This is not going to be a review that many people agree with, it’s best I be up front about that. This is because Dynasty Warriors is something of an acquired taste, like canned herring or Vegemite, it’s something that is objectively terrible but with the right mindset can be the most enjoyable of guilty pleasures. And that’s what’s going to cause a problem here for a lot of people, Hyrule Warriors is not a Legend of Zelda game with some Musou trappings but the exact opposite, a Dynasty Warriors game with a Zelda spin. Now if you happen to already enjoy the Warriors/Musou games like myself, then you’ll think this game is great and fully deserving of all the praise I’m about to lay at its feet. If however you’ve never been partial to toast slathered in Yellow Turban Rebellion, then you’ll almost certainly hate this game and no amount of tri-forced references will change your mind.
So starting off with the gameplay, there isn’t really much to say about the basics here; if you’ve played any of the other Musou games then you’ve already got the steps down. Thankfully though, aside from just hitting the X and Y buttons a bunch while chasing down objectives, there are some interesting new mechanics added here that help make this more of a Legend of Zelda style experience. For one, many of Link’s classic items are usable in much the same fashion that they are in the actual LoZ games. Whether you’re bombing rocks to find golden skulltulas or cutting down vines with the boomerang to progress forward, you’re using many of the same tricks you’ve learned in your past Hylian adventures. These items additionally play a role in defeating the occasional giant monster boss, which just like in any regular Zelda game, has you using an item to exploit their weak point and dazing them so that you can go in with your sword and carve up some Octorok sashimi. Item stuff aside though, the game primarily classic DW business as you cut through swathes of Moblins, Bokoblins, Stalchildren, and of course vengeful murderous Cuccos, all the while popping off over-the-top Musou attacks and picking up a mountain of extra weapons and power-ups. If there’s one place where the DW stuff really shines through, it’s in the progression mechanics outside of the levels. There you’ll be able to combine weapons in that typical DW style where you fuse attributes onto slots, spend rupees to buy extra experience levels, and trade in materials to fill out a skill tree for each character that grants them extra passive bonuses. Just like with the other Musou style games, all that stuff is persistent between characters and modes, so it’s easy to buff up characters you haven’t played with yet and switch things up as much as you’d like without having stop and grind. For as one-note as the DW games can be, they’ve always had a surprising degree of flexibility to them and that’s more than apparent here.
Moving onto the story, there is a coherent Legend of Zelda appropriate narrative here but it feels like an excuse for a sight-seeing tour of Hyrule. The premise is that Cia, a sorceress who watches over time and space, has slowly become romantically obsessed with Link and is angry because she can’t have him, it seems Zelda’s claim on everything inside that green tunic extends to any and all eventualities. In a very Star Wars style turn of events, jealously leads to anger which then leads to hate and to evil, allowing her to be possessed by the Tri-force of Power and the spirit of Ganon. As one does, she then raises an army of recognizable LoZ monsters and invades Hyrule. She is quickly routed but then throws a tantrum and turns the tide by combining their Hyrule with the Hyrules of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. At this point Link and company must try to defeat Cia, separate the worlds, and return order to time and space. It’s certainly not the most stirring narrative we’ve ever seen from a Zelda game, but it’s more cohesive than what I normally expect from a Musou title and while it gets a little overly referential, it does a fair job of showing you most of what you would want from the combined worlds of Hyrule. My only real problem with Hyrule Warriors’ set up involves the choice of games it chooses to explore, as none of them really rank on my list of top Legend of Zelda games. There’s no Majora’s Mask, or Wind Waker, or Link’s Awakening at play here. You get a few references to those more obscure titles-and I’m sure there are plans to add more varied content via DLC-but the core game’s focus on the more traditional and realistic looking Zelda games does make it feel somewhat homogeneous and downplays how varied the Zelda universe truly is.
While the content may all feel somewhat samey thanks to the choice of games it’s based on, at least there’s a fair amount of it. You’ve got a decent number of levels to explore, a good 14 characters to unlock and play with (each with their own unique weapons), and a vast adventure mode to dick around in outside of the core story. All this stuff is absolutely caked in LoZ presentation as well; the levels faithfully recreate locations such as the Deku Tree and Hyrule Field, the characters all use fictionally appropriate weapons and animations, and the UI is packed with visual call backs which pairs perfectly with the bevy of iconic sound effects that are constantly ringing out across the battlefield. Even the music is right on point with all the classic Zelda tunes redone in that guiltily enjoyable insane anime guitar style that typifies Musou games, a combination that works surprisingly well and adds a pleasant level of bombast to the proceedings. This game also just looks really good, this is the first time that traditional Hyrule is in proper 1080p and that really makes it come to life. There are still a lot of crappy textures around and weirdly animating troops though, as is the case with every Musou game, but the characters all look fantastic and well-defined and the action moves at a good enough clip that you won’t notice the game’s visual short comings most of the time.
Despite the somewhat boring slice of the Zelda fiction it chooses to focus on, the brain-dead combat, and the slight visual short comings, I really enjoyed Hyrule Warriors. As a piece of Legend of Zelda fan-service it delivered almost everything I wanted while at the same time being a really good Musou game, which is something I feel I’m uniquely qualified to judge as one of the few games journalists around who does not hate the Warriors/Musou series with a blinding passion. As I said at the start, your personal mileage with this game will depend entirely upon whether or not you already like Dynasty Warriors and its very specific style of gameplay. If you don’t like the Warriors/Musou series and what it has been doing for the last decade and a half, then ignore this game entirely, it is not for you. If however you do like to zone out while slaughtering thousands of enemies and listening to some of the most ludicrously stupid guitar riffs ever played, then you’ll love this game because it’s just a Zelda themed version of that. I thankfully fall into the latter category there and as such I’m giving Hyrule Warriors a 4 out of 5 stars.