Given the small install base of the Wii U, it’s not a surprise that Nintendo would want to find a way to migrate some of its most popular titles to the much more successful 3DS. Hyrule Warriors Legends is a product of that effort, condensing the content laden Dynasty Warriors/The Legend of Zelda spinoff into a handheld experience. The end result is an impressive port of an excellent game, but only if you own a New Nintendo 3DS.
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 Legends, 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. This is made much easier in the 3DS version, as multiple characters can be swapped on the fly by use of the touchscreen. You can also direct characters not currently in use to move to waypoints or engage someone on the field. 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. The Challenge Mode has been given the axe, though there is a My Fairy Mode that has been introduced in its place. Fairy companions are now acquirable throughout the game that are customizable in this mode, allowing you to feed them, teach them, and even dress them up. These fairies, in turn, offer various benefits in battle, such as reviving your character upon defeat which makes them an invaluable resource.
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 (hundreds, 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.
Other additions to this version of the game include DLC content from the Wii U release, such as characters, costumes and adventure maps. There are also a selection of characters introduced for the first time to this version of the game, including a female Link variant known as Linkle (who has her own Legend Mode story bits) and several representatives from The Wind Waker (also with their own story content). Owners of both versions will be delighted to hear that Legends includes a code to unlock the new characters in the Wii U game. However, it lacks the story content and Adventure Mode maps that you get with the 3DS edition, so don’t expect to just jump right into the new stuff in HD. This was perhaps the biggest slap in the face as someone who was excited for the new content. I understand that this release is targeted primarily at new fans, though Nintendo must have at least thought of existing players or the code wouldn’t have been included at all. So if you want to play strictly with the additional content, you have to play all of the original stuff over again. At least Linkle’s missions unlock periodically along the way. The loss of co-op play really sucks too.
Hyrule Warriors Legends shares its style with Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS in that it has a sort of cel-shaded-but-not-really aesthetic going on. The character outlines have a heavy contrast to them, while being more colorful rather than realistic. CG sequences make a return and look really sharp too. I was actually rather impressed that they were able to successfully scale the experience to the handheld… on the New Nintendo 3DS. Owners of the non-upgraded model are left out in the cold somewhat as even though the game is technically playable, the level of performance (or lack thereof) is abundantly clear. Now, I should point out that I tried the game out on the old model after playing through on the New, so the frame rate plummet came as quite a shock. But still, I find it astounding how slow the game ran and how frequently pop-in occurs. Oh, and you can’t use the 3D either. And none of this is explicitly stated on the packaging so far as I can tell.
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.
The prospect of a definitive edition of Hyrule Warriors is an enticing one, and while there is content exclusive to the 3DS version of the game, it had to give up some things in exchange (such as co-op and Challenge modes). On the other hand, even the included codes, when used on the Wii U game, don’t supply you with everything either. It’s likely this decision was made since many of the new maps rely so heavily on the character switch mechanic, even though this is nothing a patch or DLC purchase couldn’t fix. Especially since the newly introduced season pass covers the Wii U game as well. It’s still a fun experience though and one in which those without the Wii U version should definitely get a kick out of provided they have the updated hardware.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Dynasty Warriors/The Legend of Zelda collaboration returns, only this time on the 3DS in the form of Hyrule Warriors Legends. Boasting all of the story content and DLC of its predecessor along with new segments featuring the cast of The Wind Waker, the game aims to be the definitive experience. However, gaining features like in-battle character switching and My Fairy mode comes at a cost, as co-op play and Challenge modes were both dropped. Also, if you’re not playing on a New Nintendo 3DS, the game runs like crap and the 3D functionality is disabled (not to mention having the right analog nub is so nice for camera control). Still, having the game on the go is a convenience I didn’t know I wanted until I had it. It’s not an ideal purchase if you’ve already played the Wii U game, but for a newcomer, it’s a great jumping on point.