I was surprised, but intrigued, when Nintendo announced Hyrule Warriors, a crossover of The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, in late 2013. At the time, I had never played Dynasty Warriors, and the prospect of combining my favorite video game series with that of a series I had never played was both frightening and exciting. Zelda is no stranger to spin-offs: Link’s Crossbow Training was released not so long ago, and fans in Japan and Europe had a chance to control Tingle in his own series of games. However, Hyrule Warriors is the first time that The Legend of Zelda has been a part of a crossover with another series.
The result of this crossover is, simply put, a very fun game; but Hyrule Warriors is very different from any Zelda game. Hyrule Warriors borrows many more elements from Dynasty Warriors than it does from The Legend of Zelda. As a result, some Zelda fans will not enjoy Hyrule Warriors. It may star your favorite characters, but Hyrule Warriors does not play like any Zelda game you’ve played before.
Will Zelda fans enjoy Hyrule Warriors?
Hyrule Warriors contains many nods to the Zelda series, but at its core it is a Dynasty Warriors game with a “Zelda skin”. Even so, I felt as though I was playing a Zelda game the entire time. The story captivated me, and I enjoyed the new perspective given by being a part of the Hyrulean army, instead of playing as a lone hero.
When you remove the characters and setting, the only features from The Legend of Zelda that remain are the secondary items and a few bosses. The secondary items are all series staples like the boomerang and Hookshot. Their inclusion primarily adds some strategy elements to what is otherwise a simple hack-and-slash combat system. The secondary items are primarily used to defeat bosses, like King Dodongo (who can, of course, only be defeated if you use bombs). Occasionally you will encounter an obstacle in the environment that requires using a secondary item. These obstacles add a bit more of a Zelda feeling to the game, but the item usage is fairly basic. For example, you will use the Hookshot to climb to the top of a ledge, or use bombs to destroy rocks blocking a path.
Hyrule Warriors is a hack-and-slash real-time strategy war game that has almost nothing in common with the traditional gameplay of the Zelda series. Hyrule Warriors is not an adventure game. I enjoy the strategy genre, and, as a result, I found Hyrule Warriors very entertaining. If you enjoy strategy games, or like Dynasty Warriors, then you will probably enjoy Hyrule Warriors as well. However, there will likely be Zelda fans who will not enjoy this style of gameplay.
A familiar setting and story
The story of Hyrule Warriors is played out in the game’s “Legend Mode”, and is surprisingly entertaining. The story is so entertaining that I wish it was part of the official timeline, despite Eiji Aonuma’s comments stating it is not.
I’m sure many Zelda fans will sleep better knowing that their beloved characters have not been given voices
The game introduces some new interesting characters alongside the familiar Zelda characters, and the appearances of characters from different Zelda games (and therefore different time periods) are explained and fit into the story.
The story is told by a series of cutscenes and some dialog between characters before, after and sometimes during missions. I was disappointed, though not surprised, that the character dialog does not have voice acting (with the exceptions of Midna and Fi, who retain their gibberish-like speech introduced in Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, respectively).
It’s curious though that they included a fully voiced narrator during a lot of the cutscenes, making me wonder what the game could have been like had they embraced full voice acting. In my personal opinion, the narrator was okay but far from stellar, and I do believe that any less-than-excellent voice acting for Zelda characters will not be received well by fans. While I wish they had embraced full voice acting, I’m sure many Zelda fans will sleep better knowing that their beloved characters have not been given voices. Link does not speak at all, but he has a fairy that speaks for him.
All of the playable characters have important roles in the story, but none of them go into too much depth and it’d be easy to exchange one character for another. For instance, Agitha has no unique role that Ruto or Darunia could not have filled. Impa, Zelda and Lana stand out as the most important characters that drive the story forward, along with Link of course. The story is entertaining but basic and fits well into the established Zelda story formulas. You encounter similar scenarios to those that appear in other games, but you are given a unique perspective due to always being accompanied by an army and not always controlling Link.
Hyrule Warriors does not belong in the timeline
As a theorist, I’m very happy the story stayed out of the Zelda canon. It is entertaining, and I’m happy to experience it but there are some questionable elements that seem to clash too much with what we know from the mainstay Zelda games. Throughout the story, there were moments (though somewhat few and far between) that made me think, “Wait, what?” or, “That doesn’t make any sense.” The story is internally consistent so we’re not talking plot holes here; only people with extensive interest and knowledge about the Zelda mythos will notice these things.
Hombre de Mundo
Legend Mode requires that you play certain characters for certain stages in order to fit the story. While I understand why it was done, I was not happy being given only one choice of character to play so often. To make matters worse, that one character is most frequently Link. The character selection is definitely a case of letting the story limit the gameplay.
You can replay each stage with any character in the game’s “Free Mode”, but you can only play a stage in Free Mode after completing it first in Legend Mode. This is a problem that can be avoided if you play co-op mode. Player one is restricted to one or a few characters, but player two can choose freely from all characters in your party. By simply swapping controllers you can add more variety to your game, and there’s bound to be a few smiles when you realize that the character player two selected is also an NPC on that stage.
The stages include both new locations and returning favorites from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. All of the returning settings are executed superbly; fans of each game will immediately recognize each area. Astute fans may even notice the extreme attention to detail put into some of the stages. For example, the Death Mountain stage inspired by Ocarina of Time includes a ring of stones outside the keep at the top of the mountain (a keep that represents Goron City).
Game modes and gameplay
Hyrule Warriors contains three primary modes: Legend Mode, Free Mode and Adventure Mode.
In Legend Mode, you play through the story of Hyrule Warriors by completing missions. With few exceptions, most missions ask you to defeat a certain enemy or boss to capture the enemy’s base.
Each stage contains a number of strongholds, which the game refers to as “keeps”, and tasks you with capturing these strongholds. If you capture a keep, it will become a spawn point for your army. How do you capture keeps? By defeating the hordes of enemies inside the keep until a “Keep Boss” appears; then, defeat the Keep Boss to capture the keep. While capturing keeps is not necessarily vital to the mission at hand, it does help a lot and I often found myself capturing more keeps than necessary so I could have that extra advantage against the enemy hordes.
“Hordes” is no exaggeration. In Hyrule Warriors, you are constantly confronted with large numbers of enemies — sometimes over 100 enemies at a time. Most enemies are defeated with a few simple attacks, but strong enemies accompany, and sometimes lead, these large groups of foes. They are considerably tougher, sometimes demanding you to perform multiple strong combos while avoiding their attacks.
Each stage begins with a single mission, which most commonly tasks the player with defeating the enemy leader inside the enemy base. However, as conditions change during the battles, new missions will be added, and the conditions for victory (and defeat) may change as well. Additional missions include defeating certain enemies, assisting allies and capturing strategic keeps controlled by the enemy. Failure to complete these additional missions sometimes, but not always, leads to failing the entire stage.
Missions are further complicated due to the sheer amount of information presented on the screen at once
I felt that the additional missions that result in failure were mostly fair. They often begin with an indirect assault on your base. For example, one stage tasks you with capturing two enemy keeps in order to stop a barrage of boulders from destroying your base. However, there were a few times in the game where I felt the missions were unfair, or just silly. Failing some missions may put you between a rock and a hard place, but it does not justify instant defeat.
Missions are further complicated due to the sheer amount of information presented on the screen at once. In between your health bar, different meters, keep status, mini-map and the enemies you’re facing, it can be difficult to also pay attention to a change of objectives. A lot of times I felt that it was just easier to ignore whatever message had popped up, finish the fight and then figure out what it was I had to do next.
While completing these missions, you are also tasked with defending your primary base and often defending at least one key character as well (for example, a mission may require that you protect Impa from start to finish). This can also be a little tricky due to the information overload present on screen.
Free Mode allows you to play any stage you have already completed in Legend Mode; the only difference is the ability to play as any character you choose (even as player one in a co-op game).
The last mode is Adventure Mode. The basic gameplay of Adventure Mode is the same as Legend Mode, but there are many more stages with a much wider variety of stage objectives. Stages will task you with defeating the enemy leader as quickly as possible, defeating a certain number of enemies within a time limit, or even completing a simple combat quiz (e.g. “Defeat the enemy that is weak to bombs.”). There are many different scenarios, and some are harder than they appear at first glance.
What really makes Adventure Mode unique is the stage select screen. Each stage is a square taken from the map of NES game, The Legend of Zelda. Adventure Mode gives you an opportunity to unlock many features in the game, including new weapons and playable characters, and it does so by asking you to find secrets on the overworld map taken from The Legend of Zelda.
Secrets are found by winning “item cards”. Each item card contains the image of an item from a Zelda game, and can be used to reveal secrets by examining each grid of the overworld map. Fans of the NES game will immediately notice that many of the secrets on the map are taken directly from the classic. New secrets have been added as well.
There is a surprising amount of depth in Adventure Mode. I had very little interest in playing Adventure Mode at first, but I now find myself enjoying it more than Legend Mode. Adventure Mode is not cleared quickly.
Hyrule Warriors includes a co-op option in all three modes. This allows a second player to join the fun using a Wii U Pro Controller or Wii Remote and Nunchuk. One player uses the entire TV to play, and the other plays on the Wii U Gamepad. It’s a bit more difficult for a second player to join the action than it needs to be. The second player can only join while the first player is selecting a character for the current mission, and must rejoin at the start of each new mission. Some minor flaws aside, co-op is a great option that lets you experience the entire game with a friend.
Character controls and progression
The playable character roster includes 13 characters. Nine of those characters are taken from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. The remaining four are series staples Link, Princess Zelda, Impa and a brand new character named Lana.
Each character is unique and comes with their own weapons, combos and special attacks. However, the controls are simple enough that you can easily switch between characters. The controls can be customized to an extent: You can switch between (Dynasty) Warrior Style and Zelda Style. These settings change the attack buttons from Y and X (Warrior Style) to B and Y (Zelda Style), which are common attack buttons in Zelda games. As a Zelda gamer who is completely new to the Dynasty Warriors series, I played almost exclusively in Zelda Style.
Combos are completed by using combinations of the two attack buttons. The outcome of each combo varies by character and weapon, but once you have learned how to play one character you can easily learn the others with a little trial and error.
The other controls are very simple as well. Each character can lock-on to major enemies, dodge, block and activate special abilities.
Characters gain experience by defeating enemies and “level up” to become stronger. Additional character enhancements are achieved by obtaining badges. The badges are obtained by picking up materials that enemies leave behind during missions (in all game modes). Once you have acquired the correct materials, you can exchange them for a badge.
Each badge increases a character’s ability. Some badges teach a new combo, others increase the duration of certain temporary power ups, and still others simply increase defense during certain missions. There are many badges to obtain, and the requirements to obtain each one vary by character.
The badges are arranged in a skill tree: The early badges are fairly simple to obtain and may only require materials commonly dropped by easy enemies, but the more advanced badges require items dropped only by boss characters.
There is a surprising amount of character progression available. You will spend a significant amount of time playing Hyrule Warriors if you plan on obtaining each character, weapon and ability.
The verdict: Hyrule Warriors is a content-packed adventure
When I began playing Hyrule Warriors, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew the basics of the gameplay, but I never expected to have so much fun playing the game. However, the biggest surprise has been the sheer amount of content in the game. I have put over 20 hours into Hyrule Warriors, but I have only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.
This unique adventure through Hyrule is worth every minute
As if the content of Hyrule Warriors was not already enough, Nintendo is planning multiple sets of downloadable content for the game. In fact, the first expansion has already been released; it adds a fourth mode to the game: Challenge Mode.
I can’t recommend Hyrule Warriors to every Zelda fan, but if you enjoy hack-and-slash action or strategy games then you’ll feel right at home with Hyrule Warriors. This unique adventure through Hyrule is worth every minute.