Handhelds have their setbacks, of course. It almost never looks as good as a game's console version and the processing power doesn't match up, which is why a lot of gamers were skeptical about Hyrule Warriors Legends, the updated portable version of the hit WiiU game. Hyrule Warriors is a hack and slash crowd brawling game with a heavy emphasis on murdering enemies by the hundreds with flashy and fancy moves. Unlike the far superior Sengoku Basara, a lot of these games from Tecmo Koei take place in many wide open areas, meaning a lot has to be rendered at a rapid pace. The 3DS can do a lot with enough time, money and effort, but can it really pull off a game like this and keep all the elements that make it so fun?
The answer is a surprising yes.
Keep in mind that this review is based on me playing the game on the original, old Nintendo 3DS. The New 3DS has advantages over the old one, like a slightly better frame rate, more enemies rendered at once and 3D enabled (although I hear using the 3D lowers the frame rate to unbearable levels). As I'll get into, the old 3DS works fine.
Hyrule Warriors by its concept is similar to the Dissidia Final Fantasy games: take fan favorite characters from various games in the franchise, give them attacks based on the things they do in the source material and have them fight each other, except in this case, they're also fighting armies of monsters and taking command points like in Dynasty Warriors.
I admit I'm not much of a Dynasty Warriors veteran. I know the basic gameplay elements, but every time I've played them they got too repetitive and didn't keep up a great pace. I did very much enjoy Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 though, so it's not like I can't indulge myself in Tecmo Koei's crowd fighting. It just needs to hit the right notes, and I think Hyrule Warriors Legends does that.
Hyrule Warriors' story, in addition to being a crossover, is an elseworld tale focusing on new incarnations of Zelda, Sheik, Impa and Link. These versions of the characters come from a Dynasty Warriors-like version of Hyrule and are completely unrelated to the rest of the series, as far as I can tell. In fact, their counterparts from the main storyline are never shown in the story (I guess to avoid the D4C effect), so while the crossover aspect is a major service to longtime fans, newcomers shouldn't be left in the dark, especially since the plot is such a standard good vs. evil one.
In this new world, Hyrule comes under attack by an army of monsters led by a masked sorceress named Cia and her two assistants Wizzro and Volga, all three of whom were made for Hyrule Warriors.
|At first I thought Wizzro and Volga's obvious monster inspirations were derivative, but now I think they're original enough to be intimidating and fit into the Zelda world very nicely.|
The plot takes a turn after that fiasco is taken care of with a few more missions before a giant boss battle to wrap things up. It's a serviceable story for fans, but I didn't find it that involving as we don't learn very much about the main characters themselves. The characters from other games are established because we've (presumably) played entire games with them. Even Cia's posse gets more establishment than the heroes do thanks to Legends including the DLC story focusing on her, which isn't the only story content Legends includes.
There are two new storylines exclusive to Hyrule Warriors Legends. One is a story concurrent to the main one following the new rambunctious female character Linkle as she travels through places the other heroes went, solving new problems. Since it was made for Legends, which includes the console version's DLC, Linkle's story utilizes the extra characters that couldn't be in the original game's.
The other added story is a post-game extra story you would expect to see as DLC in most other games. In it, the era of the The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker gets mixed up in the HW world and the Triforce of Power is stolen, making the warriors team up with Tetra and the King of Hyrule on one last adventure.
No, not that king. The King in this case is Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, the one from Wind Waker. I find it funny that he's referred to as King Daphnes. It makes me think they didn't want to simply call him the King because they knew everyone would make that joke. In the Japanese version, he really is only called the King, which reinforces that theory.
These stories are about as entertaining as the Avengers movies: fun, action-packed and have all our favorite heroes in action, but is ultimately passing entertainment and not particularly deep. To be honest, I stopped going through the story at a few points because the story didn't intice me to. It didn't help that the missions seriously drag on; they can take half an hour each (with saving at checkpoints, thankfully).
Just like Dynasty Warriors or Ken's Rage, gameplay consists of traveling around an enormous battlefield, thinning out mobs with your super powered attacks and tactically taking command points by killing the enemies there to spawn more troops, with the ultimate goal of killing certain enemy to win. A lot of enemies have the same goal with an uncontrollable ally on your own team or an undefended base, which can make it feel like an escort mission, but balancing attack and support is part of the challenge.
The flashy special attacks the series is known for are mostly in the form of combo finishers. When you press the X button after a certain point of Y button combo attacks, the characters use the sort of move you might expect to be a low-cost super attack in a game like Ken's Rage 2, provided you upgrade their attack versatility with materials earned in battle.
Combo finishers vary in their elemental attribute, range, power and other factors that add some depth to the combat to make you think of which move to use next while you're mashing the Y button. Every character only gets one meter-eating super attack they can use as well as a focus attack for their magic-using super mode, but the way combo finishers work gives each character the attack variety they need.
Although the basic use of the Y button is always present, every character and weapon has their own special quirk to them to make playing as them unique, usually through the use of the X button (with no combo beforehand). For some examples, Link can charge his sword for a spin attack, the new character young Link can convert special attack meter into his magic meter to get into his super form faster and Ganondorf has a slamming attack that's amplified by a meter filled through the use of combo finishers. With over 20 characters plus weapons that might as well count as a their own character, Hyrule Warriors has a lot to play with.
All of this is backed up by fast-paced combat. Sword fodder enemies spawn in with enough frequency even on the original 3DS to keep a good flow going and the bigger enemies that are the real threat always take rendering priority, so focusing on them is almost never a problem.
Sad to say, one of the disadvantages of the handheld for games of this type is the lack of a second analogue stick for camera control (unless you have the circle pad pro). You can lock on to nearby enemies of importance, but if there's more than one then locking on to the right one can get finicky and they have to be onscreen. If they're right behind you, you can't lock on, which wouldn't be so bad if the camera control were better. The best way to move the camera is by centering it behind you by guarding or by rotating the camera left and right with the control pad. Either way you basically stop what you're doing to readjust it. To its credit, the camera auto adjusts as you fight and isn't a frequent problem, but when you're hit from behind or the camera starts hugging a wall, there's a feeling of helplessness to having to stand there using your finger on the control pad or constantly guarding to get the right angle.
Conventions made like that designed to make it work on the hardware, and the obvious graphical downgrade, are the only downsides to the game being on the 3DS, but that they were able to fit the whole experience, including the DLC and bonus content, on a 3DS cartridge is a technical marvel.
The 3DS does benefit the game in a few ways with the use of the touch screen. Not only is it convenient to see a complete overview on the bottom screen, but when using multiple characters at once, you can order them to move to specific areas and switch between them on the fly. That is a major game changer that is absolutely invaluable when you practically need to be in three places at once, but if you're stuck using one character you can still get around the map quickly with Legend's new Ocarina item.
On certain stages are the owl statues from Majora's mask that can be manually activated. Once they are, the Ocarina plays the Song of Soaring to transport you to any activated one. Once again, this is invaluable because it saves precious time getting around these huge battlefields to wherever you need to be before the enemy does something to give them the advantage. I only wish the statues appeared more frequently than they do.
Needless to say, Hyrule Warriors Legends is competently done at its core. It's fun, invigorating, full of history for Zelda fans and rocking great guitar remixes.
The problem I have with it is very much like the one I had with Dragon's Crown. To quote that review:
"Once you beat the final boss, you've seen just about everything the game has to offer. The only content Dragon's Crown offers after that point is less an incentive to go back and more a desperate plea to."
That content is Adventure Mode. As the Completionist once said, it is "a completionist's nightmare." And he was only referring to the original!
In Adventure mode, players fight in battles square by square in order to unlock sections of a map and find its unlockables; namely fairies for the new companion fairy system, costumes, weapons, heart pieces, heart containers and food and outfits for the fairies. Each map and each square change up the rules, locations, objectives and enemies, but much like Dragon's Crown, there's never anything new and everything in Adventure Mode's battles are taken from the main game. There's variety in how they're used, but there's only so much a player can go before the repetition sets in, which is amplified by how much time the player is expected to sink into adventure mode thanks in large part to the item system.
Most of the unlockables in Adventure Mode can't be obtained without first using specific Zelda items earned through battles on certain squares. In order to unlock something as a reward, as well as unlock additional paths in some places, you have to choose a specific spot within the map's square of land and then use the item on it.
Some of them are no-brainers, like destroying boulders in the water with the water bomb and digging on a crack in the ground with the digging mitts. Those are clearly indicated and the item descriptions state their purpose. A number of them in two of the Adventure Mode maps, however, are not.
In the maps based on the original NES Legend of Zelda and its second quest, Nintendo went a little too far in its throwback and decided to include all the secrets in the overworld from the original game.
To quote Somecallmejohnny:
"Yeah, I know one of the main points of these games is to explore and discover the secrets on your own, but besides curiosity you could only achieve from extreme boredom, what exactly in this game compels you to use the candle to burn specific bushes or use bombs to blast specific walls? The answer: nothing."
The one-use nature of each item only enhances the problem if a player has to guess where a secret is and they guess wrong. It's a cute idea to go with the retro theme, but such bullshit is one of the reasons no one born after 1990 ever goes back to seriously play the NES Zelda games. Hyrule Warriors throws a bone with the compass item, which points out secret spots, but those are in such limited use you'd have to keep playing the same battles to get enough.
It gets even worse when enemies on a square are hidden and you can't even advance without using another one of your limited-use items, particularly the very uncommon goddess harps in the NES-based maps.
The item system is an engaging way to replicate the exploratory aspect of the Zelda games, but a lot of the time it also comes off as padding, and boy is Adventure Mode full of padding.
|Thankfully the non NES-based Zelda maps aren't as big.|
To beat one, you must defeat a final boss on a specific square on the map (Ganon, in the first one). If you want to make a bee line straight for that and just get them over with though, tough luck. You'll be spending dozens of hours on just one map, going through battle after battle, square after square up all over the map thanks to the devious way the items are laid out.
See, each map has dungeon squares, the battles on which end with one of the giant bosses. Each dungeon has a key item that you can only get on that one square, and the area the next dungeon is in can only be accessed by using that item, meaning you have to go through every dungeon on the maps in sequence.
With all the battling you do with the same monsters on the same maps over and over again, Adventure Mode starts to feel like a chore, and that is the very last thing any game developer wants to read about their game. I believe in the concept of earning fun, and that applies for at least the first map, where you can get all the weapon types and characters, but after that it's a lot of work for little, usually cosmetic, reward. It wouldn't be as bad if there were some sort of occasional freebie item, like the hammers in Kirby Air Ride and Super Smash Brothers Brawl, but here you always have to do things the painstaking way. Even the gold skulltulas that unlock rewards are painstaking to get because you can only get one each time you play a mission, even if there are two. Some unlockables also require getting an A rank, which requires vague, unspecified goals in 3 criteria you could only know with a guide or trial and error.
All in all, Adventure Mode is a diversion to give players something to come back to and chip away at, much like the aforementioned Dragon's Crown's quests. That's unfortunate because Hyrule Warriors Legends has little to offer outside of it.
There is no multiplayer battling of any kind. The only multiplayer feature is borrowing local player's fairies that can learn abilities to assist in battle and dress in Zelda clothes with the visual fidelity of a phone app game. You would think something like that would be used for StreetPass, but instead Street Pass makes Links with the names of people passed appear on an Adventure map for you to assist in a harder mission on that square for a greater reward. There's no customization and no personalization for them (other than their level), so they might as well not even have a name at all. They could have had players street pass their dressed-up fairies or battle with personally leveled-up favorite characters of their choice, but instead the StreetPass feature is worthless and just another means to pad out the adventure maps.
The ultimate question then is whether or not, with all the fluff and padding ignored, is the core of Hyrule Warriors Legends worth a purchase? I believe it is. Even if you only play the first adventure mode map and the story you're still being given a great many characters to play with, a good number of battlefields and weapons for even more variety in addition to a history-spanning Zelda action adventure that will provide many hours of fun. With additional characters and weapons on the way as DLC, there will be even more to play with in time. They already released Wind Waker's Medli for free.
Any fan of both Zelda and crowd fighters will find a lot to like in Hyrule Warriors Legends, but for those that are fans of only one of the two, while it's still a solid buy, there are better games to recommend. It doesn't have enough of Zelda's classic exploring to be a serviceable Zelda game and to fans of the crowd fighting beat-em-up genre, the flow of the gameplay might seem held back by the implementation of Zelda items. Those people might want to wait for a price drop.
I give The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Warriors Legends a 7 out of 10. It's yet another game to distract us while we wait for Sengoku Basara 4 to grace our English-speaking souls.