I feel like I need to start this review off by saying that I’m glad that “Hyrule Warriors,” isn’t preceded by “The Legend Of Zelda.” In fact, I think we’d all do well to pretend that any characters or events in this game that bear resemblance to any Zelda characters are purely coincidental. The goofy and ridiculous story is really only there as a distraction from the extremely repetitive gameplay, at best. The design feels really underdone and as though it could have spent longer on the drawing board before being passed through to development. I’ll explain why momentarily, but Hyrule Warriors was one of the worst games of 2014 and I am so glad that I’m done playing it.
Koei Tecmo, I am disappoint.
I wanted to love the concept of Hyrule Warriors so much – mash-ups are always a pretty neat idea in my opinion and a franchise like Zelda has so much that could be drawn from. I was excited. When I found out they were planning on putting a storyline in there, I was worried. Hyrule Warriors likes to pretend that it’s a Zelda game and if you don’t pay attention you could easily be fooled into thinking just that. All the classic Zelda story staples are present, but something feels off: A great darkness, a prophecy, a fabled hero in green, a princess and even her man-ish hand-maiden Impa. Sheik’s there too, so’s King Dodongo, Midna shows up, and even Fi weighs in! If it sounds like I’m excited about this, then you’re reading all that with the wrong tone in mind. There’s fan-fiction on Deviant Art that’s more enjoyable and faithful to the source material than Hyrule Warriors.
The story mode doesn’t spend enough time with any one character long enough to properly develop them in their own right. Instead, it copy and pastes characters from across the franchise and thrusts them into the game without much thought as to why. I felt as though the expectation was on me to become attached to the characters, as though the game assumed instant affection would bloom from familiarity. I barely understood what was happening half the time, either; with boring dialogue drowning out the myriad of story “developments.” Basically, just about every story element is ripped from other Zelda games, so it doesn’t feel the need to slow down and explain things.
“Isn’t it fun playing with characters you know? We’re all having such a nice time! … Stop crying. STOP CRYING. WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A NICE TIME.“
You could maybe consider it to be a fun ‘homage’ to the franchise, but that would mean your sense of fun is wrong. Very little in this game is original and the parts that are, are… regrettable and barely make sense. At best the game is an incoherent mess, even by Zelda standards, and did more to make me cringe than to make this game endearing. I seriously don’t understand how anyone in Koei Tecmo (KT) thought this was a good idea, or even a necessary one. A bunch of heroes from across the Zelda series get together for a good ol’ fashioned show-down because it’s awesome. How is that hard? In the face of things that would have been a better choice, but with things the way they are? I’m just glad that this isn’t canon.
Battlefields in Hyrule Warriors are made up of a series of interconnected Keeps, which are spawning points and strongholds for either side of the fight. To capture a Keep, the player is required to kill enough soldiers to reduce its life bar to zero, forcing the Keep Boss to appear. Killing the Keep Boss captures the keep and turns it to your favor, spawning average foot soldiers and creating stronger, named units of your own. They’ll last but a few infuriating minutes in your absence. They can’t fight off enemy forces in order to capture enemy keeps and are quickly over-run when left to their own devices. If they’re on par with the Hylian soldiers from every other Zelda game, it suddenly makes sense why the kingdoms falls so easily all the time.
“Uh, sorceress lady? They look dangerous and it’s cold out here, can we go wait in the Keep for them to kill us?”
There isn’t even a real need to maintain control over any of the Keeps besides your main base, as losing this ends the game. They otherwise provide almost no benefits while under player influence. Capturing Keeps can be tedious at best, though it is quick and means it’s easier to just allow enemies to hold onto them until they’re otherwise needed. The same can be said for the Outposts, crystals which have been dotted around the map to spawn soldiers in the fields between Keeps. They’re very easy to take control of, but fall just as quickly, and don’t really provide much benefit while under your control. What’s really crazy is that enemy soldiers will constantly spawn in or nearby Keeps and Outposts that you control (at least in Legend Mode). Sometimes they’ll spawn randomly in the fields between everything, meaning that there’s no point to there even being designated spawn points.
The reason why maintaining Keeps and Outposts isn’t important overall is because your characters are juicing on Hylian steroid magic. A single swing of your weapon will outright obliterate any average foot soldier. Knocking them back a few dozen feet in the process is pretty common. Your attacks will become more powerful and elaborate as you level up, combo-ing acrobatic feats of martial prowess and dominating magic. All of this by pressing a single button (your basic attack), repeatedly, pausing only to occasionally center the camera. You do have other attacks and items in your arsenal which can be utilised in the same fashion, but why would you bother? The basic attack is ridiculously powerful and is the easiest way to beat everything.
“I was already in Skyward Sword and now this? Why, Master? Whyyyy?”
The game allows for a second player to join in on the action, though not a third, fourth, or fifth and for the life of me I can’t work out why. This game would be perfect for split screen multiplayer, with a fifth on the gamepad, or online play at the very least. It might be because the game doesn’t make any attempt to make gameplay more difficult for multiplayer. Nothing to even acknowledge the fact that two intelligent beings are now playing instead of one. If there is, it’s pretty ineffectual – though I will expand on that later. Maybe it’s because cheating Satan is easier than it is to just get one extra player connected.
You must start the game with the pro-controller, you can’t start it with the gamepad because Hyrule Warriors doesn’t believe in allowing you to switch inputs from the title screen. Starting the game using the gamepad won’t allow a second player to drop in with a pro-controller, or anything else for that matter. You then have to have the second player reconnect after each scenario and, since there’s no split-screen, they’re also restricted to the gamepad. Being restricted to separate screens doesn’t mean you get to interact with separate menus, either. The second player is made to wait while the first player makes their character decisions and vice versa, as though you were still using the one screen. Did I mention that the gamepad doesn’t allow for touch input in the game menus? Because it doesn’t.
The design for Hyrule Warriors feels underdone. You start out incredibly powerful right off the bat, only getting more powerful from there, and nothing in the game poses a real threat as a result. It gets very boring very quickly and, really, I expected more. This isn’t even alleviated through complex or gripping design, since the ‘tug-o-war’ style of gameplay that Hyrule Warriors employs can be summed up as thus: Hit things until you win.
First of all: Battlefields are way too big for one or two players. Even running at full speed it takes way too long to get around the map, especially when the objectives change location regularly throughout each scenario. The problem comes when Hyrule Warriors doesn’t know what it wants you to focus on, assailing your ear holes with high-pitched alerts every few seconds. One of your Keeps is falling! A Hylian Captain is in trouble! Zelda needs help! The enemy is advancing! That Keep is still falling and until you sprint across the map to deal with it, this is going to sound off every few seconds! Everything has its own alert sound as well, which sounds more helpful than it is. The result sounds like a half finished dubstep song grating in your ear, confusing you while you play.
There’s also a huge problem with tool-tips, in that the game has no Earthly idea when it’s appropriate to drop them on the player. They’ll pause gameplay and throw up big instructional dialogue boxes for the player to read, often relating to something which is happening at hand. To dismiss these tool tips, you press the same button you’d use to attack, which you’ll only be spamming about 90% of the time. Sometimes this doesn’t matter because whatever it has to say is, usually, fairly obvious and unimportant. Sometimes, however, it’ll be relating directly to whatever mission objective you’ve just picked up. Regardless of either one, you’ll likely end up going to the in-game manual more than a few times to see what it was that you missed.
“Ummmm…. I think it said pointy end first?”
The design, in practice, is fun for a few minutes before quickly getting stale. Legend Mode, the narrative driven campaign mode, couldn’t have phoned it in any harder if it had a call center working around the clock for that very purpose. For starters, Keeps don’t matter at all unless they’re immediately necessary to fulfil a mission requirement. For all the good they do in swaying the tide of battle, they’re basically an annoyance to be ignored in favor of whatever objective is highlighted at the time. Outposts too, since they’re too small to provide a challenge or hindrance to the player. They’re basically a materials farm for players to stop past on their way to the important things. (Though I use that term loosely.)
I honestly have to wonder if KT ever actually intended for this game to be difficult. Hearts in this game are kind of pointless, losing them is a challenge in itself and you start out with more than you’ll ever need. This is mostly because enemies that aren’t bosses basically can’t hurt you enough to be any kind of a threat. You can kill most everything with your basic attack alone and God help the enemy if there’re two players on the field. Even a low leveled player-character is a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield and two players will steamroll any scenario within minutes. By the time I reached the half-way point of the game, I felt like I had beaten the hardest the game had to offer.
“Fear my single, over-used strategy!”
The point of a story mode is to be enthralled in said story; however, when a narrative is just plain terrible and the gameplay isn’t compelling in itself, there’s no motivation to continue. Everything felt like a chore by the end and just playing through the missions was an absolute grind. Upgrading your characters isn’t even that fun, since collecting enough materials to be able to upgrade all of your characters equally actually is a grind. You’ll end up replaying missions over and over in order to obtain the required materials since you’ll never get enough to fully upgrade just one character on a single play-through. You can play other modes in Hyrule Warriors, but deciding on which mode to play is much of a muchness.
Challenge Mode is just a handful of missions ripped from scenarios in Legend Mode and altered slightly to disguise it as unique content. Adventure mode is admittedly fun, though this is fleeting and entirely due to the “overworld” it employs. The player is presented with an “8-bit” map of Hyrule, broken up into tiles in the style of the original Legend of Zelda. With the majority of it being covered from view, the idea is to explore the map by completing the missions on each tile. You can find item cards as rewards, which allow you to interact with the 8-bit scenery on each of the tiles and search for items and weapons. The missions, however, are still just the same as Challenge Mode: Small chunks of main game missions, recycled as extra content, which makes up the bulk of the action.
I actually would have preferred to fight in the 8-bit world.
Everything about Hyrule Warriors’ presentation is two steps forward, one step backward. Graphically, the game actually looks quite stunning, and while some of the character designs do look a little silly (and in some cases overdone or.. “under”-done), they all still look quite good. The music, which can be set juke-box style before the beginning of each mission, is also pretty fantastic. A few tracks have been lovingly remastered and the originally composed stuff for this game is an excellent listen as well.
“Under.” Tasteful, Koei Tecmo.
Unfortunately, this is about where it ends for nice things that I can say about Hyrule Warriors’ presentation. Let’s start with the horrific cacophony of noise which constantly screeches in your ear for anything the game deems to be important. Which is everything. A keep falls? Fanfare plays. Capture a keep? Different fanfare. Is the keep in danger of falling? More fanfare, followed by the single recorded sound-bite for whichever generic NPC is in that keep. A keep boss appears? That’s a different noise. Is a named enemy weakened? More noise. Because by this point, that’s all it is – so much white noise you learn to tune out.
The voice recordings for each character, if they can be called that, are also flat out terrible. Whenever Impa speaks, she’ll let out a single chicken-like “bawk” for every dialogue box that appears beside her name. Proxi, this Link’s “creatively” named fairy, also screams “Hey! Listen!” whenever she speaks for Link. Koei Tecmo, “Hey! Listen!” became a cultural joke because it was so annoying and we found that funny. We didn’t want it replicated in future games to assault our ears yet again, and you are terrible people for doing this. Just.. All of this. How could you?
I’ll end this review the way I started it: I can’t express how happy I am that this is not officially a Zelda game. Maybe I should have seen this coming, but I actually had high hopes for Hyrule Warriors and what I got was a major disappointment. At best, it felt like a very polished alpha build that was missing a few design elements. At worst, it’s a bad Dynasty Warriors clone (which is saying something in itself), with a “Zelda” theme laid over the top.
Koei Tecmo squandered so much potential, it’s unbelievable. In fact, prior to playing Hyrule Warriors, I wouldn’t have believed that a Zelda action game could be messed up this badly. There was no versus mode, no online play, a terrible story that no one asked for: Nary a single redeeming quality to make me want to keep playing. The design was tired and unoriginal, and the gameplay was unchallenging and uninspiring. The soundtrack was the single greatest aspect of this game, which I legitimately enjoyed, but was mostly drowned out in a sea of the worst choices for sound effects I’ve ever heard. I have no idea why Nintendo thought that this was a good idea, or who even allowed it to go ahead, but I’m nothing short of amazed that Eiji Aonuma himself hasn’t lost his nut over this monstrosity.
The face of a patient and forgiving man.“
Please Note: This review was based on the Wii U version of the game, and purchased at retail by the writer for the purpose of review.