Originally published in 2014, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
Format: Wii U
Developer: Omega Force/Team Ninja
During an episode of Nintendo Direct in 2013, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata announced the existence of a strange new game for the Wii U; a game that was seemingly created from a toxic concoction of chalk and cheese. Taking the elegant circle of The Legend of Zelda and cramming it into the square-shaped hole of Dynasty Warriors, the end result was Hyrule Warriors.
Essentially, Hyrule Warriors is a reskinned Dynasty Warriors, with Japanese generals being replaced by screaming elf people. For those unfamiliar with Koei Tecmo’s seminal mass-murdering series, the basic concept is one of base-taking, and slashing every poor thing that moves. In hindsight, such visceral gameplay lends itself well to the swords n’ sorcery universe of Zelda.
Instead of a wide open world, Hyrule Warriors is split into traditional levels, with two (or sometimes three) opposing armies vying for prime, blood-soaked real estate by fighting over key bases and outposts. This is done by… Well, mashing the attack buttons.
It’s an inelegant way of describing it, but this is (quite frankly) an inelegant game.
First, some exposition. For those concerned about Hyrule Warriors being the ‘Other M’ of the Zelda franchise, don’t fret; this is very much a non-canon game. Which is just as well, as the plot is suitably bonkers. It all begins when a nasty witch named Cia (along with her generals Wizzro and Volga) invades the land of Hyrule, before plunging it into darkness. After a failed attempt at defending her kingdom, Princess Zelda and her cohorts (including Impa, Lana, and some dude named Link) track the villainess down; before said villainess opens a rift in time and space.
It’s this convenient plot device that allows characters and settings from past Zelda games to intermingle, whilst providing an adequate amount of fan-service for Zelda nerds like myself. Yes, during the six or so hours of the main campaign, you’ll come across familiar (and playable) faces such as Sheik, Midna, Darunia, Fi and even a certain big baddie who hails from the sun-blasted Gerudo Desert. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of Zelda history – albeit a smorgasbord that is perhaps a little to lean for my own liking.
It’s no Smash Bros, that’s for sure. I personally would’ve liked more characters (though DLC is helping to alleviate matters, with the three main baddies now playable), but my biggest gripe is with the variety (or lack thereof) of levels. Truly, the locations on offer range from visually appealing (Skyloft) to downright ugly (uh, pretty much everything else) – and there is very little to do within them, aside from partaking in the mindless Dynasty Warriors fare.
2017 Edit: Post release, Hyrule Warriors has been bolstered by a substantial amount of DLC. Along with Cia, Volga and Wizzro, players willing to shell out extra cash received new characters such as Twili Midna, Tingle, Young Link, Medli, Marin, Ravio and Yuga. There was also a ton of new costumes, maps for Adventure Mode, weapons, challenges, and even a ‘Ganon’s Fury’ boss mode that allowed you to play as the titular pig beast (as well as a giant Cucco!). On top of all this, a 3DS port called Hyrule Warriors: Legends, was released with all of this content.
Honestly, the games graphics are a mixed bag overall. In one sense, it’s incredibly impressive seeing so many enemies being thwacked with nary a hitch in framerate – on more than one occasion, I found myself uttering “damn” in complete reverence. However, this loveliness is counterbalanced by the drab art style seen in the aforementioned levels, as well as the generic ‘anime-ness’ of original characters such as Cia and Lana (and believe me, you will get sick of their screeching and moaning).
Additionally, the game offers local multiplayer in the form of split-screen (one player takes the TV, the other the Game Pad) – which is a genuine selling point for people like me, who can easily find a partner to partake in mass violence (ahem). It’s a shame more Wii U games don’t support this feature, as it is a genuinely awesome experience – one that unfortunately comes with a noticeable downgrade in visual fidelity. Still, that fact that the Wii U can simultaneously stream two separate images never fails to impress.
Aside from the main campaign, players can engage in the Adventure Mode – a massive… er, mode, that takes the entire map of the first Legend of Zelda game, and separates it into a grid. Within each square of this grid, there is a special challenge that must be beaten, and each successful mission helps open up the map a little more. Additionally, extras such as weapons and even new characters can be unlocked, and combatants can be levelled-up – which gives the game a nice staying power for obsessive completionists.
A bazaar allows characters to be imbued with upgrades like badges (made from items acquired in levels), special potions that increase the likelihood of rare weapon drops, and a smithy which upgrades pre-existing tools of mass destruction. On top of that, golden skulltulas can be hunted in levels, and each successful acquisition will help in unlocking hidden galleries. Not to mention, character galleries enable full 3D viewing, and a music player enables full 3D… erm, listening. Yeah.
So, there’s a lot of stuff in Hyrule Warriors that will keep you busy for a while – and future DLC promises to help bolster the game’s already-plentiful content. Unfortunately, all the content in the world can’t stop my overall feelings of disappointment I have toward the game – and as a massive Zelda fan, that is painful for me to admit.
You see, aside from the fan service, there is very little that separates Hyrule Warriors from the bazillion other Dynasty Warriors games. Gameplay is woefully one-note, and small design quirks only add fuel to the frustration-fire; it’s that way missions take way too long to complete for a game that asks you to replay them constantly. The way allies are constantly screaming for help as they’re seemingly unable to fend themselves. The way there is no ‘restart’ option for missions. The way it takes forever to grow characters, so that they’re better prepared for harder (and very frustrating) missions.
It’s an innumerable amount of little things that ground my gears, and really highlighted the outdated, Japanese-style of development that seems to pervade Koei Tecmo’s halls – a style that is utterly absent from Nintendo’s own titles. It’s a harsh criticism, sure, but one that originates from the feelings of fatigue I felt as I spent many hours going through the game with a fine-tooth comb – and those feelings were usually accompanied with a desire to play something else.
All in all, Hyrule Warriors is an unusual release for Nintendo. A game that represents the Kyoto-firm’s newfound willingness to hand its valuable IP to third parties – and allowing them to twist and stretch them in new ways, much like a piece of multi-million dollar play dough.
Unfortunately, Zelda’s intermingling with Dynasty Warriors isn’t the major success I hoped it would be; it’s a game that – while comprehensive – far outstays its welcome, due to its refusal to offer more variety to its core gameplay. Still, if you can find it on discount, then I suggest giving it a spin.
6 out of 10