Hyrule Warriors, Nintendo’s new game that marries The Legend of Zelda series with Dynasty Warriors, pits the player against massive hoards of enemies in a frantic fight to reclaim territory. When I say massive, I mean massive. It takes only a few minutes to defeat upwards of 500 baddies by yourself. This is a game that is more about brute force than clever puzzles, so if you are expecting another regular installment in the Zelda series, think again. The story may star Zelda cast members, but the gameplay is all Dynasty Warriors.
Some things worked for me, and other things didn’t. Teens who enjoy anime and mashing buttons might have fun with this game.
Hyrule Warriors is rated T for Teen for fantasy violence and suggestive themes. There is an enormous amount of fighting in this game, but there is no blood or gore. Instead of deaths, the game counts “KOs” (knock outs). When enemies are knocked out, they vanish in a puff of smoke, sometimes replaced by piles of money or other goods. When an ally is defeated, they are described as “fleeing” the battlefield. As for suggestive themes, some of the costumes are very revealing (see below).
When Hyrule Castle comes under attack from dark forces, Princess Zelda, Link, and Impa team up to reclaim their homeland. This involves the team traveling across Hyrule and picking up allies as they go, in an attempt to defeat the evil sorceress Cia and her manipulator, the Demon King Ganondorf. The two are attempting to take over the world by stealing the all-powerful Triforce, a magical MacGuffin of power, wisdom, and courage that plays a leading role in every Zelda game.
It’s a fairly straightforward plot (good vs. evil) with a little bit of time travel thrown in partway through. However, the story still manages to feel complex and bogged down with heavy-handed details. This isn’t helped by the fact that most of the story is unfolded in voice-over exposition, which is extremely dull.
That said, some good things come out of this game. For one, there are lots of playable female characters. Zelda, Impa, Lana, Agitha, Fi, and Midna are all able to lead military campaigns without ever having their strength or ability come into question.
More than anything else, Hyrule Warriors feels like a heartfelt, if bizarre, love letter to the original Zelda series. It takes the player on a lot of walks down memory lane, which were fun for me because I really like The Legend of Zelda. If I were not a huge Zelda fan, though, these details would have made the story incredibly inaccessible.
Hyrule Warriors makes constant references to situations and events from past games without stopping to explain what is going on. So, people who don’t know that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has a giant moon falling out of the sky, or that Midna is the former queen of the Twilight Realm who was usurped by the evil Zant will probably spend the entire game playing catch-up.
The part of the story that bothered me the most, however, was the sorceress Cia (a new character created just for this game). Although Cia was once good, she became evil after falling in love with Link and becoming insanely jealous. This allowed Ganondorf to manipulate her to his own ends.
No matter how you cut it, her role in the game is entirely dependent on men, and it’s really disappointing. Considering the huge number of playable female characters, I am frustrated that this central plot point is so lacking in meaningful female agency.
Hyrule Warriors has lots of different ways to play, which is pretty awesome. The player can follow the main story with Legend Mode, or try to accomplish smaller goals in Challenge Mode and Adventure Mode. Every mode can be played co-op (max two players), which I loved. Co-op never felt like a competition, but rather an exercise in teamwork. My friend and I gave each other advice and hints and regularly came to one another’s rescue for the good of the mission. I also really liked how the game doesn’t use split-screen. Instead, player one uses the Wii U’s gamepad as his or her sole screen. It’s nice to see the gamepad getting some use, since it’s such a big feature of the Wii U.
The biggest thing missing, easily, was a tutorial mode. If players want to learn what button does what, they have to read a series of written instructions. I would have much preferred if the game had included a level or two to ease me into the fighting style. Even an optional tutorial would have been welcome. Players can expect to flounder around for a while before they get the hang of things.
Once I figured out what I was doing, the fighting itself was okay, but not particularly addicting or satisfying. This game is definitely a button-masher. While there are special combo moves for each character, I usually found myself using them because I was bored with hitting B rather than because it was necessary. That said, the graphics were great, and every time I found a new combo move, I did get a little excited to watch it unfold on the screen.
Players can do a lot to customize their characters, which is nice motivation to collect stuff on the battlefield. Materials they pick up can be sold at the Bazaar in exchange for upgraded attacks, defenses, or assists. Plus, they can customize their weapons and buy experience points to upgrade their characters. Spending time in Adventure Mode is a good way to get upgrades they can use later in Legend Mode.
So, for the thorough gamer, there is certainly a lot of content in this game. Each level will take players between half an hour and an hour to complete, possibly longer if they repeatedly face defeat and have to start over from the last checkpoint. For teens having trouble tearing themselves away, you could try restricting them to one or two levels. These break up the plot nicely, like chapters in a book. And with a game this action-intense, it’s important to take breaks.
Lastly, several levels force the player to fight as Ganondorf, battling against the side of good. Playing as the bad guy is not unusual for Dynasty Warriors games, but it made me feel really uncomfortable to have to strike down armies of Gorons, who are really friendly and love to dance. Ganondorf was a fun avatar, but I would have much preferred playing with him in other play modes, attempting random challenges rather than fighting through the main story.
Hyrule Warriors is far from perfect. It takes the parts of Zelda that I like the least and leaves behind the parts I love the most. But it takes the Zelda franchise and attempts something new, which is certainly a welcome change. Players who have never played a Legend of Zelda game will probably have trouble understanding what’s going on. But if they love frantic battle sequences and mashing buttons on their controller, they probably won’t care anyway. If your kids do play this game, be sure to ask them what they think about the female playable characters and how they feel when they play as the antagonist. And if you’re not too scared, try picking up the Wii remote and playing with them. You’ll probably only really need one button anyway.