I was really nervous about this game. I’m pretty much as big a Zelda fan as you can get, but I wasn’t particularly well versed in Dynasty Warriors and what I had encountered I didn’t like. I picked up Hyrule Warriors to be fan serviced hard and that was about it. I was pleasantly surprised; maybe I do like Dynasty Warriors (or perhaps I’m such a Zelda fanboy I’ll enjoy anything with Link on the cover).
Hyrule Warriors shows Zelda in command of her kingdom with Link in training as a member of her army. Dark forces attack Hyrule Castle, and behind them is the evil witch Cia. She seeks to gain the power of the Triforce and conquer Hyrule, and in the process she opens a portal to three different time periods; the world of Skyward Sword, the world of Ocarina of Time and the world of Twilight Princess. Link and a collection of Hyrule’s greatest heroes from across time unite to stop Cia and the dark force which lurks behind her.
So, the story of Hyrule Warriors isn’t exactly interesting, but its fan service-y with plenty of appearances from classic characters. I enjoyed it, but this may again be due to my lack of ability to be objective about Zelda games. The only real disappointment is the focus on merely three games; elements from others appear, but I’d have loved to see more influence from games like Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask and A Link to the Past. Hell, I’d like to see them go for the underrated classics like Link’s Awakening and Minish Cap as well! This focus on three games means that Hyrule Warriors isn’t quite the complete Zelda fan service you may have been hoping for, but it is undoubtedly nice to see characters like Darunia and Midna again.
You’ll spend pretty much all of your time in Hyrule Warriors hacking and slashing through huge armies of foes as one of several characters, including obvious choices like Link and Zelda, but also fan favourites such as Impa and Midna and even a new character, Lana. Each character has a different move set, with each having a special attack which can be charged up. The move sets vary drastically, from Link’s standard sword and shield to Sheik’s harp to Darunia’s hammer. They all control pretty much the same though, and what works with one character will likely work with another. Some characters have multiple weapons, with completely different move sets. For example, Link can be equipped with either a sword and shield or the Flame Rod, each playing differently, with loads of hidden weapons to be found. Although the grunts can just be torn through, the stronger enemies require some Zelda-esque locking on. These enemies will be hard to damage with regular attacks, but can be damaged after dodging their attack, filling up a meter which unleashes a special attack on them. It’s a great system which manages to capture what makes Zelda combat good but in a Dynasty Warriors context. The boss fights are great as well, often using items you discover throughout the game. The final boss fight is actually one of my favourites in any Zelda game, it’s that fun.
Whatever your weapon, each level of the main campaign sees you seeking to dominate a battlefield. This can be done by capturing enemy keeps by defeating a certain number of foes, or by killing enemy captains or simply by following mini-missions the game throws your way. Defeat will normally find you if your home base falls or certain allies are forced off the battle field. Hyrule Warriors is often called mindless, and while it’s no strategy game, I don’t really think that’s true. As you rush around the battle field you frequently have to make decisions about what to prioritise. Do I rescue my ally who is in danger or do I shore up home base? Do I attempt to end this quickly by taking out the boss or do I play it safe. These aren’t complicated decisions, but they are there, and underpin the gloriously over the top combat nicely.
There’s a huge amount of content in Hyule Warriors. Each character levels up, and can be upgraded with ‘badges’ which bestow battlefield advantages. You can also create new weapons by fusing old ones together to make them more powerful. The story mode is a reasonable length, bringing you to a variety of locations. The ‘Adventure Mode’ is a real treat, showing us the map from the original NES The Legend of Zelda. Each square holds a different short challenge with a different reward. Sometimes these are just mini-fights in the style of the main game, but sometimes the challenges are a bit more interesting, such as the ones which upgrade you and your enemies weapons to insta-kill. The rewards can be new characters, weapons or items from Zelda, which are used to unlock secrets on the map. It works surprisingly well, and it was a lot of fun making my way through this mode.
Hyrule Warriors is far from the prettiest game around, with some fairly hideous environments which fail to capture those of their source games. Some are better than others; Skyward Sword’s Skyloft feels about right, but Gerudo Valley feels way off. The character designs for the classic characters are much better, although there’s a streak of over sexualisation (e.g massive boobs) in Cia which felt a bit out of place in a Zelda game. The attacks look incredibly cool, to the point that they almost carry the simplistic combat. I never really got tired of some of these moves despite having looked at them dozens of times. The music is good, mostly cheesy rock remixes of classic Zelda tunes.
Hyrule Warriors is a very generous package and a pleasant surprise to boot. This is a better game than it really had any right to be, and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, it could turn me into a Dynasty Warriors fan. If you actively hate Dynasty Warriors which, to be fair many do, give this a miss, but if you’re a Zelda fan on the fence, I really recommend taking the plunge. I wasn’t sorry and I don’t think you will be either.