When it was revealed early last year that The Legend of Zelda was shifting genres and receiving a spin-off based on Dynasty Warriors, many gamers, notably fans of Zelda, didn't quite know what to expect, or even think for that matter. Was Nintendo selling out and cheapening the Zelda name in the process? Well, after having played the end result, Hyrule Warriors, quite extensively, I can happily say that not only is the Zelda brand not cheapened, but the actual game itself is a remarkable creation, worthy of both Zelda and Dynasty Warriors fans.
For those who have never played a Dynasty Warriors or Musou-style game before, which is quite possible considering how niche of a series/genre it is, Hyrule Warriors basically follows the same approach. Thus, once you've played through Hyrule Warriors, you can most likely ease into any other Musou-style game without much problem.
In Hyrule Warriors, you control one character in a relatively expansive battlefield, being a one-man or woman army, effortlessly slashing and striking down an abundance of enemies. Most missions require the capturing and holding of specific rooms called keeps. As enemies are defeated inside an opposing force's keep, the keep strength gauge decreases. Once it has emptied, the keep boss, usually a slightly stronger mook enemy, makes an appearance. Defeating this foe will allow your side to take over control of said keep.
Beyond weak enemies that seldom fight back, there are more powerful enemies known as captains that not only strike back often, but they also possess a larger amount of health. In Hyrule Warriors there are even more formidable and larger boss characters in the form of Legend of Zelda creatures like King Dodongo, Manhandla, Gohma, and more. Through acquiring the proper item from a treasure chest (even awesomely including the traditional "Zelda opening treasure chest" animation and jingle), such as series' staples bombs, a bow and arrow, and a hookshot, your character is able to exploit boss creature weak points to slowly hack away at their health.
Captains and boss characters have points where they are the most vulnerable to attack. This usually happens after they have used a forceful move. It's here where a silver circular gauge will appear over their head. Through attacking them until this gauge is emptied, your warrior will be able to unleash a mighty blow to their overall health.
Combat is relatively simple, sometimes heading in a direction of overly repetitive, in Hyrule Warriors, requiring you to simply hit two buttons for attacks, one light attack button and one heavy attack button, with the latter taking your warrior more time to use. Using these buttons in specific combinations lets loose different combos, allowing a whole slew of creative and awesome-looking combat maneuvers onto foes. As enemies are defeated, a yellow gauge slowly fills. Once filled to the max, you can unleash a powerful move that can easily wipe out a wide area of weaker enemies, resulting in a high total of K.O.s. While it can seem tedious to only use two buttons to take out enemies that are for the most part pushovers (save for captains and boss characters), the combat remains engaging. It's a wonderful and empowering feeling to be able to take down legions and rooms full of enemies by your sole lonesome.
Of course, there can also be some annoyances, such as dealing with AI partners who are pretty much brain dead. Don't be surprised when you're the only person on your force doing your fair share (generally and then some) of the work, taking keeps, beating down captains, protecting members of your force, and all that jazz. Furthermore, Hyrule Warriors features a lock-on system that is similar to what debuted in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This is terrific for keeping focus on one stronger foe, but I noticed that when there were two or more captains and/or bosses present, it was sometimes harder to change focus to my intended target than I would have liked.
Regardless, there are approximately a dozen characters to use and level up with experience points within Hyrule Warriors. Each possesses their own personalities and combat styles to fit said personalities, making so that each character feels unique from the others. In addition to that, each character eventually unlocks multiple types of weapons. For instance, Link starts out with a basic sword, but he can go on to unlock an arsonist's dream, a Fire Rod, and a mighty ball and chain as seen in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Defeated captains, bosses, or otherwise stronger-than-normal enemies can drop new weapons for players to pick up. Each weapon has its own attack strength, potential element (fire, water, light, etc.) as well as possibly slots to equip beneficial bonuses like increased hearts from fallen enemies, stronger attacks, and much more. Weapons can be merged together to form new creations in the Smithy portion of the Bazaar in order to make weapons that fit a particular need in battle.
The Bazaar is where the customization of characters takes place. Dropped materials from captains and bosses can be used to create badges for characters. Badges basically instill effects on characters, such as giving them new combos, better defense, better restoration upon collecting a heart, decreased time to capture keeps, and so much more. As the better badges require rarer materials from foes, there can be A LOT of grinding in hopes that that one enemy will finally drop that rare material you've been looking for, which can be frustrating and no doubt annoying to some players.
Outside of badges and creating new weapons, new potions with varying temporary effects can be conjured up at the Bazaar too. In addition to those helpful things, characters can be leveled up as far as the highest leveled character, pending you possess enough rupees to do so.
As for modes within Hyrule Warriors, Legend Mode is the story mode of the game. It puts you in the role of various characters through multiple chapters, following a story involving a wicked witch who wishes nothing more than the destruction of Hyrule. Thus, Princess Zelda and her faithful assistant Impa look to an ordinary soldier (save for his blatant disregard for safety, as he is the only soldier without a helmet) named Link to help save the kingdom. The story is told through cinematics and has bookends featuring a fully voiced narrator.
The second mode that most players will delve into is the more challenging Adventure Mode. Here, the map from the original Legend of Zelda on the NES/Famicom is shown, divided up by squares, and through completing missions, you open adjacent squares with newer challenges to take on. Each mission has its own set of rewards for not only beating the mission, but also for getting a great "A" rank on them, performed by satisfying a number of requirements like taking a minimal amount of damage, defeating a number of enemies, and clearing the mission under a set time. Sometimes adjacent squares will only unlock if you've beaten the mission above a certain rank.
Taking the idea of items from The Legend of Zelda, many squares require searching in them to unlock bonus rewards that can be earned for completing them. This is done through using item cards, acquired through completing specific mission squares, on the correct part of a square's map. For instance, using a compass on a part of the map will show where a hidden bonus reward is located. Then, by using the appropriate item on that spot will unlock the ability to play for that bonus, such as using a bomb on a specific wall will reveal a secret cave, unlocking a new reward to play for in that square's mission.
Like getting materials, there is some grinding to do with Adventure Mode as well. Many squares require the use of an item card to find that square's bonus. This means you'll eventually have to redo already completed missions just to earn the requisite item card needed for another square's bonus. While farming for rare materials wasn't annoying to me-- nay, it was perhaps even fun-- playing the same missions over and over just to get enough bomb item cards, for instance, was less than enjoyable.
The further out you are from the starting Adventure Mode square, the harder the missions become. However, the better the potential bonuses become for completing said missions are, as well. Some missions are as simple as defeating a set number of enemies, while others implement parameters such as all attacks being devastating (i.e. a given hit takes out nearly all of your warrior's health and the same goes for attacking enemies). Adventure Mode is necessary if one wishes to strengthen their stable of warriors, unlock exclusive weapons for them, and increase their health through finding heart containers and pieces of heart.
Both Legend Mode and Adventure Mode contain hidden heart containers, heart pieces, and gold skulltula (a la Ocarina of Time) to collect. These are not at all mandatory to proceed in Hyrule Warriors, but they're nice for completionists to collect and those who'd like an easier time at the game. In Legend Mode, heart pieces are generally found hidden in chests that are revealed by bombing unsuspecting rocks on each map. Whereas in Adventure Mode they're generally found by capturing certain keeps for your own benefit. Gold skulltulas happen to appear once certain in-mission objectives are complete, such as defeating 1,000 enemies, for example. They appear at a general marked location on the game map. You have to find and defeat the gold skulltula before it disappears from the battlefield. Many of these collectibles only pop up if a specific character is used, so don't be surprised if you must play through given levels and missions multiple times just for a chance to collect everything.
Playing missions multiple times is sometimes a requirement just because some missions can be quite challenging! However, Hyrule Warriors does allow for an easier time if you have friend to help you with its local cooperative play. One player uses the Wii U GamePad and plays on its screen while the other player uses a Wii U Pro Controller or other controller and the TV screen. This is a very cool way of doing things, as it gives both players an entire screen of real estate to work with. However, there's two negatives here: 1) The frame-rate takes a noticeable hit during co-op play, and 2) While it's nice to see local co-op represented, online co-op play, something that most Dynasty Warriors games have featured in the past, is questionably absent from Hyrule Warriors. This is a big oversight, especially for those without a local buddy to play the game with.
Outside of the frame-rate during cooperative play, Hyrule Warriors sports a pretty well put-together presentation package. While ground textures and environments aren't the most impressive to look at, the characters and their animations lead the charge to amaze. They're really well done, and the combat's fastness and fluidity is shown well via a smooth frame-rate. There's no voice acting aside from the aforementioned narration of Legend Mode, so it can be a tad hard to pay attention to the text dialogue while in the middle of battle. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is typical Dynasty Warriors fare with multiple remixed Zelda themes as well as a healthy helping of new stuff thrown in. That is to say that it is incredibly awesome.
Hyrule Warriors is without question my favorite of the Dynasty Warriors/Musou style games. That is most likely due to the amount of Legend of Zelda fan service, but it's also because of how complete, engaging, and enjoyable the entire package is. The lack of online play and some minor gameplay annoyances do detract from the overall experience, but all in all, Hyrule Warriors successfully gives Dynasty Warriors and Zelda fans the best of both worlds.