Just a little disclosure before we begin, I am a huge Zelda nerd. The first console I ever owned was a NES, and one of the first games my parents ever bought me was the original Legend of Zelda. As I continued to grow up, the Legend of Zelda series would continue to be a sticking point in my youth – so much so, that in one of our group articles last year I named Ocarina of Time as my favourite game of all time. To be honest, though, I was a little hesitant when I heard about Hyrule Warriors, and I wasn’t alone in worrying about what sort of potential disaster could be waiting by breeding a game out of two completely different albeit successful franchises.
There a number of game modes available to choose from in Hyrule Warriors, including free-play “Adventure”, “Fairy” (which allows you to collect companions from across the game), and the “Legends” mode (which is essentially the meat and potatoes of this game in relation to narrative). I was also very surprised that they removed the multiplayer mode that was present in the Wii U version, as I feel it would have offered excellent connectivity and variance to the game by being able to play with friends. This aside, for anyone not familiar with the Zelda franchise, Hyrule Warriors Legends could confuse you – but mostly, all of the timelines of previous games have converged for this one title. This means that there are character samples from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, amongst others from the long-spanning series. While there’s a slight cheesiness factor to this (as if it were a comic book crossover), I enjoyed it, and it gave a fairly spectacular atmosphere to the game – in that all the most compelling characters come together to fight evil.
The narrative follows one major storyline, focusing on the perpetual hero Link along with his merry band of men (and women!) trying to stop the forces of evil from bringing Hyrule to its knees. Along the way, we’re also introduced to two sub-plots that have their own playable levels – one from the new Linkle, a cute but dual crossbow wielding badass that could easily be mistaken for a girl version of Link (though she is actually her own character), and also the Sage of the Great Sea featuring the main villain Cia after the events of Hyrule Warriors Legends main storyline. Props to Nintendo for finally making an alternative to Link, so that men and women have the right to choose who their “Hero of Time” is, whether it’s Link or Linkle. To the creative team’s credit, despite the story obviously being a secondary focus – they still managed to make the sub-plot lines interweave with the main story to produce something, that, although it doesn’t have a huge amount of substance, is still narratively sound in structure and execution.
When cutting straight to the core of Hyrule Warriors Legends, the game has a number of systems designed to improve your heroes along the way. Like previous Dynasty Warriors games, weapons are varied and adorned with various abilities that enhance their quality – and in this you can also fuse weapons in order to make better, more powerful ones. Furthermore, there’s also a badge system which primarily acts as a passive skill tree – using the materials you collect over the course of levels to craft upgrades for your heroes to enhance their utility and power. While not necessarily the most intricate design in the world, it still allows a degree of autonomy and requires you to have active input towards your heroes and gives the game a little more depth. If I had one qualm with the game, it would be with the difficulty scaling – even on easy, I found some levels quite hard to complete and there were a small number which I actually failed and had to reload. I was too afraid to attempt playing those back on higher levels of difficulty, but I couldn’t even imagine the difficulty ceiling for them.
This is where I feel the main point of my review places my opinion about this game. At this point, Dynasty Warriors is down to a science – so the gameplay is flawless, with no discernable bugs or faults whatsoever. It’s also worth mentioning that the 3DS version had some gameplay additions over its Wii U edition – with the Ocarina added for fast travel, and the Hammer as a boss defeating item later in the game. However, this all pales in comparison to the fact that these games are INCREDIBLY repetitive. Take bases, complete objectives, push to boss and win – rinse and repeat, level after level. Now, I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing – as a game to play while you’re commuting to work or have a spare 20-30 minutes, Hyrule Warriors Legends is worth your consideration. But there also 3DS games which actually can be considered console replacement games, however, and this is not one of them.
My frustrations with the repetition of the game were also compounded a little with the difficulty of having to use both the D-Pad in combat to auto-lock while simultaneously also having to use the control stick to move the camera. This caused me a great many moments of frustration while in the thick of battle. It just felt jarring to the gameplay experience and lowered my enjoyment of the game even further due to having to fiddle around so consistently to be able to see what I was doing. This is a feature I wish had been ratified another way, and I’m loathed to think I might come across the same sort of gameplay design anytime soon.
As always, the cinematic cutscenes blew me away – and reinforced my enthusiasm for when the new Zelda title finally comes out on the Wii U and “NX” next year. This was all nicely bundled together with the classic Legend of Zelda scores and musical compositions we’ve come to expect, and even a narrator that voiced over the story heading into each level which was a unique and welcome touch to the franchise. While having had issues personally with the 3D in the past, developers and hardware seem to have figured out the perfect formula these days and I managed to play limitlessly with 3D on full which was really enjoyable. Having such a huge cast of characters and different art styles to work with really added a unique colour to the game, and is all the better for it, honestly, as it manages to handle all of them in a complimentary and accommodating way.
While I fear people are thinking I’m not going to recommend Hyrule Warriors Legends, that’s not quite the case. I’m sticking with the middle here because I think it’s a game that is enjoyable under the right circumstances, but is not made to be marathoned like a home console game. While repetitive and somewhat controller clumsy, the game is still incredibly polished and enjoyable enough to warrant some attention from the real diehard Zelda contingent out there. If you’re a 9-5er and commute via public transport, definitely give Hyrule Warriors Legends a gander – it’s a solid time filler while being both pretty to look at and (relatively) smooth to play.