Seemingly forged in the fires of confusion is the somewhat surprisingly good and in other ways underwhelming Hyrule Warriors. I say confusion because few combinations seem less likely than Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series and Tecmo-Koei’s Dynasty Warriors franchise. While the source material for the theme is all taken from Zelda, the gameplay is indisputably that of Dynasty Warriors. Whether or not this game blights one of Nintendo’s most successful intellectual properties or this game helps broaden the Nintendo brand is a question for another time. For now, let’s focus on what’s important: is Hyrule Warriors a good game?
Dynasty Warriors games (and the Warriors games in general) are an interesting niche, to be sure. The story plots often include a history book-like narrative which at best educates and at worst bores and makes historians throw their foreheads into their palms. Following those histories is the all-too-modern sounding and often spottily voice acted scenes between the characters during battle and in cutscenes. Hyrule Warriors is a strange bird since it has none of the “historical background” of Dynasty Warriors and, in order to please fans, seeks to meld some of the Zelda worlds together. The main gist of the story is that a witch named Cia seeks out the Triforce which, if you have never played a Zelda game in your life, allows the person who wields it to make a wish that can affect the fate of Hyrule. In order to achieve this end, Cia invades Hyrule Kingdom and Princess Zelda, her guardian Impa, a lowly soldier (but we all know where this is going give me a break) Link, and an army make way to stop Cia from accomplishing her goals.
The plot escalates from there and (spoiler alert, I guess) eventually three of the Zelda series’ most prominent game worlds intersect with this new one in order to work together and stop the nearly-always-there and more prominent threat that is Gannondorf. For a story about spliced universes, Hyrule Warriors’ plot is far less of a mess than I expected. In fact, many games of this ilk that involve crossovers are just terrible. To see one that is salvageable is actually pretty interesting. What becomes a problem, and some will disagree with me, is that Zelda is still completely devoid of voice acting with the exception of the narrator’s explanation of the plot between scenes. While it is a mark of the series to be mute and surely Link will never utter anything other than a guttural cry, it is annoying that these characters stand around talking to each other without actually talking. I’ll get to that more when it comes to gameplay. Speaking of…
The gameplay of Hyrule Warriors, as I said before, is that of a Dynasty Warriors game. The Zelda characters each run around on a map full of blue splotches (your allies) and red splotches (the baddies) and try to take over bases, kill hundreds of enemies at a time, and eventually meet the victory conditions. Throughout battle, different events will occur that will make the battle much easier if fulfilled, and much harder if not completed. As any DW veteran would know, letting the allied base fall is an instant failure and, since the player character is the only character with any real influence on the battlefield, players will be forced to rush back and forth across the field to save allies and babysit the main base when necessary. While this running around is the main crux of DW games and this one, it gets annoying that even when many other challenges are bested, not being in two places at once will make the battle all-the-more difficult and, at worst, your inability to rush somewhere can lead to defeat.
Back on voice acting, the lack of voice acting in game is problematic because reading allies’ cries for help while watching both the map and the people you are slaying is often too much to do. Simply having those things voiced, as they are in DW games, would have made the experience more manageable.
Running around the battlefield with various weapons (the main characters have options) and pulling off combos, while repetitive, is a lot of fun and more especially so because the main swath of characters the player fights are easily felled and fly away when struck like rag-dolls. When human-like bosses are the target, they will often pull off combos and then have a moment of weakness. Taking advantage of that weakness will allow the player to pull off a special attack for extra damage. As the player fights, pick-ups and combos will lead to special finishing moves that clear huge crowds and bosses alike. If you like the basic play of Dynasty Warriors games, Hyrule Warriors will feel like second nature.
The game does have its own quarks that differentiate it from DW beyond the look of the game, however slight. The first change is the addition of items that the player finds that will help he or she access more of the map and fight big bosses. Secondly and most apparently, Hyrule Warriors includes huge boss monsters that attempt to bring some of Zelda’s classic boss fights into the fray. The result is mostly bad. Hitting a boss with normal attacks is nearly useless and will make the bar whittle down by almost nothing. What the player needs to do is wait until the boss’ weakness is revealed and then exploit it with an item on-hand. Unfortunately for the player, those exploited weak points seem to happen randomly. Sometimes one will get two in a row and other times a player will lose the battle simply because the main base fell while one was waiting for the right moment to strike. That may sound miniscule but failing a mission because the boss AI will not pull off a move is infuriating. These big bosses can be boring too as you’ll dance around them waiting for an opening when hurtling hundreds of foes in the air is far more fun.
Outside of battle is the bazaar, a place where weapons and “badges” can be upgraded with items found in battle. Badges upgrade character skills and make them both hit harder and take more damage, among other perks. Improving upon weapons involves a weapon merging system that improves upon one weapon and adding skills by sacrificing another weapon with those desired skills. Getting the best weapons and badges in the game is something that will take players hours upon hours and, if the repetitive but somewhat addictive gameplay appeals to one, it presents a real challenge to grinders and completionists alike.
Adventure Mode presents another challenge to players bold enough to explore it. It involves a gigantic map that mirrors that of the original Zelda game for NES. Each tile of the map has battle challenges, secrets to find, and rewards for those who can earn A rankings on those challenges. This mode, though timid and nostalgic in appearance, is an undertaking of mastery to complete. While Adventure Mode rewards those who play it with the best weapons, powerups, and items in the game, it requires hours upon hours to reach.
There is a lot more I could (and even should) talk about with Hyrule Warriors, but only so much to squeeze in here. Hyrule’s characters have never looked better. The music of this game includes remixed and amped up versions of Zelda themes, for both better and worse. It reminds fans of the Zelda franchise, but feels more like a sampling of those worlds rather than a full-on tribute. Downloadable content may add to this, and much is planned so we will see. Despite the care taken to honor the Zelda series, Hyrule Warriors feels closer to fan fiction, an odd world where Link said no to puzzle adventuring and yes to high-octane hack-and-slash. Yes, it is cool to play as different characters in the franchise for the first time, including the evil ones. Yes, the game is an awe to behold but repetitive and sometimes frustrating. Yes, it is an okay game. However, Hyrule Warriors is a curiosity, a game that Dynasty Warriors fans will love but Zelda fans may have a hard time even getting into.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames