This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com
Hack ‘n Hyrule
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Hyrule Warriors was probably the last and certainly one of the most surprising announcements of 2013. It also quickly became one of the biggest and most anticipated Wii U releases for 2014. A marriage of the Zelda universe with the addictive gameplay of Dynasty Warriors is a great idea on paper but how does it work in reality?
The first thing to remember is that this is much more a Dynasty Warriors game than a Zelda game. If you don’t like Dynasty Warriors but love Zelda, you still may not like this. This is no secret but it is something I feel needs to be emphasised as anyone who comes in based on the name only, may find themselves disappointed. Dynasty Warriors fans also need to be cautious as Hyrule Warriors isn’t as feature rich as the more recent entries in the series and this may put some off despite the Zelda theme.
If you have never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, you may not know what to expect. Essentially, they are action games on large battlefields with some tactical elements. There are thousands of enemies on the battlefield, most of whom are weak and easily dispatched by the player’s character and often standing still – seemingly wanting to be hit. The challenge comes from enemy hero characters that are tougher, smarter, faster and far more aggressive. It is also necessary to complete missions throughout the scenario such as capturing fortresses, protecting other heroes or defending certain areas of the map. The player also has an army and the strength of this army can be improved by capturing strategic points and fortresses. The battles are dynamic and ignoring the enemy army can quickly turn the battle against you. Not keeping an eye on your home fortress may see it captured which will result in a loss. On top of this are scripted events which can quickly change the battle and players priorities.
All of this remains in Hyrule Warriors but the Zelda theme is much more than a texture swap. The story is apparently non-canon if that is important to you but is very typically Zelda. It involves new characters named Lana and Shia and events leading to characters (good and evil) from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword becoming involved. I’m being careful not to reveal much here as the story will be very enjoyable and nostalgic for Zelda fans. The plot is essentially a clever vehicle for bringing together characters from three of the most popular entries in the series and even if non-canon, it is very much in the spirit of the franchise. It was clearly put together by people who know and love the series. The three titles seem to have been chosen because they fit in well with the visual design and unfortunately 8-bit, 16-bit and Toon Link would have just looked out of place.
The game also features fourteen unique locations from the series reimagined and designed as battlefields. The names and scenery will be recognisable but they have been expanded or include buildings, walls and barriers to fit the gameplay. Each area features Zelda staples like bomb and grass patches, Beamos statues, giant boulders and even cuckoos. The Hylian, Goron and Zora races also make an appearance as do enemies like moblins, stalfos and lizalfos.
Though nowhere near as many as in a Dynasty Warriors game, there are plenty of playable characters in Hyrule Warriors. Most will be unlocked as you progress in the story in the games ‘Legend Mode’ and during the story you are encouraged and sometimes forced to try different characters. All characters can make use of items from Link’s arsenal including bombs, arrows, the hookshot and the boomerang as these are all necessary in certain situations. Each characters main attacks and weapons are unique and there is plenty of variety with how each plays. There is also a reasonably deep progression system. Characters all gain levels through experience and there is also the option to spend rupees to improve the level of characters; though not higher than the level of your highest character. Outside of this, loot from the battlefield and items dropped by enemies can be used on grid system to craft badges that improve character abilities. Gaining enough items to craft these badges will require playing scenarios over again and completing the grids for each character, as well as maxing their level will take a good amount of time. There are also plenty of weapons to be found with slots to improve or enhance their power. Lastly there are heart pieces and even skulltulas to collect and the latter will reward you with pieces of art and further character enhancement.
Hyrule Warriors has three modes, the formerly mentioned story mode known as ‘Legend Mode’, ‘Free Mode’ and lastly ‘Adventure Mode’. ‘Free Mode’ is merely the story mode without restrictions on which character can be used in each scenario. The ‘Adventure Mode’ is perhaps the most interesting and the best way to extend the game after finishing the story. The mode uses the aesthetic of the original Legend of Zelda and you can choose where you move on a grid map. On these squares you can complete different missions such as defeating certain enemies or a certain number of enemies. There are also plenty of unlockables for the main game. If varied gameplay is important for you, it won’t be found in Hyrule Warriors as all these modes play in essentially the same way. If the main games gameplay becomes too repetitive, the extra modes don’t add anything to the experience that would extend or add more variety. It all comes down to how much and how long you want to spend fighting waves of enemies. The game also has three difficulty levels initially and one more unlocks after completing the story. I found the normal setting quite easy overall even with little experience with the Dynasty Warriors series so veterans would be best to start on the hardest available difficulty.
Hyrule Warriors features local co-operative play using the gamepad. This is for two players and one player uses the gamepad screen while the other uses the TV. There is no split-screen play or any online options despite this being available in Dynasty Warriors 8. This is above all the most glaring weakness in Hyrule Warriors. There is absolutely no good reason not to have online co-operative play in a game such as this and it is definitely a strike against the overall product.
The early footage of Hyrule Warriors was unimpressive but the final product is quite the opposite. Despite all the action on screen, the game runs smoothly and I have experienced only the occasional slowdown when playing the game. Character animations are fluid and detailed and the in-game cutscenes also show some impressive facial animations and expressions. Fans of anime-style Zelda games in particular will be happy with the character designs and the large boss monsters are suitably imposing. Even the menus and items have been given plenty of detail with plenty of Zelda inspired backgrounds and fonts.
If you love the chimes, jingles and jangles of Zelda then expect them in overload here. Opening treasure chests, collecting rupees, grabbing items and completing objectives will all be signaled by many of the classic sounds. In keeping with Zelda tradition, the voice work is limited to cries, grunts and other brief exclamations. It is a shame given the abundance of voice work in Dynasty Warriors but it is also unsurprising and certainly easy to overlook. The music is the real stand out though with some charming recordings of classic Zelda tunes. The rocking soundtrack of Dynasty Warriors is still present however with many classic melodies such as the Kakariko Village theme playing over heavy guitar and drums; something that matches well with the gameplay. There are also plenty of new compositions and music will often change to match in-game events which is neat to say the least.
Much as I began, the question of whether you will enjoy Hyrule Warriors depends more on enjoying the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors than it does on loving Zelda. I don’t enjoy the former but the presence of the latter ended up winning me over. It turns out that having pitched battles against the forces of evil in the land of Hyrule is a lot more enjoyable for me than the same in medieval China. There is a lot to do in this game and plenty to extend and challenge the player as long as it doesn’t become too repetitive. I had not expected this game to have nearly the level of polish or care put into it that it has and my only major problem with the game is the baffling lack of online play. Apart from that, this is a great game in its own right and definitely worth checking out for Zelda fans and Wii U owners in general.
This review is based off the Japanese version of Hyrule Warriors and as such some names and other small changes may be different in the English edition.