The Legend of Zelda is a staple of the video gaming world that might possibly never go away. Nintendo and its franchise have the long-lasting, towering legacy that only a few other companies can claim and the rest would just die to have.
Once again, as it often goes with Nintendo, the company has planted a huge amount of pressure on the series to help its console flourish and succeed in the face of trouble. Heads were spinning with the announcement for the Wii U's The Legend of Zelda title at this year's E3, and that was only a single in-engine shot!
That reaction to the full blown reveal trailer… unreal!
Very few franchises have the power to do that with a release that is still a good two or three years off. Which leads us into Hyrule Warriors, Nintendo's contingency plan to keep interest up in The Legend of Zelda franchise while it hammers out what could very well be the biggest game in the franchise in nearly two decades.
Hyped as a celebration of "all that is The Legend of Zelda," Hyrule Warriors puts a high-octane spin on the series' lore with the aid of Dynasty Warriors' developer Omega Force over in the halls of Koei Tecmo. The "musou" genre, as the Dynasty Warriors brand of action is called in Japan, enjoys a huge spectrum of admiration from those who can enjoy its cheap aesthetic and spend countless, mindless hours hacking away at tens of thousands of trash mobs, grinding to make their moves just ever so slightly more powerful.
Of course, others don't entirely get the appeal and dismiss it as cheap, lazy, Japanese game development.
With the fabulous idea to blend this polarizing genre together with The Legend of Zelda, does it do more harm than good to the legendary franchises' reputation, or is this the perfect game to help stem the tide?
Hackin' and Wackin' and Smackin'
Well, as I mentioned before, it takes a certain kind of gamer to enjoy the "musou" style of action. There is plenty of fun to be had within these games, you're just going to have to go digging for it. Gamers who take their fun at face value will turn it off immediately, disgusted by the shallow combat and repetitive missions that can drag on for up to thirty minutes.
Indeed, combat entails of spamming the weak attack button before throwing in a strong attack for good measure, just to perform a combo that is a bit flashier and slightly more powerful than the one before it. Nearly any combo will work in any situation just as long as you are slashing through trash mobs.
By a battle's end, you can rack up anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 kills in a single match, no exaggeration! Most of these will be useless enemies who attack once in a blue moon and die after a single papercut, but luckily, Hyrule Warriors does toss plenty of stronger enemies into the ruckus as well.
When facing one of these advanced enemies, merely hacking away and button mashing won't be enough to bring it down. More often than not, he will come with a shield capable of deflecting most attacks. A simple option would be to dive behind these enemies, but for even greater damage, your character can hold back and memorize his attack patterns for when he leaves himself open. At the exact right moment, indicated by a meter over his head, a few well placed strikes will lead to an ultimate attack.
And that's pretty much it for the combat. A few clever battles with gargantuan monsters shake up the formula a bit, but all in all you'll be tasked with grinding through stage after stage after stage like this.
Controlling the Flow of Battle
Along with all this shallow combat, though, the "musou" genre does provide a little depth through its strategy, planning and tactics. Merely charging ahead is about as good of a way to lose as if there ever was one. Rather than taking on an army by yourself, Hyrule Warriors rewards leaders who capture strategic forts and waypoints, open portals for fellow troops to spawn, and complete specific goals.
Save an ally from dying, her troops' moral will soar. Let her retreat, her troops will suffer, and the enemy will gain a huge advantage in the flow of battle. Too much shift in flow, and your home base will fall, dooming you to start again from a checkpoint, or more likely, the beginning of the 15-20 minute map.
There is no worse feeling than accidentally setting up a checkpoint in Hyrule Warriors mere seconds before you lose. Restart the match up again, and fail right away again. Try as you might, there is no helping a lost cause, and after two or three failed attempts, you'll be forced to start over anyway.
Treasures, secrets weapons, and even classic Zelda heart containers find themselves in remote locations, so those wanting to go exploring will have to find a balance between controlling the battle and breaking away for a few seconds to check out a remote fort or look for a Gold Skulltula.
That's the heart and soul of Hyrule Warriors. Long battles which can be both fun and frustrating depending on how aggressively the enemy pounds away at your allies and how far you'll have to run for secrets. There is very little room to break out and experiment in new ways to make your own fun like the way Super Smash Bros. fans have found.
I had quite a few severe moments of rage when I was forced to erase half an hour of progress because the broken checkpoint system doesn't allow for multiple points to travel back to.
Granted, the majority of the game's fun comes through the Adventure Mode and Challenge Mode, which allow for much more brief bursts of fun, unlocking exciting weapons and items without the threat of losing all that progress. The game's main mode and its gargantuan missions could be all but ignored if it wasn't required for the story and a majority of the game's secrets.
This Ain't No Shakespeare!
Not that the story should have any impact on your decision. Anybody expecting a heartfelt tale to rival Nintendo's own emotional plots from Koei Tecmo might want to have their head examined or their geek card torn to shreds. For a celebration of "all that is The Legend of Zelda," they certainly rushed and stitched together this horrible plot.
Koei Tecmo is hardly to blame with over thirty years of lore and stories it was forced to pay homage to. Let's not forget to mention it also had to build the story completely around ridiculous Zelda canon theories, which were only recently declared official by Nintendo after immense fan pressure.
The idea behind the plot is that a… well endowed sorceress (this is Koei Tecmo after all) who guards the Triforce at the beginning of time loses her cool after being smitten with jealously towards the spirit of Zelda. This perfect blonde always sees her fate intertwined with Link's and the two of them meet and fall in love every time Hyrule is under threat.
This moment of fragility allows an evil force to overtake her body, and this angry witch opens portals to different times and spaces of Hyrule's history, giving an excuse for the characters of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword to interact with one another and bring this conflict to an end.
Again, it's not great, and it doesn't really have to be. Koei Tecmo just needed a simple plot to have all these characters appear in a single game, and in that regard it works just fine. The awkward, silent cutscenes can thankfully be skipped for those who just want to trailblaze through the battlefield, and the narrated bits can be silenced with the push of a button.
In fact, the only places which could have used voice acting are during the battles themselves. I know it is sacrilege for Nintendo to give its main characters voices, especially after Koei Tecmo's catastrophic mess with Metroid: Other M, but I often found myself missing out on important updates on the battlefield, too focused on the action in front of me to be bothered with looking at text boxes in the bottom corner.
In this regard, would voice acting have been acceptable? Just maybe.
Nostalgia in all the Wrong Places
Hyrule Warriors' emotional shortcomings can hardly be blamed on the shallow plot, making it so much easier to see its real shortcomings, that of a tribute to The Legend of Zelda. Ocarina of Time is a timeless classic, so it and its characters thankfully make up at least 2/3rds of the roster, but when I think of the greatest games in the series, I think of A Link to the Past, Majora's Mask, Link's Awakening, and The Wind Waker, and each of these masterpieces are referenced minimally at best.
The original Legend of Zelda on the NES is at least acknowledged during the clever Adventure Mode, but there is next to nothing out of other decent fan favorites like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, The Minish Cap, or the Oracle of Seasons/Ages games.
Instead, we are left with Ocarina of Time being dragged down by the likes of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, two ho-hum games in which the expansive legacy of the series behind it greatly benefitted their popularity. Of course, they are the easiest to transform into a game like this thanks to their 3D worlds, and they are the most recognizable to younger fans of the series.
However, the pain I felt force-feeding myself these mid-tier games meant I had absolutely zero emotion invested into anything they had to offer this formula. Maybe fans of these two games will get more out of it, but when I think of a celebration of "all things The Legend of Zelda," I would like to imagine journeying through a fully realized version of Link to the Past's Lost Forest, chatting with the unforgettable villagers of Link's Awakening Mabe Village, shrinking on a tree stump in The Minish Cap, and burning bushes with the blue flame in the original.
Reusing settings and resources from 3D games I already played through comes off as lazy when we could have seen 2D settings of old favorites built from the ground up.
The remaining original material, not taken from a different Zelda game, is negligible at best. This new Hyrule uninspiring, its landscapes are dull, and it lacks any shred of majesty that makes The Legend of Zelda "The Legend of Zelda."
The best I can say about any original idea in this game is that Link looks cool with a blue scarf.
Maybe I'm just not that much of a fan of The Legend of Zelda these days if I can't accept all the games as masterpieces. It's the newer games, not the classics, that Hyrule Warriors focuses on the most. Generally, this shouldn't be a complaint in a review, but when the entire purpose is to pay homage to a series, then it sticks out like a sore thumb when far superior chapters of the long history are being overstepped for the mediocre recent ones.
Misses One Too Many Marks
It's a tough call on Hyrule Warriors. If you are expecting the kind of long, thrilling adventure that you'd typically find in a Legend of Zelda game, you'll be disappointed. If you're expecting a tribute game with the same level of quality as Super Smash Bros., you aren't going to find that here either.
I was all set to like this game, grinding away at levels and building up my weapons, enjoying the company of Link and his friends while being blindsided by nostalgia left and right, but the truth is, now that I have played through it for this review, I have no desire to go back anymore. Too many small mistakes that are uncharacteristic of Nintendo but all too present in Koei Tecmo games hold it back, similar to Metroid: Other M.
Too often did my hard work become erased thanks to the broken checkpoint system starting me up mere seconds before I would inevitably fail again, and I cleared one too many forts and pulled off one too many mindless combos to care anymore. Grinding and building weapons provides very little variety, and the emotional connection to The Legend of Zelda just isn't there.
There is enough content here to justify a $60 purchase, especially if you are a Zelda fan of the younger variety, but the question is if you're going to want to access it all. The Adventure and Challenge Modes will provide plenty of hours to go back and rind through if that is your thing.
However, I feel this one comes up a little short and under-delivers on what could have been an amazing game. I wanted to like it so badly, but I just didn't.
A brisker pace, a deeper RPG system, more interesting rewards for grinding maybe, more nostalgia from the Zelda games I like to remember perhaps? There is still plenty for me to unlock in the Adventure Mode and Challenge Mode, but after a few maps, I just couldn't be bothered, a telltale sign of a game I don't especially care for.
If you are a Legend of Zelda fan like myself, wait for a price drop. Chances are though, you'll be too deep into Nintendo history thanks to Super Smash Bros. by then to care.
Disclaimer: We were provided a review copy of Hyrule Warriors from Nintendo, and we played through the main storyline and several adventure mode missions before writing this review.
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