Hyrule Warriors – The Most Metal Zelda Game Yet

(originally posted September 26th 2014)

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The Dynasty Warriors series is one that may be very fun to play, but doesn’t really grab me. The setting of ancient China can really only appeal to those interested in the culture. So, what’s the best way of getting someone like me to play it? The answer: dress it all up in Legend of Zelda clothing.

I’m admittedly not the biggest Zelda fan (having only played five games in the series) but the image of Link cutting down swarms of Moblins with the grandest of spin attacks was enough to get my attention, and as more details emerged over the months, it looked more and more enticing. But now the game’s out, is it as awesome as it looks?

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First, the plot. In this era, Link is a knight-in-training in the service of Princess Zelda, who discovers that he’s the chosen Hero when he aids the army in battling an invading force. This force is in the service of a sorceress called Cia, who has villainous intents for Hyrule; part of which involves opening portals to other eras and pretty much screwing with time and space. Link, alongside Zelda, Impa and new character Lana must unite to stop Cia’s plans, gaining allies from across the Zelda series to aid them.

I’m gonna keep this brief; the story is stupidly simple, even by Zelda standards. There are only a couple of twists and any Zelda aficionado will have seen then coming a mile off (though I have to give credit to the fact that they’re all played straight rather than awkwardly making fun of them). Zelda supervisor Eiji Aonuma described the title as being a lot like The Avengers and I can see what he means. The only reason the story exists is so all these characters can interact with one another; it’s pure fanservice and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The character roster is, in my opinion, almost perfect. It’s the first opportunity for us to play as the likes of Midna, Darunia and Fi, who have usually played slightly passive roles in their respective games (except for Fi since, you know, she IS the Master Sword), so being able to see them finally whomping various amounts of ass is a delight.

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The regulars are a joy to play as too. This is probably the most dynamic some of them have been; Impa has usually been an active character but this is the first time we really get to see why she’s Zelda’s bodyguard, and the princess herself, while not as bad as Peach when it comes to being kidnapped, has never taken the battlefield before. Their new designs are rather lovely as well, managing to blend the two styles of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors beautifully. There’s a reason people love Link’s new scarf so much, not to mention Ganondorf himself looks ridiculously majestic.

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The music is another example of how well the two series have merged. Fans will recognise classic tunes underneath the guitars, which will no doubt result in some head-banging, as well as making the battles all the more fun. You can even select which music track will play before heading into battle, which is always a nice touch.

So, how does the gameplay itself hold up? Well, a friend of mine who has played Dynasty Warriorsgames said that it feels exactly like one. Every character almost feels the same when it comes to movement but it’s their attacks that make the difference. The fighting requires only two buttons (with players given the choice between a Dynasty Warriors play style or a Zelda one) and the button inputs are ridiculously simple, yet offer a visual feast as Link and his allies chop down invading hordes. It might sound a tad casual but since there’s a lot going on during battles, it’s probably for the best that combat is kept simple so as not to overwhelm the player. Besides, players will no doubt be experimenting as they unlock new weapons and attacks to use.

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Most characters get access to more than one weapon and each one almost turns them into a completely different character. Early on, Link gets hold of the Fire Rod, which handles very differently to his sword, as it allows him to attack from a distance and reduce far away foes to ash. Having different weapons available is a great way of broadening the roster without over saturating it with characters.

Now, the battles themselves. You will rarely be battling armies on your own. You too will have an AI controlled army that battles alongside you, which at times you will have to manage. They tend to hold out on their own quite well, though there was the odd moment where I found myself becoming frustrated when the same soldier kept getting nearly killed and I had to go rescue them. Normally, you can afford to lose a few captains but some missions require you to keep them safe or you lose the battle. Again, though, it rarely happened; they can be surprisingly competent.

That being said, you’ll definitely be doing the grunt of the work. If a keep needs capturing or a specific enemy needs killing, it’ll be up to you to sort it out. Battles are timed to last 60 minutes, but it’s such a generous limit that, at times, you can afford to go wandering around, capturing keeps, gaining experience or searching for the Golden Skulltulas that only appear when certain conditions are met, and will leave if you don’t find them in time.

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Though the game is certainly more DW than Zelda, there are moments when elements of the latter come forward. Throughout the story, you’ll gain classic items such as the bombs and bow to help you with specific situations like blowing up rocks blocking your path or shooting unreachable Deku Babas, as well as dealing with the giant bosses (they’re practically mandatory). I very rarely used them during normal fights but they can be handy in stunning mooks. That being said, regular enemies are usually a cakewalk, even in their droves. Larger enemies present more of a threat though and require a bit more finesse to deal with.

If I had to make one complaint, it’s how quickly the tide can turn. That in itself is not the problem; it’s when it happens at the most inconvenient times. You’ll be fighting an enemy that you need to kill in order to win the battle, only to suddenly be notified that your base will fall within the next minute or so… and the base is on the other side of the map. You sprint across to try and stop it but it’s already too late. The battle is lost and you barely got a chance to do anything. It can be particularly aggravating. Fortunately, all experience is kept even after you lose, so failure never feels like you’ve wasted your time.

Co-op can actually turn once rather tricky battles into one-sided massacres, and without taking all the fun out of it. One player uses the TV while another uses the Gamepad. The one downside is that the frame rate drops quite a bit; a shame considering how good the game looks. In single player, the frame didn’t drop once… well, unless there were LOADS of enemies on screen. It only happened once during my play thus far.

The camera can also be a bit finicky, sometimes getting stuck in a wall or inside an enemy, usually when you perform one of the characters super special attacks. It’s not as bad as some cameras can be though. It certainly won’t result in unfair deaths.

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Between co-op, a mission mode that harkens back to the original Legend of Zelda, a wealth of unlockables and DLC to look forward to, Hyrule Warriors is just an enjoyable experience for Zeldafans, Dynasty Warriors fans and gamers in general. You may have noticed me repeat the word ‘fun’ a lot. That’s because there’s no better way to describe it.

The Zelda series has always had the tricky job of making each new game not only unique but also following the familiar formula so as to not alienate the long-time fans. Hyrule Warriors is that rare moment where Nintendo allows it to let its hair down and do whatever it wants. It dressed up in casual clothes, called all its friends round to its house and held the most awesome party until the wee hours of the morning. Hopefully, this is a sign of a slightly more lenient Nintendo, and a whole range of familiar IPs doing new and interesting things.

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