This is not The Legend of Zelda as we know it. Hyrule Warriors is inherently a KOEI Tecmo Warriors spin-off, rather than a new entry in the Zelda franchise. It’s a non-canon visit to a world where The Legend of Zelda’s history comes together, and where combat is as devastating as it is magnificent.
At its core, the gameplay revolves around territorial control of a battlefield, in true Warriors fashion. You’ll play as a selected character and strategically capture keeps and outposts on maps (by defeating enemies and commanders within them), all while trying to keep on top of missions you’re given, such as saving a teammate or defeating a specific enemy, and defending your own forts. This isn’t a dumbed down version of the formula, so it might take some time to get to grips with the gameplay, but the cast of familiar faces should soften that blow.
Here, Link fights hundreds of enemies at once, mowing down hordes of his greatest foes from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword as if they’re fruit in a moderately expensive blender that belongs to someone who is massively in need of their smoothie fix. Attacks are exaggerated, huge, and brilliant, as his spin attack can KO over fifty enemies in one swift movement. And that’s just Link; the protagonist is joined by a host of characters from the franchise, along with some new ones created specifically for this game. It all comes together as a real celebration of the series as a whole, and it’s something which fans will absolutely adore.
The entire Zelda lineage is covered here; while you won’t see areas from games such as Wind Waker or Majora’s Mask, there are items, weapons, and surprise throwbacks which will leave fans in awe. These are all introduced and tied together by a plot which, while not extremely creative or deep, does a good job of setting up such a scenario, with a new villain named Cia to rival the usual antagonist, Ganondorf.
You won’t be saving the princess here, you’ll fight alongside her – or as her – to defeat the opposition which come in many forms, with many of the smaller Zelda foes and even the bigger bosses making an appearance. There’s a whole load of evil in this game, and it’s explored quite well, as you see the battle for Hyrule (as well as Skyloft and the Twilight Realm) from various sides. We see this plot unfold through Legend Mode, and here you’ll have to play as certain plot-reliant characters in each battle. That’s not a worry though, as there’s a Free Mode which allows you to replay these levels with a character of your choosing, in turn giving you a chance to unlock even more character-specific or even weapon-specific rewards.
While the plot is basic fan-service fodder (that’s superb fan-service fodder, mind), Hyrule Warriors is all about the gameplay, the attacks, and becoming a truly legendary hero. You’ll be left in awe as you charge up and then activate a brutal special attack which takes out an entire regiment of the enemy army, and then be stunned as you power-up and unleash an even larger attack. Every swing of a blade, every crash of a hammer, and even every note of a musical instrument is devastating for the enemy forces, with a single button press almost certainly causing at least one casualty.
If there’s one word to describe how Hyrule Warriors will make you feel, it’s empowered. Each character feels as mighty as the last, with the cast ranging from Link and Zelda to Ganondorf and Ghirahim, and then extending to more niche and unexpected choices, such as a bug-catching side-character or a dancing king with a fiery temper. Character designs are gritty and realistic, more so than their respective games have portrayed them; it’s a twisted view of a usually family-friendly world, and this is achieved without altering the original designs too much, barring one or two minor exceptions. It still feels like they’ve captured the essence of The Legend of Zelda.
It’s this which makes the game so good for fans. You’ll love seeing an expanded version of Death Mountain, where those falling rocks come into play, taking out everything in path. You’ll adore the attention to detail they’ve taken when recreating Skyward Sword’s Sacred Grounds. You’ll find yourself revisiting Lake Hylia, with the Water Temple seeming even more foreboding than ever before, infested with hundreds of enemies, but thankfully light on the puzzling elements.
In fact, in terms of the actual in-battle gameplay, aside from capturing areas – which you’ll achieve by killing a lot of enemies – the gameplay simply consists of, well, killing a lot of enemies. Thankfully, the combat is so refined and fun that this never really gets boring, even if you aren’t finding it that much of a challenge to take out legions of foes. There’s also a lot of variety between each character and even individual weapons, so even if it might seem a bit repetitive, there’s always the option to change character or armaments and freshen things up.
One of the more unique throwbacks brings in puzzle elements with a progression system, and this is the Adventure Mode. The catch here is that you have to take part in a battle and complete a challenge, rather than the usual capture and attack style of gameplay. These can range from killing X number of enemies within the time limit to fighting multiple bosses at the same time, or even taking part in trials where you’re quizzed on your Zelda knowledge by being asked to defeat a specific enemy from a choice of two. Completing challenges will allow you to unlock other squares on the map with further trials, but it’s how you get around the map that’s the important thing here.
Essentially, the menu takes the form of a map in the style of the original Legend of Zelda game on the NES, and you’ll traverse it as the original Link, pixels and all. Completing challenges will also reward you with items – such as a compass, candle, bomb, or hookshot – and you can then activate a search mode on the map and use these (a candle to burn a tree, a bomb to blow up a weak portion of a wall, the hookshot to reach a new square) to gain rewards. It’s very well done, merging both the new Zelda with the old and creating something really quite deep out of it. There’s even an online element to this, which sees you help other Network Links (heh) in their battles, in turn getting more rewards for yourself.
A final mode, which looks as though it will expand as it is updated with more content over the coming weeks and months, is the Challenge Mode, which essentially takes the trials found in Adventure Mode and has you complete them in quick succession during a larger-scale battle. It’s not quite as fun, but it still offers a decent amount of reward and you’ll feel compelled to try and see how long you can last here.
All of the modes are very statistic-heavy, with a ranking system present every time you complete a level or challenge. You’re judged on how many KOs you achieve, how quickly you’ve done it and the amount of damage you’ve taken. A bad grade can halt your progress within Adventure Mode, while an A grade offers even more rewards in the form of weapons, heart pieces, and much more. There’s tons to collect, in fact, with Rupees – which act as the main currency, as ever – just being the start. There’s even a hundred Gold Skulltulas for you to find, which will appear intermittently on certain battlefields.
There’s also a level of strategy present within the game, not only when you’re deciding which area you should capture to push back enemy forces, but through the menu system where you’ll find upgrades for each character, applied by combining materials which you’ll collect on the battlefield. There are a plethora of options for each character and even weapons, and although tricky to navigate at times, the system is as expansive as you’d want from a game such as this.
Co-operative play is also present across all modes, with one person on the TV screen and the other on the GamePad screen. While the visuals take a massive dive on the TV when this is active, and there’s no option for online co-op, the game is at its most fun when played with a friend. It makes things much more manageable as one of you can get that Skulltula or complete the mission while the other holds down the fort, or even captures the enemies’ keeps. At times, you feel as though this is your only option where there’s simply too much going on for you to tackle alone.
Aside from the resolution dropping when you’re in co-op, the game looks absolutely wonderful, and always holds a rocksteady framerate, which is paramount in fast-paced action games such as this. From the design of the world and characters, to the way they’re achieved with seamlessly flowing animations, it’s a real treat to play. It’s a realistic, HD incarnation of Zelda, which is just great to see. There are a few niggles with how the maps are scaled – and how tiny your character seems – but when there are hundreds of enemies on the screen at a time, all being destroyed by your giant Triforce attack, you won’t really worry about that.
In terms of sound, the game retains the Zelda staple of not having any voice acting for main characters, but there is a slightly annoying voiceover which shows us why they usually stick to text. It’s all about the music here though, and while some of it is verging too much towards a traditional Warriors soundtrack or even something akin to Final Fantasy, there is a clear Zelda influence in most of it. Whether it’s orchestral melodies or rock-infused tones, you’ll hear your favourite Zelda melodies in there somewhere.
This might not be The Legend of Zelda we know, but it’s a faithful marriage between the Zelda series and the incredibly fun gameplay of the Warriors series. It’s not the next step in the Zelda timeline, but rather an off-kilter non-canon entry which effectively acts as a party with all of your favourite people present. It’s a hell of a lot more niche – only really appealing to Zelda fans who don’t mind a big change in the gameplay style – but Hyrule Warriors is to Zelda what Mario Kart is to the Super Mario series, and that’s brilliant news for dedicated fans.