The Legendary Warriors are Back!
The original Hyrule Warriors was released on the Wii U as a Koei-Tecmo and Nintendo collaboration, developed by Team Ninja (Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive) and Omega Force (Dynasty Warriors). Given its pedigree, this game had similar gameplay to the Warriors series, only with characters and places from the Zelda universe. It was a fun, flashy game that served as a love letter to Zelda fans despite not being a mainline title. A couple of years after the original’s release, the same team has ported the game to the 3DS, with the new branding of Hyrule Warriors Legends. While bringing a Wii U game to the less powerful 3DS seems like a lofty goal, the developers do justice in carrying over its frantic hack-and-slash gameplay. Though graphics understandably suffer through the transfer, the game makes up for it content-wise, providing nearly all the DLC from the original as well as new characters and maps. The content is so plentiful and the new features are so game-changing that owners of the original Wii U version may want to consider double-dipping.
Since this game is a port, the story is identical to the original Hyrule Warriors. The sorceress Cia seeks to conquer Hyrule through a largely ridiculous plot that involves converging the worlds of different games from the Legend of Zelda series. The hero, Link, must join forces with Princess Zelda, the brand-new character Lana, and heroes from other eras to stop Cia’s nefarious plan. The story doesn’t ever get too deep during this romp through Hyrule, but it’s still an interesting way to bring the infamous Legend of Zelda timeline together. Hyrule Warriors Legends includes DLC chapters from the original game as well as two brand-new exclusive stories: Linkle’s Tale and the Wind Waker Tale. Linkle’s Tale is sprinkled throughout the main campaign and features Linkle, an adventurous girl who looks much like Link, but who is very much her own unique character. The Wind Waker chapters tell its own story that includes new characters and locales from the iconic cel-shaded classic. Neither story is very long, but both are worthwhile inclusions.
Hyrule Warriors Legends is co-developed by Omega Force, creators of the Warriors games, so it should stand as no surprise that this feels very similar to that genre. You can pick your character from a stable of beloved (and questionably beloved) Zelda characters such as Link and Impa. The number of characters is fairly sizable, and each plays quite differently from one another. Each character wields a weapon, for instance, Link’s Hylian Sword. Some characters can use different weapons, essentially making them feel like alternate characters. Characters are further customizable in a couple of ways. Materials looted from foes can be used to create badges that improve a character’s performance on the battlefield. Weapons can also be augmented with skills that give its wielder advantages and special abilities.
Controls are the same per character but lead to completely different movesets. There are two styles of control: a button input similar to other Warriors games and another more attuned to players familiar with Zelda. You can also customize controls however you want, which is very useful. Either way, you can use a combination of weak and strong attacks to string together combos. Some combos are good for taking down hordes of enemies while others excel at focusing on a single foe. Some characters even have unique attributes such as making shields and charging up energy. Since characters differ so much, it will take some time to master each one, which is fine considering you have to level up each warrior separately. You can also build up a special gauge to perform powerful attacks to take down lots of enemies. Finally, filling up the magic gauge allows you to enter Focus Spirit, a strength power-up that yields bonuses for defeating numerous foes. The simple controls and strong attacks make you feel powerful on the battlefield.
The game usually pits you against hundreds of weak enemies, and being able to beat them all up with flashy attacks is a very fun, cathartic experience. Unfortunately, the game is sometimes limited in how many characters it can render, leading to less enemies on the screen at once compared to the Wii U version. This can make a difference since building up KOs is one of the requirements for A-Ranks. A bigger problem is that sometimes enemies will be there, but their graphics or attacks won’t actually display, making it feel like a cheap invisible attack. These problems don’t happen too often, but it can cause unnecessary frustration when they do. In addition to mobs of weaker enemies, commanders are stronger opponents that require more hits and exploitation of weak spots. Larger, classic bosses may appear as well to further challenge players with their strong attacks and high HP bars. Luckily, there are subweapons like bombs and boomerangs at your disposal to gain the upper hand on these behemoths. Taking them down feels just as good as fighting multiple weaker enemies, making for a satisfying battle experience.
The game is not just mindless fighting, however. There are lots of factors to keep track of while playing. There are main missions, side-missions, allies to save, keeps to defend, captains to defeat, and Cuccos that show up occasionally. Many of these events occur concurrently, forcing you to multitask and determine how to most efficiently tackle the overwhelming situation. It provides a good type of pressure that balances the cathartic eradication of enemies. Unfortunately, the computer-controlled allies are as helpless as ever, requiring constant aid and doing little in return to support your cause. You must always be on the alert to help them. The map on the bottom screen is very helpful for analyzing the situation and locating the areas most in need. This actually works better than on the Wii U version, which only had a tiny map in the corner of the TV screen as opposed to having a devoted map screen.
As you play, you will eventually gain the muscle memory to achieve management efficiency. However, as you get better, the game may feel more tedious, especially in the Adventure Mode where multiple maps have similar objectives. By this point, playing the game while doing something else in the background (like listening to podcasts) may become a preferred way to play.
There are three main modes: Legend Mode, Free Mode, and Adventure Mode. Legend Mode is the main campaign that goes through the aforementioned story. Each chapter teaches you the mechanics as you complete numerous missions. Free Mode allows you to play any chapter that you have already beaten.
You will likely spend the majority of your time in Adventure Mode, which lets you travel on a gigantic grid-based overworld map divided into tiles. Each tile represents a battle in which you must complete a mission. Adventure battles usually involve one main objective as well as defeating a stronger enemy commander. Challenge battles change up the gameplay by engaging you in battle quizzes, enemy rushes, and keep-defense missions. Each victory nets you battle rewards and unlocks surrounding tiles on the map. Thanks to rewards providing instant gratification for each battle and a wonderful sense of progression from constant map unlocks, Adventure Mode can be very addictive. You may find yourself playing “just one more” battle every time you play.
The maps hold some secrets that can be unlocked by using classic Zelda items (earned as battle rewards). For instance, the first Adventure Map is a faithful recreation of the overworld from the first Legend of Zelda for the NES. The same secrets hold true for this map, so using bombs on specific walls will uncover special rewards that you can earn by completing the accompanying mission. One point of criticism for Adventure Mode is that you are occasionally gated off by A-Rank conditions which require you to get a certain number of KOs, avoid taking too much damage, and complete the mission within a time limit. The numerical thresholds for each condition are not explicitly stated, though they are possible to figure out or look up. Regardless, getting below a threshold of damage can be a little too challenging, as there are quite a few missions where one enemy hit will reduce your health to only a quarter heart. This happens no matter how many heart containers you have, which makes gaining heart containers as battle rewards seem moot. Aside from that setback, it is still incredibly enjoyable to take on each square, collecting the treasures within and unlocking the path to the final boss.
Network Links can appear via online and StreetPass, randomly taking your friends’ “Links” and placing them on an adventure mode tile that you have already beaten. By accepting these bonus missions, you can earn valuable prizes. The only drawback is they sometimes annoyingly appear on tiles where you have not yet earned the rewards. Until you beat the Network Link or refresh the following day, they will be stuck there taunting you and preventing you from obtaining the original rewards from that tile.
Hyrule Warriors Legends comes with its own bells and whistles to entice veterans to come back for a second round. Nearly all of HW’s DLC is included in the base game, which adds 3 whole adventure maps and a handful of characters (only the original’s Boss Mode DLC is left out). To account for multiple adventure maps as opposed to the original base game’s singular one, maps have been rebalanced so that you can beat them at a lower average level, making the progression feel more steady and fair. Brand new warriors for this release include Linkle, Skull Kid, and Wind Waker characters. There are also a couple of novel stages based on The Wind Waker. The characters are fun to use, but the highlight is definitely the stages, which come with its own unique challenges. Additionally, there are new chapters for Legend Mode and a new map based on the Great Sea from Wind Waker in Adventure Mode, ensuring you never run out of things to do.
You can also now control multiple characters in battle and switch between them on the fly. Having multiple playstyles in one battle keeps the action fresh and allows you to maintain control of different areas at the same time. Through the new command function, you can tell other warriors to go to a certain area, then switch to them as soon as they arrive. This essentially creates a form of warping. It doesn’t stop there, as HWL also has a built-in warp mechanic in the form of Owl Statues. By playing the Ocarina, you can warp to any Owl Statue you have already activated throughout the map. These new mechanics make missions more efficient and can alleviate the stress of having to run halfway around the field. The game responds appropriately by ramping up the amount of events that occur within a mission and occasionally gating off some of your characters, forcing you to utilize these new mechanics effectively. Through these changes, the game somehow becomes even more fast-paced, yet just as manageable, improving the original’s gameplay twofold.
The other major feature, My Fairy, allows you to raise a fairy and bring it with you in battles. Akin to a virtual pet, you can raise a fairy by dressing her up to increase her power and giving her food to raise her skills. A fairy’s skills can be activated during battle to give you an edge, with abilities such as reviving you when you die and continuously filling your special gauge. By using some of your magic, you can also perform a “fairy nuke,” a blast obliterating waves of enemies, even those that haven’t spawned yet. This attack actually provides a solution to the issue that fewer onscreen enemies appear at a time. Fairy nukes will also spawn barriers according to the elements of your fairies and may cause enemies to gradually lose HP or speed. My Fairy can change the flow of battle, so this mode provides a lot of incentives to raise a good fairy and collect plenty of food and clothing for her. That said, it would have been nice if the game explained this feature better. I honestly had no clue how to raise, much less obtain, a fairy and had to figure this all out with outside help. Many players are likely to have the same difficulties. This is a shame as it is one of the major selling points.
Graphics and Sound
New 3DS: The New 3DS is fundamentally weaker than the Wii U, so it should it come as no surprise that the graphics aren’t as good. Edges are rough and characters don’t look as clean or shiny. Many flashy moves were removed and replaced by generic animations. Nevertheless, it is impressive that this game still manages to run at a smooth framerate given the number of monsters that appear at once. Any instances of slowdown are rare, unless you turn the 3D slider up. There are occasional issues with enemies “popping in” which can affect gameplay. In other words, the enemies are there, but some graphics don’t render in time. As a result, you may not be able to see some enemies may get unfairly hit by seemingly invisible attacks. This wasn’t a terribly huge problem during my playthrough, but it’s something to watch out for. Some full motion video cutscenes even appear, albeit with less quality, than the Wii U GamePad’s screen.
Original 3DS: The original 3DS is weaker, which results in an overall slower framerate that appears to chug at times. There is more pop-in of enemies than when playing on the New 3DS, which can make it difficult to know where enemies are. Additionally, there is no 3D functionality, and controlling the camera is more difficult without the New 3DS’ C-nub. All things considered, the game is still very much playable on the original. Having played on both systems, it is much more preferable to play on the new one, but the old one shouldn’t give too much trouble aside from some stuttering. If you only have an original 3DS, these issues are not deal breakers.
Sound: Most of the music consists of butt-rock versions of classic Zelda tunes from the different eras they represent. They all sound well-remixed and fit very well with the dynamic gameplay of HWL. Memorable jingles will occasionally play too, such as the “you uncovered a secret” and “opening a treasure chest” jingles that Zelda fans know and love. There is no voice acting (aside from a narrator), but each character grunts and yells just like in the actual Zelda games. They can sometimes get annoying since you hear them constantly. Actual voice acting would have provided more immersion since dialogue text boxes appear often, but Zelda games are usually known for lacking voices, which is unfortunate.
This game is long. While Legend Mode takes an average of 20 hours to complete, Adventure Mode multiplies that number nearly tenfold. To fully complete everything in Adventure Mode can take hundreds of hours, since there are over a hundred missions in one map alone. Then, factor in that there are 5 maps in the base game (not including the additional DLC maps sold separately). In addition, every stage is littered with collectibles like Heart Containers, weapons, costumes, fairy food, and hidden Skulltulas. Finally, you must achieve A-Rank on many of these missions to claim the rewards, and some missions are character-specific. This means you will have to build a well-leveled-up stable of Hyrule Warriors to tackle this all.
As this is a 3DS port, there are some limitations affecting replayability. Unlike the original, there is no cooperative 2-player nor any multiplayer for that matter. This is an understandable choice but disappointing nonetheless. Additionally, from the standpoint of someone who played a good chunk of the original version, it is unfortunate that you cannot sync the 3DS and Wii U games. These are definitely 2 different games, so some of it wouldn’t transfer anyway, but at least being able to sync high-leveled characters (and adjusting for level caps) and powerful weapons (again adjusted for power level) would have been very welcome. There are many like myself who put in a lot of time perfecting the Wii U version and losing all that progress can be disheartening. Such people might not feel the urge to dive back into HWL. For those who have never experienced HW or are willing to start over, this game has more than enough content to justify keeping it in your 3DS for months to come.
Hyrule Warriors Legends is a fully-featured content-rich game that has the intensely satisfying hack-and-slash action that Warriors games are known for. Novel characters and maps will entice HW veterans, and new mechanics like switching characters and My Fairy keep skirmishes fresh. By including all of the DLC adventure maps from the original and adding more on top of that, HWL is well-worth the value, even for veterans of the original HW. This game is nothing short of a marathon and provides addictive, gratifying gameplay that will keep players glued to their screens. Between the 3DS and Wii U versions, there is no perfect version. If you want better graphics, higher performance, and a 2-player cooperative mode, then the Wii U version might be a better option. If you want a game with a seemingly endless abundance of content that you can play on-the-go, then Hyrule Warriors Legends is an excellent choice.