Hyrule Warriors | Principal Platforms: Wii U | Developer: Koei Tecmo, Team Ninja, Omega Force | Publisher: Nintendo, Koei Tecmo | Genre: Action, Hack and Slash | Year: 2014
Ahh, fan service. The notion that the only thing “fans” want to see from their favourite media is the same old derivative stuff they’ve seen a million times before.
Is wallowing in a self-perpetuated comfort zone of recognizable tropes and callbacks the only thing that defines us “fans” of the video game industry?
I hope not, because if I play any more games like Sonic Generations or Hyrule Warriors here, then this blog might actually become too jaded for its own good.
Saying that though, Hyrule Warriors isn’t all nostalgia-bait. A loving marriage between The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors franchises is an idea with potential and there are times when the colourful cut scenes and frantic action does impress.
There are many unique fighting styles to choose from and whether your Zelda game of choice is Link’s Awakening or Twilight Princess, you’re bound to find one of your favourite characters adorning the roster. This is assuming they’ve not been kept at bay in a premium DLC pack, but that’s another matter entirely.
It’s hard to bemoan the presence of downloadable content too much though as the helpful patch notes (seriously, why don’t more console games have these?) reveal a considerable amount of extra content that’s been added since release.
And believe me when I say there’s plenty of that stuff to do. From story and adventure modes to challenges and other bonuses, the sheer amount of content in Hyrule Warriors is staggering. If you’re a dedicated sort who likes maxing-out the abilities of each character then you can expect this disc to last you a couple of hundred hours at least.
Chasing down all the rupees and legendary weapons in each battlefield encounter is accompanied by a generous helping of Zelda lore. And thematically speaking, Hyrule Warriors is a game that pours its heart into such fan service.
If a gushing tribute is what Koei Tecmo had in mind here, then they succeeded by an order of magnitude that’s nothing short of commendable. Every item, character, or important plot point from The Legend of Zelda timeline appears to make its mark in this game; such is the scope of Koei’s clear adoration for Nintendo’s property.
Hyrule Warriors is faithful to a fault. In fact, to someone who hasn’t played every Zelda title ever made (like me), a lot of the appeal here is missing in action.
Take the adventure mode for example. Here players explore a map full of secrets and short encounters where they fight enemy hordes under specific rules and conditions. One might demand that a particular boss is defeated quickly whereas another might enforce a one-hit-kill rule for the duration of the battle.
As repetitive as these scenarios inevitably get, the idea itself is a sound one. But what really causes problems is the interactive pre-battle map screen which is illustrated with 8-bit art inspired by the NES era Zeldas.
To someone without much first-hand experience of said games, this map is perplexing to say the least. The whole map is awash with iconography from crude 8-bit compasses, swords, and question marks whose effects aren’t clear anywhere except the manual. Most of these items and related secrets require knowledge of past Zelda games too, so good luck if Ocarina of Time is as far as your experience stretches.
The 8-bit art style, as chic as it may be nowadays, was left behind for a reason. It will have made perfect sense in the 1986 Legend of Zelda for the NES, as your eye will have naturally been trained to accept the console’s native 8-bit output. You can dress it up with a HD sheen as much as you like today, but in Hyrule Warriors this approach doesn’t make any sense outside of redundant nostalgia and it will actively harm the gameplay experience for newer players wanting to know what the heck is going on.
It’s just fortunate that the leaner battles of adventure mode are as sprightly as they are because any enjoyment to be had in this game is capped by the Wii U’s interminable performance woes. The frame rate in the larger arenas such as Hyrule Field is atrocious and it’s a problem that’s compounded when playing alongside a friend.
There’s a big community debate on the state of the cooperative mode and even if it’s not totally devoid of fun moments, it suffers from even more substandard frame rates and a bad case of character model pop-in. The Gamepad screen is used to ensure there’s no splitscreen, but because the television resolution shrinks to match, it just results in a choppy experience for both players. Even though playing 2 player can be enjoyable at times, it doesn’t compare to the single player experience.
Some elements feel overly simplified even by the standards of Dynasty Warriors. Characters only seem to have two statistics and they often possess special attacks that feel static or are overly long in execution. Your best bet is to pick Link anyway as his sword and shield combo is dependably easy to use when compared to the gimmicks employed by his various stablemates.
Hyrule Warriors has a “grindy” mentality towards character development which is why it’s fortunate to have the training camp. This feature allows you to purchase experience points for any novice fighter on your bench. It’s a smart idea, but since fighting chickens is legitimately harder than anything else you’ll do in the main campaign, I found it difficult to care.
The giant-sized boss battles of legend mode are a welcome addition that spice things up a little. It’s just a shame that managing items via the d-pad is so fiddly as you’ll always need to use one of the iconic bows, boomerangs, or bombs in order to help fell these huge beasts.
Whilst these encounters are well-handled for the most part, the overall pace of the game is hurt by other missteps born of fan service. The opening of treasure chests is the biggest offender as the flow of battle is interrupted to play a triumphant cutscene of your character opening the thing in slow motion. It’s the same when asking one of the scantily clad fairies for help; a drawn-out cut scene of some magical happening that puts the action on hold.
Also irritating is that loud fanfare sound effect that plays after almost any notification appears on-screen. Dynasty Warriors games are known for their message spam, but it’s ridiculous how many times you’re subjected that startling horn noise. It would be enough to drive Oliver Hardy into a rage, I’m sure.
With this being a Team Ninja production (makers of the cheesecake beat ’em up Dead or Alive), you can also expect to see a few revealing female costumes. The battle bikini worn by the main antagonist is especially jarring and her introduction scene is so voyeuristic it can be uncomfortable to watch. Isn’t this game meant to be family-friendly?…
What I really see in Hyrule Warriors though is compromise. The modern Dynasty Warriors formula for flashy battlefield action doesn’t work very well on a console so hilariously underpowered. Neither does the game take any real advantage of the Gamepad’s touch screen, which leads to the realization that the only advantage Nintendo offers here is The Legend of Zelda license itself.
Whether you’re a fan or not, I can’t imagine that compromise being worth it. The really unfortunate part though is that this didn’t need to be a game that only diehard fans could appreciate. The concept had legs, it just failed to walk straight.
Hyrule Warriors is one of those video games that’s so mediocre it actually makes me drowsy during play. It’s that ineffectual as a piece of entertainment, a failure for the two franchises involved, and another waste of potential for the Wii U hardware.