Warned early on that it’s dangerous to go alone, Link’s quests over the years have remained a rather solitary affair. We’ve winced every time Navi yelled “Hey! Listen!”, pondered the calculative musings of sword spirit Fi, and called on the support of numerous creatures to aid our adventures. But, when the credits roll, it has always been Link who stands tall as the hero who has vanquished the latest threat to an otherwise peaceful Hyrule.
That has now changed with Hyrule Warriors, a collaboration between Nintendo and Koei Tecmo that fuses The Legend of Zelda with the unrelenting battlefields of the Dynasty Warriors series. It’s in keeping with tradition, with Link being an unsuspecting Hylian soldier in training who finds his destiny thrust upon him when Hyrule Castle finds itself suddenly under siege.
The opening mission serves to introduce newcomers to what Dynasty Warriors entails, as you rush to help Princess Zelda and Impa fend off the forces of darkness. You’ll recapture Keeps to strengthen your army’s morale and clash with dragon knight Volga, while the Zelda spin on things sees you extend your arsenal with bombs, summon the Great Fairy to make them even more potent, and take on King Dodongo. That’s all within a single mission, and if there’s early criticism to level at Hyrule Warriors by this point it’s that it plays all of its cards far too quickly.
Believing their plight averted, it is soon revealed that King Dodongo was a mere distraction and that Hyrule Castle has been seized by their unknown invaders. With Princess Zelda having made a sudden disappearance, Impa asks for your help in finding her and to become a hero worthy of wearing the iconic green tunic.
Hyrule Warriors takes its lore from the tales of the War Across Ages, which speak of a great sorceress who watched over the balance of the Triforce. Her powerful magic allowed her to see across the ages, and read the fate of all those that lived while never choosing to interfere. That is until the soul of the Hero of Legend catches her attention, eternally reborn whenever Hyrule’s need was at its greatest.
Entranced, and unaware that such soul is bound to another, a fragment of imprisoned darkness penetrated her heart – expelling all light and warping her conscious to want to possess the legendary hero’s soul. The evil, which most will be able to assume to what it refers to, has its own desires, looking to claim the Triforce to resurrect itself to conquer Hyrule once again. Compelled by darkness, the sorceress opens the Gate of Souls – a doorway to time itself – and monsters from across the ages pour through.
While such plot can’t be seen as Hyrule Warriors’ greatest strength, it enables Koei Tecmo to draw from The Legend of Zelda’s illustrious lineage. Plucking locales from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, you’ll find yourself battling across enemy-infested locations such as Skyloft, Death Mountain and the Palace of Twilight. That similarly extends to the playable character roster, with the game’s Legend Mode allowing you to charge headlong into your foes as Link, Impa, Princess Zelda, Lana, Sheik, Darunia, Midna, Fi and Ganondorf.
Each have their own distinct combat styles – whether that be strumming harps, swinging a mighty naginata or thundering away with a colossal hammer – and with weapons locked to specific characters, it brings a welcome level of variance and experimentation to the mix. Some work better than others however, with Midna and Fi’s implementation coming as a personal disappointment, but with multiple weapons per character there’s plenty to try as you look to discover your own preferences. Missions also specify a Recommended Element, so selecting a character and weapon that match will allow you to deal extra damage.
Combat broadly remains as gratifying and borderline repetitive as it has ever been in Dynasty Warriors, with players that delve into the game’s combo mechanics able to employ wide-reaching attacks that will allow you to take out ranks upon ranks of enemies. Visually mesmerising Special Attacks can be used once you’ve filled the required gauge, whereas building your magic meter will allow you to activate the Focus Spirit ability – increasing your attack power and speed while reducing knock-back damage. You can also sacrifice the remaining duration of the ability to use a devastating Focus Spirit Attack. Players can lock on to stronger enemies to keep the camera fixed on them, the same as the Z-targeting that first appeared in Ocarina of Time, while rolling to evade and guarding will minimise damage taken from any retaliatory attacks. It may sound complicated but it is gloriously simplistic and easy to grasp, and while some will decry the relative ease I invite them to see how they fare in tackling Hero difficulty.
Repeated boss appearances sully the experience, and you’ll soon tire of how many times that you have to defeat King Dodongo, Gohma and Manhandla, even if Argorok and The Imprisoned are comparatively underused. You’ll use items to expose their relevant weak points before moving in to slash away, hurling bombs in King Dodongo’s mouth, piercing Gohma’s eye with an arrow, knocking Manhandla’s four heads unconscious with the boomerang, or yanking Argorok to the ground with your hookshot. With only one approach to defeat them you’ll soon dread their return, even if their inclusion is largely welcomed.
A Bazaar will allow you to craft special badges in the Badge Market, which will deepen the combat prowess of your characters. These require Rupees and materials gathered in battle, an will reward you with new combo strings, to carry a health potion, and more. Meanwhile a Training Dojo will allow you to splurge your Rupees to level up less-experienced characters that you’ve neglected, enhancing their base weapon strength, and an Apothecary lets you craft potions with a diverse array of effects. With players readily burdened by an armoury of weapons, the Smithy will prove important in allowing you to fuse weapons together to enhance them. You’ll want a high Attack Strength to deal more damage, while skills attached to the weapons will increase their potency in battle.
Beyond Legend Mode where you’ll inevitably spend most of your time is in the accompanying Adventure Mode, not least because it is there that you’ll complete the character roster by unlocking Princess Ruto, Agitha, Ghirahim and Zant. Your goal here is to find and defeat the Dark Ruler by moving across a NES-style The Legend of Zelda overworld. This is divided into a grid, with each map square representing an individual challenge that you must complete – achieving the required Battle Rank to venture into any of the surrounding squares. Ultimately your aim here is to find and defeat the Dark Ruler to save Hyrule Kingdom, and along the way you will acquire heart containers and more powerful weapons to strengthen your characters. You’ll have to uncover such treasures by using Item Cards – candles, power gloves, rafts and bombs – before you can claim them.
You can continue to extend your time with Hyrule Warriors by collecting 100 Gold Skulltulas hidden in battlefields, and which will only appear when certain conditions are fulfilled. These reward you with illustration pieces, themselves rewarding you with perks once their respective pictures are complete. Whereas in-game medals are awarded for achieving specific criteria, such as defeating over 1000 enemies, which can be automatically shared to Miiverse if you wish.
Online multiplayer is sadly skipped in favour of local co-operative play, which is a regrettable mistake. With one player occupying the TV screen by wielding either a Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuk or the Wii U Pro Controller, the other puts the Wii U GamePad to use. With players working independently of one another, this places pressure on the game engine and there’s a clear reduction in the game’s visual sheen as well as frame rate instability evident. Still, it’s there as an option for those that want to join forces with a friend.
While soaring themes from The Legend of Zelda series are sumptuously remixed as rock anthems, it is in the graphical department that Hyrule Warriors lets itself down. Clear attention has been placed on the character models, who are as wondrously animated as they are intricately detailed, but the surrounding environments are sparse and incredibly uninspired considering the wealth of source material. Draw distances on the enemy masses suffer, and the open battlegrounds can feel rather lifeless in places. Co-op play, as mentioned, magnifies this even further, and it comes at a disappointment now that we’re beginning to see what the Wii U is truly capable of.
Koei Tecmo promised to support the game with continual updates and the first is already live, and will be available to you at launch. This introduces a new Challenge Mode, a new rank for Link’s Hylian Sword which turns it into an 8-Bit Wooden Sword, and an option to select which music plays in the background of each battle. It’ll be interesting to see how these additions pan out over the coming months, but the long-term pledge is there at least.