The Legend of Zelda series hasn't received many true spin-offs, aside from Link’s Crossbow Training several years ago and that questionable Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland. The vast majority of Zelda titles have been completely new stories within the Legend of Zelda world across multiple timelines. Koei Tecmo's team-up with Nintendo to introduce Dynasty Warriors mechanics to the classic series left me wondering if this combination could work. From what I’ve seen leading up to Hyrule Warriors’ release, everything looked rather interesting, but is this hybrid an experience fans of either series can enjoy?
This is a Zelda game
Even though Hyrule Warriors doesn’t have “The Legend of Zelda” in its title, it holds its own as a real Zelda game. The story focuses on a sorceress named Cia, who is responsible for maintaining the balance of the Triforce, as she becomes infatuated with Link, a humble Hylian soldier-in-training. Cia’s obsession with Link eventually transforms into jealousy towards Zelda, which causes her to become corrupt. Cia uses her minions to wage war against Princess Zelda and Hyrule itself by opening the Gate of Souls: portals that connect the current world with other moments within Hyrule’s timeline. She uses these portals to call forth an army of monsters in an attempt to overthrow the kingdom.
The portals serve as a way to bring together some of the series’ most iconic cast ever assembled in a single Legend of Zelda title. You’ll be able to battle against and with some well-known characters from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Some obvious choices are playable, such as Link and Zelda, although there are definitely a number of pleasant surprises. If you haven’t been keeping an extremely close eye on Nintendo's promotion, then you’re going to be in for a surprise or two.
Hacking and slashing
When you first fire up Hyrule Legends, you’ll be presented with a number of game modes: Legend Mode, Free Mode, Adventure Mode, and a Challenge Mode that comes in a day-one patch. Legend Mode allows players to follow the main story of Hyrule Warriors, while Free Mode allows you to play as any unlocked character to fight across any of the battles that have already been completed. Adventure Mode pays homage to the original The Legend of Zelda as you fight across a large 8-bit 16x8 map that’s filled with a variety of challenges, items and enemies to defeat. And finally, Challenge mode has players completing various challenges with any unlocked character. As of this writing, only one challenge is available.
Inside the game proper, you'll usually divide your time between killing or protecting specific characters, overtaking bases, and completing various objectives--sometimes all at once. Sometimes dialog presented on the bottom portion of the screen adds to the chaos, making it very difficult to keep tabs on what you’re doing in the game. A message will pop up in the middle of the screen to instruct you what you should be doing next once the dialog finishes, but it's hard keep up with the game’s story when you’re fighting thousands of enemies at once.
I found the learning curve steep, as it's easy to get swept up in hacking and slashing away at enemies without realizing a base is being conquered somewhere else on the map. Expect a lot of trial and error early on as you start to learn the intricacies, such as what certain color highlights on the minimap stands for and where your commanders are located when they’re requesting your assistance.
Wide World of Zelda
Each playable character has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as multiple weapon options. Weapons fall into one of several elemental categories, with the game recommending which characters and weapons would perform best in certain levels. Completing the main storyline will unlock most playable characters, while the remaining characters can be accessed by playing through Adventure mode.
Even with such a large roster, Hyrule Warriors does an excellent job of giving a sense of empowerment to each character. Most attacks will be able to defeat tens of enemies at once, and some others can down 100 or more. Players can perform basic attacks, strong attacks, special attacks and unleashing Focus Energy to unleash a barrage of attacks on your enemies. While players will be able to defeat most enemies with ease, more difficult enemies and bosses will require a bit of strategy that goes beyond simply mashing the attack button. These enemies will lower their defenses depending on their attack, which will then cause a weak point gauge to display over the enemy. Attacking while this gauge is displayed will cause it to decrease its value, and once the weak gauge is completed, you’ll be able to perform a set of very powerful attacks that will either defeat the enemy entirely or take a large chunk of their health away.
Characters can improve their abilities either by leveling up through combat, equipping new gear found on the battlefield or by visiting the Bazaar. The Bazaar uses a combination of materials found from defeated enemies and rupees to offer various improvements to each playable character. You’ll be able to equip characters with badges that can offer a number of features, such as improvements to their defenses and having the ability to drink potions during battle. The Training Dojo gives those characters who aren’t used as often the ability to level up for just a few rupees, although the more vast the level gap is, the higher the amount of rupees required. The Smithy can help make already impressive weapons even better by combining abilities from one weapon to another. The last Bazaar menu is the Apothecary, which offers various potions to give your characters a boost in the following battle for the price of materials and rupees.
Mash-Up Done Right
Hyrule Warriors offers an intriguing blend of both the Zelda and Dynasty Warriors series, making for an experience that fans of either series can thoroughly enjoy. It stays true to the Zelda series’ lore, sights and sounds, and combines it with the fast-paced, button-mashing action the Dynasty Warriors series is so well-known for.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
This review is based on a downloadable Wii U code provided by the publisher. Hyrule Warriors will be available in retail stores and on the Nintendo eShop on September 26, for $59.99. The game is rated T.