The Legend of Zelda, one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises, is a series characterized by puzzle-solving, swordplay, and dungeon exploration. On December 18, 2013, Nintendo revealed a new Zelda game dubbed Hyrule Warriors via Nintendo Direct. To the surprise of many, Hyrule Warriors appeared to be anything but a traditional Zelda game. Hyrule Warriors is the love child of Koei Tecmo and Nintendo, and it is a child that you should certainly not neglect if you possess a Wii U.
Without delving too deeply into the campaign, the story of Hyrule Warriors concerns a sorceress named Cia, an original character created for the game, who attempts to resurrect Ganondorf and causes a cataclysmic event which results in opening gates to alternate worlds. The narrative itself is nothing special and is kind of predictable, but you have to give Koei Tecmo props for coming up with an excuse to unite the characters of various games onto a single playing field.
Before I go any further, I feel like I should mention that although the Zelda series is the theme of this game, Hyrule Warriors is Dynasty Warriors at its core. As such, it plays almost exactly like a Dynasty Warriors game, albeit with some minor differences. One of these key difference is the fact that Koei Tecmo has thrown in classic Zelda items that fans are sure to recognize. Items like the Hookshot, Boomerang, and Bombs all appear as subweapons that assist with fighting bosses or finding secrets. Aside from that, each mission in the campaign basically boils down to heading to a specific point, taking a certain keep, or defeating a boss. In these missions, you play as a character from the Zelda franchise and mow through hundreds of enemies on the way to your objectives. Each character has an assortment of combos and weapons at their disposal and unleashing them will utterly devastate almost any foe you come across. Slicing through enemies with such ease is empowering, but the fact that the AI will mostly just stand around and let you kill them, even on higher difficulties, makes the feat a little less satisfying than it would otherwise be.
The combat in Hyrule Warriors truly is a mixed bag. While the combos are satiating and executed with impressive flourishes, using the same moves over and over eventually takes its toll and can make the fighting repetitive. Using other characters and fighting bosses, many of which retain signature weaknesses from their original games, is a nice way of changing it up, but I’m sure many will find the combat to be quite monotonous. The total enjoyment you’ll receive from Hyrule Warriors then becomes a question of whether or not this fact bothers you.
Aside from the campaign, adventure mode exists to break up the tedium. It’s a surprising addition to the game that really helps to flesh the experience out as a whole. In this mode, you navigate a grid shaped after the overworld from the original Legend of Zelda. Each block you land on offers a mission with varying conditions. Some might demand that you kill hundreds of enemies within a certain period of time, while others may ask that you defeat several bosses at once. Completing the required objective will unlock adjacent squares on the map, allowing further exploration. These missions are both adequately challenging and a refreshing way of fluctuating the gameplay of Hyrule Warriors. In addition, there are special exploration items you can obtain like the Compass, the Candle, or even Bombs. These items can be used to find rewards (like weapons or even new characters to play as) within certain squares on the grid. The best thing about this system is that the hidden rewards are actually taken from the original game. If there was a certain wall you bombed in The Legend of Zelda that awarded you with an item, chances are it will yield something of worth in Hyrule Warriors. It’s a very pleasant touch.
Besides adventure mode and the campaign, free mode and challenge mode are other viable options. Free mode does exactly what you might expect: it allows you to play through story missions of your choosing with any character you’ve unlocked. While not the most exhilarating mode ever conceived, it is nice to have the option available since many of the campaign missions limit which characters you can use. It also makes grinding for experience (if you’re into that) much less of a chore. Challenge mode simply gives you specific challenges to complete in order for you to advance. To be honest, it’s rather minimalistic, but its inclusion is welcome, nonetheless.
Speaking of grinding, the amount of content in Hyrule Warriors is truly staggering. I’ve already discussed the various modes you can play, but that’s really just scratching the surface. The characters you unlock can be leveled up, customized with badges, and even given different weapons with completely unique movesets and combos. Badges and weapons can raise certain attributes, increase the length of combos, or allow characters to carry potions. Gold Skulltulas also appear and will show up on the map when certain conditions have been met. Instead of dropping tokens, every 20 you slay unlocks an illustration piece to be viewed in the gallery. With so much to do, it wouldn’t surprise me if it took over 100 hours to truly 100% Hyrule Warriors.
It’s also worth mentioning that Hyrule Warriors can be enjoyed in its entirety with off-screen play on the gamepad. The function itself gets the job done, but it isn’t without its faults. The Warriors franchise is known for displaying a plethora of models onscreen at a time and it appears that the gamepad just cannot keep up at some points. The resolution takes a noticeable hit and the framerate can become quite erratic. Depending on the stage, the slowdown can be as lengthy as 20 to 30 seconds, which never happened to me while playing on my monitor. Quite simply, playing off-screen is viable, but not recommended.
As much fun as this game is on its own, I cannot stress how co-op will amplify your experience. Your buddy can play as any character you’ve unlocked and may also accompany you in the campaign or adventure mode. The hectic, tense gameplay of Hyrule Warriors is then raised to new heights and having a second player opens up an entirely new layer of strategy (not that it’s really needed) to the game. The only negative aspect of co-op is that since it's offline and there is no splitscreen option, someone will have to use the gamepad. As I mentioned before with the gamepad, the resolution and framerate will be affected for the worse. This problem is only exacerbated when a second player is present. With so many enemies on the screen and so much happening simultaneously, the game can slow down for tens of seconds at a time. While this doesn’t significantly mar your experience, it is a noticeable annoyance.
Another facet of Hyrule Warriors that sticks out in my mind is the amount of love that was obviously put into the game. Wary Zelda fans should cast their fears aside about Koei Tecmo defacing the Zelda name, because it is abundantly clear that everyone involved in the production adores the series. Not only does Hyrule Warriors sport an insane amount of content, but references to the entire Zelda franchise practically ooze out of your television. At times, you may actually be convinced you’re playing a full-fledged Zelda game because of the amount of respect that is shown to the characters and the lore. For instance, every playable character is inherently unique, which is rare in a Dynasty Warriors game. Their movesets all differ radically from one another and you’re bound to find at least one that meshes with how you want to play the game. Being able to play as my favorite characters is invigorating, to say the least. Furthermore, various locales from the Zelda series are playable stages and many songs have absolutely amazing remixes that perfectly capture the spirit of the collaboration between Nintendo and Koei Tecmo. As a Zelda fan, there were so many moments in the game that put a silly grin on my face and made my experience even more enjoyable.
Hyrule Warriors masterfully blends the combat and gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors series with the lore and characters of the Zelda universe. Make no mistake, this is a Zelda-themed Dynasty Warriors game, so if you go into it expecting a traditional experience, you may find yourself disappointed. However, if you can make it past that, you will find a lot of love in Hyrule Warriors. It’s immediately apparent that the developers did their best to imbue this game with Zelda charm and they succeeded. The characters are varied and an absolute blast to play as, adventure mode is a refreshing change of pace and provides ample challenges, and despite co-op knocking the framerate and resolution around, it may just be the definitive way to play the game. If you’re a fan of either franchise and own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to at least give Hyrule Warriors a try.