Hyrule Warriors is a bizarre, wacky concept. Now, before you write this game and/or review off entirely, let me clarify. It’s a very well done game, featuring a bizarre concept. The developers took a beloved game series nuanced with exploration, puzzles, and thrilling combat, and mixed it with a less-beloved game series with little exploration, no puzzles, and frantic high-octane combat. The result is Hyrule Warriors; a Dynasty Warriors game in a Legend of Zelda skin. Bizarre, right? A legendary game series renowned for brilliant dungeons and loads of discoveries to be made, reduced to cheap hack-and-slash gameplay should be pretty terrible, no?
Yet here’s the truly bizarre thing: Somehow, it works.
That is, as long as you come to terms with the fact that this really is a Dynasty Warriors title. Don’t load up this game expecting a Wind Waker-level of exploration or a Twilight Princess-esque plot. Hyrule Warriors is about one thing and one thing alone: being an utter badass as some of the most iconic characters from a massively iconic video game franchise. In fact, it’s best to get one more thing straight right out of the gate: This game isn’t canon to the Legend of Zelda series. Remember that big, controversial timeline that Nintendo revealed back in 2011 along with the Hyrule Historia book? Yeah, this exists separate from that. Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has been reported to think of this game more like ‘The Avengers’ of the Zeldaverse. But: That is completely okay.
The lore and setting of the Zeldaverse really lends itself well to the frenzied hack-and-slash action expected of a Dynasty Warriors title. And why shouldn’t it? The Legend of Zelda is a medieval/fantasy themed world filled with swordplay and magic; plowing through hordes of evil creatures kind of fits right in. In fact, it sort of makes you wonder how this hasn’t happened far earlier. It’s one of those wonderful phenomena that you don’t realize you need in your life until it’s there, sort of like Keyboard Cat or that YouTube video of FIFA Chairman Sepp Blatter falling off of a stage.
Something I thought was very well done is how each character’s personality and/or characterizations shine through how they battle and maneuvers around the field of combat. Additionally, the developers did a stand-up job reimagining some of the long-standing series characters. When in battle, Zelda is usually your commander; however, she is also capable of using a noble rapier like a pro; which of course makes sense, given the fact that she is still a Princess. Impa, who has traditionally been a defender of the Hyrulean Royal Family, carries a gigantic sword and maintains a ‘Proud Warrior Race Guy’ personality; both of these suit her like a glove.
Each character is unique to play as. This is a very good thing, given the repetitive nature of the DW series. For instance, Fi from Skyward Sword feels as if she’s light as the air as she dances around a mob of enemies, twirling and kicking. This contrasts wonderfully well from, say, Darunia from Ocarina of Time. Heavy, slower and powerful, the Goron chieftain’s hammer clears out entire groups of enemies with just one or two massive swings.
Some of the new characters made specifically for Hyrule Warriors felt right at home with the rest of the Zelda lore. Lana is a wonderful addition to the cast and has an easy-to-love charm about her. The Sorceress’s play style is less user friendly than that of, say, Link’s, but she’s still fun to play as nonetheless.
The primary antagonist of this tale, Cia, is also an intriguing new character, but I felt her motivations in being crazy-evil weren’t well explained. Perhaps I missed something, but all I took away from her backstory was that she had an unhealthy obsession over Link (like seriously creepy) and at some point had been possessed by Ganondorf’s soul. But you know, plot really takes a back seat in this game.
Now, to be fair: for a Dynasty Warriors game, the plot in Hyrule Warriors isn’t really that bad. It’s a classic ‘save Zelda, defeat forces of evil’ scenario, albeit with a few twists and turns along the way. However, those expecting a complex and intricate storyline befitting a Legend of Zelda title will be disappointed. But then, again, telling a tale of grand adventure isn’t the developer’s point here. This game is about wiping the proverbial floor with dozens and dozens of baddies as some of your favorite characters from Zelda lore.
Speaking of Zelda lore, Hyrule Warriors is filled to the brim with references from the series at large. The battlefields themselves are inspired by and faithful to their source materials. They are not complete recreations, which is a design choice I completely endorse. In the Lake Hylia stage, for example, the map contains elements of Zora’s (frozen) Domain, the Lake Hylia shorefront, as well as bits of the Water Temple. For the simplified purposes of a Dynasty Warriors game, this varied yet contained kind of map is much more conductive to the gameplay itself.
One negative point I just can’t ignore is the camera, though this is an issue I have with most of the Dynasty Warriors series. It’s easy to single in to your current fight while ignoring the battle at large – which, when one of your allies calls for aid on the other side of the map, can be difficult to break away from. Additionally, the lock-on feature will occasionally stop working. This can seriously be a hindrance when you’re in the heat of battle. When your target moves too far away from the camera – even when the camera changes due to your own character’s special attack – the lock-on will break. I think this could have been improved; to me, lock-on woes tend to cheapen the experience.
Now, let’s talk about content. One of the most doggedly redundant complaints with the Dynasty Warriors is the repetitive gameplay. Hacking and slashing and sweeping across fields of enemies is completely fun, especially as iconic characters such as the ones in Hyrule Warriors. However, even this has the potential to get old after a while. Hyrule Warriors tries to compensate against this by including some fairly superficial RPG elements.
Each character gains experience and has a level. There are different types of weapons, each used by a specific character. For example, Lana uses magical tomes and wooden spears, whereas Shiek attacks with her signature harp. Each weapon has an assigned element, another invention of Hyrule Warriors to deepen its combat system. Each scenario in the game has enemies which may or may not be susceptible to certain elements; for example, if a stage’s ‘Recommended Element’ is Light, maybe consider using Link and his Knight Sword weapon. Hyrule Warriors allows you to customize and enhance your fighters, through the creation of what the game calls badges, which are made by collecting materials from your battles. These badges can provide new combo attacks, increased defense, and so on.
One of my favorite things about Hyrule Warriors is the so-called Adventure Mode. This presents you with a map inspired by the original Legend of Zelda; each different tile on the map contains a different battle with its own restrictions and objectives. Some of these restrictions include forcing you to play as a specific character, which discourages you from spamming the same one or two warriors. Each scenario in Adventure Mode has multiple rewards, ranging from tools used to unlock better rewards in the same mode, to new weapons, playable characters, et cetera. The map used in Adventure Mode is surprisingly large, and promises to take a significant amount of time to fully explore.
Hyrule Warriors is nothing short of a love letter to Zelda fans. It also presents a fresh take on the almost-thirty-year-old series. You may find issue with the oversimplified gameplay for a Legend of Zelda title, and that’s certainly fine; however, you cannot deny that this game is pure and simple fun.