Back to the Hyrule Grind.
Hyrule Warriors, on the Nintendo Switch, is the third time that I have played the title, and frankly, the phrase "third time's the charm" is the perfect way to describe this latest and most definitive version. While Hyrule Warriors isn't the first non-Nintendo made Zelda game, it is certainly one of the most enjoyable and drastically different entries into the much-beloved franchise. This definitive version brings with it all the content from both the WiiU and the 3DS versions into a single package that is both gorgeous on the big screen and on the go.
Developed by Omega Force and Team Ninja, Hyrule Warriors is a Legend of Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors mash-up in which you will traverse a rather large and maze-like environment as you lay waste to hundreds, if not thousands of enemies on a single chaos-filled map. Hyrule Warriors originally released in 2014 on the WiiU and then two years later on the Nintendo 3DS, with a visual downgrade that didn't do the title justice.
Hyrule Warriors allows you to play as dozens of characters from various installments of The Legend of Zelda franchise. Alongside Link is Zelda, Impa, Fi, Agitha, Tetra, Tingle, Midna, Ruto, and more. There are several characters like Linkle, Lana, and Cia, that were created solely for this title and are very interesting characters, especially the charming and very likable Linkle, a female inspired version of Link who rocks a wicked set of crossbows. There are various modes in the game that will allow you to make teams comprised of the more central villains like Ganondorf, Zant, Ghirahim, Wizzro, and Volga. Each of the characters not only has different attacks, special moves, and playstyles but can have different weapons equipped that further add more distinction than just coming across as mere palette swaps of one another.
The core gameplay in Hyrule Warriors is through bouts of repetitive objectives that has you racing to clear outposts that have been taken over, to stopping a series of enemies from reaching those very camps. You'll have bosses and sub-bosses thrown in, varying from King Dodongo to Volga, and Zant, several times over. You'll often start out in a territory that is under your control with a main base that must be protected at all costs. You'll eventually unlock items that help you traverse and unlock areas that normally would have been blocked otherwise. Objectives will come at you fast and furious and you'll need to pay attention to what your current goal is as well as the failing conditions of each mission. Should you fall in battle, you can revert back to your previous save or load a prior checkpoint. Keep in mind that your previous checkpoint may start off at a point where victory is nigh impossible. Most missions are built around conquering the map, defeating a boss, or escorting a character to a certain location. While the bosses are usually just massive health bars and flashy attacks, the regular enemies put up as much of a fight as a wet paper bag in a rainstorm. That being said, it is insanely enjoyable to dive into a few dozen skeletons or bokoblins and unleash a special attack that launches fifty or so of them into the air.
Depending on the difficulty you choose to play on, each zone can take upwards to around 25-40 minutes or so to complete. As you lay waste to the numerous soldiers and creatures that attempt to take you down, you'll gather up hearts, potions, materials, and new weapons. Materials are used to upgrade your characters, as well as the rupee's you collect as well. When you decimate a bigger threat like an outpost commander or a boss, they will explode into a heap of rewards worth collecting. Most environments will trigger multiple threats at once, all over the map, making you often choose what is most important to you. You can pause the action and set destinations to each of your playable allies. This will allow you to guide them all over the map and select them based on their location instead of having to run across the map numerous times with a single character, however; that can and usually will still happen.
Hyrule Warriors' main story campaign is through the Legend mode, offering up a narrative that sees each of these Legend of Zelda characters come together to stop a well-endowed sorceress named Cia from taking over Hyrule. The story here is decent, but never great and opts to rely mostly on fan service to the source material whenever it can. Despite the advantage of having this wide assortment of iconic characters, the game can drag on and feel bloated at times with busywork and filler. There are a few missions where the objectives are unique to that map like dodging rolling boulders, activating statues with certain characters, or using catapults to bring down the flying bosses. Most of these locations suffer from having you do the same thing over and over again but in slightly different ways.
Each mission across Legend mode will let you choose a starting character from a select few and then swap to each of the other available characters who are part of that current storyline. This can limit certain aspects of the storytelling as some characters you may want to play as are sidelined to other missions or just left out entirely. Free mode does allow you to replay these missions with whomever you want, but I can't help but feel the story mode would have benefitted from a bit more freedom in who is available to control. This is even more depressing when you can't pick someone like Lana and yet you will see her running around the mission alongside you.
Regardless of how shallow the gameplay can be here, the combat itself is what makes this game so addicting and forgiving of its many flaws. Each character has a few basic attacks, a dodge, and items to use like bombs or the bow, as well as a few sets of special attacks, which are all based on the weapons they wield. You have two meters that build up their own version of a special attack, and you can build these up by defeating enemies or gathering their respective potions from smashing pots located in each base. While most of your gameplay is storming a base, defeating enough enemies to summon the Keep Boss and then defeating that, the flashy special attacks and character variety can turn these mundane tasks into something truly exciting, if at least for a few hours. Repetition of the same general task is really the only glaring flaw of not just Hyrule Warriors, but any of the Warriors games, even that of the recent Fire Emblem Warriors.
Apart from Legends and Free Mode, there is still lots to discover, play, and unlock. Challenge mode gives players new battle scenarios to take on with varying goals and difficulty. As you rise up the ranks, the challenges get harder and the mode lives up to its name. Most of these challenges are usually timed based or they restrict you to only using special attacks or in the case of Ganon's Fury, playing as the Beast Ganon himself. For those looking for a truly difficult challenge, this mode is for you.
Probably the most enjoyable activity outside of Legend Mode is Adventure Mode, and probably where most of your time will be spent. It also helps that several characters like Tetra, Toon Link, and Twili Midna can be unlocked here. You'll tour around grid-based levels that are adapted from various Legend of Zelda games and are represented by classic Zelda graphics on the map screen. Each section of the grid has unique challenges, boss rushes, and various modes that keep the action going. You can move your character around the map based on the battle rank you have earned in the battles on each square on the map, however; some fights require characters you may not have unlocked yet. Apart from unlocking new characters to join you in Free Mode, you can acquire heart containers, new weapons, and materials to power up your fellow companions. It is a nice addition used to level up your characters instead of grinding away at the same typical missions over and over again.
My Fairy is a mode that accompanies Adventure Mode by letting you befriend the Fairies that you will come across during your missions. As you find them trapped in jars, you can free them and then take them into other Adventure Mode missions, or even into the Legends mode as well. You can befriend multiple Fairies, but only one of them can accompany you into battle. Fairies can conjure powerful attacks and can be customized in various ways. As you feed your Fairy with food you find in Adventure Mode, they will level up and learn new skills that will benefit you in battle. For those who only played the WiiU version, this mode will be entirely new to you as it was only present in the 3DS release. Fairies, when leveled up substantially, can be so powerful that they can potentially wipe out every enemy on the map, or at least the large majority of them. They pack quite the punch, so tending to them and feeding them the various food items you find in Adventure Mode is well worth the investment.
The upgrade system has a few sections that are devoted to making your character better, or increasing the damage of your weapons as well as adding perks and benefits to using them. When you visit the Bazaar, you have a few options per character. There is the Badge Market where each character has the Attack, Defense, and Assist skill tree's used to increase attack, defense, add the use of potions and more. The Training Dojo allows you to level up characters that you rarely use and have been sitting at level one for who knows how long. The Apothecary allows you to create various mixtures that can grant you perks in battle like boosting the weapon drop rate. Lastly, is the Smithy. This menu allows you to fuse weapons together to make them stronger as well as equipping perks like collecting more rupee's or just dealing additional damage. You can also remove skills, appraise skills or sell unwanted weapons here for some much-needed rupee's.
While the game is about collecting materials and rupee's to make these upgrades or contribute to making a character stronger, the menu's present here leave a lot to be desired. The whole skill tree system is bogged down by so many prompts that it can be a tiresome chore to upgrade over 20 characters in between your missions. When you select an upgrade it will present you with a YES or NO prompt asking if you want to upgrade this particular slot on the skill tree. Selecting YES will then bring up another prompt indicating that you have learned a new skill or upgraded a certain stat. In the case of a combo attack, another prompt will come up showing off the buttons needed to execute that new combo. Doing this 30-40 times can often feel like more of a chore than it should be. Other games have streamlined and made systems like this far more efficient and intuitive, so it's unfortunate that this system wasn't altered upon this re-release.
While not drastically different than the WiiU version, the framerate while docked is certainly better and makes for a more fluid experience. Cutscenes still appear to be in 30 fps, but the added boost to near 60fps in most environments is very noticeable. Playing on the go, or via the split-screen option does drop the game down to 30fps, and it can dip even lower in locations that are flooded with enemies en masse. Regardless of fps or resolution, Hyrule Warriors is a very colorful and striking game, complementing its source material to a very high and polished degree. Environments are satisfying, but it is the character models and special attacks that really stand out. There are also small additions like the subtle animations of Impa kicking up her sword after a swing, or the snap Lana makes when using her special attack. It is small little animations like these that really go a long way to showing the care and detail that went into its development.
While it can be somewhat weird to hear rock versions of existing Zelda themes, the music presented in Hyrule Warriors is fast-paced and compliments the on-screen action. The game is packed full of classic songs to numerous sound effects and vocal grunts and yelps from the Hero of Time himself. As is the case with the inclusion of characters from all over the Zelda spectrum, the same can be said for the soundtrack as it borrows from a bit of everything.
Whether your history with Hyrule Warriors is coming from the WiiU version or that of the 3DS version, there are small to huge additions here that are either brand new to you or were eventually included with DLC or free updates. Local multiplayer has been added via the Switch and while the framerate doesn't always hold up, it can certainly add more excitement to the game and lessen how repetitive it can get when you have another player joining alongside you. Legend mode sees the addition of new stages if you only ever played the WiiU version as the 3DS version contained everything that is included here, but lacked local multiplayer and of course, the far better visuals and framerate. Adventure mode sees all levels unlocked after completing the opening story mission, and of course, the inclusion of local multiplayer is something new to the Switch version as well. Challenge mode, which was an update to the WiiU version is here from the start and several "quality of life" improvements have also found their way into various components of the game.
Hyrule Warriors is absolutely loaded with content, mainly due to the filled-to-the-brim Adventure mode that can honestly keep you busy for hundreds of hours as you attempt to score A rank's on all missions and unlock each outfit and weapon. If you can get past the repetitive nature of what a Warriors game offers, then you can certainly have an absolute blast here roaming environments that seemed plucked out of nostalgia and decimating thousands of enemies to a soundtrack you'll often find yourself humming along too. Hyrule Warriors is certainly respectful of its source material and is loaded with several fan favorites and a few new inclusions that certainly mesh well with the iconic cast. Hyrule Warriors is a very different style of Zelda game, so those expecting anything similar to that of what has come before it will certainly feel disappointed, but for what it is, Hyrule Warriors is a consistently entertaining game, if you can get past the grind.