27 October, 2014

Review – Hyrule Warriors, My First Zelda

It’s true I’m afraid; this is my first contact with the Legend of Zelda series, my first adventure in the Kingdom of Hyrule, but it is most certainly not my first foray into the endless battlefields of the Warriors games. Can this game invest myself, and like-minded Koei-Tecmo fans, in Hyrule’s timeless adventures? Or I it just leave me longing for Lu Bu?

Hyrule Warriors

Just how powerful is Link’s Musou? It is not a question that I – or perhaps anyone has ever asked, yet Koei-Tecmo and Nintendo have come together to provide that very answer. Hyrule Warriors teaches Link and his companions how to hack and slash their way through the waves of dark forces that just keep on invading Hyrule. Doesn't quite sound like the Legend of Zelda you remember, well fear not Link will still need his inventory of tools and his pouch of rupees to overcome Ganandorf and his cabal of creepy evil minions.

The game opens with the most important decision – do you choose to use the Legend of Zelda control scheme, or that of Dynasty Warriors – in other words, which franchise brought you to this game. Now it would be understandable to assume that this game is attempting to appeal to an audience that doesn’t actually exist, but surprisingly, Hyrule Warriors sees core elements of both series’ combined in some intriguing and quite intuitive ways.

The first mode you’ll want to complete is the Legend mode, in which; Cia a powerful sorceress charged with safeguarding the Triforce, is driven into the darkness by her intense jealously of Princess Zelda, driven by her affections for Link. This lust–fuelled war will span across many iconic locations in Hyrule and even see the battle spill into the universes of other Legend of Zelda games; Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time. Legend mode will send you bashing through hordes of Bokoblin, Bulbin, Stalchild and a huge number of other monsters from the Legend of Zelda Universe. As a Warriors game, Hyrule Warriors benefits greatly from the Zelda fiction and the art; visually of course, but it also feeds into the gameplay in some poignant ways.

Hyrule Warriors sees several Zelda–inspired mechanics added to the bubbling pot that is the Warriors gameplay. Perhaps the most notable amongst these additions are items; such as the Hookshot, bombs and a boomerang, which are key to overcome environmental obstacles as well as defeating bosses.  Bosses and the smaller, lieutenant-level enemies now have a weak point gauge, which appears only when the enemy is stunned or winded. For example, a boss unleashes a powerful attack and for the next few seconds it is vulnerable and a symbol appears above it, with each hit the symbol decreases until finally your character breaks into a very scripted, and very awesome attack that brutalises the enemy’s health bar. The harder enemies, which are often huge in scale, have more complex combat problems to solve; you’ll have to wait for tells in the enemy’s state before you strike, so you may have to refrain from attacking so you don’t interrupt their movements. Or you may need to use the Hookshot to wrench flying enemies out of the sky. The large bosses are a treat to bring down – fighting them is far more engaging than fighting the more traditional humanoid enemies, and they’re all pretty unique to fight.  Thankfully, there is an extremely useful targeting system, allowing your camera to stay locked to your prey as you slice threw the hordes of enemies that will inevitably surround you at all times.

The inclusion of a dash mechanic, at the expense of a jump was a trade I found jarring at first. However, dashing is essential to escape the devastating attacks of bosses, and is very useful at skirting behind shielded enemies. Holding the dash button will send your character breaking into a sprint, like the kind only seen in Warrior games after using speed boost items. But perhaps dashing’s most useful application, is freeing you from most combat animations, with the exception of the more elaborate finishers. 

The playable character models look sharp and animate exquisitely (especially Link's floppy hair), this is highlighted by the combos and special attacks which can be quite over the top. Lana, the White Sorceress, may summon huge trees into the battlefield which explode, blasting waves of enemies asunder. They happen on a scale not really seen in the main line Warriors games, and the visual effects are impressive. Unfortunately, Hyrule Warriors lacks the expansive roster of modern Warriors games, on the other hand, by Legend of Zelda standards the ability to play as anyone but Link is quite shocking. There are only sixteen playable characters, spilt into two factions; light and dark. Though there are some weapon options which have totally unique animations, effectively characters themselves. However, weapons are selected before a battle, there is no switching weapons mid-fight, like in other Warriors titles.

Hyrule Warriors is rather surprisingly, given the console and the nature of the Warriors games, visually quite impressive. Character models, their animations and the explosive effects all look great. The screen fills up with more enemies than I would have expected, and some of the bosses will dwarf poor Link. The unique art of the Legend of Zelda universe is a refreshing change to the battlefield, which adheres to the level design very much in the mould of a Warriors game. 

The soundtrack of Hyrule Warriors features some Legend of Zelda orchestral pieces, mostly outside of actual battle, because during battle Koei-Tecmo took the electric guitars to it - in their usual fashion. The music is a fitting metaphor for the game itself; two concepts, though more aptly two approaches to game design, brought together into a single cohesive hybrid. The game follows the path of Zelda when it comes to sound design however, the chime of rupees, and musical cues when attacks hit was strange at first, but quickly delightful. It doesn’t do enough to hide the absence of voice acting however, from the battles or the cutscenes. Now I am well aware that characters traditionally don’t have voice acting in the Legend of Zelda series, but from the perspective of someone only just discovering it, it feels dated and cheap. Battles sound flat without characters calling out taunts and during cutscenes the lack of speech was a huge distraction.

In addition to Legend mode, there is also a Free mode, allowing you to replay Legend mode battles with different characters, as well as Challenge mode.The most standout mode however is Adventure, in this you navigate a NES-inspired map, searching for items, and entering battles with some strange and varied rules. Some battles may be as simple as defeat these enemies in the time limit, but in others you’ll need to discover the key to victory yourself. So there is a ton of content to play through and plenty to unlock along the way.

Hyrule Warriors is a very unique game, whether you choose to view it first and foremost as a Legend of Zelda game, or a Warriors game. The core gameplay is the tight slash and dash combat of the Warriors series but with a lot of Zelda-inspired twists making it really standout. The animation and art is superb, and was able to quickly capture my attention, though I can’t quite come to terms with the absence of voice acting. Hyrule Warriors is at it’s heart a great Warriors game, and it approaches the Legend of Zelda with more care and attention than I was anticipating. Certainly succeeded at igniting my interest in the Zelda fiction and perhaps it will generate similar feelings for Nintendo fans who are experiencing a Warriors game for the first time. 

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