Hyrule Warriors is a very strange game. It is a crossover between Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series and Nintendo’s Zelda franchise. On the Koei front, this isn’t too weird. After all, they’ve already had a history of pimping out the Dynasty Warriors series as attested by Dynasty Warriors Gundam. However, it is odd for Nintendo, who is traditionally very protective of their franchises. In fact, Hyrule Warriors is the first major partnership with a third party developer of many if we are to believe Nintendo. You see, as multiplatform games have been treating the Wii U like a leper, Nintendo vowed to start allowing third party developers to use their franchises in order to keep the Wii U’s lineup strong with steady releases. After all, there’s only so many games that Nintendo’s first and third party developers can churn out in a year. Which brings us back to Hyrule Warriors. It’s an experiment of sorts, and Nintendo is heavily invested in it being a high quality game. So, let’s see if their gamble paid off.
I’d say your enjoyability of Hyrule Warriors will be directly tied to how much you like either series and can stomach the other. This is not a Zelda game. In the end it is pure Dynasty Warriors. If you’ve long since lost the ability to stomach Koei’s bland of hack and slash, then this game will likely not convince you. Similarly, if you’re one of the five people out there that love Dynasty Warriors, but have no fondness for Zelda, then the characters and alterations to the formula will come across as utterly charmless. However, for Zelda fans, even a little bit of tolerance of Dynasty Warriors will reveal a strongly-made game that just oozes references and charm. The same can be said with Zelda aficionados. For those who have never played a Dynasty Warriors game, you’re in for a treat, though the series tends to wane on people, the first impression is usually quite strong.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about how the mashup actually works. You get to control one of thirteen characters from the Zelda franchise, whom you use to cleave through thousands of relatively helpless monsters as you complete objectives on a massive battlefield. The idea is making you feel like a god on the battlefield. And, to it’s credit, Hyrule Warriors does this as well as any Dynasty Warriors game. There is a certain exhilaration you get from taking down dozens of Stalfos with a single swing of your Master Sword, or crashing down a huge wave upon throngs of enemy troops as Ruto. This is empowerment at its finest. That is, until you come face to face with an enemy general. In the Dynasty Warriors games, these were other playable characters with unique move sets. In this game, they are monsters like Dinafos, and Poes. This isn’t too bad, but they take a little too long to beat up on usually, though Koei introduced a Wind Waker-style weakness system in order to make things run a bit more smoothly.
The big new addition to this game over Dynasty Warriors is the inclusion of items and boss monsters. Items include standard Zelda fare – bombs, hookshot, bow, etc. And these can be used on the fly throughout the level. Though limited in use when clearing out the battlefield, they can be used to uncover secrets (bombs on boulders for example). More importantly, they are critical in combating the new boss monsters that wander the game. These are huge, largely invulnerable monsters that usually require an item to knock down so you can get hits on them. For example, the Dodongo boss requires you to stuff bombs in its mouth before its weak point can be revealed. For Zelda fans, these bosses break up the tedium, though Dynasty Warriors fans may feel they get in the way of conquest.
There is a story mode in the game, called ‘Legends’. It acts as a good introduction to the game and it unlocks the majority of the roster, as only Link is available from the get go. The story is pretty awful, but nobody really came for the story. More importantly, the stages are laid out in such a way that they require player choice at some points, and come with tons of unlockables. In each stage, a golden Skultula will appear after fulfilling certain conditions. Kill enough of them to unlock more stuff, including bonus stages. In addition, there are heart pieces for individual characters to collect to expand their health bar. These two things make a great incentive to replay the otherwise straightforward Legends mode. The real meat of the game, however, is in adventure mode. In this mode, you get to play on a large board game-style version of the original Legend of Zelda map. Each square represents a battle with unique goals and restrictions. Winning the battle with a high rank unlocks new things like characters, weapons, hearts, and items to use to unlock new secrets. You see, in order to unlock all that can even be won from the battles, you need to use items such as candles, power gloves, recorders, etc. to reveal the secrets that were there in the original Zelda. It’s a very unique idea and it works very well.
The character roster is good in terms of variety even if it’s not up to Dynasty Warriors’ roster’s size. Each character fells very unique as compared to one another. For example, Shiek is quick and weak, able to get in and do lots of quick damage. Darunia on the other hand is slow and powerful. While Fi has sweeping crowd-control attacks, but sadly lacks good single target abilities. The new character, Lana, however, is just plain awful. She’s an utterly generic anime character with absolutely zero going for her. With such a tiny cast, it hurts that someone like Skull Kid could have had her spot in the roster. It’s too bad that only 13 characters made it. Zelda has never been known for its stellar cast, but the roster seems a little small, especially since the game is entirely focused on the 3D Zeldas. It’s too bad that all other Zeldas got thrown out of the window, especially since they make the bulk of the franchise, but that gives Koei plenty of room to improve when and if they make sequels. I must note that characters get different weapons, which change their move set entirely, but I think most would have fathered more characters instead.
Also troubling are the lack of villains, particularly playable villains. As of release, there are three playable villains in the game. This is problematic from the perspective of variety in enemies and situations. What I don’t understand is that there are clearly more villains in the game with complete move sets that simply aren’t playable. To be fair to Koei, these three villains are going to be released in a free DLC pack, but it’s still unfortunate. One of the great strengths of the Dynasty Warriors series was the ability to play all sides to the conflict. This is absent in Hyrule Warriors, and I think it’s a mistake.
The reason I’ve titled this post the way I have isn’t to disparage the game. There’s a lot of content here, and most of it is very good. I’d say it’s well worth the price of admission. However, it is obvious while playing it that there are so many opportunities for expansion. More characters, levels, music, items, etc – all of these could bring so much more to the game. It is very difficult to not focus on the improvements. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Hyrule Warriors does well enough and Koei is allowed to continue, we may have another franchise that simply gets better with age.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer