Developed by Omega Force, Team Ninja. Published by Nintendo. Released September 26, 2014. Available on Wii U. Copy provided by publisher.
Hyrule Warriors is still one of those games I’m having trouble comprehending the existence of, despite sinking a ridiculous number of hours into it. In truth, a Dynasty Warriors spin-off featuring The Legend of Zelda shouldn’t be that surprising – Nintendo and Koei have always been good friends, and there have been mutterings of a crossover for quite some time. Even so, I never would have expected to see two personally beloved games come together like this.
Even better, the marriage between Nintendo’s classic action-adventure series and Tecmo Koei’s button-mashing hack n’ slash powerhouse is almost everything I could have wanted it to be. Outside of some minor inconveniences and conceptual limitations, Omega Force has put together something truly delectable – even if those who dislike the core Dynasty Warriors games will find very little to get excited about.
Sod those guys, anyway.
Those familiar with Koei’s flagship series will find themselves right at home with most of what its Zelda-flavored offering brings to the table. Pitting two (or sometimes three) armies against each other, each stage has the player hack and slash their way through hundreds upon hundreds of enemy soldiers, mowing through peons and tackling tougher leaders, capturing keeps to sway the battle in the allied force’s favor, and eventually taking out an enemy commander. Each of the game’s thirteen playable characters have a unique fighting style, though utilize the same combo system for controller-bashing simplicity. As opposed to characters found in Dynasty or Samurai Warriors, the attacks performed by Hyrule‘s roster are all incredibly varied and flamboyant, from Agitha summoning giant beetles, to Ghirahim using his attacks to lock onto enemies before sending dark energy charging toward them. Combo attacks are more than just slashes and swipes, each one being an extravagant affair that’s visually exciting, though often prone to leaving players vulnerable. Good job a dash command (replacing jumping) can cancel most attacks.
Vulnerability is a big part of the game’s combat balance, as most enemies (barring regular soldiers) are incredibly durable, able to happily absorb not only regular attacks, but even shrug off the allegedly powerful special moves that act like “Musou” maneuvers in other Warriors games. The only really effective way of dealing with most significant enemies is to let them attack and expose their weak point – summoning gauge that appears above their head which is whittled down when you hit them. Once that gauge is emptied, you can perform a special counterattack that deals a devastating amount of damage.
It’s a neat little system that adds some extra depth to battles, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of rendering most of a characters’ moveset pointless in single combat. You can’t do combo attacks in the presence of a named enemy leader, because they’ll ignore them and chew through your health while you’re stuck in the animation. Your special attacks deal barely anymore damage than regular ones, so you’re stuck waiting around for the enemies to make their move before you can make theirs – and just hitting the regular attack button is the quickest way of depleting the weak point gauge. As characters level up, this becomes less of a problem, but it would be nice to have the same kind of offensive options available in other Warriors games, and feel more powerful as a result.
Fortunately, there’s a ton of bottom feeder soldiers upon which to take out any frustration, and with most attacks designed to wipe out ridiculous numbers of lesser enemies at once, it’s more satisfying than ever to charge into a battlefield and destroy the opposition. Rare is the battle that ends without the player defeating over 1,000 enemies, and with such an impressive variety of cool and thematically fitting battle styles to indulge in, there’s hours of enjoyment to be had in just getting to grips with each freshly unlocked Warrior.
As well as the usual slicing and dicing, players get access to classic Zelda items, such as bombs that can be used to break through walls, or boomerangs that stun foes. These items come into play when facing off against large boss monsters, culled from classic Legend of Zelda games. These monsters are fought just like they would be in their respective games, with the bow used to fire arrows into Gohma’s eye, and the hookshot employed against Argorok’s tail. As with enemy generals, boss monsters must be countered with these select items after they pull off certain attacks, exposing a weak point gauge that’s dealt with in the usual manner.
Legend mode is a story-based campaign that takes players across a variety of large-scale maps, telling a story that sees the worlds of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword collide due to the machinations of evil sorceress Cia. Each stage limits your character selection, ensuring you’ll get a go with most of them as they’re unlocked, and presents some delightful environments that accurately portray their representative videogames without artistically clashing. The story isn’t exactly award-winning stuff, but it’s decently told, and even offers a few smirk-worthy narrative twists, especially once Ganondorf gets a turn in the spotlight. In any case, there’s just something utterly enchanting about seeing previously unrelated Zelda protagonists and antagonists interacting. Plus, Zant is highly amusing, exactly as he should be.
As with regular Zelda games, dialog is presented via text, with various gasps and gibberish noises used to represent character voices. The only real voice acting comes in the form of a narrator between Legend stages, who recounts the story and sound very awkward in doing so. The game could have done without the narration, because it’s not very good. A minor complaint, but I had to get it out there.
Adventure mode is a mash-up of various challenge stages, set out on a grid-like map layered with NES-style graphics. Each square on the grid represents a new battle, in which powerful weapons or new playable warriors might be unlocked. To progress across the map and attain the best rewards, players will have to complete stages with high rankings, scoring points based on completion time, damage taken, and number of kills. Generally, beating a stage within fifteen minutes and killing 1500 enemies per stage will get an “A” rank, though some battles have slightly different objectives, and thus different ranking requirements.
There’s a load of stuff to do in Adventure, and the mission variety keeps things interesting. Some battles are based entirely around one-hit kills, with players having to fight incredibly carefully, while others are “quizzes” that put you in an arena with two enemies and hand out a clue as to which one needs to be defeated. Others are simply pitched battles with regular rules, while others are smaller skirmishes or mini boss rushes.
Completion of an Adventure stage usually earns a special item based on the original NES Legend of Zelda, which can be used on each unlocked square to net a weapon or warrior. In “Search” mode, the Compass can be used to locate a hidden object on the screen, and other items are then used to uncover said object. For example, the compass may reveal that something is hidden under a rock, and if you have a bomb, you can use it to unlock whatever’s obscured underneath. Stages may need to be replayed in order to keep a healthy stock of items, but the rewards can be worth it.
Finally, there’s a Challenge mode that will update via an online connection with new specialized tasks, the first of which is a simple time attack mode through the forest, charging players with the goal of completing as many objectives as possible as soon as they can. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues to update, but for now, it’s a nice little extra and nothing more.
There’s a huge wealth of content on offer between Legend and Adventure mode, and in addition to thirteen characters to level up, there’s a crafting system that combines materials earned in-game to create badges for every warrior. Badges add new combo attacks and a wealth of passive abilities that prove damn near essential when it comes to facing Hyrule Warriors‘ tougher difficulty modes. Weapons can also be combined with those who have random empty “slots” in them, allowing one to mix and match attributes – a fun feature cribbed from other Warriors games, but disappointingly limited since you can’t add empty slots to existing weapons, severely restricting what can be combined.
The real charm to Hyrule Warriors is, of course, how the game drips in references and callbacks to the Legend of Zelda series. With familiar sounds and music, the classic opening of treasure chests, the appearance of the Moon from Majora’s Mask, and the presence of ever-vengeful Cuccos, there’s a ton of stuff to paint a grin on a Zelda fan’s face. My one grievance here is the almost exclusive focus on three games. There are several all-original characters that could have been replaced with the likes of Skull Kid, Agahnim, or Tingle, but because only Ocarina, Twilight, and Skyward are fully represented, this is not quite the comprehensive tribute to the series one might hope for.
All that said, this is still a real treat, packed with love for a Nintendo classic. The visuals are absolutely wonderful, too, with nostalgic Zelda designs getting some flamboyant influences from Omega Force to create stylized, Warrior-esque versions of beloved characters. The work done on Zelda and Ganondorf stand out as particularly excellent renditions of the characters, and let me say just how awesome it is to play as both of them outside of Super Smash Bros. Add to that some deliciously cheesy rock-tinted takes on the Zelda soundtrack, and this is one tasty package.
Bottom Line: Omega Force superbly balances the beat ’em all combat of Dynasty Warriors with the enchanting world of The Legend of Zelda. With a meaty combat system and tons of stuff to uncover, Hyrule Warriors is a mad idea that should logically get old after an hour, but never does. It’s a novelty that can’t quit being novel, and I love it to death.
Recommendation: If you don’t like Dynasty Warriors, this may wear thin, but for everybody else, it’s very much worth diving into.[rating=4.5]