The Legend of Zelda mixes its Hyrulean roots with the intense, frenetic nature of Dynasty Warriors in a new mash-up title from Koei Tecmo and Nintendo. But through its addictive gameplay and impressive visuals, the traditional Zelda atmosphere seems to get a little lost in the fray.
As a long-term fan of the Zelda franchise, it’s possibly a foolish thought to believe Hyrule Warriors would offer a similar “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” Zelda vibe, but as a spin-off the battle-intensive, capture-the-keep title features some truly glorious moments. While it may not be to everyone’s cup of tea, particularly those who love to pour over old maps of Hyrule and discover every puzzle detail after studying the timeline rigorously, the game’s best moments come from the ridiculously good-looking move sets and combo attacks. And having never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, I was pleasantly surprised at the quick learning curve, despite its tenacity to overwhelm newcomers.
Featuring a new storyline between the white sorceress Lana and her dark counterpart Cia, Hyrule Warriors ventures into three different eras in the Zelda franchise – Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Due to Cia’s jealousy of Link and Zelda’s blossoming relationship, the sorceress becomes corrupt when a deep-seated evil takes root in her heart and is persuaded to open the Gate of Souls. In an attempt to recover the two remaining Triforce shards, Cia wages war on Hyrule with staple enemies from the series against the forces of light.
With 18 playable levels from Hyrule Field to the harsh Gerudo Desert, players will find an abundance of Zelda references in the game. Taking up a battle stance in Legend mode with a choice of three difficulty levels will let players explore the dramatic storyline, while Adventure mode can grant perks such as heart containers and special unlockable weapons. It’s in these extra elements – hunting the gold skulltulas, bombing rocks to uncover chests, and obliterating a keep full of enemies with a powered-up hookshot – that allows Hyrule Warriors to flourish as a love letter to the Zelda franchise. But it’s precisely due to the chaotic gameplay that players can never truly revel in their discovery.
If you’re new to Dynasty Warriors gameplay it’s easy to feel just a little out of your depth. The fast-paced style doesn’t lend itself particularly well to those who love to explore, so when it’s a choice between the lustrous golden skulltula appearing after 1,000 KOs and the allied base falling, you should know where your allegiances lie. But just before you get to East Boulder Keep, Argorok, or Gohma, there’s a patch of grass. It’s small, possibly only ten mere tufts, but there’s an instinctive feeling rumbling in your gut – the need to landscape. It doesn’t help there’s an achievement medal up for grabs on professional landscaping, nor does it help that so many Hylian Captains, Impa, or Midna needs saving. It’s just you versus those tufts of grass. But at least you can grab a few power-ups or special attack shards before you hypothetically fail the mission. It’s perilously frustrating yet addictively fun.
Aesthetically, Hyrule Warriors is gorgeous to fix your eyes on. The attention to detail on characters such as Link and Zelda is paramount in HD quality. But with considerable style comes a drop in swordplay accuracy. Boss enemies such as King Dodongo, Gohma and Manhandla suffer from physical woes. When repeatedly hacking and slashing at the enemy target to diminish their weakness gauge, playable characters can be knocked off-balance or even slip through a leg, chin, or belly and still miraculously land attacks on the enemy.
Other similar issues arise when trying to L-Target onto field enemies such as Stalmasters, Poes, Lizalfos, Moblins, and Darknuts. Throughout all four modes – Legend, Free, Adventure and Challenge – players will come across these mid-boss enemies, which are, deservedly, some of the best enemies to face against in the game. Unlike Stalchildren and Bokoblins, the mid-bosses require more thought than a simple slash from your chosen weapon. It’s the perfect time to whip out those combo attacks you’ve religiously learnt through badge crafting and test out the available power-ups.
But when a large amount of mid-bosses group together, fireballs are hurtling towards you, and a Hylian Captain just won’t stop screaming in the distance, the button bashing countdown clock begins and the L-Targeting becomes disorientating. Attacking becomes as mindless as many of the enemies. And it’s at these moments players may begin to realise their battlefield magic potions have a bit more kick to them than they had first thought.
As a frenetic game, Hyrule Warriors often suffers from text lag within the game’s coding. During missions, players must frequently carry out story-specific events such as luring enemies into a magic circle, or halting boulder attacks to the allied base. Particularly prevalent when replaying missions, significant lag occurs when capturing a keep on the mission agenda before you’ve been given said in-game mission. Though players can merely leave and re-enter the keep for the mission’s success, it’s wearisome when the game relies heavily on replaying levels to unlock characters, weapons, or skulltulas.
Though the game slips into a tedious hack-and-slash title and takes a hit from occasional lags, Hyrule Warriors is furiously addictive and throws as many Zelda references into the playing field as it does enemies. And hey, listen, it’s not every day you get to play as the evil Ganondorf.