There’s a new House in Fire Emblem: Three Houses but it’s a little odd compared to the others.
Following the release of Byleth in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, their debut game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses received the final wave of DLC called Cindered Shadows. So now it’s time to see what the Fire Emblem: Three Houses Expansion Pass brings to the class.
Cindered Shadows is actually the 4th wave of the paid DLC that comes to Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The first three waves consist of cosmetics and additional paralogue battles which serve as a nice way to earn extra gold and experience. Aside from that, wave 3 introduced a sauna mechanic to help your units gain skill experience until Wave 4 known as Cindered Shadows.
This 4th wave of DLC adds a whole new mode which introduces four new characters. These are Yuri, Constance, Balthus, and Hapi who make up the Ashen Wolves House, a secret house of Garreg March hidden underground. These four characters can be unlocked in the regular game once the new mode has been completed. Prior to wave 4, there was only one new character available for purchasers of the DLC. And that’s Anna.
Anna is a recurring character of the Fire Emblem series who has sometimes been a recruitable unit. She arrived in the game a few months earlier in Wave 3 and could be recruited after completing her quest. However, she did not come with any support conversations so the character lacked any story based interactions with the other characters save for her paralogue battle which is a side story.
But Cindered Shadows changes that with a fair amount of support conversations possible between the new characters and existing ones. This helped them feel more whole and even fleshed out the background of characters and the land of Fodlan indirectly.
Since Abyss mode is shorter than one of the main campaigns, it did feel nice to take a break from the story and meet some new faces. Fire Emblem games stand out because of their unique characters and are what I love about diving into a new game. So having the core of the DLC for Fire Emblem be 4 brand new characters is pretty understandable for the content that’s included. But Waves one through three are lacking in comparison since it’s summarised by a few stat boosting items, cosmetics, and extra battles for more gold and experience. Wave 3 contains the sauna which makes skill gain for characters less time consuming but that’s about it. Wave 4 is where the majority of the content is contained in the DLC so that will be the main focus for this review.
The 4th wave of the DLC contains the Cindered Shadows side story. It’s a new mode that is self-contained. This mode is more challenging than the base game because of the limitations it presents.
Your party only contains seven characters from the main game(but will grow after the first battle) and the units in your party can only switch between a small number of classes. So you have to work with what you have in terms of these boundaries to win each battle. It’s a nice twist on the Three Houses style of Fire Emblem which is extremely flexible in how you upgrade your characters and what items they can hold. This is also a rare opportunity to see the three house leaders interact with one another with a return of the amazing voice acting direction that the game contains.
Cindered Shadows tests your ability to work with a small roster over multiple battles and limited experience. And because there’s limited money to repair weapons or buy new ones, you have to strategize which weapons are used when. There’s also a few new tracks such as Shackled Wolves which are added to the battle music you can listen to. The map variety is not quite as strong however which adds very few additions. Most of the maps you’ll encounter are reused or redressed versions of maps from the main game. It’s not necessarily terrible to have the maps reused since there are new objectives for the missions that take place on them but it would be nice to have new areas to explore in the DLC.
This mode is a mixed bag because while there’s pressure to spread out experience and weapon durability among your units, none of it really matters in the end. That’s because the Cindered Shadows mode is a self-contained experience. It has its own save files and a narrative that deviates from the timelines that we experience in the base game.
As you progress through the story, you’ll unlock the ability to recruit the four new characters to your roster in the main game. One aspect of the main game that frustrated me was the ratio of units you could bring to most battles compared to the amount of recruitable units. Three Houses has a huge roster but it often felt like recruiting everyone wasn’t worth it because of the limited amount of battle time that each unit would get if you were attempting to level all of them up.
This doesn’t get improved with the DLC so now there’s even more characters squeezed into the roster. Granted, I had done three playthroughs of the game before using the DLC characters so my focus for the fourth playthrough was on the new characters with being distracted by existing characters that I had already gotten the chance to use. But it would be nice to have more room and choice on the battlefield when there’s such a large amount of units to choose from.
Each new character also brings in a new special class to the game. These are the War Monk/Cleric, the Dark Flyer, the Valkyrie, and the Trickster class. By buying Abyss Exam passes in the main game you’ll be able to upgrade your units to these new classes which is a nice option if there’s characters that have potential in more than one area or for more variety as a whole.
A new area, Abyss, will open up in the main game and there’s a few new purchasing options that will appear there. There is also a special item that you can use once you complete the story but any more details on that would spoil the story.
In total, I finished the Cindered Shadows story in under 8 hours. The new music and battle circumstances did add a nice new element to the gameplay but it did end up feeling just a bit short. It’s main strength is enhancing the core gameplay and the replayable nature of the game. So while the core experience isn’t that long, the new classes and characters are what add to the overall experience.
It just felt like an odd choice given the amount of questions that were left unanswered in the main story of the game. At this point, it looks like there will be a lot of mysteries in Fodlan that might never be fully explored since the DLC for Three Houses has now been fully released. But that’s not necessarily bad since the mystery and available perspectives of the story are a large part of this game’s identity. So removing them could undermine the experience that new players have.
While the Abyss mode was somewhat unexpected, I appreciated something fresh for Three Houses’ narrative along with some new dynamics in how characters interact with each other. I recommend playing through the side story and using the new characters only after playing through two different routes so you can fully appreciate the base game and the potential spoilers contained in the DLC. And if you’re a fan of the game already who is looking to maximize it’s replayability, the DLC pass is worth the purchase.
Lack of cohesiveness
Amount of Core content
A review code for Fire Emblem: Three Houses Expansion Pass was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.