as indicated from the shadow library as they hold the "blood of the beasts" regardless of the crests. Three Hopes basically made no attempt to iterate such conflict other than them being foes suddenly hop into the battlefield and become your final boss.

It is also kind of disappointing to see all three routes being extremely similar in structure both from the countries and the growth of Shez. The routes started with uprises in their respective countries (which coincidentally occurred at the same time), when things slowly get resolved they turn their eye into other countries or the church, and finally the TWSITD comes out as the final boss. The only difference is who's on your side and who's not (remember there are 4C2/2 = 3 ways to divide 4 items into 2 groups of 2). Dialogues are very similar if not identical (mainly those with Arval) and so as the plot which makes it in overall more repeated and less rich in content.

There are a hell lot that could potentially be covered should extra chapters be inserted. I would definitely love to see minimal developments in the academy. That would have slowed down the pace by a lot instead of "just joining the academy and the next moment you are on the battlefield". In a similar way chapters can be inserted along the solidification of the house leaders' power, and also at the end to discuss further the relation against TWSITD/the church (then again there was no church route here). 

Well I guess it's my expectation that is unrealistic in the first place...many details that I mentioned above were based on what we found in the shadow library which is DLC content after all. We didn't see super in-depth stories in Three Houses main routes either, but at least the routes in Three Houses explained the big pictures in full.

A smug and arrogant Byleth(/Sothis) is absolutely one of the things that shocked me the most.

Oh well.

While Three Hopes is so disappointing in its overall structure, I think IS did a great job writing stories around individual characters this time.

This time the story is not limited to the academy students (plus a few academy  staffs) anymore. We got the parents/relatives of the students and all the nobles of the countries. They were merely a random name mentioned in Three Houses, but here we can find loads of conversations between them and the students. From here it is much easier to hear from the  students talking beyond their academy/daily life. 

Most students got sections dedicated to themselves. They are no longer puppets under their respective House leaders. Instead they lead their own noble troops and act on behalf of their family interest. It is much easier to draw out their personality in that way. We thought Ferdinand is only someone who shout "von aegir" and Sylvain is a playboy, but in Three Houses their defend their countries like a true leader; we also observe interactions between students and their relatives like Hilda and his brother and Caspar/Felix and his father. All these arrangements allow us to understand the world in much different perspectives.

The Ashen wolves are no longer locked behind DLC and they join our troops for free. They are the characters that I liked to use the most because they are always recruitable unlike the other students (that you don't have to start from level 1 which is painful in higher difficulty -- how can you protect a lv15 Holst from enemies of lv120?). IS gave us a heavy dose of the wolves in the game. Though not appearing in main story conversations they get loads of paralogues not just only about the story of the wolves, but also with other students. It shows that the wolves are not just isolated weirdos, but students equally colorful as those in the other Houses.

And of course the lords. Even though the routes and outcomes are so similar, they clearly distinguished themselves from each other. The strong emperor Edelgard, the kind king Dimitri and the schemer Claude -- they really picked up their power and responsibility (cf. the Dimitri who wanted to kill the last one in Three Houses), and their characters are really well expressed.

If only they put more support conversations into the game...

Why do you do that IS...I want to use my lovely Sylvain in all three routes...


There are two main parts that composed the game, the overworld and the battles. Let us talk about the overworld first.

This is an adoption of Fire Emblem into the Warrior series, in particular mimicking Three Houses. It is easy to find many familiar systems from weapon ranks, classes to factilies are all heavy in Three Houses. 

They made a few changes from the Three Houses system like splitting training and activity points (plus the sucessive training system saves all the time to put characters into pairs), removing fishing (which took me 5+ hours in Three Houses no joking) and jotting down options that does not work in tea party (or else you check walkthroughs anyway). These are nice little adjustments to have.

The overworld map is also smaller this time. Loading the map is much faster than loading Garreg Mach. They distinguished different camp locations with flag colours and various backgrounds which is a nice little detail. Funny though the camp sometimes managed to have stone structures albeit being temporary(?).

Overworld netvigation now allows fast travel not only to locations but also to characters and functional NPCs. I also like the design of putting supply master at the bottom even it seems to be incidental (because it appears the last), but I indeed visit her the most and that saves time. 

Reducing repetitive overworld routines, fast nativigation plus (much) faster loading time really boosted gaming fluency. These are almost essential in an era where people always want to clear a game quick.

In terms of resource management Three Hopes is also quite close to Three Houses. You can barely upgrade the facilities to the max in the first playthrough if you gather every last bit of resource. There are quite some room for further upgrades via tactics instructor, levelling up or weapon forging but they are all locked behind a single currency -- gold. It eliminates further redundant currencies as all excessive materials in post-game can easily be exchanged into gold for these upgrades. 

The only game breaking non-NG+ mechanism is the meals (recall in Three Houses the effect of having meals is much more reasonable). Acclerating the warrior gauge really turns the game into spamming warrior specials. Also, Byleth mentioned in the support conversation that he/she does eat a lot. That explained how was it possible for him/her to have multiple meals with the students but now Shez is doing the same. (Another notable thing is that ingredients are quite rare in Three Houses but in Three Hopes you basically have 50 of each by doing nothing...)


Cutting opponents like weeds is definitely cool, but I found myself enjoying some characters/classes more than others.

The core idea is to aim accurately. It is quite hard to aim the opponents for some classes after some regular moves: pegasus in the air, cavalries after dashing, Yuri with his ring equipped...too much mobility is often a problem in actual fights. I found Yuri much easier to control without his ring actually, and I have to use specific combos for pegasus knights or cavalries to aim properly. For example Bow knights give an all round shooting with the combo XXXXXY which is far more better than the combo XXXXXXY, not only because the latter dashes which is so hard to use, the circling shot also breaks defense very efficiently.

Another consideration is attacking speed. While trying not to dodge (which slows you down and waste time) you always want to hit fast and break opponents' defense before they hit hard (which almost cost you the S rank in maddening). Dexterous classes are so much better in that sense. For example I found trickster much than mortal servants which swing their swords chop by chop. Gregmory is another class the casts so slow that I never thought of using those. Are they useless? Not really, just don't control them by yourself, they are doing well on their own.

The reason that you want to optimize your character so much is because your performance is almost solely decided by your technique instead of everything else including weapon ranks, skills, abilities, long as you know how to fight and the weapon is minimally strengthened the maps are just as easy. This is hugely different from traditional Fire Emblem where resources are very carefully distributed and all the moves are catiously delivered.

Another problem with such design is that the difficulty curve becomes flat. Even at maddening, you don't find later chapters much harder than the earlier ones. In terms of one-on-one combats, dodging a soilder's attack is no different than doing the same against a swordmaster or mortal servant. The only difference is that you are in a much deeper trouble if you get hit by the later but as long as if you don't you will always be healthy, and this is quite easy to do so. In terms of general tactics early maps are as complex as the later ones, and reinforcements do not come more intensely in later maps anyway. This is a game of sweeping strongholds one by one...and it easily gets repetitive.

If we look at Dynasty Warriors, people are happy with the content even when the battles are more or less similar because those battles correspond to actual historic battles where contexts could be put into including who's appearing and saying what. You don't have that in Three Hopes. They tried to make some description to each of the auxiliary battles, but the contents are almost the same: sweeping bandits (or whatever opponents with no specific name) or battling beasts. It is very hard not to feel repetitive in that way. As I suggested above, expanding number of chapters would see such problem greatly repaired.


Now you start to wonder after so bashing, how did the game ended with mostly positive feedback? Well, I have to say that the game looked very solid at the very least, and artwork is a crucial factor for that.

This is a job very well done.

They have updated the students' designs, and the designs fit them well at the age of around 19. The 3D models are so much better than those in Three Houses as you don't see pixels anymore. They also put a lot of effort in modelling each of the classes to make them look so different from each other. My favourite is of course trickers' finger gun when casting magic, especially when Yuri's wind magic actually one shots the armored units :)

Two comments on the design though: one is Shez's bright purple hair is a bit too unnatural -- I guess many have critized when the very first trailer came out already. Another is Dimitri's academy phase hairstyle in 3D...I guess it's easier to show here directly :/

The OST matches the high bar of that in Three Houses as well. My favourite is Melody of Clarity which is again the track for golder route final boss fight. Still I prefer the Three Houses ost just a slight tad more, perhaps just because how they mix the Fire Emblem melody into the credit song (A Star in the Morning Sky 2:40).

Rare to see Dimitri in academy phase but...


I can understand why the general reputation is so nice because it is inherited with what makes Three Houses success. It also delivered the other side of the game, the Warrior series properly. 

Many of my disappointment including mistreatment of stories, repetition and the lack of difficulty curve, occurring only from my second playthrough. Perhaps it is just my expectation that is unrealistic in the first place: the Warrior series is meant to be brainless chopping but not high precision action games, and the Three Houses story wasn't supposed to be that deep, with documents in the shadow library being no more than some teaser for those story maniacs.

In overall I had a mixed experience on the game...but others may have different opinions.

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