Every so often, great animes will get a movie that takes place outside of the events of the main series. They can be fun and entertaining, but they’ll almost certainly never bring up the main story, and you may end up wondering if these extra adventures ever really happened at all. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
’ Expansion Pass DLC feels very similar to those movies. While most of the seven new missions that make up its modestly-sized side story are engaging and fairly challenging in their own right, the way they are woven into the original plot doesn’t feel fully thought out, even if the new characters it brings along are a welcome addition to the cast.
The Expansion Pass is made up of a bunch of scattered elements – extra items and new costumes for Byleth (so you can finally run around the Monastery without your sleeves flapping about), a few new auxiliary missions, a recruitable fan favorite merchant named Anna, and the ability to invite other characters to join you in a sauna (which is thankfully way less creepy than it could be). None of these features are really must-haves, but they do sprinkle in some fun variety, especially for those in New Game+ looking to try out another route.
The side story Cindered Shadows is the real meat of the Expansion Pass, but the way its implemented can be a bit confusing. On one random night at Garreg Mach Monastery, Byleth and their friends chase a mysterious figure deep underground to a hidden and forgotten refuge known as Abyss. Rather than taking place during (or even after) the events of the main story and its separate routes, Cindered Shadows is accessed outside of your normal save file entirely. The strange side effect of this is that its handful of missions give you a preset group of characters (including Byleth and all the house leaders) to fight with, all as specific advanced classes at a predetermined level. Since the side story doesn’t follow the month-to-month format of monastery life, you aren’t really able to customize your team – it’s understandable, but also disappointingly limits replayability.
Cindered Shadows really shines best as a grueling gauntlet of battles. With limited funds, weapons, and units, these missions offer a healthy amount of challenge even on normal mode. Several of the fights even feature objectives beyond just routing an enemy force, which I was very happy to see since inventive battle parameters were something that the main story was sorely lacking. One such mission has you retreading a map seen earlier, but in a vastly different context. Where previously you were slowly battling up narrow corridors, this time you’re being chased by overwhelming odds, and must dash through several gates with all of your units before they close.
By turning the tables on my expectations for how to overcome enemies, I was constantly kept on my toes, excitedly changing my entire strategy multiple times to solve problems I didn’t think I’d be facing. That said, I do wish the tail end of Cindered Shadows didn’t rely on re-using maps we’ve already seen in the main story quite as much, given how good its new maps turned out. Luckily, the final fight (avoiding spoilers) helps make up for this by taking the battle somewhere I’ve always wanted to fight in.
The secret shanty town called Abyss also felt like a bit of a let-down in some regards. It tries to act as a mini Garreg Mach to explore between missions, but since there’s no activity points to spend or time to study, you really can’t do much aside from talking to the four new recruitable characters known as the Ashen Wolves. In order to find new activities, you’ll have to swap from the side story to the main story and revisit Abyss, and then unlock new facilities from an “Influencer” using in-game currency. These new activities – like viewing how your characters’ stats have progressed, or recycling unwanted items for something other than gold – aren’t exactly ground-breaking, but they do provide some nice quality of life additions for when you want to maximize your potential.
I ended up enjoying the new characters far more than I thought I would, as the side stories do a great job of showcasing their diverse personalities and their combat prowess alike. Balthus, Hapi, Constance, and Yuri each bring something different to the table, both in the stories they reveal and in the way they utilize their personal abilities and the four new classes they level up into. Both the War Monk and Trickster classes give a lot more love to hybrid melee classes that can heal in a pinch, while the Valkyrie and Dark Flier give more magic-friendly options on a mount. Sadly, the fan-favorite Dark Flier class no longer gains the ability to move and attack again after defeating an opponent on your turn, which I was sort of looking forward to.
I particularly enjoyed chatting and fighting alongside the group’s leader, Yuri. He feels like the fully realized shrewd-yet-mischievous schemer that Fire Emblem tried to make Claude out as (nothing against Claude, he just turned out to be too nice of a guy to fill that role), and Yuri’s ability as a Trickster to warp and change places with another unit make him incredibly valuable for getting units where they need to go. Meanwhile, the odd and sometimes silly personality quirk of Constance makes her either stronger indoors or more guarded outdoors, and is even disturbingly reflected in how she acts when having tea outside!
Cindered Shadows manages to be entertaining enough in the story it tells, even if it raises more questions than it answers. It was also nice to see it tie into Byleth’s backstory, though considering the results of the adventure, I found it surprising and a bit disappointing that characters like Jeralt and Sothis had absolutely nothing to add to such a personal tale. Just like so many of those anime movies, its events feel unnaturally walled off, never to be mentioned again.
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Completing this side story does translate into unlocking characters, classes, and activities for all of your main story save files, but I never felt like this was handled as well as it could have been. For starters, you’ll be able to unlock the four characters to potentially be recruited in the main game. This can be done as early as Chapter 2 even though the events of Cindered Shadows seem to take place right after Chapter 4, and if all of your save files are already in part two of the campaign then they won’t appear at all.
What’s more, the first time you talk to each of them, they’ll have no recollection of ever meeting you – or even the events of Cindered Shadows – but will also have somehow heard all about you and have no qualms joining you if you’ve completed enough missions. Similarly, everyone else at Garreg Mach seems to have nothing to say about you bringing up some random exiled kids from the dungeons to train up and go to war with you. It doesn’t make recruiting them any less fun, but it does make an otherwise engaging story come off like some sort of hallucination.
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