Hyrule Warriors is a game that by all rights should not exist. Before you race down to the comment section, let me explain what I mean by that. You see, it is such an outrageous and unlikely concept that I’d just as soon nominate Master Chief’s inclusion into the latest Super Smash Bros. as something that is more likely to happen. Yet, here we are, talking about the latest Zelda themed Musou game. Somebody pinch me.
If you’re not aware of what Hyrule Warriors is, it can be best summarized as Nintendo and Koei Tecmo sharing a boardroom meeting and concluding that a Dynasty Warriors and The Legend of Zelda crossover is a thing that needed to happen. Upon further reflection, it turns out they were right. This IS a thing that needed to happen and I’m quite ecstatic that it does.
The story exists outside of the normal Zelda timeline, and chronicles Ganondorf’s defeat and subsequent dispersal into four different soul fragments. Three of which are sealed away during different points of time and the fourth held at bay with the Master Sword. The infamous Triforce is then kept under close watch by a sorceress named Cia, who over time develops a bit of a crush on Link. This lust gives rise to darkness and allows Ganondorf to slowly corrupt her mind, forcing her to open up portals to different eras and raise an army of darkness to attack Hyrule and capture the hero of time himself.
While it’s not nearly as interesting as the games it’s inspired by, the plot does provide ample excuse to explore worlds from such games as Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, all while giving you an opportunity to play as key characters from those games. It’s all fan service on the same level as Project X Zone, where nothing substantial actually happens, but you’re happy to see all of your favorite characters getting together to resolve a common problem. To that end, fans will be delighted.
There are multiple modes to Hyrule Warriors, but the core gameplay in each is the same. When you begin, you have the option to utilize controls that more closely mimic The Legend of Zelda or Dynasty Warriors. You have regular and strong attacks, plus a special attack that can be unleashed when the proper gauge is full. Unlike other Musou games, there is no jump button, so you’ll have to dodge out of the way of danger or block to avoid damage instead. Stronger enemies can be targeted so that the camera is fixated upon them while you circle and if you wait for the right moment, a prompt will come up where you will attack their weak point, resulting in a devastating blow if you can drain the gauge quickly enough. There’s also a magic meter that will unleash a focus spirit ability when full, increasing speed and attack power momentarily.
As you progress, you’ll eventually earn items that may be needed to clear a particular obstacle or defeat a boss. These items include Zelda staples, such as bombs and boomerangs, and once you’ve obtained them they are in your inventory for good. They can be utilized as weapons against regular monsters too, and temporary powerups exist that will occasionally make them more useful than even your normal attack combos.
You typically don’t have to think too hard beyond which group of enemies you want to beat the snot out of next, but there is a light amount of strategy involved that you’ll at least have to pay a minimal amount of attention to. Units and bases within your grasp show up blue on the map, while the enemies are red. To expand your forces, you want to capture the red keeps and prevent capture of your blue keeps. Sounds easy enough, right? Problem is, you can’t be everywhere at once and so while you’re trying to make progress in a stage, there are raiding parties whose job it is to capture your strongholds and make your life hell. There are no horses to get you back to base quick (oddly enough), but the characters in the game can run so fast that it’s a moot point. All that needs to be done is to have enough enemies in a keep be defeated until the boss shows up. Take him out, and the place is as good as yours. Some stages have massive bosses that have to be felled to progress, and therein lies the Zelda influence. Each boss has a weakness to a certain item, such as Gohma’s susceptibility to arrows, and the key is exploiting that and pounding away on them while fending off the minions that often come with.
Characters are upgradeable in between battles with the use of the Bazaar. Defeating enemies nets you experience that will level up your characters, but you’ll also gain valuable components that when combined, create badges for them that enhance them further, granting anything from additional potions to carry into battle to elemental resistances. Weapons are dropped by enemies in much the same way, and come with their own innate abilities. Want to combine abilities? Just visit the Smithy and sacrifice one weapon to apply one of the skills to another weapon. The Bazaar also provides a spot to mix potions or spend rupees to level up characters via the training dojo.
The Legend Mode is likely the place where you’ll start the game out, which is fitting since it acts both as a tutorial and the game’s story mode. From there, Free Mode lets you play any completed maps with any unlocked character and weapon you so choose. Finally, there’s Adventure Mode which is a bit more involved, tasking you with traversing the map from the original Zelda game on the NES in order to take on challenges and uncover new items. Oh, and there’s also a Challenge mode that was added in a day one patch that similarly gives you battles to fight while placed under limitations, but without having to follow a map. As of this writing, there was only one stage in the Challenge mode, though it’s likely future updates will contain more.
The Adventure Mode in of itself is what’s going to provide the most bang for your buck, as there are a ton of stages (over a hundred at least) and some require an A rank in order to unlock the rewards. Unlike Legend Mode though, you cannot save during a stage and while most of them are too short to necessitate it, there are a few that are lengthy and require the use of specific characters that you may not be comfortable with using or aren’t sufficiently leveled up. In fact, this was probably the most frustrating aspect of the whole game. If you don’t level up all of your characters somewhat evenly, you may have to spend a great deal of time grinding Free Mode in order to power up weaker characters to make progress. Throw in the fact that heart containers and high rank weapons won’t appear unless you have a specific character/weapon combination, and you’ll be making more repeat trips than you may care for. This normally wouldn’t be a big issue if it weren’t that DW games in general have the tendency to be repetitious.
Still, the burden of this is eased slightly with the addition of co-op play. Two players can slaughter legions of monsters simultaneously with one player on the Wii U gamepad and another viewing the action on the TV. The decent sized roster even leaves room for experimentation, as multiple characters have weapons that change their fighting style drastically, almost reworking them into new characters entirely. And let me say that playing as Lu Bu… I mean, Ganondorf, is nothing short of awesome. The only unfortunate thing is there is no online play, short of having network links appear in Adventure Mode. Considering this just places other players on your map and allows you to complete their stages for additional rewards, it’s a bit of an afterthought.
Hyrule Warriors looks incredibly sharp and still manages to run well even when there’s an entire army on screen. The frame rate does tank a little bit in co-op mode, but otherwise it gives rise to the exciting possibilities of the upcoming Wii U Zelda game. The characters that are pulled from the various games are all authentic representations of their former selves, and it’s exciting to finally see them in HD. From a stylistic standpoint, you can definitely tell who the new characters are, as Cia and Lana both look like they belong in a Dead or Alive game. I think that pretty much says it all right there.
As is tradition, there is no voice acting in the game save for the few sound bites that play when a character might be talking. There is a narrator that fills you in on the various plot points in the game in between battles, and her pronunciations might shatter a few perceptions (such as Fi being spoken as “Fai” instead of “Fee” as you might expect). The soundtrack is a mish mash of remixed songs from franchise history, with many getting a hard rock makeover as is traditional with the Dynasty Warriors series. Don’t be shocked if you hear the main theme overlaid with an electric guitar as you slice and dice moblins.
Now for the disclaimer: there’s a reason that The Legend of Zelda doesn’t exist anywhere in the title. This plays much more like a Dynasty Warriors game and is much more likely to appeal to that audience than the former. If you’re someone like me and enjoys both, then congratulations, you are exactly the demographic that this game was aiming for and you are going to LOVE this. For everyone else, proceed with caution. If you despise Dynasty Warriors, despite the familiar Zelda trappings they’ve manage to work into the game, you’re not going to get a whole lot out of this. Never heard of Dynasty Warriors or the term Musou? A lot of Wii U demo kiosks in retail stores around the country have a sampling of this game on here, you might want to give it a try to see if this is right for you. That being said, this is certainly my favorite Dynasty Warriors spinoff, and quite possibly one of the most well made. I would love to see Nintendo’s other franchises get similar treatment.
Short Attention Span Summary
To put it simply, Hyrule Warriors is a Dynasty Warriors game set within the universe of The Legend of Zelda. You run from place to place, capturing enemy bases by mowing down hundreds, if not thousands of enemies in one go. It combines characters and locales from Zelda franchise history and lets up to two players race across them collecting weapons, heart containers and gold skulltulas just like the games it is based upon. There are multiple modes to eat up your time, including a retro inspired Adventure Mode that dumps you on the map of the 8-bit classic and forces difficult challenges upon you in the name of unlocking new items. There is a ton of content to keep you busy, even if a good portion of it is incredibly challenging and sometimes grind heavy. Still, if you even have a passing interest in the DW games, this is one of the best spinoff games they’ve ever done.