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Review: Hyrule Warriors

Fight to the bitter end in Koei Tecmo's most anticipated - and most frantic - crossover ever.

By Jack Taylor – 23 September 2014
Reviewed on Wii U (code provided)

Hyrule Warriors is a Zelda game of a different ilk. Ignore the fact that it's a non-canon crossover based enormously on the popular Dynasty Warriors series, because that'll just make you think that it doesn't - or shouldn't - feel like a proper Zelda game. If anything, it's something of a shame that this is probably just a one-off; it's the most unique new Zelda games in years, perhaps because it perfectly blends the non-stop action of Dynasty Warriors with pretty much everything else from The Legend of Zelda series. This doesn't feel like a Dynasty Warriors game with a facelift as much as it feels like a Zelda game gone hyper.

Developed by Koei Tecmo with supervision from Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma, Hyrule Warriors introduces a new story for Link, Zelda and their allies. This being a non-canon Zelda game, it would have been easy for Koei Tecmo to give the game a ridiculously over-the-top narrative, or even as little as possible; fortunately, in keeping with the series as a whole, Hyrule Warriors features an enjoyable storyline with a little bit of extravagant space-time tomfoolery that simply wouldn't have been possible in the canon Zelda universe. Already, this is fan service at its finest.

At the beginning of the game, Princess Zelda and her royal guard Impa are overlooking the soldiers of Hyrule Castle - including one bright young boy named Link - as hordes of monsters unexpectedly descend upon the castle. It falls to Link, Zelda, and Impa to gain control of the situation, but Hyrule Castle is just one of many areas to be invaded; the sorceress Cia and her army of miscreants have some very evil plans for Hyrule and the worlds beyond. Worse still, following the calamities at Hyrule Castle, Zelda is nowhere to be found, forcing her subjects to start searching for her.

Hyrule Warriors provides players with large battlefields based on well-known series locations; each battlefield contains large open grounds, army outposts, and self-contained keeps. There are two main types of army in the majority of scenarios: you and your allies are denoted in blue; your enemies and their territory are denoted in red. Your ultimate aim will vary depending on the tasks you're given, but it's always vital to ensure you turn as much of the map as possible blue by defeating your enemies. Keeps and outposts will spawn fighters depending on which side controls them, so taking ownership of these to prevent enemies from overbearing you in battle is of the utmost importance.

The game's main story is told in Legend Mode, which is where you'll find out how the game's playable characters slot into the storyline. Each scenario in Legend Mode features a number of objectives and is based around a single location, with the allied forces going up against everyone else, whether that includes just the enemy army or any other forces around the battlefield as well. In each scenario, you'll take on the role of one playable character, while others might also join the fight depending on who's travelling with you at that point in time. You'll often meet new enemies and allies throughout, and you'll be given plenty of opportunities to use various characters in battle.

There's more to each scenario than completing its objectives, though: each scenario features a number of unlockables and many will let you pick which character you play as. Each scenario features one Piece of Heart and one Heart Container, and the scenario select screen will show you which character needs to be used in order to find each item. There's also a Gold Skulltula hidden away in every scenario, but these will only appear in certain circumstances, in a specific area indicated by a web on the map, and for a limited period of time; finding and defeating the Gold Skulltula will unlock an illustration panel, of which there are 100 in total. As you progress further into the game, these will become tougher to find, as some will only appear when you're using a certain character or even a specific weapon type.

Even though Legend Mode only features a finite number of scenarios within the narrative, each scenario can be played as many times as you like. When playing in Legend Mode, you'll only be able to pick from certain characters - namely, those who appear in the stage itself - but one of the game's other modes is Free Mode, which will allow you to play any Legend Mode scenarios with any character. This doesn't provide much more to the experience other than what could be valuable training time with underused characters, but that training could prove vital depending on your upcoming goals.

Koei Tecmo has clearly put a great deal of thought into Legend Mode; creating a suitable storyline was always going to be difficult with the weight of nearly three decades' worth of games bearing down upon them, but the story has been handled well, with many main players and fan favourites making appearances throughout. It's by no means the most memorable story in history - it's a fast-paced story for a fast-paced game - but it serves its purpose well. It's also worth remembering that, with each scenario containing numerous collectibles and providing ample opportunities for general item collection as well, Legend Mode should keep you occupied for quite some time.

Even though Legend Mode seems at first to provide the bulk of your base content - characters, items, the story, and so on - the biggest mode in the game is Adventure Mode. Here, you're faced with a map of 128 squares, based on the map from The Legend of Zelda in glorious 8-bit form. Your aim in Adventure Mode is to defeat the Dark Ruler and save Hyrule Kingdom, but it's going to take some doing: each square on the grid poses a different battle, which you'll need to win before you can access adjacent squares. Winning battles will provide different rewards - you can win weapons, heart pieces, and heart containers for your characters - and some squares even contain Gold Skulltulas to be found.

However, some of these rewards are very sneakily hidden away, and many will require your finest battle tactics to win. Hidden rewards will require you to search out for them before you can obtain them; you can do this by collecting 8-bit items from battle wins to use on the grid, such as a compass to search, and then items including candles, bombs, and more to finally unearth the secret hidden in the square. Some rewards are only won by obtaining an A-rank in battle, which indicates impressive results including your KO count, the time taken to secure victory, and the amount of damage you've taken. It can be a tricky business, but the benefits can range from powerful new weapons to, perhaps, the very occasional familiar face.

At the end of each battle, you'll come away with rupees, weapons, and materials. Many characters will be able to use different weapon types; for example, Link can use the Hylian Sword, but you could also choose to use the Fire Rod if the situation called for it. Each weapon has a type - light, water, fire, electric, or darkness - and some battles will suggest that one is probably a better choice than the others. Then you have to consider the fact that each weapon is different, as weapons can be of different strengths and will often have special skill boosts attached to them, such as providing more rupees in battle. Obtaining your perfect weapon is likely to involve forging, in which you can forfeit a weapon to transfer one of its skills onto another weapon, assuming the destination weapon has at least one empty skill slot.

While preparing characters for battle, the material you've collected will also come into play as they can be used to create badges. Badges only need to be created to take effect in battle, but they'll need to be created once per character, meaning you'd best stock up on materials whenever they're dropped by enemies in battle. Badges can have offensive and defensive benefits, such as creating new combination attacks or providing greater protection in certain stages. Rupees will also be needed to create badges and forge weapons; you can also spend rupees on character training, giving them immediate level boosts by handing over hefty amounts of money. It's expensive, but it can be useful to quickly bring lower-levelled characters up to speed.

With so many playable characters and so much to be collected throughout the game, it'll inevitably feel as though your progress will slow down from time to time, particularly - perhaps exclusively - in Adventure Mode, where you'll need to replay stages every so often to pick up map items and where character-exclusive stages will sometimes get the better of you. Everyone has their main character picks, so learning that a certain stage has to be played as a character you've barely used might seem a little daunting, especially if you know it's going to take some time to get that character up to a decent level without parting with huge sums of rupees. This is where Legend Mode and Free Mode come in handy, giving you plenty of opportunities to use the characters at your disposal to get to know their attacks, level them up, and collect plenty of rupees and materials in the process.

The game also provides two-player action, allowing one player to use the GamePad while the other uses a Wii U Pro Controller - or a Wii Remote and Nunchuk - whilst watching the action on the television screen. Koei Tecmo are to be commended for making excellent use of the GamePad screen, removing the need for split-screen action and allowing each player to focus solely on their own campaign, although it's a great shame that the game does begin to stutter as the frame rate and picture quality drops noticeably to make up for the extra action. If you can get past that, it's very handy to have someone to help out on the battlefield when strategy is key, which is why co-op mode can be a hugely satisfying experience.

Hyrule Warriors was developed with several aims in mind, one of which was to introduce Zelda fans to the Dynasty Warriors series and vice versa. There's no doubting that both sets of fans will find plenty to like about Hyrule Warriors, though Zelda fans have undoubtedly got the better end of the deal here; Hyrule Warriors is fan service through and through, particularly in Legend Mode's space-time fiddling and Adventure Mode's hark back to the very beginning of the series. This is true not just of the game's characters and enemies, but also in its well-known locations, items, and even in its music, where the orchestrated soundtrack is often impressive.

Completionists in particular will have a field day with Hyrule Warriors; there's so much to collect that it's going to take a considerable amount of time to get there - even if some of that undoubtedly has to be repetitive slog - but the end result is one to be proud of. Despite its minor misgivings, Hyrule Warriors is a very well put together experience that deserves its place as part of the Zelda series and the Dynasty Warriors series. Whether it becomes a part of your Wii U library is up to you, but for Zelda fans, action fans and anyone looking for a new and unique experience, it definitely deserves a place alongside the best games Wii U has to offer.

Verdict: Very Good

Hyrule Warriors