Review #300: Hyrule Warriors

HyruleWarriorsFinally, it’s time for my 300th game review. I decided that the honour should go to Hyrule Warriors, the interesting mix of The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors style gameplay. The game was developed by Dynasty Warriors’ developer Koei-Tecmo along with Team Ninja which made Metroid: Other M.

It should be obvious, even from the title, that this is not a typical Zelda game and that holds with it some mixed feelings for me. The game has some annoyances and features which don’t quite work and, on the over-all, I would have much preferred a traditional Zelda-instalment (as opposed to a spin-off). However, the game also surprised me in a positive way in its variety, challenge and, most surprising of all, its story-telling. Nintendo could maybe take a cue from Koei-Tecmo in regards to certain elements of the game.

But enough of the introduction, let’s finally get to the review…

Gameplay: 3,5 out of 5

Somewhat similar to Skyward Sword from a few years back, I was left a little bemused by the play-controls. First and foremost though, I will have to say that the control layout was mostly solid. I didn’t need to remind myself of where the buttons were each time and I loved the game even more for including camera-control with the second analogue stick (ála Wind Waker), though in the heat of the battle, you tend to use the L-button (essentially the game’s Z-target) to move the camera around.

The only button layout choice I wasn’t cool with was making the item circulation to be on the D-Pad. This was needlessly stupid, since you can’t move around while looking for the item you need, essentially leaving you open to attack. Then again, the dime-a-dozen Stalchildren and Bokoblins attack you so infrequently, it’s not a huge risk, but during a boss-fight, it actually gets a bit stupid. I wouldn’t have minded just pausing the game to go to a menu in order to pick whatever item I would get to use.

One thing I also want to praise the game about is for sheer variety. There’s several playable characters in the game and they all feel different and interesting to play as. Plus, they all have unique abilities which improve as you level up through the game. Conversely though, some characters like Lana, Sheik and Midna can be an absolute pain to play as. Plus, playing through old scenarios just to get their levels higher starts to smack of level grinding which I, of course, despise.

Graphics: 4,5 out of 5

The game’s art-direction is fantastic. The characters all look iconic and the new characters stand out especially well. The game brings back a lot of familiar creatures from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword – which innitially made me a little nervous whether the game was going to start suffering from monotony. The answer is sort of yes and no.

Firstly, the game is vibrant enough that the fact that you were fighting hordes of the same enemies didn’t bother me much after the first few levels. Plus, there’s enough variety in the sort of hordes you face that the game luckily avoid becoming too repetitive. I especially like how the different Captains of units keep the battles interesting (the challenge is quite different depending on whether you face Darknuts, Gibdos or Poes). Secondly, the game seems to be an intentional throw-back to these previous titles, as evidenced by the time-travel aspect of the story, which also made me accept the graphic style more. Thirdly, little original touches (such as on Impa and Zelda) made sure that the game didn’t feel like a total recycle of older material.

One thing where I can say that the repetition started to bug me was how there weren’t that many unique locations. You revisit Hyrule Fields and the Valley of Seers way too many times and even Gerudo Desert got recycled, surprisingly, a lot towards the game’s end. I didn’t mind too much since the enemies were diverse enough and the scenarios interesting enough to avoid repetition. However, it begs the question why there were so many more interesting locations in the first two-thirds of the game, and practically no new ones in the final parts.

Animation: 5 out of 5

There was a lot of polish and flash in this department and I can’t say the animations felt like they distracted me from the action. The introductory animations were perhaps a little silly, but nothing too bad. Plus, if you failed at a scenario you can always skip the cutscenes you’ve seen (or just turn them off completely). The animation was equally impressive with the character attack animations which had characters flying in every which way.

This game just looks fucking epic. That’s about as in-depth I need to go.

Music: 4 out of 5

At first I was a little on the fence about whether rock-music was suitable for a Zelda game. However, the more you play the game, the more evident it is that the score just fits the already ludicrous concept of the game. In addition, quite a few of the themes are just really awesome and the music does a good job of getting you pumped up for the battles ahead.

However, the music stops short of being excellent and I do think most of the boss themes weren’t that interesting. Also, the danger music really gives me an anxiety attack, especially since its so easy to fail certain scenarios late in the game.

Sound: 3,5 out of 5

Hyrule Warriors did two interesting things and something that bugs me is why Koei-Tecmo didn’t take their ideas all the way. Firstly, all the text in the game auto-scrolls, which means you don’t have to keep tapping A like in every other frickin’ Zelda game. This was a wise decision in my view, since it preserved a dramatic pace for the cut-scenes. However, the characters still didn’t speak which bummed me out (yet again) but at first I thought Koei-Tecmo was just honouring Zelda-traditions.

Then the narrator suddenly starts talking and I’m all like: “What the fucking shit is this!!” So clearly, Koei-Tecmo weren’t okay with making the whole game silent, but decided that the characters who actually matter were the ones who wouldn’t speak (except in traditional Zelda-esque grunts and sighs). Why not just have a full voice-over?! Although this is a spin-off, I can’t imagine it was a cost reason since they could clearly afford to hire a voice-actress for the narrator. My second question is, why couldn’t they find a better narrator. Not that the current one is terrible, but she doesn’t add sufficient weight to the story-line to justify her presence. Just get Kevin Michael-Richardson next time and you’re golden!

Plot: 4 out of 5

Honestly, this was the game’s most impressive feature. At the start, it seems to be going in a very typical direction for the Zelda-franchise and they even recycled the whole Sheik-story angle from Ocarina of Time. The time-line split was cool since it gave each of the main protagonists a chance to shine.

Spoiler alert!: When Ganondorf finally steps into the picture, I thought that Cia standing up to him and initially foiling his plot was actually pretty damn cool. I was impressed that Cia excelled her role as simply a one-of villainess and her storyline was easily the most compelling. At the same time, I was a little bemused that the story-line didn’t end with her death, but rather went on for one more act. Were it not for the fact that you got to play as Ganondorf during this part, it probably would have felt a little tacked on as a finale.

In short, the story is excellent, but I do feel like the Story Mode could have finished up a bit sooner and actually been more impressive as a result.

Replay value: 3,5 out of 5

I’m not entirely done playing the game yet and I feel the different game modes actually add a lot to it, despite the relatively short story-mode. The game itself is a lot of fun and doing all manner of crazy things with the characters is just a joy.

At the same time, I’m not really a fan of the gameplay and with some of the characters, I honestly don’t feel much incentive to play as them at all. It’s a mixed feeling but given the proper character and a fun scenario, I actually enjoy the game a lot.

Score: 80%

Hyrule Warriors is a cracker of a title. It’s fun, action-packed, has a great story and even offers a lot of content for such a simplistic game. Yes, I said simplistic. Although part of the gameplay challenge is having a proper strategy to protect your base, the gameplay itself doesn’t offer too much depth which I think is one other problem with the game. However, if you can get into it, I think the game can be a lot of fun (also in multiplayer) and I have to say that the plot took me by surprise and far exceeded my expectations. Even if you’re not a fan of Dynasty Warriors type games, I could recommend it, but be warned that the Story Mode is still quite short.